Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 214

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.

JD Alexander not running for Ag. Commish, will back Denise Grimsley

Not only is JD Alexander not running for Commissioner of Agriculture, he’s thrown his support behind state Sen. Denise Grimsley‘s bid for the office.

Alexander, who was term limited out of the Florida Senate in 2012, is even hosting a “fundraising reception” for Grimsley at his Lake Wales home.

The longtime lawmaker who spearheaded the creation of Florida Polytechnic University had been the subject of rumors that industry heads were pushing him to consider running for the statewide office.

“I have been honored by several calls from agriculture leaders, but I am very happy spending time with my family and business associates,” said Alexander, who served as Senate budget chair.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican elected to the House in 2004 and the Senate in 2012, filed to run for Agriculture Commissioner on Feb. 1.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid. As a registered nurse, Grimsley has been certified in trauma and pediatric advanced life support.

She also served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

The current agriculture commissioner, Republican Adam Putnam, is term limited in 2018 and is expected to run for governor. Denise Grimsley

Is tobacco bond cap repeal already dead for 2017 Session?

Legislation that would repeal the limit on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds could well be dead for the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t even start till March 7. 

Legislative committees have already been meeting on bills, including HB 6011 and SB 100, which would kill the “bond cap” for tobacco companies that want to appeal judgments against them by former smokers.

But both bills were “temporarily postponed” in recent weeks, often a sign the bill sponsors don’t quite have the votes needed for passage lined up.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who sits on the committee, and state Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, filed the measures for their respective chambers.

Now, Senate Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Travis Hutson has told POLITICO’s Matt Dixon on Monday the legislation isn’t a “priority,” and he’s “not sure if it is coming back up.”

“It was a timing issue,” Hutson told our reporter Jim Rosica of the “TP” in his committee. “I had it up with the ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill and we just ran out of time.”

Asked whether he will call the bond cap repeal back up for a hearing, Hutson said, “I don’t know yet. I have other stuff on my table … We have a lot of other bills that will take a lot of time, but if I can bring it back up, I will. I just have to find the time.”

That said, it looks like a loss for the state’s trial lawyers who backed the cap repeal. They said it would force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.

Tobacco companies said a repeal would be unfair because, without a cap, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule. With some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they said.

The tipping point seemed to be comments from a CSX Transportation spokesman who told a Senate panel that a repeal of the tobacco companies’ bond cap would be an “erosion of reasonable tort reform” taken by the state in recent years. Bob O’Malley added it could lead to “repeal of the general bond cap, (which) would be a disaster for businesses.”

Sunburn for 2.14.17 – Happy Valentine’s Day

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 story goes that the Roman Emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages in order to boost his army. Only single men had to enter the army, and too many men were dodging the draft by getting married. Valentinus, though, in an effort to protect the sacramentality of Christian marriage, performed secret marriages, and when he got caught he was sentenced to death. While he awaited execution, he was showered with notes from young couples extolling the virtues of love over war. (Looks like John Lennon didn’t invent the slogan “Make love not war” after all.) These notes, if they ever existed at all, were supposedly the first Valentines. Poor old Valentinus was executed in February 14th, 269, a bloody end for the saint of love.

I, of course, have two valentines: My wonderful wife, Michelle, and my happy, healthy and beautiful daughter, Ella. I love you both.

For those of you in the capital, the number for florist Elinor Doyle is (850) 222-1298.

VALENTINE’S DAY REMAINS A DAY OF DREAD FOR MANY AMERICANS via Rasmussen Reports – A Rasmussen Reports survey finds that just five percent of American adults consider Valentine’s Day one of the nation’s most important holidays. Most (59%) rank it among the least important holidays, while 33% say it’s somewhere in between. Twenty-one percent dread Valentine’s Day. Twenty-eight percent still say they look forward to it, showing no change from last year.  For half of Americans (49%), Valentine’s Day is a day they neither look forward to nor dread.

VALENTINE’S DAY FOR FLORIDA MAN – MAN TRIES TO RUN WOMAN OFF ROAD, THROWS DOG AT HER SO HE CAN TALK TO HER via Madison Fantozzi of the Lakeland Ledger – A Frostproof man is facing charges after trying to run a woman off the road to “talk with her at any cost” … Howard Van Sweringen, 41, is accused of pursuing 35-year-old Kristina Fuller, apparently ramming her vehicle several times and, at one point, throwing his dog at her. He was arrested at Lakeland High. “This is something you see in the movies or on TV,” Fuller said. “Now, it has happened to me.”

VALENTINE’S DAY NOT AS SWEET FOR FLORIDA RETAILERS; SPENDING EXPECTED TO DECREASE via Terry Roen of Florida Politics – For the first time in a decade, according to an annual consumer survey … Consumers plan to keep their budgets in check as they spend $10 less on gifts. Also, fewer people say they will celebrate the holiday this year. “The slight decrease in spending is understandable given the record-breaking pace Valentine’s Day spending had reached the previous 10 years,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation … “This day is still expected to mean significant revenues for Florida’s retailers as consumers shower their loved ones with gifts, flowers, candy, tickets to events and dinners at local restaurants.” The average consumer will spend $136.57 on gifts, down from last year’s record high of $146.84 but total spending nationally is still expected to reach a robust $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation‘s annual survey.

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HAPPENING OVERNIGHT – MICHAEL FLYNN, FIRED ONCE BY A PRESIDENT, NOW RESIGNS TO ANOTHER via the Associated Press – President Trump had been weighing the fate of his national security adviser, a hard-charging, feather-ruffling retired lieutenant general who just three weeks into the new administration had put himself in the center of a controversy. Flynn resigned late Monday. At issue was Flynn’s contact with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States. Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak appear to have discussed U.S. sanctions late last year, raising questions about whether he was freelancing on foreign policy while President Barack Obama was still in office and whether he misled Trump officials about the calls.

AT MAR-A-LAGO, THE FESTIVITIES CARRIED ON AS TRUMP DEALT WITH NORTH KOREA via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – North Korea had launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first challenge to international rules since Trump was sworn in three weeks ago. The launch, which wasn’t expected, presented Trump with one of the first breaking national security incidents of his presidency. It also noisily disrupted what was meant to be an easygoing weekend of high-level male bonding with the more sobering aspects of global diplomacy. Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he’d spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club’s dining area. As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.

PATRICK PARK MAY GET TO REALIZE DREAM AS AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR via Shannon Donnelly of the Palm Beach Daily News – Park is an avid fan of “The Sound of Music.” You might say he’s obsessed with it. “Really, I’ve seen it like 75 times,” the concert pianist/industrialist said. “I know every single word and song by heart. I’ve always wanted to live in the Von Trapp house.” Well, if he can’t live there, at least he’ll be close enough to visit. Park has received unofficial word from President Trump — well, as unofficial as a handwritten note saying “on to your next chapter, Ambassador!” Can be — that he is the president’s choice to be U.S. ambassador to Austria. The president said he thought it would be a good match for Park because it is steeped in musical culture … Park said he’s already started boning up in order to be ready if and when the call comes. “I had a chance to talk to the Swiss and Hungarian ambassadors at the Red Cross Ball and at the diplomats’ dinner the night before,” he said. “They want me to visit them in Washington, and the Austrian ambassador in Washington said he wants us to go for lunch. See? I’m already working!” First thing on his unofficial to-do list? “I’m flying to Vienna to check out the embassy, and then I’m going to Salzburg to see if the Von Trapp house is for rent,” he said, laughing. “And then I’m going to learn to like schnitzel and sachertorte.”

ICE SAYS IT DIDN’T CARRY OUT IMMIGRATION RAID IN PLANT CITY LAST WEEK via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said there was no activity, despite immigrant advocates saying otherwise — comments that were reflected in numerous news reports … “The incident the media reports are likely referring to was earlier this month and was part of a criminal search warrant,” ICE spokeswoman Tamara Spicer [said] … “As it is part of a criminal investigation pending federal prosecution, we cannot release further details.” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said ICE conducted sweeps in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City and arrested more than 680 individuals who “pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation’s immigration system.” It’s possible the search warrant Spicer mentioned was conflated with the raids in Los Angeles, etc., but reports of blanket raids in Florida appear to be false.

MARCO RUBIO TOPS IN DONATIONS FROM TRUMP CABINET via Ledyard King of FLORIDA TODAY – No senator has received more of a campaign boost from Trump‘s cabinet nominees than Rubio, according to a watchdog group that tracks political donations. The Florida Republican and PACs supporting his candidacies for president and Senate have collectively received nearly $503,000 in financial contributions, an analysis from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics shows. The vast majority of that came from newly installed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick. They have given $426,000 – $400,000 of that to the Conservative Solutions PAC that was backing Rubio’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for president last year.

