Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 237

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.

In final video from Session, Richard Corcoran says its time to say goodbye

Ricard Corcoran Photo: Phil Sears)

Time to say goodbye.

The Florida House Speaker’s Office, which has produced video after video this Legislative Session, it closed out 2017 Session with a three-minute video narrated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I’m often asked, where are the leaders worthy of the title and I tell them they’re right here, in the Florida House,” Corcoran says in the video, called “Leaders.”

In an email to members, Corcoran said while every member isn’t featured “the sentiment applies to all” of them.

Florida legislators ended Session Monday evening by approving an $83 billion by a 34-4 vote in the Senate and a House vote of 98-14. The budget now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The annual 60-day Session was supposed to end last week, but the two chambers didn’t reach an agreement on the budget in time for the state-mandated 72 hour waiting period before a final vote.

While session has officially ended, legislators still may have to come back. There is the possibility Scott could veto the budget. During Session, the governor criticized several legislators for severe cuts to his top priorities, such as VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism arm, and the Enterprise Florida business incentive program.

Corcoran, in a statement marking some of the successes of 2017, honored his fellow colleagues — including Democrats — and called Florida taxpayers “the real winners” in Session:

“Whether it was cutting property taxes, passing another $25,000 homestead exemption, rewarding the best teachers in the classroom, giving poor children a world-class education, cleaning up the budget process, passing the strongest ethics rules in America, or ending government picking winners and losers, hardworking people won in the Florida House.

“I’d like to thank Democratic leader Janet Cruz for her dedication to her principles and her willingness to work with us on good public policy. Whether we agreed or disagreed, I can always count on leader Cruz to keep her word and lead her caucus.

“Each and every member of the Florida House of Representatives can be proud of the work they did for every Floridian and especially for kids, for veterans, for families and for job creators. The people’s house did the people’s work and the people will benefit.”

Included in the final budget agreement are pay raises for state employees and increased funding to public schools and Florida colleges and universities.

Jeff Brandes celebrates long list of legislative wins in 2017 Session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the rearview mirror, state Sen. Jeff Brandes looks back on some big wins from the past two months.

The St. Petersburg Republican is celebrating his top eight successes, which include a diverse range of issues such as renewable energy tax exemptions, statewide regulation for ridesharing, flood insurance reforms and the development of personal delivery drones.

In 2017, Brandes championed the bill on renewable energy source devices (SB 90), which passed unanimously through both the House and Senate, implementing Amendment 4 from the 2016 election.

SB 90 exempts 80 percent of the value of solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes for 20 years, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

After four years of battling with the taxicab industry, Brandes made major inroads with the landmark SB 340, the uniform statewide regulation for for-hire transportation services provided by transportation network companies. The bill sets up requirements on insurance and background screening, officially legalizing the use of services like Uber and Lyft everywhere in Florida.

Brandes also spearheaded flood insurance alternatives in Florida. SB 420, which passed both chambers unanimously, extends to 2025 the rate flexibility afforded to private insurers who seek to enter the market to offer flood insurance as an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Other of Brandes successes also include SB 460, which defines and authorizes “personal delivery devices” (PDDs) to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks in Florida, and SB 590 which changes the way Florida handles time arrangements for unmarried and divorced parents and their children. The Child Support and Parenting Time Plan creates an optional default time sharing plan, as well as an easier system for parents to agree on parenting time arrangements.

The bill does not affect any child support arrangements, it seeks only to simplify the visitation schedule in order to benefit the child and may have the effect of helping as many as 1 million fathers see their children more often.

Brandes introduced a measure setting up the Task Force on Affordable Housing, part of the implementation bill included in the 2017-2018 General Appropriations Act, which will study and suggest sweeping reforms to Florida’s strategy on affordable housing.

One more winner in the 2017 Session was SB 1012, a priority of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, requiring insurance companies to adopt anti-fraud plans and report fraud related statistics to the Division of Insurance Fraud regularly to assist the state in combating fraud.

The legislation, unanimously adopted by the House and Senate, adopts accountability reforms through reporting requirements of dedicated insurance fraud prosecutors throughout the state to assess the effectiveness of the dedicated fraud prosecutor system.

Another solid success was SB 1272, a boost to businesses in Florida by waiving a number of business and professional licensing fees for members of the military, their spouses, surviving military spouses, and low-income individuals whose income is less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. The bill also allows reciprocity for many regulated professions for service members (and spouses) who travel to Florida from other states during their service.

House GOP freshmen fail to adopt rules for Speaker’s race, putting leadership battle into chaos

Even after meeting dozens of times throughout the 2017 Legislative Session, the House GOP freshman caucus failed to adopt new rules on how to pick a leader.

A caucus to ratify rules — drafted by Reps. Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant — to guide the freshman class’s decision-making process met Friday during a break in the House. Only 23 members of the freshman class were present, and neither Rep. Jamie Grant nor Rep. Paul Renner, both in the running to be Speaker in 2022, were present at the meeting.

The rules had been debated at length by within the class. The most recent version of the rules called for an organizational meeting to be held on June 30 to select their leader. Under those rules, if more than two candidates are running, the lowest vote-getters would be eliminated from consideration.

The caucus needed 18 votes to ratify the rules, a tall order with only 23 of the 27 caucus members present. But ahead of the vote, Rep. Joe Gruters made a proposal for secret balloting on the rules. Secret balloting on rules and all future votes is in theoretically in place, but the rules were voted down.

A copy of new rules were provided to members, but were marked by Rep. Randy Fine so the caucus could know which member leaked the rules to the media, according to a House member who attended the meeting.

The failure to adopt new rules means the Speaker’s race is still governed by House Caucus rules, which means no June 30 conclave to pick a leader. It also means the “survivor” rule proposed under the Massullo-Grant rules aren’t in effect.

According to House Republican Conference Rules adopted last year, Speaker candidates can officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30. Renner, Jamie Grant and Frank White are among those believed to be in the running for Speaker.

Prior to Friday, a non-Renner supporter said there was a 40 percent chance it was Grant or White, 30 percent it went to Renner and 30 percent chance it went to the field.

Now the tides appear to have shifted, with Renner given a 40 percent chance, followed by Grant or White at 30 percent, and the field with 30 percent.

Winners and losers emerging from the 2017 Legislative Session

Dysfunction seems to run in Tallahassee like a sine wave. We went from the collapse of 2015 – the House going home early, no budget, a Special Budget Session – to the trains-on-time Session of 2016, to the no-budget-at-the-end-of-regulation Session in 2017. We saw another Session in which we got oh-so-close to a gambling bill, only to have victory swallowed by the maw of Capitol defeat. And yes, the war of words between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over defunding tourism marketing and business incentives got nasty, but…isn’t that why we got into this business?

Now, this Session’s Winners and Losers, with an additional section below for our friends and frenemies in the news media:

Biggest winner

Richard Corcoran — He’s the master of the House. No, make that the Capitol. Constitutional amendment to increase homestead exemption? Check. Gutting VISIT FLORIDA down to the spine? Yup. Taking a hacksaw to Enterprise Florida under the ‘no more corporate welfare’ banner? Gots. Dressing down reporters when he got tired of their bellyaching? Did that. Staying on his ‘transparent and transformative’ message (even when budget negotiations weren’t)? Oh yes, my friend. Were there some missions not accomplished? Sure. He didn’t kick the crap of the judiciary like he wanted to. Oh, but there’s 2018. And we await what proposed constitutional amendments his appointees to the Constitution Revision Commission start cranking out over the course of the next year. Light up another Montecristo: This ride is just gettin’ started.

Florida House of Representatives speaker designate Richard Corcoran in his office in the Florida Capitol December 2, 2015. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)


Lizbeth Benacquisto — The always polite and poised Fort Myers Republican made it clear she wasn’t taking any sh*t from anyone as Rules Committee chair and one of Senate President Joe Negron’s top lieutenants from the get-go. If “get the f**k out of my face, Jack,” didn’t show folks Benacquisto wasn’t to be messed with, we don’t know what will.

Jeff Brandes — It’s fair to say 2017 was a good year for Brandes. After years of trying, the St. Petersburg Republican shepherded through his chamber’s version of ride-booking legislation, beating back attempts from the taxi and limo industry to derail the bill. But the Uber/Lyft bill was far from his only achievement. He quietly worked behind the scenes throughout Session on a bill that would authorize the Department of Revenue to establish parenting time plans agreed to by both parents in child support actions, which Brandes said would help parents see their children more after a divorce. The bill passed both chambers in the final days of the Session. He also carried legislation this year to implement the solar tax break constitutional amendment, and even pushed legislation (which passed) to remove registration requirements for cosmetic companies. If he could accomplish this much in 2017, we can only imagine that 2018 is the year Brandes works to get a self-driving car in every garage and a robot in every home.

Lauren Book – If there was a “Rookie of the Year” award, Book would probably win it. Fresh off her first run for elected office, Book was named Democratic Leader Pro Tempore, serving as Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon’s right-hand-woman in the Democratic Caucus. Senate President Negron appointed her chairwoman of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee and she was named vice chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, plum positions considering Negron’s interest in environmental and water issues. Oh, and did we mention she gave birth to twins — TWINS! — in February, just weeks before the start of the 2017 Session.

Sen. Lauren Book asks a question during the Senate’s Committee on Rules Friday, April 28, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Danny Burgess — A trial lawyer from New Port Richey, this first-time subcommittee chairman navigated a series of complicated issues fairly, proficiently, and thoroughly, while his Senate counterpart allowed many important issues to capsize.

Janet Cruz — The House Democratic Leader from Tampa saw two of her priorities – a vote-by-mail signature fix and a bill to requiring health insurers and HMOs to offer medication synchronization programs – head to Gov. Scott. And the outspoken Cruz didn’t, as former Senate President Andy Gardiner once said, “fear the debate,” encouraging her caucus to speak up on issues where they thought the Republican leadership lost its way. Need an example? The hours of debate over the Stand Your Ground expansion and Schools of Hope bill come to mind. But Cruz wasn’t afraid to cross the aisle either: She joined forces with Corcoran on the Enterprise Florida fight, helping to secure a veto-proof majority for the bill to eliminate the state’s jobs agency.

“Pepi” and Carlos — Two of Speaker Corcoran’s top lieutenants, the two Miami-Dade Republicans made sure the House held the line when it came to a couple of big issues this Session — the budget and gambling. Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, the chamber’s point man on gambling, did yeoman’s work on the 2017 gambling bill, but refused to budge on the House’s position on the expansion of slots. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, refused to give in during budget negotiations, making sure the House got money for the “Schools of Hope” charter school plan, “Best and Brightest” scholarship expansion, no money for business incentives, and a reduced budget for Visit Florida. And they did it all while reportedly being considered for top jobs in the Trump administration: Pepi for a job as the top federal prosecutor in South Florida; Carlos as an ambassador.

Gary Farmer — The former head trial lawyer identified a power vacuum, practically commandeered the Senate Banking & Insurance committee, and led on several issues, like workers’ comp, that would normally be the charge of Senate leadership’s designees. And, did we mention he’s giving Democratic Leader Braynon and Sen. Greg Steube a run for their money as the snazziest dressers in the Legislature?

Bill Galvano — The 2018-20 President-designate has shown leadership, even when the current President seemed timid. Who walked former Sen. Frank Artiles to Sen. Audrey Gibson’s office to make sure he apologized? Galvano. Who helped broker Artiles’ eventual resignation, sparing the Senate more embarrassment? Galvano. And the Bradenton Republican-held firm on the Senate’s position that counties, where voters approved slot machines by referendum, should be allowed to have slots, even if that meant giving up the hope of a gambling bill for another year.

Jamie Grant — The Tampa House Republican seemed to have his hand in several big bills this year, including the Uber/Lyft bill. Another thing Grant can put in his win column: A bill to dissolve the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission. The bill, which is headed to the Governor’s desk, requires the PTC to liquidate all assets by Dec. 31. And with Matt Gaetz now in Congress, it seems like Grant is angling for the “best debater” award for the 2017-18 Session.

Rep. James Grant listens during Florida House of Representatives floor debate at the Florida Capitol. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Dorothy Hukill — A cancer diagnosis might have meant Sen. Hukill wasn’t in Tallahassee, but that doesn’t mean she was sidelined. The Port Orange Republican was the point person on a host of bills and budget items she filed for her district, played an active role in deciding what got heard in the committee she chaired, and streamed meetings online. The Senate unanimously passed a bill (SB 392) to require a half-credit personal financial literacy course, something she long advocated for, and even named the proposal after her. And the best news of Session: Hukill, according to a letter she sent to Senate President Negron, is cancer free and expected to make a full recovery.

Kionne McGhee — The House Democratic Leader-in-waiting blasted the House Republicans push to spend $200 million to attract high-performing charter high schools, saying it created a “separate but unequal system that ‘runs afoul’ of the state and U.S. constitutions.” He came out swinging after the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee attempted to explain why he wouldn’t hear a bill to create a slavery memorial in Florida, calling Sen. Dennis Baxley’s comments “borderline racism.” And with a mid-Session shake-up in the Florida Democratic Party’s House Victory committee, look for McGhee to start exerting some muscle as 2018 approaches.

Jose Oliva — The 2018-20 Speaker-designate seemed to keep a low public profile this Session, but his impact was always felt. Rarely seen at the big meetings, you can always recognize the influence he had and see his fingerprints. If folks are worried about the Corcoran era, they ought to start looking beyond. If you thought Corcoran was conservative, Oliva may be downright right-wing. In his role as Rules chair, he even told the members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus that they couldn’t wear purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate.” The reason: They violated House decorum.

Wilton Simpson — The Senate President-designate following Galvano was brokering deals, whipping votes, meeting with the Governor, and sharing intel with the “special interests.” With Galvano, he helped resolve the Artiles controversy. In fact, the two men’s continually used their influence to help Negron get his big priorities done and save face for him a few times.

Carlos Guillermo Smith — He might be an “LGBT, feminist, liberal in a very conservative Florida Legislature,” but this freshman Democrat knows how to get stuff done. He teamed up with Republican Rep. Alex Miller to push legislation to ban the use of steroids in racing greyhounds and joined forces with Republican Rep. Mike Miller to sponsor a resolution to create Pulse Remembrance Day. He regularly took to the floor to ask members smart questions about their bills, continues to fight for the survivors of the 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub, and was key to forming the Legislative Progressive Caucus. There’s a reason he was selected as one of INFLUENCE Magazine’s “freshmen to watch,” and we expect this could be just the beginning of big things to come.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith asks a question during debate on a bill on the medical use of marijuana on the floor of the House Friday, May 5, 2017, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Chris Sprowls — Got a that’s stalled in the Legislature? Get this Palm Harbor Republican to put his name on it. Sprowls once again proved he can help get tough legislation across the line, sponsoring the 2017 version of the Uber/Lyft bill. After four years, it passed — and the governor has indicated said he’ll sign it.

Frank White – Another one of INFLUENCE Magazines “freshman to watch,” the Pensacola Republican has a heck of a lot of wins to boast about when he gets home this year. He passed five of six member bills, the sixth was amended onto a bill that passed the House. He helped shepherd two proposed committee bills out of the House, and built a reputation as a consensus builder who can build bridges between factions and soothe egos. No wonder his name is emerging as a choice for Speaker.

Jayer Williamson — One of the smartest, nicest guys in the freshmen class of the Florida House, the Pace Republican (and another one of INFLUENCE Magazine’s “freshman to watch”) managed to relatively stay above the fray of contention, drama, and division, make friends and impress others along the way.