RUBIO, NOT ELIZABETH WARREN, IS A FREE SPEECH HERO via John Hart of Forbes magazine – Yet, in the midst of the McConnell versus Warren drama another senator, Rubio, delivered a floor speech for the ages that dealt directly with the real issues at stake in this fight: “[T]he question here is one of the reasons I ran for this body to begin with. Maybe it is because of my background; I am surrounded by people who have lost freedoms in places where they are not allowed to speak. One of the great traditions of our Nation is the ability to come forward and have debates …” In his speech, Rubio was standing on the shoulders of giants. He clearly and brilliantly expressed our founder’s design for the Senate as a place where a free people could come up with the best solutions to the nation’s challenges. This sounds quaint today but our founders longed for a forum where policymakers could pursue truth or an understanding of “what works” beyond mere ideology or partisanship. Our founders were inspired by 2,500 years of political history.


KATHY CASTOR CALLS SOME OF TRUMP’S ACTIONS ‘BENEATH THE DIGNITY OF THE OFFICE’ via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “President Trump is simply unprecedented,” the Tampa Democrat said to reporters following a news conference held at the USF College of Nursing George & Marian Miller Center for Virtual Learning. “His actions and demeanor are really beneath the dignity of the office. And I worry about young people and kids seeing that as an example of their president and Commander in Chief. Hopefully he’ll rein that in.” Castor says that the nature of Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and his “playing footsie” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin are actions that “really undermine our national security” … “So there are a lot of very serious issues, and you can’t blame our neighbors for being on edge, upset and wanting to be engaged,” she surmised.

DAVID JOLLY: ‘STOP COMPLAINING AND DO YOUR JOB’ via Rebecca Savransky of The Hill – David Jolly is urging President Trump to stop complaining and focus instead on serving the country. “He needs to stop complaining and do your job. Stop taking on fake news, stop taking on the judiciary, stop taking on senators, John McCain. Do your job,” Jolly said on CNN’s “New Day” … “You asked for this job. Stop complaining. Do your job, because Republicans should be proud to have a Republican president.”

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RICK SCOTT PLAYING BUDGET HARDBALL OVER REPEAL OF ETI, VISIT, MEMBERS SAY via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The governor’s office says the notion that it is tying the fate of House members’ pet projects to how they vote on legislation that would shutter Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida is “absolutely false.” … “The word ‘threat’ was not used, but the message was clear,” said a House member lobbied on the economic development reform bill. “It’s a pretty hardline approach so early in the process. If they want the House to work with them [governor’s office] in the future, they might want to rethink it.” For veteran political observers, a governor using his line-item veto pen as leverage to muscle policy priorities out of the Legislature is nothing new. But this year, it’s happening a month before legislative session even begins. It’s another in a growing list of palpable signs that the 2017 legislative session will be tense and filled with fights fueled by both philosophical disagreements and the political ambitions of powerful state politicians from the same party.

SCOTT VISITS TAMPA TO DEFEND ECONOMIC INCENTIVES, TOURISM PROGRAMS via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times – While Scott’s rallying cries were well supported by the many in the hospitality and economic development communities in Tampa Bay who showed up to listen … his message did not do much to soothe the fears many of them have about a future without Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. “Now is the time to call your representatives and senators and tell them how you feel,” Scott said to several dozen people who participated in a roundtable discussion at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. “I can veto a bill, but if they put no funding forward (for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida), I can’t help.”

— “Scott talks Enterprise Florida, visit Florida with SWFL business, community leaders” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: P.C. @The_News_Herald says in editorial Visit Fla. needs guidance “not gutting.” & hmm @jaytrumbull tells paper VF may not need to be killed … So @jaytrumbull – w @FLGovScott coming into his back yard to bash him and other House R’s – is now rethinking his vote to kill Visit Fla. … .@jaytrumbull is one of 5 House R’s who last yr voted for econ development bill who then voted to kill those same programs last week

JEFF ATWATER TALKS LEGACY via A.G. Gancarski of Florida PoliticsIn Jacksonville on Monday, CFO Jeff Atwater talked about the decision he made last week to step down later this year … Was he leaving too soon? Any ‘apprehension … second thoughts … or misgivings’ Atwater feels about leaving, he said, only has to do with … timing of the departure. ‘I hope I can leave a legacy,’ Atwater said. With challenges around the corner, expect that the governor will want someone as dedicated to ‘fiscal discipline’ as Atwater in the role. The question soon enough will become who that person is.

FIRST ON FLA. POLITICS – CHRIS KING MULLING RUN FOR GOVERNOR via Scott Powers – Winter Park businessman Chris King is mulling a 2018 Democratic run for governor in Florida, sources close to him said Monday. While not highly active in Central Florida political circles, King, president and CEO of Elevation Financial Group in Winter Park has been exploring prospects, with national consultants based in Washington D.C., of an outsider’s run with a mixture of liberal social and business-oriented views. The son of Marilyn and David King, the latter the Orlando lawyer who represented the League of Women Voters in its successful Fair Districts Amendments legal fights with Florida that forced the state to redistrict Senate and congressional seats, T. Christopher King, 38, runs a company that invests in and manages real estate.

PAUL PAULSON SEEDS STATE AG COMMISSIONER CAMPAIGN WITH $120K via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Paulson, a state committeeman with the Orange County Republican Party and 2015 candidate for Orlando mayor, entered the agriculture commissioner race in late December … New campaign finance reports posted by the Florida Division of Elections show he leanded  his campaign $120,000 in January. He also spent $32,000, with $18,000 of that going to BEAG Inc. political consulting in Maryland and the rest to J.M. Design of Winter Garden for printing. He did not report raising any other money. However, Paulson said he has hired a fundraiser and is using his personal money to get the infrastructure set up for a statewide campaign. “I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is,” Paulson said.

JD ALEXANDER SUPPORTING DENISE GRIMSLEY’S BID FOR AG COMMISSIONER via Florida Politics – Not only is Alexander not running for Commissioner of Agriculture, he’s thrown his support behind state Sen. Denise Grimsley‘s bid for the office. Alexander, who was term limited out of the Florida Senate in 2012, is even hosting a “fundraising reception” for Grimsley at his Lake Wales home. The longtime lawmaker who spearheaded the creation of Florida Polytechnic University had been the subject of rumors that industry heads were pushing him to consider running for the statewide office. “I have been honored by several calls from agriculture leaders, but I am very happy spending time with my family and business associates,” said Alexander.

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RICHARD CORCORAN’S NEW TARGET: FLORIDA LOTTERY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Corcoran plans to file a lawsuit against the Florida Lottery for signing a long-term contract for online games, including a new smartphone app, that costs nearly $700 million but would bind future legislatures, which Corcoran considers a violation of state law. … Because the Lottery is a state agency, a lawsuit will be seen as another frontal assault by Corcoran on Scott, who appoints the Lottery director. Here’s the news release saying the Lottery inked a contract through 2031 with International Game Technology (IGT) to provide games for a 13-year period through 2031.

STATE HOUSE DEMS ‘ENCOURAGED’ BY RICHARD CORCORAN’S PLEDGE TO INCREASE EDUCATION FUNDING via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – On SundayCorcoran told CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede the state could expect to see an increase in education funding. State Reps. Larry Lee, Jr. … and Shevrin Jones … issued a joint statement saying they were pleased Corcoran was making the commitment to teachers and the state education system. Lee serves as the Democratic ranking member on the House Pre K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and Jones serves as Democratic Ranking Member on the Education Committee. “Ensuring every child has access to a quality public education has been neglected for too long when it should always be a top priority of this legislature,” they said. ” Now that the Speaker has made this commitment, I am hopeful that our committees will move away from looking at ways to cut education funding & instead begin to focus on giving our hardworking teachers a raise & increasing per-pupil funding to actually historic levels that take into account inflation.”

BILL WOULD SHAKE UP STATE WORKER HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS via Florida Politics – “Our current plan offers limited choices and lacks the price transparency needed for employees and their families to make cost-effective health care purchases,” bill sponsor Tom Lee said … “This bill incorporates modern, innovative models for delivering high-quality health care at lower costs that will empower state employees to decide what benefits make the most sense for them” … SB 900 would allow state workers to choose between bronze, silver, gold or platinum plans, depending on how many benefits they’d like to pay for. If a plan costs less than the state’s share of a worker’s monthly premium, the worker could stash the extra money in a flexible savings or health savings account, or buy extra benefits — or take the extra money as a pay increase. The measure would take effect in 2020.