Freshman Democrats — With 32 members, this year’s freshman class seemed to rise above their counterparts in recent years. Sure, it was a large class; but these rookies stood out just as much for the bills they sponsored and their involvement in community issues and initiatives. A couple of highlights: Rep. Nicholas Duran carried a legislation to combat the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic by modernizing the prescription drug monitoring system; Reps. Kamia Brown and Amy Mercado sponsored a bill to make sure parents who are victims of child domestic violence have the resources they need to ensure their safety; Sen. Randolph Bracy sponsored legislation to require unanimous jury consent in death penalty cases.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida — Once again led the charge against economic incentives, coming out in full support of Corcorans effort to eliminate Enterprise Florida altogether. As Gov. Scott toured the state scolding House members for their vote to kill the agency, AFP-FL dropped direct mail piece after direct mail piece in support of members. It launched digital ads calling on the Senate to “end corporate welfare,” and took shots at the Senate’s budget. AFP-FL got an assist from the LIBRE Initiative and Concerned Veterans for America, two other Koch brother aligned groups, in their fight against incentives. In the end: Enterprise Florida lives, but it’s on life support.

American Petroleum Institute and Dave Mica — Facing bipartisan support for a statewide fracking ban, Mica and his team pulled out all the stops to stop the effort before it gained too much steam. A Senate bill (SB 442) received just one hearing, during the first week of Session when it unanimously passed a friendly committee; while the House measure (HB 451) never even made it to its first committee stop. As if to guarantee the issue was DOA this year, the American Petroleum Council released an ad telling Floridians a ban could “lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Mark Anderson — He may have had the hottest lobbying hand this year, winning four long and hard-fought battles. Anderson finally killed the “home tax” and got an estoppel bill through the Legislature that won’t harm homeowners and associations. He saved the non-custodial parent employment program, even after the House eliminated it from its budget and the Senate agreed during conferences, by being the only lobbyist to participate in public testimony during budget conferences, a bold move that saved funding. Anderson also helped secure a 60 percent increase for the ABLE Grant program and ensure the Florida Holocaust Museum sustained no funding reductions.

Dave Aronberg – The Palm Beach County State Attorney (and former Democratic state senator) and his deputies lobbied hard for a bill that aims to crackdown on sober home corruption, and it worked. The bipartisan bill — which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Hager and Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens, and was a top priority for Attorney General Pam Bondi — unanimously passed both chambers and is on its way to the governor. The bill, among other things, creates a certification program for sober homes based on the recommendation of a state-funded task force. Word is Palm Beach County lobbyist Rebecca DeLaRosa, and contract lobbyists Jonathan Kilman and Candice Ericks worked the issues hard.

Associated Industries of Florida — Led by Tom Feeney and Brewster Bevis, AIF fought hard this Session to protect job creators and enhance the Sunshine State’s business climate. From holding back prejudgment interests, fighting to preserve the insurance premium tax salary credit and protecting private agriculture land, addressing components of the workers’ compensation system, and advocating for 5G wireless technology, AIF was the key voice in the halls of the Capitol. They’re also flying a W for their work to defeat policies that would have raised prescription drug prices by freezing drug formularies and changing step therapy protocols.

AT&T — One of Florida’s major telecommunications companies rises to the top this Session with its work to propel Florida forward in the future with 5G wireless technology. Led by Joe York, J.C. Flores and Casey Reed, AT&T’s team easily pushed through legislation that will help bring the super-fast wireless to the Sunshine State. And this isn’t just a win for AT&T: With the deployment of small cell technology, Florida now has the opportunity to attract innovative businesses, usher advances in smart cities and the “internet of things,” and spur growth in connected cars. Oh, and did we mention how much easier it will be to check Twitter?

American Traffic Solutions – Call them an early winner. Before the first month of Session was even in the books, it became clear that the state’s red light camera law was going to live to see another year. Sure, the House passed a ban; but the Senate rejected a similar ban in a tie vote in an early committee meeting. With conflicting court opinions, we expect the issue — and American Traffic Solutions and its crack government affairs team — will be back before lawmakers when they return in a few months to begin work on 2018 issues.

Anfield Consulting — It was another successful year for the team of Albert Balido, Frank Bernardino, Edgar Fernandez and their attorney Pepper Uchino. There’s a reason the firm is known as one of the best in the business when it comes to water and environmental issues, and this year was no different. They had a hand in negotiating the Senate’s water storage reservoir, and it was their research that found the parcel of unused state land that would allow Florida to build a reservoir that could ultimately store more water than first proposed. The bill also includes $38 million for the C-51 canal, one of the firm’s largest projects. The team also helped secure $13 million for Monroe County to help move properties in the Keys to serve from septic systems; plus more than $7 million for various communities it represents across the state. But the firm branched beyond just water and environmental issues, playing a key role in helping to get the whiskey & Wheaties bill to the House floor, represented the Healthcare Providers Coalition in its right to derail the push for mandatory bodily injury insurance; and worked to bat down a slew of anti-immigrant laws.

Lobbyist Albert Balido, with Anfield Consulting, wears his pink socks, in honor of Marvin Arrington, an insurance lobbyist with an affinity for pink who died during the last week of the 2002 Session, on the fourth floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Arcadia Rodeo Equestrian Facility — It wasn’t added in during the dark of night, more like the glow of the late afternoon. But during Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Trujillo’s final meeting, the Arcadia Rodeo Equestrian Facility received $500,000. While less than the $1 million that Rep. Charlie Stone initially requested for the project, it’s still a nice little sprinkle.

ARC Broward Safe Roof Project —  Scored the entire $790,000 Rep. Evan Jenne originally requested to help replace the roofs at three buildings at the ARC Broward facility in Sunrise.

Matt Bahl — Either the House’s chief of staff stays in a Holiday Inn Express every night, or he’s a wizard. Consistently, methodically, and adeptly out-navigates his counterparts in the Senate. Every. Single. Time.

Bascom Communications & Consulting — Still one of the best in the game, Sarah Bascom and her team racked up big wins and was one of the leading legislative communications shop for teams that worked to pass the bill to create the water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, the 5G bill. The team was also key in repulsing bills that would have been detrimental to the state’s health plans, weakened building codes, deregulated Florida’s trauma care system, and increased operating expenses for Florida businesses, as well as harming Florida high-quality nursing homes and seniors. Sure, there was one blip — after years of battling back the whiskey & Wheaties bill, it passed by just one vote — but overall, a bang up year for the team.

Capital City Consulting — Nick Iarossi and team can add a few more notches to their belts after the 2017 Session. The Capital City Consulting team was involved in some of the biggest issues, including representing The Everglades Foundation in its push for southern storage south of Lake Okeechobee, and the Distilled Spirits Council, which fought hard to bring down the liquor wall. The team also helped AT&T successfully fight for 5G and were part of the team that fought against the prejudgement interest and bond caps. Cap City helped secure $1.5 million for Alzheimer’s research money for UF Health; $18 million for community based care for foster care through its work for the Florida Coalition for Children; and beaucoup bucks for New College of Florida, including $5.4 million for enrollment growth.

CARE FL — The organization has led the fight against rail expansion in Florida, putting All Aboard Florida on its heels. It’s made tremendous waves in Tallahassee, and even though a bill by Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Reps. Erin Grall and MaryLynn Magar to require AAF to absorb the costs of rail safety upgrades didn’t pass, the group isn’t backing down and vowing to return in 2018.

“Cartels” — The seven families. Cartels. They’ve been called every name under the sun. But right now, the seven licensed medical marijuana growers — CHT Medical, The Green Solution, Trulieve, Surterra Therapeutics, Modern Health Concepts, Knox Medical, and GrowHealthy — are definitely winners. The Legislature’s failure to pass a comprehensive medical marijuana implementing bill means these seven have a corner on the market. And now that the Department of Health is responsible for rule-making, expect for these companies to rule the roost for a while.

Legislative inaction this year means the seven licensed dispensing organizations, including Trulieve, still have a corner on the medical marijuana market.

Charter school advocates — Lawmakers pushed for education reforms this year that could benefit charter schools. Among them? A proposal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on high-performing charter schools to compete with chronically failing public schools.

Claim bills — They’re back. After years of going nowhere, the Legislature approved a host of claim bills, including one to compensate Victor Barahona $3.75 million in an abuse case that took the life of his twin sister, Nubia. The Legislature also agreed to give $950,000 to a severely disabled woman who was impregnated while in state care and pay a woman $800,000 for injuries sustained as a child because of DCF negligence. While claim bills don’t completely right the state’s wrongs, it does show lawmakers are stepping up to the plate to take responsibility.

Collier Resources Co. — An attorney for the company, which controls the land in Southwest Florida where drillers have expressed interest in fracking, came out swinging in the first (and only) hearing on a fracking ban this year, telling the Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee that the bill would be “a lightning rod for litigation in the state.” Threatening a lawsuit on Day 1 of Session? Baller move.

Concerned citizens” — Under a bill (HB 989) headed to the Governor, school boards need to adopt a process where county residents — not just the parents of children in the district — can raise an objection to instructional materials being used in the classroom or available in the library.

Corcoran and Johnston – The lobby shop headed by the House Speaker’s brother notched wins on the whiskey & Wheaties bill, passing a bill helping 5G wireless technology for Verizon. And well, being close to the Speaker’s Office doesn’t hurt. They even almost got a mini-casino at Miami Beach’s legendary Fontainebleau Hotel. That’s a battle for another session.

Devaughn Darling family — Sixteen years after Devaughn Darling collapsed and died while participating in mat drills during football practice at Florida State University, the Legislature agreed to pay his parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling, $1.8 million. The claim bill was first filed in 2007, but did not make progress until this year. Following Darling’s death, the university changed the way it conducted drills, offering water breaks and short rest breaks when players are between stations. An emergency medical crew and ambulance are also on standby.  

Disney & No Casinos — The Mouse won another round in the battle over gambling in Florida. With the gambling bill crumbling in the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session, the family-friendly resort remains one of the big reasons to come to Florida. And with an assist from the team at No Casinos, which continues to wage war on the prospect of destination-style casinos in Florida, it’s likely Mickey will continue to be king for at least another year to come.

Drug-Free America — The Mel Sembler-funded group led the opposition to the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. When the amendment passed with 71 percent of the vote, Drug-Free America put on its bill drafting hats and offered up suggestions to the more conservative House about what to include in the bill. Many of those provisions were adopted, and for a while, it sounded like the only people who supported the House medical marijuana proposal were the people who opposed the medical marijuana amendment. While legislation failed this year, watch for Drug-Free America to be a key player as the state’s medical marijuana program continues to grow and evolve.

Duke — With Rep. Kathleen Peters at the head of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee, the company looked like it was in for a rough Session. Turns out, the energy giant ended the
Session unscathed.

The Everglades Foundation — The Everglades Foundation played a key role in the passage of the bill (SB 10) to build a reservoir to store, clean and send Lake Okeechobee water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Sure, the issue seemed touch-and-go at times, but it cleared a bunch of hurdles and ultimately ended up passing in a form that won bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Florida Association of Health Plans — Led by Audrey Brown, the organization once again beat back attempts at carve-outs from the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program. This year, FAHP defeated a proposal to carve out nursing homes and hospices from the long-term care programs. The statewide organization also repelled proposals that would have been detrimental to health plans, including legislation that would’ve created a vicarious liability in medical malpractice and a bill that would’ve frozen prescription drug formularies.

Florida Brewers Guild — The Sunshine State’s craft brewers aren’t just strong on offense, they’re also good on defense. The association held off attempts by the world’s largest brewer to muscle out Florida-owned breweries for draft space. And the big-brewer-backed bill (SB 388) all but required brewers to give away glassware to bars and restaurants, creating a cost-driver most smaller beer-makers would have been unable to afford.

Florida City Canal Outfall and Equalizer Improvements — Another project added into the budget at the very end, state budget negotiators included $500,000 of the $840,000 Rep. Kionne McGhee originally requested for the project in the budget. More sprinkles?

Florida Chamber of Commerce – The Florida Chamber made good on its goal to #MakeFLMoreCompetitive this session by fighting to protect small businesses and job creators. Just as the Wall Street Journal was exposing Republican trial bar allies in the legislature, the Florida Chamber was successfully pushing back against the Republicans ‘sue and settle’ bills, working to preserve an insurance salary tax credit, and protecting injured employees in workers’ comp cases from trial lawyer solicitations. As the Florida Chamber outlines in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, ridesharing companies, 5G technology and targeted tax reforms like reducing the business rent tax and providing research and development (R&D) tax credits are solid victories for Florida’s business community.

Florida Health Care Association — The Florida Health Care Association, whose membership makes up more than 80 percent of Florida’s nursing homes, succeeded at just about everything it worked toward this session. By pulling together consensus within the industry to overcome a small group of misleading outliers, FHCA convinced legislators to approve a prospective payment system for reimbursement that, after a one-year delay, will create incentives for quality improvements while providing additional funding to carry nursing homes through a three-year transition period. FHCA also successfully got nursing homes removed from any bills abolishing the certificate of need process, and deflected an attempt by the House to reduce the personal needs allowance that enables nursing home residents to pay for things like haircuts or birthday cards for loved ones.

Florida International University — There might be some perks to being from the same neck of the woods as the appropriations chairman. Just ask Florida International University. The Miami university received $10 million to expand its College of Engineering. The school also received $15 million in the budget for the school of international and public affairs.

Florida Municipal Electric Association — After Hurricane Hermine swept through Florida causing massive power outages in North Florida, state lawmakers threatened legislative action to deal with municipal power companies because of their slow response. Months later, FMEA members came out of the session intact.

Florida State University — The Tallahassee school came out on top in the 2017-18 budget, pulling in more than $38 million. The school will receive more than $16 million for the first phase of construction of its earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences building; $8 million for the interdisciplinary research commercialization building; $5 million for College of Business building; and $5 million for a STEM teaching lab. The school also picked up $4 million for land acquisition. Props to FSU’s President John Thrasher and lobbyist Kathy Mears for their work on behalf of the Seminoles this year.

The Florida State Golden Girls cheerleaders perform during “FSU Day at the Capitol” Tuesday April 4, 2017 in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Foster care children — Lawmakers took steps to make life a bit easier for kids in the system this year, approving a bill — signed into law by Gov. Scott on May 1 — that helps Florida’s foster children get a driver’s license. The “Keys to Independence Act”, spearheaded by Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Jennifer Sullivan makes permanent a 2014 pilot program and expands it to include children in out-of-home settings. It might not be much, but every little bit helps to make sure these kids get to enjoy being kids.

John Couris – If your organization is going through a public policy challenge, Couris is the type of guy you want at the helm. The CEO of Jupiter Medical Center took a very public and thoughtful approach to explaining why the Certificate of Need deregulation bill would reduce access to health care and vital community services.

LeadingAge Florida — The nursing home association, four- and five-star nursing homes, and Florida seniors fought to make sure their voices were heard in opposition to a proposed prospective payment system plan. When the dust settled on the Session, it appeared they got through. The implementation of the plan was delayed for a year and a workgroup was established to come up with recommendations for the plan that will make sure all parties are in agreement and Florida’s frailest seniors do not become collateral damage.

Little Havana Activity and Nutrition Centers of Dade County — The Miami-Dade County organization scored $334,770 in a late-in-the-game budget addition. Lobbyists Andreina Figueroa and Brian Jogerst likely earned their keep for that addition.

The Mayernick Group – The appropriations-specialty lobby shop parlayed relationships in the Senate to finally knock down the liquor wall for client Wal-Mart. Also helped take medical marijuana implementing bill as far as logically possible, was in on many other issues and hired Rob Johnson. Waiting to see how much higher they fly in 2018.

Mosaic — Lawmakers across Florida called for changes to the state’s public notification of pollution after an incident at the Mosaic New Wales facility last year. The bill calls for public notification within 48 hours of the incident. Considering the initial outrage, it could have been much worse for Mosaic.

New College — Got $1.85 million for an addition to its Heiser Natural Sciences Complex. But New College of Florida might see the some of the biggest benefits from Negron’s push for more money for state universities. The final budget deal includes $590 million more for universities, including $300 million more for operating expenses. New College is expected to see a $7.6 million increase in recurring operating funds, something the school’s vice president for finance and administration said is “transformational.”