BILL WOULD LET HOUSE IMPEACH PROSECUTORS, PUBLIC DEFENDERS via Florida Politics – State Sen. Greg Steube wants to add prosecutors and public defenders to the list of officials that the House of Representatives can impeach. The Sarasota Republican’s measure (SJR 904), filed Monday, would require a constitutional amendment that has to be passed by 60 percent of voters statewide. The state constitution now authorizes the House to impeach the “governor, lieutenant governor, members of the cabinet, justices of the supreme court, judges of district courts of appeal, judges of circuit courts, and judges of county courts” for any “misdemeanor in office.” Steube’s proposal would add “state attorneys and public defenders.”

RIDESHARING BILLS COULD PAVE THE WAY FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGES via William Patrick of – On the same day an Uber- and Lyft-friendly ridesharing bill passed its first committee stop in the Florida House, state Sen. Jeff Brandes was presenting his vision of where he believes the transportation industry is headed. “We’re in a generational shift from the horse and buggy to the Model-T,” Brandes said at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee. The St. Petersburg Republican was the main presenter at a public event focusing on emerging transportation technologies. He’s also sponsoring legislation similar to the House ridesharing bill. If successful, the measures would create uniform insurance and background check requirements for participating drivers, and prevent local governments from issuing conflicting regulations. The reforms could be a first-step in a much larger sequence of changes. “The industry is evolving,” Brandes said. “Auto manufacturers, tech companies and all kinds of groups are working hard to get into this space.”

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REPORT POINTS TO PROBLEMS WITH AOBS, AND A WAY AROUND ONE PROPOSED FIX via Florida Politics – As the Legislature debates restricting attorney fees in insurance litigation involving assignment-of-benefits agreements, a tort-reform group has identified a way to circumvent that fix.  Attorneys could convince policyholders to file suit in their own name. A report, “Restoring Balance in Insurance Litigation,” released Monday by the Florida Justice Reform Institute, discusses that possibility in the context of what it called abuse of assignment-of-benefits, or AOB agreements, and of Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute. … The report that found 11 attorneys filed nearly 25 percent of all AOB cases between 2013 and 2016. … The report notes that Florida’s population increased by 26 percent between 2000 and 2016, but litigation against insurance companies grew by 280 percent.

UPHILL CHALLENGE AS FLORIDA RANCH OWNERS PUSH FOR EASEMENT FUNDING via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Driving through his family’s 8,000-acre ranch in southern Hardee County, David M. “Lefty” Durando points to where he expects bobwhite quail to be flourishing in the spring after the winter rains cause a green carpet of grass to grow among the palmetto bushes … Without financial incentives from the state to keep the land intact, Durando says houses — instead of trees, cattle and grass— would be growing there, or on his 12,000-acre ranch near the Kissimmee River. His Limestone Ranch along the Peace River in Hardee County previously was owned by Doyle Carlton Jr., son of the late Gov. Doyle Carlton. Durando is chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, which includes landowners pushing for the state and federal governments to provide more funding for “conservation easements,” which are payments to landowners to conserve their land rather than allowing development. And his group wants the legislature to provide $200 million for conservation easements, split equally between programs at the state agriculture department and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But the group’s request appears to face an uphill challenge. Neither Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam nor Gov. Scott have requested as much as the groups want.

FLORIDA’S DRUG LAWS ARE GIVING ME A PAIN IN THE ASS via Darryl Paulson for Florida Politics – Changes in the Florida drug laws now require patients to see a certified pain specialist monthly in order to receive prescriptions for pain meds. Where 98 out of the top 100 doctors prescribing oxycodone resided in Florida in 2010, that number was zero in 2013. Florida had great success in closing the pill mills and eliminating much of the drug abuse that existed. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that individuals with chronic pain have a very difficult time getting their pain meds in a timely fashion. Pain specialists can write a prescription for a 30-day supply of pain meds. You can’t have your next prescription filled before you use your 30-day supply. The problem is that pharmacies, at least 25 percent of the time, do not have pain meds in stock. I visited my pain specialist last week and received my script for a 30-day supply to be filled Feb. 13. I went to five different pharmacies before finding one that would fill my prescription. It took almost two hours and driving over 25 miles in order to get the meds I was entitled to receive. There is enough stress with chronic pain; I do not need the additional stress of trying to find a pharmacy that will fill my prescription.

ORANGE COUNTY MOLESTATION CONVICTIONS OVERTURNED AFTER PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics –A split appellate court panel has thrown out the molestation convictions of an Orlando-area man, saying he was the victim of “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.” In a 2-1 opinion, a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal last week vacated Marco Antonio Rodriguez’s convictions and remanded the case back to the Orange County Circuit court for retrial. He is now serving an 18-year sentence, records show. Judges James A. Edwards and Richard B. Orfinger also said Rodriguez’s case was compounded by his defense attorney’s “unexplained failure to object.” They admitted “the jury may have reached the proper verdict, given the evidence in this case,” but nonetheless found he was “denied a fair trial.” … “Appellant’s retrial is not just a ‘do over,’” they wrote. “The alleged victim, a child, will once again have to tell her story of familial sexual molestation to a judge and a second jury, while (Rodriguez) will once again be publicly accused and tried for sexually molesting a 5-year-old.

WEALTHY MIAMI BEACH EXECUTIVE CHARGED ANEW WITH BRIBING STATE HEALTH CARE REGULATORS via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – Philip Esformes … prosecutors say, gave $5,000 to his right-hand man to be used to bribe a regulator to learn what the state knew about his vast network of skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities. Unbeknown to Esformes, the exchange of cash for inside information was videotaped by Esformes’ once-trusted friend, Gabriel Delgado. He had agreed along with his brother, Guillermo, to help investigators target the executive in the summer of 2015 after the brothers got into serious trouble with the feds themselves. Esformes, 48, the main defendant in a colossal $1 billion Medicare fraud case, has been held behind bars since July at the Miami Federal Detention Center as he awaits trial in federal court. Esformes’ defense attorney downplayed the latest allegation, maintaining his client is innocent and that the Delgado brothers, who pleaded guilty, are the real criminals.

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MORE LEGISLATIVE HOPEFULS FILE TO RUN IN 2018, 2020 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018, and several more are looking ahead to 2020. Sen. Dorothy Hukill … filed to run for re-election … Rep. Ben Albritton filed … to run to replace Sen. Denise Grimsley … who announced she’s running for Agriculture commission … House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez has filed to run for Senate District 39 in 2020 … Sen. Victor Torres … Sen. Perry Thurston … Rep. Halsey Beshears … Democratic Reps. Clovis Watson Jr., Ben Diamond, and Matt Willhite have also filed to run for re-election.

SPOTTED at the Beer Industry of Florida’s fundraiser for Dana Young: Sen. Wilton Simpson, Slater Bayliss, Anthony DiMarco, Chris Hansen, Jeff Hartley, Fred Karlinsky, Seth McKeel, Marc Reichelderfer, Sydney Ridley, Stephen Shiver.

DESPITE RACIST FACEBOOK POST, PASCO GOP’S BILL AKINS WON’T RESIGN via CT Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times – Facebook cleansed his social media page after The Washington Post revealed his postings to be filled with racist and erroneous stories and memes. One compared African-Americans to monkeys. Another repeated the conspiracy theory of passenger jet airlines spraying toxins. Akins, the secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, offered multple mea culpas in an interview … He is not sorry that he went to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting in New Port Richey … nor that he tried to make a point about the Independent Payment Advisory Board he characterized as a “death panel’’ in the Affordable Health Care Act. “I’m sorry if I offended anyone’s sensibilities, but we need to sit down and act like adults and work for solutions rather than booing, jeering and catcalling,’’ he said about calling most of the 250 people in the room children. And the Facebook posts? “If I offended anybody by anything that they may have read, I’m sorry, but I am entitled to my opinion just as anyone else is.’’

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) here.***

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY BUFFET MENU – Tuesday is Southern Day at the Governors Club with she-crab soup; remoulade slaw; seasonal green salad; traditional potato salad with bacon; fried chicken with whiskey BBQ sauce; herb roasted pork loin; macaroni & cheese; mashed potatoes; succotash; broccoli & cauliflower casserole, finished with a chef’s choice dessert.