New York Life, State Farm and the American Council of Life Insurers — The insurance groups, alongside Sen. Dana Young and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, led the charge to end the long-time battle over STOLI (Stranger Originated Life Insurance). Their win identifies and outlaws STOLI practices, where fraudsters bet against someone’s life for profit. This year’s success will help protect the sanctity of life insurance.

Pasco County — It’s good to be the Speaker’s home turf. The 2017-18 budget has at least $27.8 million in it for Pasco County projects. That sum includes $15 million toward a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road in Pasco County, a project Commission Chairman Mike Moore said he couldn’t see “why anyone would not want to see this go through.” It also includes $4.3 million for a forensics training center, a joint project of the University of South Florida and Pasco County Sheriff’s Office; and $2.5 million to remodel buildings on the West Campus of Pasco-Hernando State College. As Speaker Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times over the weekend “it was a very good budget for Pasco.”

Panhandle — If the residents of the Panhandle were worried that a slew of fresh faces in the Legislature would leave them out of luck, they were mistaken. The district saw some big wins this year, with the help of several political newcomers. Case in point: The Legislature approved a bill this year to ensure money received in the settlement of state’s economic damage claims by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill remain in Northwest Florida’s eight “disproportionately affected counties.” Hat tip to Rep. Jay Trumbull who worked to get unanimous approval for the proposal.

PIP lawyers A group of lawyers representing imaging centers and other PIP moneymaking, AOB-taking entities outmaneuvered the FJA and kept the state’s personal injury protection, or no-fault insurance, intact.

Public Affairs ConsultantsKeyna and Jack Cory’s firm did well during 2017 Session but the best development was the new addition to their team — one week before Sine Die.  Look out Capitol: Thanks to Erin Ballas, Dayton Jane will be joining her mom and Keyna and Jack as a lobbyist in 2038.

R.J. Reynolds — The king of tobacco won’t be feeling like a knave after the session. “Bond cap” legislation, which would have repealed the limit on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds, fizzled out early. A win for Big Tobacco and a loss for the state’s trial lawyers who backed the change. They had said it would force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.

Rachel Cone — Thrust into the role as FDOT Secretary just one month before the start of the 2017 Session, she charmed the Legislature with her Southern Steel Magnolia personality. Give her extra credit for getting the FDOT bill across the finish line, even as it bounced between chambers several times.

Rachel Perrin Rogers — Give RPR a hand. She ran a tight ship over in the Senate Majority Office, and kept the trains running on time. And with one crazy Session under her belt, we can only imagine what she’ll do when she moves up to the President’s Office in a couple of years.

Recess — Recess moms didn’t back down this Session, even when it seemed like recess was going to be put in an indefinite time out. A late-in-Session deal, House and Senate leaders agreed to include a provision mandating that public schools, except for charter schools, provide 20 minutes of recess to elementary students. Kickball for everyone!

Rural and Family Lands Program — One of the few land acquisition programs that scored money in the 2017-18 budget. The program, which is designed to protect agricultural lands through the acquisition of permanent agricultural land conservation easements, scored $10 million in the budget.

Shawn Frost — The president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members pushed to make sure everything from testing reforms to school choice expansion to school board members’ rights to visit schools without an appointment were tackled this Session. Frost, who serves as the vice chairman of the Indian River School Board, traveled to Tallahassee nearly every week of Session, meeting with education chairmen and Speaker Corcoran and President Negron to help hammer out some of the fine points that encompass several of the FCSBM priorities and supported legislation.

Speaker wannabes — We got to admit, it sure was nice to make it through one Session where the entire freshman class wasn’t entirely occupied with who would be speaker in eight years. Sure, we know it was going on behind the scenes. But, for the most part, the power plays were kept on the down low.

Stephanie Smith — You go, girl! After four years of fighting, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved ridesharing legislation and the governor has promised to sign it. Let’s give some love to Team Uber’s senior manager of public policy!

Team Uber celebrates after the Senate passed the 2017 ride-booking legislation. The bill awaits Gov. Scott’s signature.

Teams Uber, Lyft — It takes a village to bring Uber and Lyft to Florida. Kudos go to Sen. Jeff Brandes, Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, internal lobbyists Cesar Fernandez, Javi Correoso and Brad Nail, and the teams at Ballard Partners, Floridian Partners, The Fiorentino Group, Foley & Lardner, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, RSA Consulting, Sean Pittman for getting this across the finish line. And of course, tip your hat to the crack communications teams at On 3 PR for its work repping Uber and Sachs Media Group for its work on behalf of Lyft.

U.S. Sugar — Heck no, they won’t sell. Outraged by a Senate proposal (SB 10) that initially called on the state to buy 60,000 acres of agriculture land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, landowners said they were not “willing sellers of their property to the government.” Their continued opposition – paired with tepid support from some senators – led Senate leadership to abandon plans to buy the land; instead approving a compromise bill that would convert state-owned land to create a 14-foot deep storage reservoir. Tip of the hat goes out to the grassroots groups, including the Florida Sugarcane Farmers and farmers in the Everglades Agriculture Area, who also fought for the changes.

— Agriculture communications consultants — A critical component of the messaging war over Lake O was won by tapping into the anger from farming communities, which resisted the 60,000-acre land buy initially included in the Senate plan. The industry got an assist from Mercury Public Affairs and Hill+Knowlton Strategies, both which helped navigate through major landmines by keeping the focus on jobs and failing to agitate President Negron.

— Residents of the Glades Communities — The nine-hour trip to Tallahassee was no problem for Glades residents and groups, including Glades Lives Matter and Guardians of the Glades. Community groups made the trip multiple times to argue to keep their communities intact.

— Negron’s statesmanship on Lake O — Say what you will about the Senate President, but he played a modern-day King Herod by finding common ground between environmentalists and agricultural advocates. His reservoir will get built on state-owned land, saving money, all the while delivering on a promise he made to his coastal constituents.

Urban League of Broward County — When the dust was settled on the 2017-18 budget, negotiators decided to restore $741,412 in nonrecurring general revenue to the Urban League of Broward Counties. The decision came not at the very last minute, but pretty darn close.

Target, Wal-Mart — Tear down that (liquor) wall! It might have been a squeaker in both chambers, but a bill (SB 106) to repeal the Prohibition-era state law that required businesses, like grocery stores and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor is finally headed to the governor’s office. Under the proposal, Wal-Mart and Target, which were big-time backers of the proposal, could add liquor to their shelves as early as 2018.

Rep. Bryan Avila toasts with Rep. Scott Plakon on the House floor April 26, 2017, upon approval by just one vote of SB 106/HB 81. (Photo via the Florida House)

Welfare recipients — Floridians on public assistance can breathe a bit easier, after a bill to increase penalties for those folks who don’t meet work requirements once again died. As if life wasn’t difficult enough for many of these families already living on the edge, a sudden loss of state assistance is just one less thing they need to worry about.

White House boys — It’s difficult to call these men winners after the abuses they faced at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee. But decades after the worst of the abuse occurred, lawmakers finally did what they should have done long ago: Apologized. Both chambers voted unanimously to approve resolutions acknowledging and apologizing for the abuses children experienced at the school. The House went one step further, approving legislation that would, among other things, set up memorials to the students in Jackson County and at the Capitol Complex in Tallahassee.

Groveland Four — Much like the White House boys, it’s hard to put the Groveland Four in the winners’ column. The four men — Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas, Walter Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd — were accused of raping a white woman near Groveland One was killed within days. Three were beaten in custody and convicted. One was killed on his way to retrial. All of them are now dead, and all of them were wrongfully convicted. Decades later, the Legislature unanimously supported resolutions apologizing for the “grave injustices perpetrated against” the men and encouraging Gov. Scott to grant them full pardons.

Tampa Bay Times — Who says newspapers don’t have an impact? After the Tampa Bay Times ran a series detailing the so-called “failure factories” in Pinellas County, the Legislature took notice — and took action. The five-part series fueled the conversation about the House’s $200 million “Schools of Hope” charter school plan.

Water remediators, auto glass shops, etc. The AOB moneymaking schemes, which resulted in over 28,000 lawsuits last year according to the CFO and Insurance Commissioner, will continue unabated, which basically makes losers out of anyone who pays for home or auto insurance.

Mixed Bag

Joe Negron — Made a promise to expand water storage south of Lake Okeechobee to try to reduce harmful discharges down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, and delivered. He navigated a tough terrain and was able to negotiate a deal that made everyone happy. The Stuart Republican also got money to help turn Florida’s universities into some of the best in the nation. But at what cost? The Senate appeared beat by the House at every turn. And Negron’s wonky approach to legislating meant the more bombastic (and quotable) Corcoran got more air time.

Jack Latvala — The Clearwater curmudgeon made for the best photo of the Session when he wagged his Snickers bar at AP reporter Gary Fineout. But many times, he appeared to quote from a script about this year’s budget that was conceived and written by others. He stuck up valiantly for state workers’ raises and made clear he wasn’t going to be pushed around (“The budget is closed”) as if anyone was brave enough to try. But after umpteen Sessions in the Legislature, his fatigue with the backroom shenanigans is starting to show.

Sen. Bill Galvano, Sen. Jack Latvala, and Sen. Rob Bradley confer on the Senate floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Rob Bradley — The Fleming Island Republican carried some of the upper chamber’s most high-profile legislation, including the bill (SB 10) to create a southern water storage reservoir, Senate President Negron’s top priority. He got $13.3 million for St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes, a major win for his constituents. But Bradley, who helped get medical marijuana bills through the Legislature in the past, couldn’t get the 2017 bill across the finish line. Still, give him props for tackling the big issues.

Dana Young — Was a big fish in the House pond, but her first year as a member of the upper chamber yielded mixed results. Earned kudos from her colleagues and environmentalists for her push to ban fracking, but had to explain why she voted for a bill in the House that would have regulated, not banned, fracking. She deftly navigated the process of workshopping five — yes, five! — medical marijuana implementing bills, but gets ding’ed for waiting until Week 3 to hold a workshop on the proposals and Week 5 to hold the first hearing on the Senate bill. We’re going to chalk it up to first-year jitters, and hope year two brings better luck.

Paul Renner — Carried the legislation (HB 7005) to kill Enterprise Florida and the proposal (HB 9) put in more transparency and accountability measures for VISIT FLORIDA. Both bills passed the House, and many of the accountability measures were incorporated into the budget language. But did this Speaker wannabe not read the rules his caucus passed this year? Or did he just not think a meeting to address his colleagues about his 2022 Speaker’s bid counted as campaigning?

Ray Rodrigues — The mild-mannered House Majority Leader took on some big issues during the 2017 Legislative Session, acting as the lower chamber’s point person on the medical marijuana and solar tax break implementing bills. But Rodrigues took heat for giving special interests too much say in drafting the legislation. Early versions of the solar amendment bill reportedly included language supplied by Florida Power & Light, while many of the provisions in an early version of the House’s medical marijuana implementing bill were backed by the Drug-Free America Foundation, which opposed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, answers a question on the medical use of marijuana on the floor of the House Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Competitive Workforce Act — The support for the pro-LGBTQ measure reached epic numbers this year, with nearly 70 co-sponsors in the House and Senate. But the proposal — which has the backing of 450 businesses across the state, including AT&T, Florida Blue and Walt Disney Resorts — never got a committee hearing. Attempts to frame the issue as an economic one failed to move the needle, as did an attempt by Democrats to tack on an amendment to the ride-sharing bill that would give LGBTQ Floridians protections against discrimination. But Florida Competes, the group backing the Competitive Workforce Act, isn’t giving up. Human rights ordinances have been passed in 12 counties and 30 municipalities throughout the state covering 60 percent of Floridians, and the folks behind Florida Competes are vowing to come back to fight to make sure 100 percent of Floridians are covered by the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Florida Hospital Association — Individual hospitals will still face cuts this year, but the $521 million in Medicaid cuts are much less severe than the nearly $1 billion Gov. Scott proposed. And those cuts will be mitigated by the $1.5 billion the state is expected to receive from the federal government for its Low Income Pool program, which goes to hospitals to reimburse them for charity care.

Florida Justice Association — The group says its investment in politics played out this Session, as more members were on committees that matched their skillset. The team pushed for fair legislation on workers compensation, assignment of benefits, and mandatory BI, always with an eye on the consumers. While the issues got a significant amount of attention this year, none of them passed. But that the FJA was able to move the discussion forward, and change some minds along the way, and is a good position for when the issues come back next year (or … maybe sooner?).

Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties — Forced to fight off a slew of home-rule exemptions this year, the associations that represent Florida’s local governments had mixed luck. The long-anticipated ride-booking bill strips local governments of their ability to regulate transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft. But a proposal (HB 17) to prohibit local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses unless “expressly authorized by general law” never made it to its second committee stop.

Florida Power & Light — Two bills they wanted lost steam: A measure giving the Public Service Commission exclusivity in determining underground locations of utility lines and another gutting a Supreme Court ruling that went against them, instead allowing customers to pick up the costs for natural gas exploration projects. Both these losses jam them up, financially and otherwise, especially if they can’t pass along costs to ratepayers. Keep an eye on what they do outside the legislative process this year to work other plays.

Insurance industry — Nothing majorly good, but given what the predictions for trial bar valor were, coupled with rumors of the repeal of a tax credit for hiring Floridians, not as bad as expected. Plus, hearing the industry got a few base hits on smaller issues.

Skin-terns— It’s great to be young, beautiful, selling bikinis and moonlighting as “political consultants.” It’s not so great when your benefactor looks like a lunkhead for hiring barely clothed, not-at-all-qualified twentysomethings to advise on political matters. Save it for Instagram, ladies.

Trauma care providers – An effort to dismantle the state’s trauma care system was once again held back this year, thanks to the efforts of the Coalition for Quality Care and doctors from across the state. 

University of South Florida — The university scored a nice chunk of change for its Morsani College of Medicine in the final budget proposal. Thanks in part to hard work of their chief lobbyist Helen Levine, the school will get $12 million for its new downtown Tampa medical education and research center. The state has already put in about $79 million to the project, part of a 50-acre redevelopment of downtown Tampa, over the past few years, including $22.5 million last year. But a last-minute change to legislation that would have given USF a long-sought-after preeminent distinction could mean the school is years off from reaching the status.

Biggest Loser

Frank Artiles — Do we really need to explain? Forced to resign after using the n-word, b-word, and calling the Senate President a vulgar word for female genitalia, Artiles created an (unwelcome) distraction three weeks before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. And even if Artiles’ temper didn’t land him a one-way trip out of the capital city, it’s likely he would’ve ended up on the loser list: At least 17 of the 27 bills he filed this year either didn’t get a hearing or were withdrawn prior to introduction.


Rick Scott — Earlier this year, the Governor said he wanted $76 million for VISIT Florida and $85 million for business incentives for Enterprise Florida. When it appeared the House was going to give him neither, he started a 60-day campaign to bash members of his own party for voting to eliminate one and slash funding for the other. When that didn’t work, he launched an ad campaign — filmed outside Florida, whoops! — to take a swing at the “politicians in Tallahassee.” And sure he secured $1.5 billion for the state’s “low-income pool” program, but the Naples Republican used that as a chance to come back to lawmakers and up his ask for Visit Florida (now $100 million) and demand $200 million to put toward fixing the Herbert Hoover Dike. When will he learn that you can’t issue dictates like a CEO when you’re in politics?

Governor Rick Scott enters the House of Representatives for the joint Session and to deliver his address on opening day of the 2017 Florida Legislative Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. March 6, 2017. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Executive Office of the Governor — Shame, shame, shame. The Governor’s team seemed to get their butts kicked up and down the Capitol this year, as they allowed the governor to get publicly and repeatedly embarrassed. While the Legislature shamed Scott, his team thought it best to hide behind closed doors. They even shrank the size of the office’s lobby to give themselves more cover. The result: Scott is on the verge of leaving the Governor’s Mansion with one of the biggest public policy and budgetary fails.  