A HEARING TEST FOR A BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN via the Tampa Bay Times – SeaWorld Orlando’s Animal Rescue Team has been caring for a rescued male bottlenose dolphin … The animal was brought to the SeaWorld Orlando Rehabilitation Center after being found stranded in Sanibel. Last week, SeaWorld’s veterinary team assisted a representative from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with a hearing test on the dolphin. NOAA conducts hearing tests on all stranded cetaceans to confirm their ability to hear and echolocate. Dolphins use echolocation to help them find food, navigate through their environment and socialize with other dolphins. The use of echolocation is crucial for their survival in the wild. The hearing test is a critical step toward the ultimate goal of returning him to the wild. The test showed the dolphin can hear and the team remains hopeful he will continue to improve. Since his arrival the dolphin has been eating on his own and has shown a steady increase in weight, important steps in the total rehabilitation process.

ProPublica hit piece will deliver ‘inaccurate, untruthful’ attack on Orlando charter school

Searching for the best way to teach our nation’s children, many communities see charter schools as one of the most effective ways to help students otherwise struggling to make it in public education.

Nevertheless, the pursuit of alternative solutions does not sit well with some, particularly those in the media who view charter schools a disruption of the status quo.

With the election of President Donald Trump and his provocative nomination of Betsy DeVos — a longtime school-choice advocate — as U.S. Secretary of Education, charter schools nationwide are bracing for the inevitable onslaught of negative media, despite many charter schools having proven records of successful student outcomes in reading and math growth, among others.

One such target of journalistic bias is Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), an Orlando charter school program servicing at-risk Orange County students who have, for a variety of reasons, fallen off‐track for graduation.

Most students who attend the ALS-run Sunshine High School have been referred by public school educators for academic intervention. Many students at Sunshine have previously dropped out of the public-school system, electing to re-enroll to salvage their academic careers.

Recently, Sunshine has found itself in the crosshairs of ProPublica, the New York-based investigative newsroom that seeks to produce deep-dive journalism in what they proclaim as the “public interest.”

As a startup, ProPublica received millions of dollars from the Sandler Foundation — created by Bay Area philanthropists and Democratic donors Herbert and Marion Sandler to fund progressive organizations. In 2010, ProPublica received a two-year grant from the Open Society Foundations, part of a network of international foundations primarily funded by billionaire George Soros, also as a method of supporting progressive causes.

This financial influence shows in ProPublica’s editorial slant.

Nevertheless, in the instance of Sunshine — which has been both transparent and forthcoming with ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell — such public interest may have fallen by the wayside, traded for a decidedly anti-charter agenda.

A Jan. 26 letter from ALS President Angela Whitford-Narine to various company stakeholders lays it out in no uncertain terms.

“Based on lines of questioning and statements to us and to Orange County District staff,” Whitford-Narine writes, “we are expecting her story to be an inaccurate and inappropriate reflection of our schools and of our relationship with Orange County Public Schools.”

During Vogell’s reporting, Whitford-Narine found — through feedback from various students — that the reporter seemed to lack a fundamental understanding of Sunshine’s student population, as well as its efforts to help students succeed both academically and socially.

A glance at the demographics of the student body shows that Vogell is indeed missing the mark. Even a cursory examination provides a clear insight into the challenges facing Sunshine, as well as similar charter schools throughout the country.

Many of Sunshine’s students come to the charter academically unsuccessful, with 96 percent reading below grade level and nearly 95 percent performing math below grade level (an average 5th grade level for both). The average GPA is a 1.4, versus the 2.0 required for public school graduation. Nearly half the student body are in stressful social situations, either parenting, pregnant or caring for other family members; 44 percent have jobs, 16 percent need special education accommodations, and 10 percent have English as a second language.

Recent correspondence from ALS to Vogel had school representatives expressing these increasing concerns over the methods and direction of the forthcoming ProPublica piece and the mischaracterization of its students.

Through discussions with students interviewed by Vogell since she began her investigation in August, an alarming pattern has emerged, one that is highlighted by a series of “inaccurate and blatantly untruthful accusations” including forced enrollment and a lack of accountability for the charter by the Orange County School District.

“I am particularly disturbed that Ms. Vogell has totally misrepresented what the students said to her,” she wrote, “that she failed to seek parental consent in speaking with and quoting minor students and refused to inquire about the success the students were having at our schools.”

In another wide-ranging letter, this one to Vogell herself — the last correspondence in several months of sporadic communication — Whitford-Narine refutes each issue in detail, pointing out the flaws in her reporting, which come either through neglect or willful ignorance. This letter to Vogell was accompanied by 80 pages of documentation addressing each issue.

“I am now concerned that your approach and tactics are designed to suggest that at‐risk students are being transferred to our schools against their will,” she writes, “that students are being referred by the school district to avoid accountability; that we are not a quality program; that our schools are losing too many students to Adult Education; and that our schools are not held accountable for their performance.”

First, despite Vogell’s implication, enrollment in Sunshine is entirely voluntary, requiring the signed consent of a parent or guardian for minor students, and the signature of a student over age 18.

Feedback from 10 students interviewed by Vogell shows several factual inaccuracies, including one where the reporter cites a student by which no record exists showing neither enrollment nor attendance.

Another student described Vogell “[approaching] him at a bus stop on his way home from school,” and like the conversations with others, “it became clear that she was not wanting to hear about anything positive.” This was despite the student saying he was “doing great” at Sunshine, as his reading levels and comprehension gained dramatically.

Yet another student praised the staff, who had guided him to improve one grade level in reading and two levels in math, giving him a renewed enthusiasm for graduation.

As to his encounter with Vogell: “I did not like talking to her. It was clear that she wanted to focus on a bad story. She texted me, and I did not call her back.”

“How are the teachers here,” she asked the same boy in a distinctly negative way. “Are they bad?”

It was apparent those questions were worded to elicit the desired response, not for learning the truth behind ALS, Sunshine and its mission.

Whitford-Narine’s letter also takes particular exception to Vogell’s assumption that ALS is accepting students from Orange County public schools as a way of influencing the District’s graduation rates and also providing limited availability to advanced courses and extracurricular activities.

“This is wrong,” she says.

Florida’s graduation rate formula does not allow Districts to remove students from graduation rate calculations, just because they have transferred to alternative charter schools. As such, there is no benefit to the School District beyond giving these students a different opportunity so not to lose them.

Vogell seeks to attack Sunshine’s number of students who withdraw to pursue a GED by continually ignoring the fact that Public schools have tried for decades to find ways to get these at-risk, older students into a program that they can stick to through graduation.

By the time these students reach schools like Sunshine, they are often more than two years over-age, have been held back multiple times, skipping from school to school. As many as 30 percent of these students are considered “mobile” — looking for the easiest and quickest path out of school — which is understandable since many of them are between ages 19 and 21, and still have not graduated.

Since schools like Sunshine are graduating these troubled schoolchildren — who arrive already so far behind — as well as showing significant math and reading growth, it strongly suggests they are truly the effective options that Districts seek, and are what Sunshine and similar programs are working hard to accomplish.

Whitford-Narine reports that for ALS schools in Orange County, 63 percent of their students in their reading remediation program improved last year by a minimum two full grade skill levels and 50 percent of them increased by more than three grade skill levels.

ALS students also show a 63 percent increase in rates of credit earning as compared to what these same students were achieving in their earlier high school environment.

And with a significant focus on addressing the student’s social service needs, the schools reported 66 percent of their students having taken advantage of individual and family support services offered right on their campuses.

Also, not only are ALS schools fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS‐ CASI), but Whitford-Narine points out that students are welcome to participate in traditional extracurricular activities — even allowing students an opportunity to attend their school’s prom.

As for the overall direction of the ProPublica piece, it misses the one simple premise behind ALS and Sunshine (as is with most charter schools): giving students who face academic failure the individual, expert and specialized attention they need, so they can actually succeed.

Quality education for students is, and always will be, the real agenda. The reality of ALS bears that out, despite whatever inaccurate narrative Vogell and ProPublica seek to promote.

Rick Kriseman campaign says it has raised $200K towards re-election

Incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has some important news to share about his re-election campaign.

“Now that we’ve had a chance to add everything up and double-check everything, it’s clear we’ve passed an important milestone,” Kriseman wrote in an email that was distributed last week. That milestone is that he has crossed the $200,000 raised threshold for his re-election bid.

Kriseman is seeking a second term as mayor of the Sunshine City. Voters will decide his fate later this year, with a primary election in August and a general election in November.

Currently, no serious contender has filed to challenge Kriseman, but it’s widely reported that former Mayor Rick Baker is contemplating a return to local politics.

Having $200,000 in the bank should send any would-be challengers the message that Kriseman is not taking his re-election chances for granted.

As impressive as that $200K number sounds, it should be noted that $92,450 of it came in before the end of 2016, according to Kriseman campaign staffer Tom Alte. That’s contrary to how the Times’ Adam Smith framed it when he reported that “the mayor raised $200,000 in the first month since he announced his re-election kickoff.”

Still, 200 grand is 200 grand. That will buy a lot of TV time and direct mail in a citywide race. As Kriseman noted in his email, this is a “historic” level of early support.

“Mayor Kriseman is grateful to have the support of voters, activists, community leaders, and employers who have donated to his campaign so that he can continue leading St. Petersburg,” Alte said. “They’ve said loudly and clearly that when we stand together for progress, we can take on the tough issues and move our city forward.”

Sunburn for 2.13.17 – Jeff Atwater’s bombshell; the case vs. Tom Grady; Gus Bilirakis gets an earful; Tim Tebow goes to a prom

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

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


Never mind who’s running for Governor in 2018, Floridians want to know which Republicans are in the running for Chief Financial Officer now that CFO Jeff Atwater announced he is leaving this year, with speculation starting with Tom Grady, state Rep. Joe Gruters, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, and Teresa Jacobs and as many as a dozen other elected officials.

Grady, a securities lawyer who is a former state Representative who also has held several positions in state government, is widely reported as a close friend of Gov. Rick Scott, who will select a replacement for Atwater for the nearly two full years left in the term.

Weatherford, a venture capital and business consultant, is a former Speaker of the House who draws praise from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and who recently announced he’s not running for governor.

Jacobs is the Orange County mayor and a former banker who always sounds like she’s already someone’s chief financial officer, and who reportedly has been exploring a possible state run for that job in 2018 when she’s term-limited from the mayor’s office.

Names tumbling around Tallahassee – some with more spin than others – also already have included Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon, state Sens. Jack Latvala, Aaron Bean, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Jeff Brandes, and Tom Lee, state Rep. Jim Boyd, and former state Sen. Pat Neal.


TOM LEE ACTIVELY JOCKEYING FOR APPOINTMENT via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Lee says he is actively working to be appointed CFO …“I have already spoke to someone in the governor’s sphere of influence,” Lee said. “We will see that the governor wants to do and when he wants to do it.” Lee had been actively considering a run for CFO when Atwater was termed-out, including building an initial campaign organization and hashing out a potential budget.


It’s no surprise Grady’s name was among the first to pop up as a possible replacement to Atwater when news of his resignation broke last week.

He’s a former state representative, who served stints as both the head of the Office of Financial Regulation and the interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. A securities lawyer by trade, it’s safe to assume he knows a thing or two about the financial sector. And it doesn’t hurt he’s practically besties with Gov. Scott.

But Grady’s career in politics has been speckled with controversy, and not the kind you want from the state’s top finance office.

During his brief tenure in the Florida House, Grady was criticized for his decision to fly private charters to and from the capital city. He was one of 19 lawmakers called out in a 2009 report by the Tampa Bay Times. At the time, the  Tampa Bay Times reported Grady “regularly charged taxpayers for use of a private plane arranged by the Naples technology firm InfiNetwork, one of whose executives donated $250 to Grady’s campaign. The bill for taxpayers: $7,850.”

Flying private isn’t against the rules. And back then, neither was flying on the planes of donors and lobbyists. But that isn’t the only time Grady’s travel expenses made headlines.

During his time as the interim president of Citizens, Grady racked up big hotel and travel expenses, all on the state’s dime. The Tampa Bay Times reported in June 2012 that Grady had “spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride, and a three-night stay in Bermuda” in about two months. And those expenses, the paper noted, didn’t include the costs associated with a statewide “listening tour” he took as he lobbied to become the permanent head of the state-run insurance company.

If Floridians have learned anything from the recent feud over Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, it’s this: Out of control spending has the tendency to get someone fired not hired.

But the case against Grady goes beyond controversies, there’s also a question of whether he’d actually stick around. The Naples Republican hasn’t held an elected or appointed post for very long, and always seems to be angling for the next, higher position.

He served just one term in the Florida House, from 2008 until 2010. In 2011, he Scott appointed him to the Commissioner of Financial Regulation post. He held that position for just seven months, before taking over the role as interim president of Citizens Property Insurance. He was on the job for three months as the state searched for a new permanent head, but didn’t make the cut as a finalist.

And along the way, his name kept popping up for run for other positions. In 2010, he said he would consider it if Bill McCollum approached him to be his lieutenant governor. His name was floated as a leading candidate to lead the Office of Insurance Regulation, something he said was “flattering.”

He toyed with the idea of running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, but dropped those plans after Francis Rooney got in the race. But even then, Grady dropped hints that it wasn’t the last people might hear from him, using a prepared statement to address rumors he might be considering a 2018 run for Attorney General.

“I never say never, but today I am focused on our kids, schools, learning and jobs,” he said in a news release at the time.

Grady dismissed speculation that he was a leading candidate for CFO position, saying he was focused on the Florida Gulf Coast University president’s position. He is one of several candidates scheduled to be interviewed this week, with the presidential selection committee expected to select finalists Thursday. Grady told last week he thinks he has “a good opportunity to get the presidential appointment.”

Then again, Grady in November told POLITICO Florida he didn’t plan on applying for the FGCU job, saying he and the school’s board of trustees had a different vision for the future.

Never say never, right?

FIRST ON FLORIDA POLITICS – FRANCIS ROONEY SAYS HE’S NOT CONSIDERING 2018 GUBERNATORIAL BID via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – “I am considering one thing — being the best congressman I can be for Southwest Florida,” he said. “I’m thankful to have the opportunity to represent Southwest Florida, and I’m not intending to do anything else other than do the best possible job I can.” Rooney says he’s not interested in running for governor, saying he’s has “said it a lot, no way.” …“I’m sure there’s a lot of good business people that would make excellent governors in Florida, and congressmen and senators as well,” he said. “I just want to be the best congressman I can be.”

— “Jack Latvala’s gubernatorial prospects impacted by decisions by Atwater, Rooney” by Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

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DAYS UNTIL: Valentine’s Day – 1; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 22; Florida Capitol Press Corps Press Skits – 29; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die – 81; FSU vs. Alabama – 201; Election Day 2017 – 263; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 304.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD FOES, SUPPORTERS FACE OFF IN PROTESTS IN TAMPA BAY AREA via Sara DiNatale of the Tampa Bay Times – A woman in the middle of a median on N 56th Street hoisted a sign above her head that said, “Honk if you are pro-life.” A priest led the group of about 120 people in saying the Lord’s Prayer. On the other side, about 150 people dressed in pink clutched matching signs that said “I support Planned Parenthood.” Some wore pink knit hats with cat ears, made popular during last month’s Women’s March to show opposition to President Donald Trump. Similar scenes played out in front of the Planned Parenthood-St. Petersburg Health Center and across the country Saturday, as those in support of Republican congressional leaders’ plans to defund the organization turned out to demonstrate. The 100-year-old women’s health care provider offers birth control and other women’s health services, including abortions, at more than 600 centers across the country. Despite their sharp disagreement, each side managed to protest peacefully without incident.

GUS BILIRAKIS GETS ANOTHER EARFUL ON OBAMACARE REPEAL via William Levesque of the Tampa Bay Times – More than 300 people came out to the West Pasco County government center for the second of Bilirakis’ “listening sessions” on health care reform. And as happened during a session last week in Pinellas, a majority of those who spoke offered strong support of the law and urged Bilirakis to vote against killing it. Bilirakis, a Republican who wants to replace Obamacare because its costs have skyrocketed, once again had no change of heart on his opposition to the health law. The support for the Affordable Care Act that Bilirakis has heard in the last week stands in contrast to the conservative bona fides of his district, which includes all of Pasco and parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

— ’Death panel’ disputes erupt at Florida GOP congressman’s town hall” via Eric Bradner of CNN

— ’We need this Affordable Care Act’: Voters discuss health care at Florida town hall” via The Washington Post

— “UCF Socialist Club Incites Young Kids To ‘Kill Donald Trump’” via Jacob Engels of the East Orlando Post

— “Women’s March Florida holds inaugural meeting of Orlando Chapter” via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer

WILL DONALD TRUMP BE BAD FOR BUSINESS AT THE WINTER WHITE HOUSE? via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post – Whether Trump’s becoming leader of the free world will be good for business at Mar-a-Lago is not yet known. The lure of hosting an event at the winter White House may not be that alluring after all. Some groups have already expressed concern that patrons who oppose Trump might not attend events at Mar-a-Lago. Because the president’s trips are not announced to the public far in advance, groups will not be able to scheduled their events around his visits. That means some unlucky gala-goers who purchase tickets for events that end up coinciding with a presidential visit might find themselves stuck in traffic, waiting for Secret Service to sweep their vehicles. Exactly how often President Trump will visit Palm Beach is not known. However, it could be weekly … the Town of Palm Beach posted notice on its website that every Friday until May 1 the town will take steps to control traffic impacts due to presidential visits. While some members of the Mar-a-Lago club adore Trump, they would like to see less of him in Palm Beach now that he is president.