Anitere Flores — Once seen as a rising star, Flores’ rep took several hits. As Senate President Negron’s top lieutenant, she was the subject of an NRA alert accusing her of coming out against the first amendment, after she said she wouldn’t support a slew of gun bills, including one to allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on college campuses, proposed this Session. The next slug came from the Wall Street Journal, who said Flores’ was keeping a “trial bar payday going for another year” because she declined to hear a bill by Sen. Hukill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo that would have stopped assignment of benefit abuses by ending attorney fee paydays. Instead, her committee advanced a bill by Sen. Gary Farmer that is favored by trial attorneys. While some might see the recognition she’s received as a positive, the soon-to-be-term-limited senator could see all this come back to haunt her if she seeks higher office in the coming years.

Dennis Baxley — Oof. The descendant of a Confederate soldier made waves this year when he said a proposed Florida Slavery Memorial would “celebrate defeat.” He tried to walk back the statement, saying he used the wrong word and rather than “celebrate adversity, (he’d) rather celebrate the overcomers of that adversity.” But that statement only made matters worse, with Rep. Kionne McGhee calling for President Negron to “step in and remedy the situation.” By the end of Session, Baxley and McGhee seemed to be on good terms, but Baxley’s refusal to hear the the Senate bill to create the memorial meant the effort died this year.

Cary Pigman — Didn’t fall as far as Frank the Tank, but man did the good doctor have a rough Session. Arrested on a DUI charge in March, breath tests measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.14 and 0.15, significantly higher than the legal limit of 0.08. He quickly resigned his post as chairman of Health Quality Subcommittee and tried to keep a low profile for the rest of Session. Bonus: Pigman was one of four lawmakers who appeared to take a walk on the so-called ‘whiskey and Wheaties vote’ and voted no after the fact.

Tom Lee — Acting as Speaker Corcoran’s go-to-guy in the Senate earned the former Senate President no love in the upper chamber. His bills were swatted down, and his decision to call for an audit of the Tampa International Airport during debate of the Senate budget proposal led to a fight within the regional delegation, and drew the ire of Sen. Latvala. And while his propensity to chat might be beloved by the press corps, maybe he could’ve saved himself a lot of hardship this Session and not told POLITICO Florida there was “more division during the first week of Session” than he had ever seen before. But as Majority Leader (and future Senate President) Wilton Simpson put it, Lee would know better than anyone what division looks like, also telling POLITICO Florida he “probably undermined … Andy Gardiner quite a bit. He probably knows what it looks like.” Did we mention, that was just in Week 2?

Sen. Wilton Simpson, Sen. Tom Lee, and Sen. Jeff Brandes confer during the Senate’s Committee on Rules Friday, April 28, 2017, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (Photo by Phil Sears)

David Altmaier — Another Session in the rearview mirror, and another year without the Legislature passing a comprehensive assignment of benefits reform package. While the House approved a bill that was favored by Altmaier, the insurance industry and business advocates, the Senate refused to hear a similar bill. Instead, it moved a less industry-friendly bill, which never got to the floor.

Aramis Ayala — The State Attorney in the 9th Judicial Circuit found herself in the legislative crosshairs the minute she announced she would no longer seek the death penalty. Central Florida Republicans called on Gov. Scott to suspend her from office, and the governor reassigned 22 first-degree murder cases to State Attorney Brad King. And when the final budget was released last week, it appears lawmakers cut her staff by 21 positions and budget by $1.3 million. The one bright spot: According to budget language, if that money isn’t spent by the last quarter of the year, Ayala “may submit a budget amendment to request the return of the remaining appropriations on a recurring basis.”

Alimony bills — Doomed after Sen. Rene Garcia, the chairman of Children, Families and Elder Affairs, refused to hear the 2017 proposal. The proposal once again tried to toughen standards by which alimony is granted and modified. Have no fear, it will be back: Sen. Passidomo, one of this year’s sponsors, said she plans to bring the bill back next year.

Back-to-school shoppers — Gov. Scott wanted a 10-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday. The Florida House wanted a 10-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday. What is Florida getting? A three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday for clothing valued at $60 or less, school supplies valued at $15 or less. It also exempts the first $750 of the sales price of personal computers from the sales and use tax. Guess Aug. 4-6 will be busy days at the mall.

Bingo slot machine manufacturers — We love late-Session sneak attacks. An amendment to a professional deregulation bill in the Senate popped up under the banner of clarifying that fantasy sports play isn’t gambling. While everyone focused on the fantasy sports language, no one noticed other language in the document that would have allowed an expansion of bingo slots to veteran’s organizations. The House caught it, and the effort failed. Bingo slots makers were thisclose to a payday, but alas.

Counties that passed slots referendums — SOL for Session as efforts to pass a gambling bill and extend slot machines tanked in the last week. Pari-mutuel operators continue to pull out what hair they have left. “Everybody thinks we go to court so we can exploit loopholes but that’s not true,” one said. “We can’t get clarity from the DBPR (which regulates gambling) or the Legislature. So who else is there to tell us what we can and cannot do?”

Department of Financial Services On a week that CFO Jeff Atwater deserved to be going out on a high note, he was overshadowed by news that his Chief of Staff and top deputies gave themselves big, retroactive raises. Not a good look for a nice guy that deserved better.

Florida colleges — President Negron wants to make the state’s university system a crown jewel, but the college system appeared to take a hit at the expense of funding boosts to the universities and K-12 education. The Association of Florida Colleges estimates a $30.2 million permanent funding reduction this year, which translates to an average reduction of about $1.1 million. Considered one of the best systems in the nation, college officials have said the cuts could mean they’ll be unable to respond to local and regional needs with affordable workforce programs; have to reduce courses; and limit admissions in key programs.

First-time offenders — An attempt to pass legislation to require law enforcement to issue civil citations for many non-violent, first-time offenders couldn’t get across the finish line this year. A top priority for President Negron and carried by Flores, the proposal would have required law enforcement officers issue a civil citation or require juveniles participate in diversion program when they admit to committing certain first-time, misdemeanor offenses, like possession of alcoholic beverages, criminal mischief and trespass. But the House didn’t take up the amended bill, killing it for the year.

Hillsborough PTC — Toodles, Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission. The Legislature approved a bill this year to eliminate the agency, after a series of blunders and outcry from public officials. The proposal cleared the House and Senate unanimously, and now heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Insurance industry — It appeared to be a no good, very bad year for the insurance industry as a whole. With the failure of assignment benefits, workers compensation reforms and a host of other reforms, the industry was a circular firing squad of the highest order. After years of asking for too much, they may have to wait for the end of a trial-friendly era (if that ever comes) to get their reforms through.

Lisa Miller — Did the well-known Tallahassee lobbyist pose as a concerned citizen on a conference call to praise Ohio-based Demotech, Inc.? We’ll never know. But when a senator plasters posters of your blurred out face — or the face of a woman called “Concerned Citizen Mary Beth Wilson” who looks a heck of a lot like you — all over the Capitol, it’s safe to say the question alone lands you in the loser column.

John Morgan — The godfather of medical marijuana lost his cool as legislation to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment died this Session, taking to Twitter calling out his former political ally and United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara. While Morgan reportedly worked with Corcoran to push for no caps, he regularly took to Twitter to bash lawmakers over the bills and even threatened to sue over the smoking ban.

John Morgan, the godfather of the medical marijuana movement, went through a very public break-up with his political ally Ben Pollara as medical marijuana implementing legislation went up in smoke this year.

Eli Nortelus — Oh, Eli. “Parted ways” with Akerman, one of the state’s largest law firms, on the first day of the Legislative Session. Sources close to Nortelus and David Roberts, who resigned at the same time, said they were fired on the first day of Session at the insistence of Walmart. He seemed to bounce back, hanging his own shingle and taking several of his clients with him. But the liquor lobbyist was popped just days before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session for driving under the influence after, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, losing his balance and nearly falling over during a field sobriety test.

NRA/Marion Hammer — With her go-to-guy secured as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, some thought 2017 could be the year that gun bills moved in the Senate. No. Such. Luck. She was foiled again by a Republican member of the Miami-Dade delegation. But even if the slew of concealed carry bills got past the Judiciary Committee, they faced a tough path in the Senate. And the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6 appeared to leave lawmakers with little appetite to take up gun bills this year.

Optometrists Optometrists, who are not medical doctors, spent over $2 million in campaign contributions during the 2016 election cycle in their effort to be allowed to perform surgery and expand their prescribing power to include all drugs, including narcotics. In the end, HB 1037 got 1 committee hearing in 1 chamber and passed that committee by 1 vote. Is it just me or was it probably not the best idea to introduce a bill that adds at least 4,000 new opioid prescribers in a state that is the epicenter for a nationwide opioid epidemic? Look for the Eyeball Wars to return in 2018.

Specialty license plates — Because 100-plus specialty tags aren’t enough, the Legislature tried to lard up the state’s inventory with even more plates, for out-of-state schools Auburn, Alabama and Georgia. Nope, didn’t make it.  

Vacation rentals — A proposal to pre-empt regulating vacation rental homes to the state and away from local governments was pushed this Session, but for naught. Some lawmakers felt the locals went too far in trying to crack down on or drive out vacation rentals, saying it was a matter of property rights. Others said there were companies whose business was to buy up houses and rent them out, and who didn’t care about being good neighbors. Sounds like everyone’s a loser on this issue.

EXTRA EDITION — The media’s winners and losers by Peter Schorsch alone (so don’t blame Jenna, Jim or Michael.)


Jessica Bakeman — In two short years, she’s come to own the education policy beat. And she gave a helluva performance at Press Skits. If only she didn’t accuse us of sexism every other week.

Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida and president of Capitol Press Corps sings in the audience during the 62nd Annual Press Skits 2017, The Crony Awards, sponsored by the Florida Capitol Press Corps, held at The Moon in Tallahassee, Florida March 14, 2017. The funds raised go to the Barbara Frye Scholarship Fund supporting Florida journalism students attending Florida schools. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Steve Bousquet — A shocker for our readers, we know. But he’s parlayed proximity to Speaker’s Office with scoops large and small from CorcoranWorld. His profile — with great Scott Keeler photos — is the definitive look at the second most powerful person in state government.

Brian Burgess — In his debut season working the media’s side of the velvet ropes, the former Rick Scott spox wins a ‘rookie of the session’ award for developing a blog that one ignores at one’s peril.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster — A workhorse AND a show horse for She’s the driving force behind the popular “60 Days” and “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email programs, while covering a wide portfolio of Capitol topics all the way from Naples.

Matt Dixon — If he’s not the best in the game, he’s certainly in that conversation. Who are we kidding, he IS the best. Seamlessly bounces from policy to political and back, writing as much copy as two or three reporters.

Facebook Live — Whether it be Burgess live—blogging or Tia Mitchell interviewing a newsmaker, the video streaming service is finding a place in Capitol coverage. Prediction: Look for everyone to be ‘live’ next Session.

Florida Channel — Doesn’t get enough credit for the breadth and depth of issues and bill coverage, and smartly hired Press Corps veteran John Kennedy after he was bounced from the Palm Beach Post. Its “Capitol Update” is the nightly cheat sheet for reporters and lobbyists. Speaking of which…

News manager Krysta Brown prepares to go on the air of The Florida Channel, after the joint Session of the Florida Legislature at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. (Photo by Mark Wellheiser)

John Kennedy — This print guy has made a successful transition to TV, and is now one of the few broadcast reporters who not only asks questions at gaggles, but smart, tough questions. It’s just still weird seeing him hold a microphone.

The Gradebook — Quietly, Jeff Solochek and Co. assemble what may be the best blog at the Tampa Bay Times. Their coverage of education policy rivals top—of—the—game POLITICO Florida—with the benefit of not being behind a paywall.

Patricia Mazzei, Kristen Clark — The Herald’s Miami-based political reporter and its Tallahassee-based Capitol correspondent pulled off exemplary coverage of all things Dade County-related during the Legislative Session. Mazzei helped usher Frank Artiles to the door, and Clark did some tough education stories that spoke truth to power.

Tia Mitchell — Another veteran reporter who used a well—established relationship with Corcoran to lasso a herd of scoops. Plus, it was Mitchell who first asked the questions which eventually led to Artiles’ resignation.

Honorable mentions

Alexandra Glorioso — The new(ish) Naples Daily News political reporter quickly gained entry into Bill Galvano’s universe and gained incremental scoops on gambling negotiations.

Arek Sarkissian — He makes us tear our hair out sometimes (see: Aaron Bean coverage), but his dogged pursuit of VISIT FLORIDA earned our respect.

Arek Sarkissian, left, bureau chief for the Naples Daily News, works the hallways between the Senate and Senate Office Building at the Florida Capitol. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Christine Sexton — Her coverage of the health care industry for POLITICO Florida still is light years ahead of any other reporter’s. It just wasn’t a huge Session for her wheelhouse.

Mixed bag

The Associated Press — We’re ding’ing the wire service for its underuse, if not misuse, of Capitol Press Corps veteran Gary Fineout. The AP’s “write it so Grandma will care” approach restricts the Oracle of Adams Street from sharing the enormous amount of institutional knowledge he has about The Process with those in The Process. His editors need to figure out a way to #FreeTheFineout.

Mary Ellen Klas — Yes, she fired the kill shot that helped drive a state Senator from office. But the Miami Herald bureau chief was rarely a pack leader on any major issue, save what the Senate dished to her to tweak the House. And we’re long past fatigued with her patrician self—righteousness.

Allison Nielsen — Otherwise dogged reporter shuttles back—and—forth between St. Pete and Tallahassee, covering a broad array of subjects (including python hunting) for Sunshine State News. But her antics on social media—picking fights with gubernatorial candidates and other reporters—turn off as many followers as gain them. Then again, maybe that means she’s doing something right.

News Service of Florida — We predicted two years ago that either NSF or POLITICO Florida would be standing by the end of 2018, but not both. We stand by that prediction. The sacking of publisher Ruth Herrle could be a sign of the collapse to come.

Isadora Rangel — There may not be another reporter who President Negron dishes to more often. That said, the TC Palm’er was so singularly focused on covering the Lake O debate, she really didn’t take full advantage of this relationship.


Florida Watchdog — You may not have heard of this outfit, but William Patrick’s team was turning out some pretty decent copy. Then, somewhere along the way, the Watchdog stopped barking.

Gannett Capital Team — We knew the moment they goofed their logo, this idea would be better on paper than execution. Sure, individual reporters did some great work, but in this case, the sum is not greater than the parts.

Palm Beach Post — Does great reporting at the local level on the opioid crisis, but no longer has a capital reporter to ask what the state is doing to solve the problem. Simply put, a great Florida newspaper must have a presence in Tallahassee.

Jeremy Wallace — The former Sarasota Herald—Tribune reporter sure is a nice guy, but his platform — the vaunted Tampa Bay Times — was thoroughly underutilized. Indeed, he’s part of the “Death Star,” the Times/Miami Herald super bureau. But when was the last time anyone said, “Did you read what Jeremy Wallace wrote?” No wonder he’s leaving for the Houston Chronicle.

Sunburn for 5.8.17 – Sine Die

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

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

The work of the people ended with a whimper Friday, as lawmakers agreed to extend the 2017 Legislative Session to complete the budget, killing a host of other legislation.

As the Legislature turned out the lights around 9:30 p.m., high-profile dead bills included efforts to overhaul workers’ compensation and assignment of benefits, and to implement the state’s medical cannabis constitutional amendment.

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron confer during a budget conference in the Knott Building Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

The House and Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution extending session to 11:59 p.m. Monday to pass the 2017-18 state budget and several other measures, including the annual tax cut package.

The General Appropriations Act wasn’t delivered until 2:43 p.m. Friday. With the state constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period, Monday afternoon is the earliest that the budget can be voted on.

Now it remains to be seen, with a budget that includes drastic cuts to Gov. Rick Scott‘s tourism marketing and economic development priorities, whether Scott will veto part or all of the spending plan.

John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times offers this stinging criticism – “Imagine how much better life could be without a Legislature – Why not get rid of the state Legislature? 1. Consider the evidence … Once again, the Legislature failed to come up with a new plan for gambling in Florida. If you’re counting … Not that it’s important, or anything. It’s only a billion-dollar industry. 2. More than ever, legislators have proven to be a spineless group of lemmings … Republicans are lap dogs for Corcoran, and Democrats seem to think whining is an actual strategy. Neither party has enough independent thinkers. 3. The most important thing they do — the one thing they are required by law to do — was apparently done without the input of 99 percent of the legislators. The budget was hammered out in private with negotiators from the House and the Senate, while the rank-and-file tried not to look like wallflowers. It’s almost comical when you think about it.


Speaker Corcoran’s hometown newspaper is already looking ahead to the Legislature vs. Gov. Scott:

Orlando Sentinel, Squabbling lawmakers to come back for final vote Monday – “House and Senate leaders did agree to many of their priorities, but they all but ignored fellow Republican Gov. Scott’s agenda, underscoring major rifts within the state’s ruling political party.” South Florida Sun Sentinel, The final countdown in the Florida Legislature – “Greetings from Day 60 of the 60 63-day legislative session … Lawmakers will return just to vote on the budget … But not me. Watching a single vote is no reason for me to stay in this town. So goodbye, Tallahassee.” The Daily Stampede, A Call To Arms: Florida Legislature Moves Goalposts To Screw USF. It’s Time For Bulls To Fight Back. – “This is a lot of legislative minutia, but the tl;dr is USF got screwed out of a ton of money last night, as well as “pre-eminent” status, in a legislative move that will guarantee even more money for UF and FSU.” Miami New Times, Here Are the Worst Ideas the Florida Legislature Proposed This Year – “A bill ratcheting up the drug war …  A half-billion cut to Medicaid, including a $157 million cut to South Florida hospitals … A ridiculous bill letting public-school parents object to the science in their children’s science books.” Sunshine State News, Ten big issues of the 2017 Legislative Session – “Budget … Death penalty … Economic development … Education … Gambling … Guns … Health care … Insurance … Medical marijuana … Water.” Daytona Beach News-Journal, Winners, losers during the 2017 legislative session – “Winners: Legislative leaders, universities, taxpayers, flows of green algae, charter schools. Losers: Hospitals, Florida Forever, Gov. Scott, casino operators, ethics and transparency, marijuana activists.” Miami Herald, In last-day surprise, Legislature loads education policy into pass/fail budget – “Crammed into a single mammoth bill  … With $414 million in spending attached  … The sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise … Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.”

Facebook status of the day via Sen. Jack Latvala, who lit up the Speaker:

What Richard Corcoran is reading –Looming departures would reshape powerful Miami-Dade legislative delegation” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – When Florida lawmakers return to the Capitol to pass a state budget in legislative overtime, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz will grab a microphone and say goodbye to the House of Representatives, a year ahead of schedule. Diaz is not the only influential Miami Republican likely on his way out. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the prominent House budget chief and an early local Trump supporter, interviewed in Washington last month for a position as U.S. ambassador. In short: Diaz’s farewell speech could mark the beginning of the end of the most powerful House delegation that Miami-Dade County has seen in the GOP-controlled Capitol in recent years. The tight-knit Republicans on the delegation will leave a lasting legacy in the form of Rep. Jose Oliva, who is slated to become the next House speaker — Miami-Dade’s first since Marco Rubio concluded his term in 2008. Support for Oliva’s future speakership came from Republicans who like him make up the legislative class of 2012. But veterans from the class of 2010, like Diaz and Trujillo, laid the political groundwork for Oliva’s success.

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The House and Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution extending session to 11:59 p.m. Monday to pass the 2017-18 state budget and several other measures, including the annual tax cut package.

The General Appropriations Act wasn’t delivered until 2:43 p.m. Friday. With the state constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period, Monday afternoon is the earliest that the budget can be voted on.

Over the weekend, lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters sifted through the $83 billion budget and, in some cases, were shocked by what they found.

State budget stuffed with local projects: USF center, water taxis and … Bernardo de Galvez?” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – One of the biggest items in the budget for Tampa Bay is, once again, USF’s Morsani College of Medicine … USF will get $12 million for the new downtown Tampa medical education and research center … Pasco County got $15 million for an Interstate 75 overpass to relieve congestion on State Routes 52 and 54. Hillsborough Community College won $10 million in construction money for a new Allied Health Center on the Dale Mabry Campus … And St. Petersburg College will get $6.5 million for its new Student Success Center at the Gibbs Campus …

— (T)he House and Senate appeared to strike a deal to send $400,000 to Forward Pinellas for its water taxi work. But when the budget printed out … Jack Latvala announced $1 million would go toward the taxis …

— A similar thing happened two funding for structural improvements for the Cuban Club in Ybor City … $1 million had been set aside for the project.

— Pensacola won $100,000 to build a statue of a Spanish sailor — Bernardo de Galvez — who defeated the British in 1781 in a battle in that city.

— Sarasota won $1 million for a circus conservatory and another $2.5 million for a rowing park.

— State taxpayers are helping build or repair fire stations for East Palatka, LaBelle and Wakulla County.

This is the issue that has the Tampa Bay delegation up in arms: Deep inside a massive higher education policy bill, lawmakers raised the four-year student graduation standard from 50 percent to 60 percent by 2018 for universities to reach “preeminent status” and qualify for more money and prestige, reports the Tampa Bay Times. USF, the only state school hurt by the change, issued an appeal to Tampa Bay lawmakers to “take action,” but it’s too late for the budget conforming bill to be changed.

— The four-year, 60 percent provision appeared in law for the first time Friday afternoon on page 232 of a 292-page higher education bill, Senate Bill 374, that will pass Monday as part of the state budget.

— This change was done at the behest of President Negron — and he’s not budging. “The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron said. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout session.”

— Negron and Corcoran agreed to the change at a public meeting Friday — and no lawmaker from Tampa Bay publicly questioned it.

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more” via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – At the insistence of Speaker Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill … with $414 million in spending attached. All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one … when lawmakers vote on the annual budget. No changes can be made to the bill. If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Tweet, tweet:

It wasn’t a last-minute budget item, but the $2.8 million in taxpayers’ money paid to Visit Florida to produce a fishing show is a perfect example of the kind of spending issue Speaker Corcoran will use to buttress his arguments against funding both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News has the scoop Since the first deal was made in 2012, VISIT FLORIDA paid Pat Roberts $2.8 million in taxpayer money for the show and allowed him to keep all of the advertising and sponsorship revenue.

— VISIT FLORIDA agreed to pay Roberts $450,000 for the first season of “Bass 2 Billfish with Peter Miller,” including $10,000 for production of each of the 10 half-hour episodes and $10,000 to air each on the NBC Sports Network. The company also received money for re-airings, web articles and short videos, according to contracts provided by VISIT FLORIDA.

–VISIT FLORIDA paid $550,000 for the second season in 2014. The third and fourth seasons in 2015 and 2016 each cost $580,000, and this year’s season cost $600,000, the contracts show.

— Roberts also received a 36-foot boat from Bradenton-based Yellowfin Yachts in the deal, according to an October 2012 bill of sale that identified the transaction as advertising credit for the show.

— VISIT FLORIDA provided a ratings analysis … showing a 9-1 return on the taxpayer investment. But by giving up advertising and sponsorship revenue and having no way to determine what Roberts collected, it is unclear how much better Roberts did than the taxpayers of Florida in the deal.


… about the heroin crisis via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post – Unlike recent years, when bills related to addiction and sober homes faced indifference and pious judgment, this year’s legislative session saw bipartisan bills flying through both houses unopposed. Some of the urgency is a response to the unrelenting, rising death toll from overdoses of heroin and other opioids. Bills breezed through seven committees in both houses unopposed. On the second-to-last day of the session, the Senate unanimously approved the House version, sending it to Gov. Scott for his signature.

The bill, which becomes law July 1, addressed three concerns: Marketing: Requires marketers of drug treatment services to be licensed by the state’s Division of Consumer Services. Criminal penalties: Allows the statewide prosecutor to investigate and prosecute patient brokering. Increases fines and prison time for higher volumes of patient brokering. Brokering up to 19 patients becomes a second-degree felony and a $100,000 fine. Brokering more than 20 patients is a first-degree felony with a $500,000 fine. Empowering Department of Children and Families: Significant increase in licensing fees. Operating without a license becomes a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence. DCF must draft rules for clinical and treatment best-practices, facility standards, qualifications for employees and staff ratios.

… about fantasy sports fails via The Associated Press – Late Friday, the Florida House rejected a proposal that fantasy sports are legal and not subject to regulation. The Florida Senate had added the provision earlier in the week to a bill repealing state regulation of several different types of jobs. This means the Florida Legislature won’t consider fantasy sports again until next year’s annual session.

… about transportation  – Despite last-minute amendments – a few withdrawn – a legislative package sought by the Florida Department of Transportation received final passage as the Session ended. Originally sponsored by Panama City Republican Sen. George Gainer, the legislation received six amendments Friday. The FDOT annual transportation bill, the FDOT sought to make it easier to modify its five-year construction plan to accommodate emergencies; giving the agency more control over bridge inspections, and improves the requirements for the process of accepting rapid response no-bid contracts for emergency construction, among other things.

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The Legislature failed to agree on rules to enact the medical marijuana amendment supported by 71 percent of Florida voters last November.

Who’s to blame for the issue’s collapse?

If you ask John Morgan the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, an advocacy organization which was formed, in part, to lobby the Legislature on issues related to the expanded use of medical marijuana.

Over the weekend, Morgan and Pollara’s partnership exploded, with Morgan blasting Pollara in the media and social. scored the first interview with Morgan and it was a doozy.

–“Ben Pollara fucked the patients,” Morgan said Saturday morning. “The person who strengthened the cartels (a reference to the seven existing licenses permitted to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in Florida and who have been on the opposite side of Florida for Care as the Legislature debated the implementation of Amendment 2) the most is Ben Pollara.”

— “The first thing I am going to do is make sure the people who helped me pass Amendment 2 know not to give Ben Pollara another red nickel,” Morgan said.

Pollara played defense all weekend.

— “The only compensation I have ever sought or received for work related to medical marijuana has been for political consulting and lobbying,” said Pollara. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

Pollara told Sunshine State News their relationship began to crumble earlier this week in the midst of negotiations on retail facility caps. Morgan was not happy over the idea of capping dispensaries and made it clear the bill would fail if caps were part of the end language.

Be sure to read Allison Nielsen’s reporting on the 11th hour lobbying which led to the collapse of the medical marijuana legislation.

What’s next for Morgan and medical marijuana? On Saturday, Morgan called for the Legislature to be brought back to Tallahassee in a special session focused on cannabis, reports Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times.

— Asked Saturday if Gov. Scott would call a special session and what he wanted to see in health department rules, a spokeswoman said simply, “Our office is reviewing our options on this issue.”

— Health officials now go back to the drawing board to write sweeping public policy that patients, advocates, business interests and doctors are sure to scrutinize. “Regardless of what myself or Florida for Care does on it, it’s going to be ripe for challenge from the patient side and the physician side and the businesses,” Pollara said.

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This story from Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times is amazing:

Multiple sources report that about two weeks ago, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo walked down to the Governor’s Office, met with Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal and offered a compromise. The House would agree to give VISIT Florida $75 million, with $100 million for the dike project this year and $100 million next year, but Enterprise Florida would get no money. In addition, the House encouraged Scott to veto every single hometown project in the budget (which could still happen).

— A Capitol lobbyist with knowledge of the transaction urged Scott to take the deal and claim victories … but he didn’t.

— The sources said McDougal responded a day or so later with a counterproposal that was essentially what Scott wanted all along: $100 million for VISIT Florida, $200 million for the [Herbert Hoover] dike and $100 million for Enterprise Florida, all of which the House rejected.

Reality check: One lobbyist who is plugged into Scott’s office sent over these thoughts when nominating the EOG as one of the losers of the 2017 Session. “The Governor’s team got their behinds whooped up and down the Capitol and Adams Street. It is shameful to watch as a team allows its leader to be publicly embarrassed over and over and over and over. While the Legislature was shaming the administration, the administration was either hiding behind secured doors or entering the local pubs on Adams Street.”

If Scott vetoes budget, House Speaker says they have votes to override” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Speaker Corcoran is not sweating the idea that Gov. Scott could veto the entire state budget the Legislature is expected to pass …”If he vetoes the budget, we have the votes, we’ll override,” Corcoran told reporters … Scott has said that vetoing the entire budget is one of his options, but has stopped short of threatening it. “I’m going to look at my options,” Scott said.

Here’s our question: Why veto the entire budget and risk an override, when Scott can selectively veto hundreds of millions of dollars in member project, thereby doling out punishment to individual lawmakers?

Meanwhile, the campaign to pressure Scott to veto the ‘whiskey and Wheaties Bill’ is intensifying via The Associated Press – Owners of small, independent liquor stores in central Florida are asking customers to support their efforts urging the governor to veto a bill allowing the sale of spirits in grocery stores … “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill” (SB 106) … Independent liquor store owners opposed the bill, saying supermarkets and big box stores could drive them out of business … “Not only do they have a price and convenience advantage, but grocery stores will have the power to kick us out when our lease is up,” Bully’s Liquor owner Steve Park [said] “If our landlord had to choose between us and the grocery store next door, we would be gone.” The bill is the latest legislative proposal to change how beer, liquor and wine can be made, distributed and sold in Florida. For example, brewers and distillers now can sell their products directly to consumers in pubs and in takeout jugs called growlers.

Scott to hold rally in Miami to call for release of Leopoldo Lopez” via Florida Politics — The Governor’s Office announced Scott, a Naples Republican, will hold a Freedom Rally at 6 p.m., Monday at El Arepazo 2, 3900 NW 79th Avenue in Miami. … Scott joins other Florida Republicans in calling for López’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called López “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.” The governor’s decision to hold a rally is also notable for another reason: He’ll be far from Tallahassee as state lawmakers finish work on the 2017-18 budget, which doesn’t fund several of his priorities.

What the Governor’s Office is reading – “Lockheed Martin is moving ballistic missile jobs to Florida” via The Associated Press – Lockheed Martin Corp. plans to move about 300 ballistic missile program jobs from California to Florida’s Space Coast over the next two years … employees moving to Brevard County will work on testing and maintenance for the Navy’s Trident II D-5 Fleet Ballistic Missile … Lockheed Martin currently has nearly 1,000 employees in Florida. In January, the company completed renovations to a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station facility that had been built in 1961 for NASA’s first manned spaceflight program.

A year after her predecessor lost his job, Senate confirms Celeste Philip as surgeon general” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – On the final day of 2016’s Legislative Session, Philip became Florida’s acting surgeon general after the Senate refused to confirm her predecessor, Dr. John Armstrong. This year, as the Legislature prepared for a final set of votes … the Senate confirmed Philip to the job permanently. The surgeon general, appointed by Gov. Scott, is head of Florida’s Department of Health.

Mike Dew is a shoo-in for Transportation Dep’t top job” via Florida Politics Dew got a phone call from the Governor’s Office this week telling him the job was his. Dew, who put in for the top spot the morning of this Monday’s deadline to apply, was Gov. Scott‘s external affairs director in 2011-12. The Florida Transportation Commission, the department’s advisory board, scheduled interviews of applicants on May 11. The finalists are Dew, Florida Transportation Commissioner Ronald Howse, FDOT district secretary Phillip Gainer, former FDOT assistant secretary Richard Biter, and former North Carolina Department of Transportation Gene Conti. The panel will meet Wednesday, May 17, in Tallahassee to recommend three candidates for consideration by the Governor.