TRUMP IMPEACHED? YOU CAN BET ON IT  via Steven Shepard of POLITICO – There’s already talk of impeachment, just three weeks into Trump‘s turbulent presidency. In fact, many are already betting on it. Gambling houses all over the world are taking in action on whether Trump, inaugurated just last month, will resign or be impeached. And the odds aren’t as long as you might think. Ladbrokes, the British oddsmaking giant, has Trump’s chances of leaving office via resignation or impeachment and removal at just 11-to-10, or just a little worse than even money. The odds of Trump being impeached this year in the House of Representatives are only 4-to-1, according to the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, despite GOP control of the chamber. You can win $180 on a $100 bet with Bovada, the online gaming site, that Trump won’t make it through a full term – though the bet is off if Trump passes away during the next four years.

MELISSA MCCARTHY RETURNS TO SNL AS AN EVEN MORE FRUSTRATED SEAN SPICER via Elahe Izadi of the Washington Post –  McCarthy reprised her unhinged, seething Sean Spicer character, which was last week’s most-talked-about SNL moment — and an impersonation that reportedly unsettled the White House. Click on the image below to watch the video.

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

CHARLIE CRIST HAS BEEN A CONGRESSMAN FOR ONLY SIX WEEKS, AND EVEN HIS FRIENDS ARE GRUMBLING via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – What’s striking about Crist is how quickly he and his wife, Carole, who is leading much of the decision-making and is being paid to oversee political activities, have generated widespread grumbling and head-scratching about his clumsy start in Congress, even among longtime friends. “I’m a bit disappointed that we haven’t heard from him in Pinellas County,” said County Commissioner Janet Long, a fellow Democrat. “I can only compare the two, and right after David Jolly was elected he was calling my office and asking for a meeting and wanting to work together. We built a very tight relationship. I’m hoping we can build the same kind of relationship with Charlie.” Long lamented that Crist did not keep the “outstanding” Vito Sheeley as his district director and instead seems to be hiring staffers few people know. She and other elected Pinellas officials wondered why Crist did not opt to use the Seminole office used by Jolly and Young and already familiar to many Pinellas constituents.

— “Charlie Crist names Gershom Faulkner as Outreach Director” via Florida Politics

CARLOS CURBELO PROFILE – MEET THE FLORIDA LAWMAKER THAT WILL HAVE A BIG SAY SHAPING THE TRUMP AGENDA via Israel Ortega of Opportunity Lives — Opportunity Lives recently sat down with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Ways and Means committee member, to discuss a broad range of issues that are likely to come up this year. On what the appointment means: This is a big deal for me personally, but it is a bigger deal for the people of South Florida. Think about all of the issues that come up before the committee including tax reform and healthcare… On repealing an replacing Obamacare: …Our goal is not just to repeal the law, but also to inject competition in the healthcare system and give people more options. That’s because of the many flaws of Obamacare includes the reality that folks that have been insured through the exchange simply do not have access to good doctors and quality health care. … On standing up for trade: …We want to work constructively with the new administration and help guide them how despite flaws, a lot of the trade deals have really improved the quality of life for many Americans.

RICK SCOTT INAUGURATION PARTY COST MORE THAN $600,000 via The Associated Press – Scott and first lady Ann Scott in January hosted the Florida Sunshine Ball at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium two days before Trump’s inauguration. Records show that Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work paid a company more than $609,000 to rent the auditorium, hire caterers and stage the event featuring The Beach Boys. Let’s Get to Work regularly receives donations from some of the state’s main corporate interests. In the last few weeks Duke Energy donated $100,000 as did private prison provider The Geo Group.

​​ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a a series of round tables with business owners, economic development leaders and community leaders to discuss the economic impact of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Marine Concepts, 2443 Pine Island Road in Cape Coral. From there, he’ll head to the Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 East Fowler Avenue in Tampa where he’ll host a round table at noon. Scott will end his day with a round table at 3 p.m. at the Vessel Sandwich Company, 213 S. 2nd Street in Flagler Beach.

GOP FEUD COULD LOGJAM LEGISLATIVE SESSION via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – The bitter feuding among top Republicans that spilled out into the open this week, a month before the legislative session starts, has some observers worried about gridlock and a possible shutdown of state government. The fights have implications for schools, colleges, the environment, health care and jobs for 20 million Floridians. House Speaker Corcoran… is at the center of the animosity. He’s taking on both Scott and the Senate in his push to reform Tallahassee, but his crusade has roiled the Capitol. “We’re going to fight for the principles that we know are going to make the state better and damn the consequences,” Corcoran said.

— “Meet the new House Republican who is defying Speaker Corcoran” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times

WHAT THE SPEAKER’S OFFICE IS READINGRICK SCOTT NEEDS BETTER ARGUMENT FOR INCENTIVES via the Pensacola News-Journal editorial board – As entertaining as it is to see state politicians of the same party collide publicly, the battle brings serious ideological questions for taxpayers — especially those who consider themselves conservatives. …The governor’s attempt to shame his antagonists are silly. It’s easy to make hyperbolic accusations about “killing” jobs. It’s another thing to actually explain, in logical terms, how legislators’ actions affect working Floridians. Furthermore, the once-upon-a-time Tea Party prodigy ignores the irony that he’s the politician arguing for spending millions in taxpayer money on things like incentives and advertising that can arguably be described as government handouts. With the state facing real struggles with failing schools, aging infrastructure and environmental emergencies, it’s simply tough to argue that we need to be investing our money in marketing campaigns and corporate incentives, rather than real, tangible public needs. But hey, we’re open to convincing.

POLITIFACT FLORIDA: CORCORAN’S VISIT FLORIDA JAB DOESN’T TELL FULL STORY via Katie Sanders of the Tampa Bay Times – “Spending more taxpayer money on VISIT FL (or less) has not demonstrated a direct impact on tourism,” Corcoran tweeted … with a slew of numbers to bolster his point. PolitiFact Florida’s verdict: Half True … Corcoran’s point neglects important context. The test of good marketing isn’t just whether people come, but how long they stay and how much money they spend. “After all, you can’t deposit visitors in the bank, but you sure can deposit the money they leave behind,” said David Preece, academic director of the Center for Hospitality & Tourism at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

KEN LAWSON “WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT” FOR VISIT FLORIDA via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – In an email, Lawson thanked the tourism industry for showing up to a House hearing this week where the Careers and Competition Subcommittee cleared a measure to eliminate the agency, the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and dozens of state incentive programs. It will “You showed up to help and your voice was heard,” Lawson said. “… I could not be prouder of the way the industry has rallied to make a difference. “I want to assure you that VISIT FLORIDA will continue to fight,” Lawson added. “I have already begun meeting with each and every legislator to ensure they know that VISIT FLORIDA serves a vital role in marketing destinations large and small in every community of this great state, and that a reduction in our public funding would mean the loss of tax revenue and jobs that benefit their constituents. Constituents just like you.”

LEGISLATORS HIDE PROJECTS IN UNIVERSITY BUDGETS via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – Progress Boulevard Extension is one of Alachua’s newest roads, courtesy of Florida’s taxpayers. State lawmakers agreed to pay $500,000 for the two-lane, black-topped road that leads to nowhere. The money for the road came in last year’s budget, but the project can’t be found anywhere in the 400-plus-page bill passed by legislators and signed by Gov. Scott. It’s not part of the billions the state spends each year on transportation. It’s not in any capital project budget. The cash for that project and dozens of others made at the special request of individual lawmakers is hidden inside the state’s $82.3 billion budget, with no mention of Progress Boulevard Extension … Over the past seven years, lawmakers have quietly tucked nearly $315 million for their secret projects into state budgets, hiding them in the billions they give to universities to operate with the understanding that this is extra money for special purposes.