Sources: Noah Valenstein set to become next DEP head” via Florida PoliticsValenstein, Gov. Scott‘s former environmental policy coordinator, has the inside track to become the next secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection … Valenstein, now the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, is the top pick over interim secretary Ryan Matthews. Scott and the Cabinet in February OK’d Matthews to serve as interim department head to fill in for departing secretary Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

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— 2018 ON THE MIND — 

Adam Putnam looks like Florida’s next governor, but lifelong politician tag will dog him” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times Putnam, the fellow who seems most likely to become Florida’s next governor, will stand on the steps of the old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow on Wednesday to kick off his campaign and lay out his vision. The two-term Republican agriculture commissioner, five-term U.S. House member and two-term state House member may be the best-qualified candidate for governor in Florida history. Trouble is, that’s also what they said about Hillary Clinton, who struggled to generate energy and passion as a presidential candidate. But what if after all this painstaking preparation, Putnam finds himself running at the worst possible time for a career politician? Trump won the presidency thanks to voters’ disgust with the status quo and establishment politicians, and on the eve of his campaign kickoff Putnam looks a lot more like Jeb Bushthan Trump. He already has a campaign war chest of more than $7 million to help scare off primary rivals. A play-it-safe campaign might be just the thing to help rivals in both parties paint him as another bland, lifelong politician.

Adam Smith ID’s the leading Republican AG candidates via the Tampa Bay TimesCorcoran has ruled out running for the office to be vacated after Bondi is term-limited in 2018, and other leading Republican contenders are now looking at other jobs … the likeliest candidates seem to be recently resigned Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, 42, and state Rep. Jay Fant, 49, of Jacksonville. The most prominent political figure in the mix is President Negron, who is still a big question mark. The Democratic side has been quieter on the Attorney General front. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler is a leading contender.

Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho explores run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO FloridaCarvalho — a voter with no party affiliation — says he has been deluged with calls from Democratic and Republican insiders and leaders who have urged him to look at the seat. “I am serious seriously dedicated and committed to Miami Dade public schools and my commitment is as strong as ever,” Carvalho said. “At the same time, based on the significant voices of people who have urged me to at least think about it, I owe it to them minimally to entertain their request for consideration.” One top Florida Democrat, however, said he spoke with Carvalho and that he “is strongly considering a run, and that if he does it, he would be the instant front-runner.”

Navy vet to run against Dennis Ross” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times Andrew Learned, a Bloomingdale Navy veteran who runs an academic tutoring business, says he plans to file to run as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in 2018. Learned, who’s 30 and single, hasn’t run for office before but said in an interview he’s always wanted to be in public service. Learned grew up in Valrico and was student body president at the University of Tampa on an ROTC scholarship, earning a degree in economics and political science. He was a boarding officer in a carrier strike group overseas and later stationed in Bahrain, starting his business in Valrico between deployments. He returned from Bahrain in late April and said he’s waiting for his separation date from the Navy to file candidacy papers. Learned said he disagrees with Ross most strongly on health care. Ross is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

Outraged by health care vote, Pam Keith considers facing Brian Mast in CD 18 next year” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics Keith has formed an exploratory committee … making the announcement at the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting … just hours after Mast voted with the majority of his fellow Republicans for the American Health Care Act. “The response has been phenomenal,” Keith said. “People love that I am a veteran and feel that this helps to neutralize a lot of what Brian emphasized in his campaign.” Keith wanted to wait longer before making the announcement, but said Mast’s vote in support of the AHCA “really pushed me to get out there and test the waters.”


Lenny Curry declines consideration as CFO” via Teresa Stepzinski of the Florida Times-Union Curry said in a prepared statement that in light of ongoing media speculation, “I feel I must make clear my plans for the future.” Jacksonville remains his focus, he said. “I have stated many times in recent weeks that it is flattering to hear speculation about a statewide position that would allow me to do more for the state. And I always stand ready to work with Gov. Scott to make the future brighter,” Curry said. “But to stem the gossip and get the focus back on the city I love, I informed the governor … I am not seeking an appointment to CFO,” he said.

— With Curry out, the CFO job is Pat Neal’s to lose, right? RIGHT? Maybe not, we hear Joe Gruters is still in play, as is former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

— We think Scott should reward his only real ally in the Senate — Jack Latvala — with the appointment.

“Constitutional review panel’s rules committee will meet” via Florida Politics – Even though it’s held several public hearings already, the Constitution Revision Commission has yet to agree on final rules governing its own work and deliberations. A “working group” will get together in Tampa on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the campus of Hillsborough Community College to hammer out those rules. The public will be given an opportunity to comment during that meeting. Then, the full commission will hold a public hearing for ideas on proposed constitutional amendments 5-8 p.m. in the same location, the DSTU Auditorium on the college’s Dale Mabry Campus. Both meetings will be live-streamed by The Florida Channel on

Assignment editors – Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga will be the keynote speaker at a Law Day event by Legal Services of North Florida, the Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association and the Florida State University College of Law. Event begins 5 p.m. at Florida State University, Turnbull Conference Center, 555 West Pensacola St. In Tallahassee.


RIP – “Self-taught Miami photojournalist and blogger Bill Cooke dies at 70” via David Smiley of the Miami HeraldCooke, a tough-as-nails photojournalist and blogger, died in the Miami Veterans Affairs hospice after years of battling pulmonary fibrosis. He was 70. A Vietnam veteran and notorious curmudgeon who taught himself to shoot a camera, Cooke built his career in Miami as a freelance photographer with a nose for news. He scored big in 1992 when he followed a crew sign pointing down a neighborhood alley and snapped Madonna naked in a backyard shooting stills for her book “Sex.” While working as a car valet, he got a gig at The Associated Press by walking into the Miami office with photos of Al Pacino shooting scenes for “Scarface.” “He’d managed to sneak in and get some really outstanding pictures,” said Phil Sandlin, a former AP photo editor who worked with Cooke for about a decade. “Bill was a hustler. And he was actually as good a newsman as he was a photographer.”

Political consultant, competitive grillmaster Josh Cooper competing to be Fox’s new MasterChef” via Florida PoliticsCooper is more than a skilled Florida politico; he’s also a widely respected Tallahassee grillmaster. And now Cooper, a founding partner of Strategic Information Consultants and a competitive barbecue chef, is hoping to become the next “MasterChef.” MasterChef, in its eighth season on the FOX Network, is a reality cooking show hosted by award-winning celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay that takes a batch of home cooks from around the nation, invites them to Los Angeles for the “Battle for a White Apron.” Throughout his career, Cooper had taken his skills — in both politics and grilling – from Washington to Tallahassee by way of Memphis, where in 2008 he became part of a competitive barbecue team called the Swinos. The eighth season of MasterChef begins Wednesday, May 31, (8:00-9 p.m. ET/PT) on FOX.

New and renewed lobby registrations

Edgar Castro, Southern Strategy Group: ofo US Limited

Julie Fess, Fess Consulting: First Manatee Tag Agency, Inc.

***Smith, Bryan & Myers is an all-inclusive governmental relations firm located in Tallahassee. For more than three decades, SBM has been working with our clients to deliver their priorities through strategic and effective government relations consulting that has led us to become one of Tallahassee’s premier governmental relations firms today.***

— ALOE — 

 “Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter group has the money to buy the Marlins, source says” via Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald — A group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and ex-YankeeDerek Jeter has rounded up the investors to buy the Marlins. “They have the money,” a Major League Baseball source said. But the source said negotiations to purchase the Marlins are ongoing and that three groups are in the running to acquire the franchise from current owner Jeffrey Loria. A group led by Massachusetts businessman Tagg Romney is also in contention to buy the club, the source said, as well as a third “surprise” group that is a latecomer to the process. The Romney group also has the money to buy the team, the source said. An agreement could be reached within the next 10 days but would require approval from MLB owners. That final step might not take place until as late as August.

 “Snake fan hunts pythons in Florida to save other critters” via Jennifer Kay of the Associated Press — Florida is paying $8.10 an hour to hunt invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but Brian Hargrove says he’d work for free. He’s enjoying special access to state-owned wetlands and reliving his teenage years, when catching snakes gave him something better to do than join a Miami gang. It’s the best job ever for a man with a cobra tattooed over his heart. “I feel like I won the lottery, and I make minimum wage,” Hargrove said. But he must kill the pythons he finds. “The last thing I ever want to do is kill a snake,” he said. “I love snakes. It’s not their fault.” There is a long list of reasons why the pythons must die: all the animals they’ve eaten. It’s estimated 90 percent of many native mammals have ended up in pythons’ stomachs – they had never faced such a voracious predator before pet pythons escaped or were dumped into the Everglades. Hargrove, of Cutler Bay, is one of 25 hunters selected to kill pythons through June 1 for the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency overseeing Everglades restoration. Traps, snake-sniffing dogs, radio-tracking implants, occasional cold snaps and two public roundups so far have failed to significantly reduce the population of the giant constrictors. Florida’s wildlife commission announced Mondaynew prizes and plans to hire additional contractors to boost python removals from state-managed lands. “We’re trying to save the deer, the alligator, the rabbits, the rat snakes, the rattlesnakes – everything is slowly but surely disappearing,” Hargrove said.

Were Walt Disney’s dying words really ‘Kurt Russell’? As Disney’s ‘Guardians’ opens, the urban legend persists” via Michael Cavna of The Washington Post — The urban legend has persisted for decades: Were Walt Disney’s final words, whether written or spoken, actually “Kurt Russell”? … Russell, of course, was a child actor making a series of Disney movies — including 1966’s “Follow Me, Boys!” with Fred MacMurray — when Walt Disney died that same year. …Russell has said over the years that the legendary animator-filmmaker liked to ask him questions to get a sense of how a young mind works. The actor has said that Walt Disney reminded him of his own grandfather — inventive and creative and thoughtful — and so the teen actor was unintimidated by the mogul. Walt Disney, impressed by the young actor’s gifts, wanted him under contract for future Disney films — which might well explain why the words “Kirt Russell” were found scribbled on a note on the filmmaker’s desk when he died at age 65. … Russell himself was shown the sheet soon after the filmmaker died, when a Disney employee asked him about its possible meaning. Perhaps Walt had written the actor’s name weeks earlier, while planning a next picture for him? No one knows for sure. “It isn’t exactly a true story, that this was the last thing [Disney] wrote in his office,” (Jason) Gunn says.

Happy birthday belatedly to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Tracie Davis, Jennifer Edwards and Ken Littlefield. Celebrating today is the wonderful Elizabeth Ray and Ashley Walker, as well as Juan del Cerro and Dick Kravitz.

John Morgan after medical marijuana legislation dies: Ben Pollara ‘f*cked’ the patients

The headline writers had an easy job Friday night after the Florida Legislature failed to agree on rules to enact the medical marijuana amendment supported by 71 percent of Florida voters last November.

“Medical marijuana deal goes up in smoke,” blared the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Up in smoke: Legislature can’t agree on medical marijuana,” read The Associated Press.

In other words, the headlines wrote themselves.

What has been harder to discern is why the deal fell apart. After all, the House and Senate had agreed on most key parts of a bill putting rules in place for Amendment 2. Only Friday did this deal collapse after the chambers could not agree on the number of retail dispensaries that a medical marijuana treatment center can operate.

So who is to blame?

If you ask John Morgan, the outspoken Orlando trial attorney who was the political godfather to the 2014 and 2016 pot initiatives, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Ben Pollara, who, before Friday, was Morgan’s perceived to be proconsul in Tallahassee as the executive director of Florida for Care, an advocacy organization which was formed, in part, to lobby the Legislature on issues related to the expanded use of medical marijuana. Pollara, a South Florida Democrat who works in both political and policy arenas, was also the campaign manager for United for Care, the chief political organization pushing for passage of Amendment 2.

“Ben Pollara fucked the patients,” Morgan said in an exclusive interview with Saturday morning. “The person who strengthened the cartels (a reference to the seven existing licenses permitted to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in Florida and who have been on the opposite side of Florida for Care as the Legislature debated the implementation of Amendment 2) the most is Ben Pollara.”

As first — and astutely — reported by Allison Nielsen of Sunshine State News, it was, in fact, the ‘pro-medical marijuana lobby’ that killed HB 1397.

It was Florida For Care which pushed the issue of limiting the number of dispensaries for growers at the last minute to force the state to issue more licenses to get rid of … the original seven growers allowed to dispense the drug across the state.

At the eleventh hour, insiders said, Florida For Care lobbyists Frank and Tracy Mayernick put pressure on Senate President Joe Negron over the cap numbers to ultimately force the state to issue more licenses and break up the seven initial medical cannabis growers.

The House voted 99-16 on a bill with the amended language (HB 1397) that put the limit at 100 per treatment center but the Senate, which limited it to five per treatment center, did not take it up.

Morgan says that rather than working toward a bill that would have allowed patients unfettered access to the burgeoning medical marijuana market, Pollara deployed the lobbyists (with whom Morgan says he has had no interaction) because Pollara was also working for “other prospective licensees” who wished to see the number of available licenses increased, but not so much that the market would be overrun.

To Morgan, this was an inherent conflict of interest.

Morgan said he only learned three weeks ago about Pollara’s outside clients. He said that lobbyist William Rubin brought up the issue when the two men discussed why the Legislature wasn’t moving quicker to implement Amendment 2.

Morgan says he confronted Pollara about the conflict of interest, at which point, Morgan says, Pollara began “screaming about the ‘evilness of the cartels.’ “

Pollara disputes Morgan’s accusations.

“The only compensation I have ever sought or received for work related to medical marijuana has been for political consulting and lobbying,” said Pollara. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

The first sign of trouble between Morgan and Pollara, who have for the last four years had a symbiotic political relationship, appeared Friday evening when Morgan tweeted, “My #ArmyOfAngels will be shocked to learn of the person responsible for this deadlock!” The tweet was accompanied by imagery from the iconic scene in the Godfather 2 when Al Pacino‘s character, Michael Corleone, confronts his older brother, Fredo (played by John Cazale) about his role in a failed assassination attempt.

In ominous terms, Morgan wrote #FredoWillBeFishingSoon.

In subsequent tweets — perhaps as the liquor began to flow at Casa Morgan — the always sharp-witted Morgan called out Pollara by his Twitter handle, setting off rampant speculation about what could have happened between the two one-time political allies.

By Saturday morning, Morgan was kaput with Pollara.

“The first thing I am going to do is make sure the people who helped me pass Amendment 2 know not to give Ben Pollara another red nickel,” Morgan said.

As for the future of the medical marijuana initiative, it will now be up to the Department of Health to come up with rules for patients, caregivers, doctors and treatment centers by July 3 and have them implemented by October.

Morgan said he would urge Gov. Rick Scott to call for a special session to implement Amendment 2.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

USF community outraged after last-minute budget language is inserted to keep it from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status

Officials associated with the University of South Florida this weekend are fervently seeking to change the language in an education conforming bill that will keep the university from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status next year.

A loss of the pre-eminent status for USF could result in losing much as $15 million in state funding.

“The amount of people who are upset about this as of this morning is like anything else,” said Mike Griffin, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a USF alumnus.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, granting an extra $5 million to $15 million in state funding to universities that could meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks used by the state to measure success. Measures include the ability to retain freshmen enrolled beyond their first year, the timely graduation of undergraduates, and the financial growth of the institution.

Since its inception, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have achieved such “pre-eminence,” but the state Board of Governors produced data last week that showed that USF was well on its way to breaking into that exclusive club, having achieved 11 of the 12 benchmarks.

Heading into this year, the university reached 10 of those 12 benchmarks, but its path to pre-eminence was paved by legislation passed by the Florida Senate that changed one of those benchmarks that a university had to achieve to a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF exceeded.

However, in the conforming bill written after the budget was finalized Friday, that benchmark was amended to what it had previously been — a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students. That statistic exceeds USF’s graduation percentage rate for the last six years, now standing at 67 percent. USF’s Annual Work Plan says that the school’s 4-year graduation rate is unlikely to meet the new 70 percent threshold until at least 2020.

Griffin, currently chair of the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, is calling on local leaders and lawmakers to petition Senate President Joe Negron to repeal the new conforming language.

“The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron told the Tampa Bay Times. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout Session.”