BILL CALLING FOR RESERVOIR SOUTH OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE FILEDHOUSE via Tyler Treadway of – The proposal to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb disastrous discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers is now officially before the Florida House of Representatives. State Rep. Thad Altman … filed House Bill 761 … The legislation is identical to Senate Bill 10 filed in late January by state Sen. Rob Bradley … Both outline Senate President Negron‘s proposal for the state and the federal government to equally share the $2.4 billion cost of buying up to 60,000 acres south of Lake O and building a 120 billion-gallon reservoir. Even before the House version was filed, the plan has met with opposition from that chamber’s leadership. House Speaker Corcoran … said he doesn’t think Negron’s reservoir would curtail the discharges and doesn’t want to borrow money by issuing government bonds to pay the state’s share.

QUEST FOR DAILY RECESS: MOMS RENEW FIGHT FOR MORE FREE PLAY IN LEGISLATURE  via Kristen Clark and Kyra Gurney of the Miami Herald – Across Florida, how much unstructured playtime public elementary schoolchildren get each day varies greatly from school to school. Some of the state’s 67 county school districts don’t have a formal policy, and in those that do, administrators often give principals and teachers a lot of discretion. It’s that inconsistency that’s leading passionate “recess moms” to once again lobby lawmakers this spring to pass a statewide, mandatory requirement that elementary schoolchildren get 20 minutes of recess each day. This year, the proposal (SB 78/HB 67) appears on slightly better footing but faces the same hang-up — now in the House. Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the education policy chairman, isn’t convinced a statewide mandate is the way to go, and he’s reluctant to limit teachers’ flexibility in the classroom.

JEFF BRANDES FILES BILL TO CREATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING TASK FORCE via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – The bill (SB 854) … would create an affordable housing task force assigned to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. According to the St. Petersburg Republican’s proposal, the task force would be charged with “developing recommendations for addressing the state’s affordable housing needs.” With another 5 million people expected to be living in Florida by 2030, Brandes said he filed the bill because he thinks there needs to be discussion about how the state approaches workforce housing and affordable housing going forward. “There really isn’t a statewide direction for affordable housing,” said Brandes.


SPOTTED at Jack Latvala‘s fundraiser at the International Polo Club Palm Beach – Adam Corey, Matt Forrest, Carl and Walt Dover, Brittany Dover, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Andy Palmer, Alan Suskey.

SPOTTED at the Farmers for Wilton Simpson event at the 4G Ranch: Gus Bilirakis, Spkr. Richard Corcoran, Sen. Denise Grimsley, Adam Babington, Jeff Johnston, Rachel Perrin Rogers and Brian Hughes, Bridget and Sheriff Chris Nocco, Ron Pierce, Will Weatherford.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association here.***

ANDREW GILLUM ENLISTS ALLIES IN ‘CAMPAIGN TO DEFEND LOCAL SOLUTIONS’ via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Tallahassee Mayor Gillum continued his “Campaign to Defend Local Solutions” … marshaling support from consumer, environmental, and anti-poverty organizations against proposed legislation that would block local business and professional regulations absent express permission from the Legislature. “We would like to work with our colleagues across the street in standing up for local democracy,” Gillum said during a news conference outside Tallahassee City Hall … “It’s consistent with the governing party’s philosophy that decisions are best when they are made locally. If that is the case, then we’ve got to make sure that that’s consistent with the laws that are adopted in this state. Otherwise, it’s hypocritical.” Gillum, a Democrat and potential candidate for governor in 2018, launched the campaign in January, promising to recruit “individuals, organizations, and elected officials concerned about the erosion of local rights.”

HAPPENING TODAY – PUBLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT, POPULATION NUMBERS DISCUSS— The Education Estimating Conference will discuss pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public school enrollment during its meeting at 10 a.m. in 117 Knott Building. The Demographic Estimating Conference will meet to discuss and analyze Florida at during its 1:30 p.m. meeting in 117 Knott.

SCHOOLS IN FLA. FACING TEACHER SHORTAGES via The Associated Press – School districts all over Florida are facing teacher shortages, including in elementary education, which historically had the easiest jobs to fill … The recruiting is starting earlier than ever, and recruiters are exploring out-of-state candidates in the Midwest and northeast. “We are starting earlier, and we are definitely exploring more options than we ever have,” said Greg White, recruitment specialist for Osceola County schools in the Orlando area. “We’ve got to find those quality educators to be in front of our children.” … The Seminole County school district … used to rely on state-run teacher job fairs but is for the first time hosting its own next month, hoping in can fill some jobs ahead of a later-spring hiring crunch. A main reason for the shortage is a drop in Florida college students majoring in education.

OFFICIALS, VOTERS CLASH OVER MEDICAL MARIJUANA RULES via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective pot-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana. State officials have recommended restrictions on what type of patients can qualify for medical marijuana, and where they can obtain it. Their suggestions, however, have prompted a wave of opposition across the state, with nearly 1,300 residents attending what are normally low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restricted access to marijuana. “Patients, doctors, caregivers and activists all had a unified message which is rare,” said Ben Pollara, who is the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free marketplace.”

DEP, MOSAIC TAKE ISSUE WITH TAMPA BAY TIMES SINKHOLE STORY via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – DEP posted on its website a response saying that the Times’ conclusion was false because the well data is from the North stack, which — while continuously monitored and intact — has been closed for nearly 12 years. The sinkhole, DEP said, occurred under the south stack. Mosaic called allegations “fundamentally wrong.” The company said the higher aquifer levels were expected and intended from grouting operations at the north stack that were performed with DEP’s oversight. Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman [said] he was checking with others at the newspaper on whether they would comment in response to the criticism. DEP says sampling of 1,250 private drinking water wells has shown no effects from the sinkhole.

HUMAN WASTE FERTILIZES FARMS, BUT FUELS TOXIC ALGAE BLOOMS via Lucas Daprile of TCPalm — Two-thirds of the state’s waste is spread on private land. Half of that requires permits and is banned in certain watersheds because, being less treated, it contains more pathogens and heavy metals. The other half is not. Classified as “fertilizer,” limitless amounts of it can be dumped near waterways — despite containing just as much nitrogen and phosphorus as the sewage sludge. It’s the source of nearly a fourth of the phosphorus in the Lake Okeechobee watershed, according to a 2009 Audubon Florida report that called human waste-dumping “the most preventable source of pollution.” … Lawmakers tried to ban waste dumping in the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee and Lake Okeechobee watersheds when they unanimously passed the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program in 2007. But a committee rewrite of the bill exempted the waste that contains less bacteria and heavy metals, without regard to its nitrogen and phosphorus content. While that Class AA “fertilizer” now falls under Department of Agriculture voluntary guidelines about how best to use it, Class B “sludge” requires a Department of Environmental Protection permit that regulates the amount, proximity to surface water, time the public must avoid the site after application — and bans it in those three watersheds. … Lawmakers who deregulated Class AA waste expressed surprise when TCPalm provided examples of unfettered waste-dumping in sensitive watersheds.

IN MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH, JACKSONVILLE POLICE, FIRE UNIONS REACH TENTATIVE PENSION DEAL via Nate Munroe of the Florida Times-Union – Many steps – and some uncertainty – remain: Union members must formally vote on the proposal, while city officials have to run a complex financial analysis, write legislation and brief members of the City Council. And [LennyCurry’s administration will have to convince the Police and Fire Pension Fund board of trustees – with whom the mayor has publicly traded barbs – to go along with significant changes to a 2015 pension-reform law. But the tentative agreements — which cover police, firefighters and corrections officers — are a major victory for Curry. Negotiations with the police and firefighter unions were the highest stakes because of the poor financial health of the pension fund and the burden that has placed on the city’s budget. The talks had also become contentious at points, particularly with police union leadership, which felt betrayed by Curry’s plan to cut pension plans for future employees.

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


Mario Bailey, Becker & Poliakoff: AT&T

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: Gentry & Associates; JetPay; Renew Financial

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: DFGV Holdings, Inc.

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Florida Association of Student Educational Inc.

Stuart Brown, SKB Consulting Group: Public Consulting Group c/o MultiState Associates Inc.

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: Retail Services & Systems, Inc.; AT&T

Edgar Castro, Southern Strategy Group: Fairness in Taxation

Christopher Chaney, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Strategic Holdings, Inc.; DFGV Holdings, Inc.

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: North Broward Hospital District

Mercer Fearington, Jr., Southern Strategy Group: 3M Company

Robert Gentry, Gentry & Associates: City of Bunnell

Jennifer Green, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Auto Care Association; Florida Justice Reform Institute

David Griffin, GrayRoninson: Government Payment Service, Inc.; Scientific Games Corporation

Thomas Griffin, Smith Bryan & Myers: Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center; Florida Association for Child Care Management; Florida Land Title Association; Istation

Michael HarrellKimberly McGlynn, Timothy Stanfield, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Vertical Bridge Holdings, LLC

William Helmich, Helmich Consulting: Educational Management Services

Cynthia Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: Wireless Infrastructure Association c/o MultiState Association Inc.