“This is unfortunate for USF, and for our entire region,” Griffin said.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford commented on Twitter: “It was unfair to move the pre-eminence goal post on @USouthFlorida at the last moment …”

Last June, the Florida Board of Governors formally designated USF as the state’s first “emerging pre-eminent state research university,” resulting in $5 million in targeted research investments, which the University has spent on enhancing heart health and medical engineering,

“It is important that our state leaders fully understand the effects of arbitrary changes to our Preeminence goals and metrics,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb in a statement issued out by the University. “Shifting the goal posts at the endgame impacts the resources and facilities of USF’s students, our ability to attract the best and brightest to our university and city, the success of the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa, and the economic growth and competitiveness of our region.”

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the final budget on Monday in Tallahassee.

USF lobbyist Mark Walsh said he has been in contact with the Tampa Bay delegation to alert it about the financial implication of what the budget language does.

Walsh said the university had issued a “call to action” Saturday to students, faculty and alumni to contact the delegation for help.

“At the last minute, the Legislature is planning to make a change, taking away millions of $$ of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent university metrics,” the alert said. “This late change excludes SOLELY USF from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified (that) USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed (bill) language since January. It will also badly hurt our downtown Tampa med school and heart institute and other USF Colleges.”

Tampa Republican state Sen. Dana Young called the change in the conforming bill, “very concerning,” and said Saturday afternoon she has a been working “to get to the bottom of it.”

This is a developing story …

Peter Schorsch contributed to this story.

Political consultant, competitive grillmaster Josh Cooper competing to be FOX’s new MasterChef

Josh Cooper is more than a skilled Florida politico; he’s also a widely respected Tallahassee grillmaster.

And now Cooper, a founding partner of Strategic Information Consultants and a competitive barbecue chef, is hoping to become the next “MasterChef.”

MasterChef, in its eighth season on the FOX Network, is a reality cooking show hosted by award-winning celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay that takes a batch of home cooks from around the nation, invites them to Los Angeles for the “Battle for a White Apron.”

A new MasterChef will emerge through a series of competitions, including elimination and pressure tests, team challenges and a “mystery box” ingredient cook off.

Cooper will join the other hopefuls in producing their own signature dish, presenting it to the panel of Ramsay and other world-class chefs.

After several elimination rounds, 20 finalists will move forward to head-to-head competitions, with one winner will be awarded the title MasterChef, a cookbook deal and a $250,000 grand prize.

Throughout his career, Cooper had taken his skills — in both politics and grilling – from Washington to Tallahassee by way of Memphis, where in 2008 he became part of a  competitive barbecue team called the Swinos.

“When I got to Memphis I met all these guys from Swinos. My passion for food and fun was hooked up when they asked me to join the team,” Cooper told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2014. “I’ve been cooking barbecue ever since.”

Over the years, the Swinos has been recognized in dozens of competitions, professional and backyard contests as well as several Top Five finishes and People’s Choice Awards throughout Florida.

On occasion, Cooper lends his considerable culinary skills to INFLUENCE Magazine, most recently featured in the Winter 2016 edition for the “In the Kitchen with …” series.

For MasterChef, Cooper will be one of 40 home cooks from 18 states – four from Florida – who successfully auditioned for a spot, in a diverse group including a debt collector, dentist, PE teacher, Harvard student, swimsuit model and two ministers. Cooper will be representing his home state of Ohio.

This year, the competition is again hosted by Ramsay and world-renowned pastry chef Christina Tosi. The third judge, new to MasterChef, is Aarón Sánchez, the James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur.

If he wins, Cooper will take his spot along previous MasterChef winners: Shaun O’Neale (Season Seven), Claudia Sandoval (Season Six), Courtney Lapresi (Season Five); Luca Manfe (Season Four); Christine Ha (Season Three), the first-ever blind contestant; Jennifer Behm (Season Two); and Whitney Miller (Season One).

The eighth season of MasterChef begins Wednesday, May 31, (8:00-9 p.m. ET/PT) on FOX.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Arthenia Joyner’s bill delayed, but not denied

Editor’s note: comprehensive list of the Winners and Losers emerging from the 2017 Session will be published after Sine Die.

Arthenia Joyner may no longer be in the Legislature, but she finally was able to see a prized piece of legislation pass.

This week, the House unanimously approved the “Compensation of Victims of Wrongful Incarceration” Act, which would allow more people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Florida to get some recompense from the state. The Senate unanimously approved it last week. 

Joyner, a Democratic Tampa senator who was termed out last year, had tried for years to move the bill. 

As the Florida Innocence Project explains, lawmakers in 2008 “set up a streamlined process to pay exonerees $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration as well as provide them access to tuition-free education.”

Former Sen. Arthenia Joyner and, Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, react a bill to compensate victims of wrongful incarceration unanimously the Senate last week. Joyner sponsored the bill for eight years before being termed out; Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, took up the bill for her. Photo by Phil Sears

But that law “came with a number of provisions which have had the effect of excluding most of Florida’s exonerees from compensation.”

That is, it requires “clean hands,” or says those who qualify for payment can’t have been convicted of a felony before their wrongful incarceration.

“Under the bill, a prior felony wouldn’t preclude someone from being compensated if they were imprisoned for an unrelated crime of which they were later proven innocent,” the AP reported earlier this week. “Exceptions would be made if the person committed violent or multiple felonies.”

Rep. Bobby DuBose told House members this week that “although this bill does not remove the ‘clean hands’ provision, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I also want to recognize former Senator Arthenia Joyner, who started this journey back in 2008,” the Fort Lauderdale Democrat added. “… I think this is a great moment for the state of Florida.”

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.

60+ Days — After days of chatter about whether state lawmakers would be able to the 2017-18 budget on members’ desks in time to finish by Friday, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Wednesday they had finally reached a budget deal, and would extend session into early next week so they can discuss and vote on the budget. Negron and Corcoran acknowledged a dispute over cuts to hospitals and changes to reimbursements to nursing homes delayed a final resolution. The budget does not include funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program; puts nearly $1.2 billion in reserves; and sets aside $25 million for Visit Florida. The budget was delivered to members at 2:43 p.m. Friday, meaning the earliest members can vote on the bill 2:43 p.m. Monday.

An extended session didn’t stop lobbyists from wearing pink in honor of Marvin Arrington, a well-known lobbyist who died suddenly during the final week of the 2002 Legislative Session. Arrington always wore pink on the final day of Session, and lobbyists have been carrying on the tradition ever since. Photo by Phil Sears

Veto tour — As state lawmakers tried to hammer out the final details of the state budget, Gov. Rick Scott spent the week traveling the state as part of his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour. The three-day, 10-city tour was a chance for the governor to make a last-ditch push for his top priorities — $100 million for Visit Florida, $200 million for the the Herbert Hoover Dike; and money for Enterprise Florida business incentives. But it also gave Scott a chance to lash out at GOP lawmakers. During a stop in Naples, he chastised the secretive process and said he didn’t understand why lawmakers couldn’t finish on time. And while the Naples Republican hasn’t said whether he would veto the budget outright, he did leave the door open to the option saying: “When I finally get to see it, because I haven’t see the budget — then I’ll make the decision whether I veto the entire budget or look at any lines and see if they are a good use of your money.”

No more guacamole water — Senate President Negron can claim a win for his top priority this Session. The House voted 99-19 to approve a proposal (SB 10) to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The House agreed to borrow $800 million for the project, instead of relying on the state to allocate money year-after-year. The Senate voted 33-0 to approve the amended bill. “History will record that this Legislature finally took on that very, very difficult issue. And there’s a reason why it didn’t happen over the last 20 years, because it’s a very difficult issue to accomplish,” he said. “This is going to make an extraordinary difference with reducing and ultimately deliberating discharges.”  The bill now heads to Gov. Scott, who has indicated he will sign it.

Up in smoke — Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment this week. While the two chambers agreed on most issues, negotiations collapsed when the the House and Senate couldn’t agree on the number of dispensaries licensed treatment centers could own and operate. The Senate wanted to cap it at five, and then allow growers to add one more outpost for every 75,000 patients. Staunchly opposed to caps, the House voted 99-16 to approve an amended bill that put the limit at 100 per license holder, something the Senate didn’t even consider. It’s now up to the Department of Health to establish rules for patients, caregivers, doctors and treatment centers by July 3.

Senate President Negron with Sen. Rob Bradley, who sponsored the implementing bill in the Senate. Bradley said he expects the issue will “be a hot topic when we return and do our business next year.” Photo by Phil Sears

Snake eyes — A deal on omnibus gambling legislation for the year went down the drain this week as House and Senate negotiators declared they couldn’t see eye to eye about whether to expand slot machines in the state. Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House’s point man on gambling, said the two chambers were just “too far apart.” The sticking point was an offer to expand slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them in referendum votes. An expansion still needed legislative approval. The House opposed it; the Senate wanted it. Senate President Negron said will of residents who voted for slots “should be acknowledged and accepted by us.” While an attorney for the Seminole Tribe of Florida said the tribe “will react accordingly” to demise of the bill. Gov. Scott said the Legislature’s inaction on gambling “doesn’t make any sense.”

It’s time to go turkey huntin’.

With state lawmakers expected to vote on the proposed 2017-18 budget on Monday, Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said his group will begin reviewing the budget for any appropriations that made it into the budget during “closed-door budget negotiations or bypassed competitive selection processes.”

“Many legislative leaders have stated throughout session that all projects will be vetted in transparent and accountable manner before being inserted in the budget and there will be no new items added in during conference,” he said. “We hope that this is the case, but our professional team will scour every line in the 451-page budget to independently verify this for Florida’s hardworking taxpayers.”

Tweet, tweet:

Greg Tish made the ultimate $1 bet, picking 2:37 a.m., on July 17

Senators didn’t give up all hope on gambling.

The Senate this week tacked on an amendment to a professional deregulation bill that could have led to the expansion of certain kinds of slot machines.

The provision came under the guise of trying to move fantasy sports into the non-gambling realm before the end of session. Since lawmakers couldn’t get a comprehensive gambling bill across the finish line this year, Sen. Dana Young offered an amendment to a House bill (HB 7047) to address fantasy play.

While Sen. Dennis Baxley sounded like he had a point of order, but couldn’t quite pull the trigger.

“Is this clarifying that this is gaming or is not gaming?” he asked.

Young told him it was just clarifying it wasn’t gaming, to which Baxley asked whether it was “subject to a point of order.”

“I don’t make the points. If there is one before me, we will deal with it,” said Sen. Bradley, presiding over the floor session.

Baxley didn’t pull the trigger, and the Senate adopted the amendment and voted 36-0 to send it back to the House.

While the first part of the amendment dealt with fantasy sports, the second part authorized certain veterans’ organizations to “conduct instant bingo.” The language included an allowance for “electronic tickets in lieu of … instant bingo paper tickets.”

The House didn’t bite, though. The House stripped the provision — and several other amendments — from the bill and sent it back to the Senate for its consideration.

Kudos, Robert Alan Arthur and Carol Stephenson!

Gov. Scott appointed Arthur and Stephenson as Judges of Compensation Claims to the Lakeland and West Palm Beach Districts, respectively, this week.

Arthur, a 49-year-old Brandon resident, served as a state mediator for the Lakeland district since 2012 and the state mediator for the St. Petersburg district from 2005. He was a private mediator from 2004 until 2005. Arthur fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge W. James Condry.

Stephenson currently serves as field legal counsel for Liberty Mutual at the Law Offices of James C. Norris. The 64-year-old Boynton Beach resident served as staff council at Nationwide Insurance Company from 1989 until 1999. She fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Mary D’Ambrosio.

The Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims is responsible for the mediation and adjudication of disputes over workers’ compensation benefits. Thirty-two judges preside over 17 districts.

Scott also reappointed eight Judges of Compensation Claims — Wilbur Andreson in the Daytona Beach District; Diane Beck in the Sarasota District; Margret Kerr in the Miami District; Daniel Lewis in the Fort Lauderdale District; Ellen Lorenzan and Mark Massey in the Tampa District; Stephen Rosen serving the Jacksonville, Lakeland, Ft. Myers, West Palm Beach, and St. Petersburg districts; and Thomas Sculco in the Orlando District.

The House and Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 727) this week that aims to curb the number of frivolous lawsuits filed against local businesses for violation of ADA building requirements.

“It’s time that we protect people’s livelihoods and act to stop frivolous, drive-by lawsuits that do nothing by harm Florida’s small businesses,” said Rep. Katie Edwards. “This bill gives business owners a chance to improve their buildings while increasing accessibility for disabled Floridians. When our businesses are more accessible and inclusive, it’s a wine for local communities and their economies.”

Sponsored by Edwards and Rep. Tom Leek, the bill creates a voluntary program where businesses can retain an ADA expert for evaluation and advising on remediation plans for properties that don’t comply with Title III with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Businesses that comply with the plans are issued a certificate of conformity valid no longer than three years. Those certificates must be considered in lawsuits that allege violations.

“With this bill, we can take the ADA away from a cottage industry of drive-by lawyers and give it back to those of whom the ADA was written for – Americans with disabilities,” said Leek. “Together, we can take a big step forward for Florida’s disabled and business communities.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Scott.

A snazzy pair of shoes almost landed Sen. Gary Farmer in hot water this week.

In the midst of debate this week, Sen. Anitere Flores took a minute to point out the Broward County Democrat’s footwear. The Miami Republican, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, called on Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto to issue a ruling on the matter and ordered the sergeant to keep him in the back of the chamber.

Sen. Farmer’s choice of shoes: Sneakers or wingtips, you decide.

“I’m not kidding,” she said with a perfectly straight face.

Farmer chuckled and took to Twitter after the incident caught the attention of Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei to say that “for the record, the shoes are wingtip oxfords!! #dressshoes #soflastyle.”

Flores also clarified she was just kidding, and there was no formal complaint about Farmer’s South Florida style.

“I would like to make it clear to the Miami Herald that there is no formal complaint lodged against Sen. Farmer,” said Flores. “If anyone thought that maybe there was, that is hereby rescinded. So Sen. Farmer is exonerated.”

Robert Colen is back.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed Colen to the Early Learning Coalition of Marion County.

The 44-year-old Ocala resident is a building contractor with On Top of the World Communities. He has a bachelor’s degree from American University and a master’s degree from the University of Florida.

Colen was reappointed as the board’s chair for a term ending April 30, 2021.

Scott also reappointed Charlotte Heston, a 59-year-old Sebring resident, to the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland. Heston, the vice president of corporate services for the Peace River Electric Services, was reappointed as chair for a term ending April 30, 2021.

And Ashley Coone, a 34-year-old Arcadia resident, will be joining the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland, Scott announced this week. The president of ASC Consulting and marketing, Coone will serve a term ending April 30, 2020.

Teachers can go ‘blue” for education.

The Florida Education Foundation and Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando have joined forces to offer Florida teachers discounted tickets for Blue Man Group performances. The group will donate $2 to the Florida Education Foundation for every adult ticket purchased.

“Florida’s teachers work hard every day to make sure students have every opportunity for academic success and become the leaders of tomorrow,” said Ola Wawryn, resident general manager for the Blue Man Group. “We are honored to partner with the Florida Education Foundation in support of our teachers while giving back to education in our great state.”

Florida public school teachers can purchase Blue Man Group tickets at a discounted rate for performances between June 26 and Aug. 13. Educators can visit Just For Teachers Community for more information on how to purchase tickets.

“The Florida Education Foundation supports the department’s efforts to help ensure Florida’s 2.7 million students have the greatest chance at lifelong success. We are thrilled that this collaboration will reward our state’s teachers for their invaluable contributions while enabling us to continue our student-focused work.” said Florida Education Foundation Chair Connie Smith.

Sen. Jeff Brandes got choked up when closing on his bill (SB 590) to require the state to set parental visitation schedules when entering child support enforcement orders.

“This bill’s going to help 1 million kids see their dads,” he said. “Quietly, we have worked every day. I have never worked harder on a bill than this one. I’ve cut deals to get this bill heard in committee. I had to cut a deal to get the two-thirds on the floor of the House. I have never been prouder of a bill than this little one.”

Brandes needed a super-majority vote to bring the bill up in the House without a companion measure.

Sen. Jeff Brandes holds his son during the Florida Senate organizational session of the Florida Legislature, November 22, 2016.

Under existing law, the Department of Revenue enters and enforces child support orders, but visitation plans require separate proceedings. Brandes’ bill would integrate the two processes and create a standard agreement. Parties could still head to court, but would be spared court fees.

The St. Petersburg Republican got the idea when he wandered into the wrong conference room during a National Council of State Legislators meeting and heard a presentation about a similar program that Texas has operated for decades.

Brandes, who has three children, said he understands how it feels not to see your kids.

“I haven’t seen my kids in two weeks, because I’ve been up here through the weekend,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. The House voted later in the week to approve the bill.

Volunteer Florida is shining a light on Children of Inmates.

The Miami-based nonprofits organization coordinates care and family reunification opportunities for Florida children whose parents are incarcerated.

The group has enhanced programs at 16 correctional facilities and organized more than 400 bonding visits, thanks to the support of AmeriCorps members.

According to Volunteer Florida, AmeriCorps members recently launched a literacy campaign — called 5,000 Books Read — that encourages children and their incarcerated parent to read aloud during visits. During the last few months, children have read more than 250 books during visits. AmeriCorp members have collected more than 2,500 donated books for the project.

It could soon be easier for police officers to purchase a handgun.

The House voted 115-1 to approve a resolution this week that would exempt police officers from the required three-day waiting period for purchasing a handgun. The resolution recognizes the honors of training and practice that police officers go through to become proficient with their fire arm.

“This bill will help protect Floridians in every town, city, and county by making sure our tax dollars are being properly spent to ensure officers are properly equipped to fight crime and keep our communities safe,” said Rep. Robert Asencio in a statement. “It is commonsense measures like these that continue to move our state forward.”

 The resolution would put officers on the same level as concealed weapons permit holders, according to Asencio’s office, who do not have to wait for a handgun.

The resolution requires the passage of a constitutional amendment before it can go into effect.

Want to make First Lady Ann Scott happy? Get reading!

The first lady welcomed more than 30 students from Springwood Elementary School to the Governor’s Mansion this week to kick off the 7th annual Summer Literacy Adventure. The annual event challenges students to pledge to read as many books as possible over the summer.

“As a mother and grandmother, I believe there is nothing more important than investing time in Florida’s children who will one day become leaders in our communities, state and nation,” she said in a statement. “Literacy is an essential skill to succeed in any career path, and I hope that today’s event inspires these students to be life-long readers.”

First Lady Ann Scott kicked off the Seventh Annual Summer Literacy Adventure at the Florida Governor’s Mansion this week. Photo via Twitter

Research has shown that children who do not continue reading through the summer can lose a month or more of progress made during the school year.

The 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure is a partnership between the Department of Education, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Lottery.

“We are grateful to First Lady Ann Scott for once again hosting students at the Florida Governor’s Mansion to raise awareness about the importance of reading every day, even when school is not in session,” said Education Commission Pam Stewart. “Her participation in the Summer Literacy Adventure has encouraged countless students to love reading as much as she does, and I hope that all of our state’s schools and families will take full advantage of this opportunity to motivate our young readers.”

Call it a good week for Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.

The House voted unanimously this week to approve a bill (SB 800) that would prohibit health insurers from denying patients the ability to receive a partial refill of a prescription if they choose to enroll in a medical synchronization program through their pharmacy. Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, was the sponsor of the House bill (HB 1191).

“Especially for our seniors, multiple trips to the pharmacy each month can be a burden that prevents them from receiving the care they need,” she said in a statement. “By passing this bill, we are allowing thousands of patients throughout Florida the ability to maximize their health outcomes and live longer, healthier lives.”

Cruz’s bill to vote-by-mail fix also received final approval this week. The bill requires the Supervisor of elections to notify voters if their signature was rejected and give them a chance to fix it and have their vote counted.

Both bills now head to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo is doing her part to make May a safe building money, issuing proclamation this week to declare May 2017 as Florida Building Safety Month.

In her proclamation, Passidomo commended the Building Officials Association of Florida for all its work to “ensure that all Floridians are protected by building and fire codes.”

“Floridians for Safe Communities is a strong supporter and advocate for keeping Florida’s communities safe with the current building code structure,” said Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator and chairman of Floridians for Safe Communities, in a statement. “It is imperative that Floridians continue to have the necessary and strong commercial and residential building codes to prevent the type of devastation we saw from Hurricane Andrew from ever happening again.”

Building Safety Month is meant to to reinforce the need for adoption of modern, model building codes. Presented by the International Code Council, the month aims to bring together groups to support the need for safe and sustainable structures where we live, work and play.

Information identifying homeless people would have been exempt from public records under OK’d by the Florida Senate this week.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 1024) by Sen. Linda Stewart to create an exemption from public records for individual identifying information on homeless people.

Sen. Linda Stewart pushed legislation to make identifying information about people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, exempt from public records.

In Florida, the Council on Homelessness collects, maintains and makes available information about people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The bill, according to Stewart’s office, is designed to maximize the response rate to surveys conducted by the state from a population of Floridians that are particularly concerned with their privacy, suffer from mental illness, or have undergone the trauma of domestic violence or substance abuse.

“The release of individual identifying information could lead to discrimination, injury, and pose a barrier to homeless persons receiving services,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, accurately collecting this data for funding purposes ensures that we are able to better assist our communities in the struggle to end homelessness in Florida.”

Parents who have been victims of child domestic violence could soon have the resources they need.

The House voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 1694) that requires the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide expertise, training and advocacy in the areas of family and domestic violence.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kamia Brown and Amy Mercado in the House and Sen. Vic Torres in the Senate, also requires law enforcement officers to receive training concerning child-to-parent cases.

“I am beyond excited to have worked with so many members on both sides of the aisle to finally bring needed resources to the victims of these terrible crimes,” said Brown in a statement. “Child-to-parent domestic abuse cases are too often overlooked and left in the shadows and this legislation will bring this issue the attention it deserves.”

An effort to establish a Florida specialty license plate for Auburn University died this week.

The plate was the brainchild of two Auburn grads: state Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, and Democratic PR man Kevin Cate.

Better luck next year, Auburn fans: Rep. James Grant’s proposal to get a “War Eagle” license plate couldn’t quite make it across the finish line.

But the effort got caught up as lawmakers piled on more schools to get their own plates, including the University of Alabama and University of Georgia.

If passed, it would have joined the more than 100 specialty tags Florida now offers. It also would have been the first collegiate specialty tag for an out-of-state school.

Victims of terrorism will get their day in court under a bill headed to Gov. Scott.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 65) by Rep. Jason Fischer that creates a statutory civil cause of action for a person injured by an act of terrorism. Under the bill, a person is entitled to recover treble damages, minimum damages of $1,000, plus attorney’s fees or costs. A person can’t seek civil action if their injuries are the result of his or her participation in a terrorist act.

“When I introduced HB-65, I felt the need for this bill was an extraordinary one. Victims of terrorism deserve a day in court and if I could provide assistance, in the form of a law, I would,” said Fischer in an email to constituents this week. “This bill just needs the Governor’s signature to become law!”

The Senate also passed a bill (HB 457) this week to create five new criminal offenses for people who work with terrorist groups or commit acts of terrorism. Acts of terrorism themselves would be a new first-degree felony under state law, while it would be a second-degree to join a foreign terrorist group.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle, is also on its way to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

You know the old saying: If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.

Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia often brings his pup, Bowie, to the Capitol with him. So this week, Plasencia strapped on a camera to give constituents a dog’s eye view of the legislative process.

Lt. Debra Clayton will be forever memorialized in one Orlando community.

The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a bill (SB 368) that would designate a portion of Princeton Street between John Young Parkway and Pine Hills Road as “Lieutenant Debra Clayton Memorial Highway” in honor of Clayton, an Orlando police officer killed in the line of duty in January.

The stretch of road, according to the Orlando Sentinel, includes the Wal-Mart where Clayton was killed on Jan. 9. Law enforcement officials say Clayton was outside the store trying to arrest Markeith Loyd when he shot and killed her execution style.

The bill also designates a portion of Pine Hills Road between Silver Star Road and State Road 50 as “First Class Deputy Norman Lewis Memorial Highway.” Lewis was killed in a traffic crash hours later, during the manhunt for Loyd. He was arrested nine days later after an exhaustive search.

“This is a small token of how our community plans to honor the legacy of our two fallen public servants,” said Rep. Brown. “The devastation of their loss extends to each and every individual within our community and we will forever remember their contribution to Central Florida. I am very pleased that this bill passed and I look forward to celebrating the implementation of the road designation with the community in the coming months.”

The bill also designates a portion of Davis Boulevard between Adalia Avenue and Adriatic Avenue in Hillsborough County as “Helen Gordon Davis Boulevard,” after the first woman from Hillsborough elected to the Florida House.

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Not many kids want to spend their 12th birthdays on the floor of the Senate.

But then again, Ethan Fisher isn’t like many kids.

Ethan, the son of FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher, and his family were on the floor this week as the Senate voted to approve a bill that would, among other things, expand the Gardiner Scholarship Program to include children diagnosed with a rare disease or condition as defined by the National Organization of Rare Disorders. During a floor speech this week, Sen. David Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, said the expansion would be “instrumental in increasing (the child’s) quality of life and their sincere desire for a sense of normalcy.”

Ethan Fisher and parents, FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher and Candi Fisher, talk with Senate President Joe Negron during a stop at the Capitol this week.

“Many children fighting rare diseases or born with a disability cannot attend school on a regular basis like their peers. They are in and out of hospitals and, like in Ethan’s case, will need to be in isolation for many months after his bone marrow transplant due to the risk of infection,” said Simmons.

Ethan was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare and genetic blood disease, in 2011. The disease, according to the Fisher’s nonprofit Kidz1stFund, leads to bone marrow failure in one in every 131,00 people.

Simmons bill was rolled into a House bill (HB 15), which passed the Senate 27-11. The House later voted 101-11 to accept the changes and give it final approval.

A bill to help combat Florida’s opioid epidemic is headed to Gov. Scott.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 557) that aims to modernize the state’s prescription drug monitoring program to better identify doctor shopping and potential addiction issues.

“This bill gives our medical professionals the tools they need to help understand their patients’ controlled substance history in a more real-time manner and will allow them to spot addiction issues or doctor shopping,” said Rep. Nick Duran, who sponsored the bill in the House. “The modernized system puts them in a better position in evaluating the course of treatment and in making more informed decisions when prescribing these dangerous controlled substances.”

The bill shortens the time frame in which a pharmacy or doctor needs to report dispensing a controlled substance, from seven days to the next business day. It requires the dispensing agency to submit reporting information via an electronic system approved by the Department of Health.

The Florida Legislature approved a measure to crack down on false marketing practices of some “sober homes.”

The bill aims to help recovering addicts in Florida and expands the authority of the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution to prosecute patient brokering crimes.

“I want to thank Rep. Bill Hager and Sen. Jeff Clemens for sponsoring this vital legislation and each member of the Florida Legislature who voted in favor of the bill,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement. “The legislation will help protect recovering addicts from those trying to exploit and profit from their addiction.”

If signed into law, sober homes — mostly unregulated buildings rented to people recently out of rehab — would be banned from spreading false advertisement and there would be tougher background checks for workers at licensed rehab centers that refer patients to sober homes.

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

The “pardon our dust” signs aren’t going anywhere for a while.

Maggie Mickler, a spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, said construction crews continue to work on construction project at the Capitol complex — structural repairs inside the parking garage and utility efforts on the outside.

Capitol construction. Photo via Aerial Tallahassee Instagram

Structural repairs, Mickler said, include installing carbon fiber reinforcement on the main support girders as well as repairing wall and ceiling areas that experience spalling, or fragments breaking off.

“Two weeks ago, crews began utility relocation, which will move electric, cable and fiber lines now below ground next to the Senate parking garage to the south side of Madison Street,” she said. “This will allow crews this summer to … create a wall that permits crews to excavate soil roughly 30 feet below street level.”

The evacuation, Mickler said, is required to install waterproofing material to the vertical surfaces of the garage as well as a drainage system.

The project, she said, “continues to be scheduled for completion in August 2018.”

Surgeon General Celeste Philip is official.

The Florida Senate confirmed Philip this week, giving her the job permanently after she was appointed to the position last year. She replaced Dr. John Armstrong, who resigned last year after it became clear he did not have the votes in the Senate to win confirmation.

Philip has been with the Department of Health since 2008. She served in several capacities over the years, including as interim director for three county health departments. She is board certified in family medicine as well as public health and general preventative medicine.

The Senate also confirmed Justin Senior as the Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The Florida Medical Association is committed to ensuring every Floridian receives the best medical care possible, which is why we are so pleased Dr. Philip and Mr. Senior have been confirmed by the Florida Senate today,” said Dr. David J. Becker, president of the Florida Medical Association. “They both bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that are integral to promoting good health and developing strong relationships among stakeholders, so residents are educated and empowered to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration are fortunate to have two champions for excellence in patient care at the helm.”

Sen. Aaron Bean just might have a future as a game show announcer.

Bean announced the results of the 2017 “Biggest Loser” contest in the Florida Legislature. The annual contest challenges lawmakers and staffers to make healthy choices during the 60-day session, while raising money for charity.

This year 47 people participated in the contest, losing a total of 114.7 pounds — or, as Bean joked “the equivalent of a half of senator or 2.1 House members plus one House page.” Sens. Torres, Bill Montford and Kevin Rader all got nods for their weight loss throughout session.

Sen. Bill Montford pulls up his pants as he is recognized for losing two pounds in a “Biggest Loser” contest on the Senate floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol. Photo by Phil Sears

Mary Cowart, a legislative aide to Rep. Cynthia Stafford, was the overall winner in the women’s division, losing 15.5 pounds; while Gary Austin, a member of the Senate’s support staff, was down 24 pounds.

This year’s challenge raised $1,080 for the Leon County Special Olympics.

Go fish.

No, really. The 78-day, 2017 recreational red snapper season in Gulf of Mexico state waters opens Saturdays and Sundays starts today. Beginning May 27, the season will be open daily through July 9.

The season will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, and on Labor Day.

The federal season was recently announced by NOAA Fisheries and will be June 1-3 for private recreational anglers and June 1 through July 19 for federally-permitted charter boats and head boats.

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

With faint praise, Florida Chamber outlines ‘good, bad and ugly’ of Session

Noting several missed opportunities, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is giving faint praise to lawmakers for their efforts during Session to keep Florida competitive.

While the 2017 Legislative Session could have been much worse, the Chamber said Friday it should have been much, much better.

“Thanks to the thousands of businesses that stood with the Florida Chamber to help make Florida more competitive during the 2017 Florida Legislative Session,” said Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson. “While lawmakers did pass important legislation, we look forward to future opportunities to lower costs on families and businesses, and to putting Florida’s 244,800 unemployed Floridians back to work.”

Lawmakers closed out policy issues Friday – with a quasi-sine die – announcing their intention to pass the new state budget Monday.

With that, the Chamber released its 2017 Legislative Summary, subtitled: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

The summary not only recaps the annual 60-day Session, knocking lawmakers for not finishing on time, but offers a “more comprehensive outline” of items passed — and what is unfinished business.

Florida’s 2017 Session by the numbers:

— 3,131 — Bills filed this session.

— 217 — Bills that have passed thus far.

— $83 Billion — The 2017-2018 state budget.

— 125+ — Florida Chamber testimony/weighing in support/opposition to legislation.

— 4,784 — Total scored votes taken thus far this session.

— 31 — Local chambers collaborating and advocating the Florida Chamber’s Business Agenda in Tallahassee this session.

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