Jim Horne, Strategos Public Affairs: AMI Kids, Inc.

Jonathan Kilman, Foley & Lardner: NeuroTrauma Association of American Inc.

Brian Lee, TPG Consulting: Food & Water Watch Fund

Nickolas Lowe, Unconventional Strategies: Broward College Foundation

Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: Regal Senior Care Management

Tracy Mayernick, The Mayernick Group: Lake Wales Charter Schools

Jim Naff, Smith Bryan & Myers: Istation; Summit Care, Inc.

Sarah NeiwoldJoy Ryan, Meenan PA: Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.

Eli NortelusDavid Roberts, Akerman LLP: Marifirst Wellness Solutions, LLC

Winn Peoples, The Peoples Group: Florida Insurance Council

Rebecca Roman, Adams St. Advocates: Quidel Corporation

SPOTTED at Ballard Partners’ Gasparilla Knight Parade party: Ana Cruz, Bob Buckhorn, Ashley Bauman, Chris Berg, Alan Clendenin, Pat Kemp, Sen. Latvala (across the street at the Italian Club), Janee Murphy, Kyle Simon, Ian Whitney. Also spotted at the parade: Anthony Pedicini and Jackie Toledo.

TIM TEBOW HEADLINES FLA. PROM FOR TEENS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS via The Associated Press – Tebow was the star attraction at a prom held for teenagers and young adults with special needs in Daytona Beach … The “Night to Shine” prom was held Friday night. The idea for the event was created by Tebow’s foundation and similar ones are held around the world. About 160 teens and adults, helped by hundreds of volunteers, attended the prom held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

DISNEY INCREASING PARK TICKETS FOR CERTAIN TIMES OF YEAR via Orlando Rising – The single-day ticket prices are either staying the same or are increasing no more than $5 under the new price structure that goes into effect Sunday. Last year, Disney rolled out a pricing plan that allows visitors to view a planning calendar from eight to 11 months out to determine which days are considered “value,”” regular” or “peak” times. Visitors pay more on “peak” days, which are the busiest times as forecast by park officials. The goal of the varied price structure is to give park visitors an incentive to come during times that are not “peak” so that the experience can be better enjoyed by all, officials said. There have been times during holiday and spring break where the crowds have been so large that Disney has had to stop selling tickets. “Our pricing provides guests a range of options that allow us to better manage demand to maximize the guest experience and is reflective of the distinctly Disney offerings at all of our parks,” said Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Jeff Brandes and Marc Reichelderfer. Celebrating today is Mitchell Norton.

How decisions by Jeff Atwater, Francis Rooney impact Jack Latvala’s gubernatorial prospects

After prematurely floating the idea of running for Florida governor in 2018, state Sen. Jack Latvala saw his gubernatorial prospects impacted by the decisions of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney.

On Friday, Atwater announced that he was resigning to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. It will be up to Gov. Rick Scott to appoint someone to fill the rest of Atwater’s term.

Among the names being bantered about are Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Tom Grady, former Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon, state Sens. Aaron BeanJeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Reps. Jim Boyd and Joe Gruters, former state Sen. Pat Neal and former state Rep. Tom Grady.

Although Latvala is also being discussed as a possibility, his chances are probably no better than five percent. That’s no ding against him, it’s just that Gov. Scott is said to favor Grady, Gruters, or Neal. Also, the governor probably does not want to deal with Latvala’s independent streak on the Cabinet.

If Atwater was not resigning, it would have been a distinct possibility that Latvala would have come very close to qualifying to run for governor, but, in the end, entered the CFO race as a distinct frontrunner.

But now that math has changed.

Whoever Scott appoints — save Grady, who is almost universally despised in the capital — will be the instant frontrunner in 2018, so much so that those who had thought of running for the post, probably will defer to the new CFO. If CFO Curry or Lee or Neal, etc., does not screw the pooch over the 18 months left in their appointed term, it’s now more than likely that they will not be primaried by more than one or two other opponents, if they are at all.

So, instead of an open, five- or six-way race for the Republican nomination for CFO — a contest Latvala could have won — it will now be an “incumbent” versus one or two challengers, none of whom will likely be Latvala.

The bottom line is Atwater’s resignation has reduced Latvala’s options for running statewide from for governor or CFO to just for governor (assuming Latvala is not appointed by Scott).

That’s the bad news for Latvala. The good news is that Francis Rooney will not run for governor in 2018.

As first reported by Florida Politics’ Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Rooney is focused on being a congressman and has told Scott and others recruiting him to run that it’s not in the cards for him in 2018.

Rooney not running leaves Scott without a stalking horse in 2018. And Scott wants to have a hand in Florida politics long after he leaves the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott never seriously considered taking a job in Donald Trump’s cabinet, but sources close to the governor tell Florida Politics that one of the reasons he gave Trump for not going to Washington was a desire to influence state politics for the next decade. In other words, Scott wants a hand in who the GOP gubernatorial nominee is in 2018.

If the events of the last two months are any indication, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, should he run for governor, will not be Scott’s choice. Nor will Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, with whom Scott has a distant, if not frosty, relationship. And Rooney says he’s out. That leaves Scott with few choices.

Billionaire X — shorthand for the currently unknown Florida billionaire who wants to be the next Rick Scott/Donald Trump — could be recruited by Scott to run. Or Scott could get behind failed U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, who is reported to be contemplating another statewide run.

Or Rick Scott could plant a “I back Jack” yard sign in his front lawn.

Although Scott and Latvala get along well and seem to genuinely respect each other, they have had something of an on-again, off-again relationship. Latvala went out of his way to campaign for Scott against Charlie Crist in 2014, only to be repaid with seeing his budget priorities vetoed by Scott after the 2015 Legislative Session.

“The governor has declared war on the Legislature,” Latvala said at the time, heaping blame on Scott’s chief of staff, Melissa Sellers.

But since that low point in their relationship, Scott and Latvala appear to be on better terms, especially with Latvala being such an outspoken defender of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida — two public-private agencies in the crosshairs of Corcoran’s House.

If Latvala is able to preserve some funding for EFI and VF in next year’s state budget, that may be enough to earn Scott’s unofficial endorsement.

There are many other reasons why Latvala may become Scott’s choice, even if its by default. They both pride themselves on being self-made businessmen. They seem to share a similar realistic, but not harshly conservative worldview about the role of government. They even employ the same fundraiser, Meredith O’Rourke.

In other words, it’s not crazy to think that Scott could back Jack.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — In The Zone

The topic of, dare we say, urination rarely comes up in legislative committee meetings in the Capitol.

But there it was, most surprisingly, being mentioned by a gambling expert Thursday in a discussion on slot machines.

The House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee was having a panel discussion on slots, first hearing from Natasha Dow Schüll, a cultural anthropologist and author of “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.”

“Her research concerns gambling, addiction, and technology in Las Vegas,” her website says.

And pee-pee, apparently.

“Gamblers describe going into what they call a ‘zone,’ or a ‘machine zone,’ ” she said via Skype. “And in that zone, the flow is so absorbing that you lose a sense of time, a sense of space … you lose a sense of monetary value, and even a sense of your own physical being,” she told the panel.

“Every evening in casinos, you can see a whole row of machines that say ‘out of service to clean,’ ” she added. “That’s because people are actually urinating on the machines so they don’t have to leave.”

The reaction from Twitter was swift, with people calling the statement “hyperbole” and saying it “belongs in the embellishment hall of fame.”

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner called the statement “ridiculous … with no basis in fact.” The tribe operates several casinos in Florida, including Tampa’s Hard Rock. 

“The only time anyone would do that at a slot machine is if they hit a million-dollar jackpot,” he said. 

But, eww, it has happened, at least according to a cursory search of Google News.

There weren’t any stories at Florida facilities, but as recently as 2015, “a gambler at a Pennsylvania casino allegedly turned the coin tray of a slot machine into an impromptu urinal,” according to a story on

He even resisted his arrest “by state police, who say he became physical with officers when they attempted to take him into custody,” the story said.

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, told some Vegas casinos “do change the carpets for that reason.”

“(I)t is true that some die-hard gamblers don’t ever want to leave … It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check the seat before you sit down at a casino,” he said.

Lesson learned: Use the restroom often as you play, or urine trouble.

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

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

Cabinet shake-up — CFO Jeff Atwater sent shock waves through Tallahassee Friday when he announced he was resigning at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session to accept a position of Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University. In a statement, Atwater said he while he would have preferred to embrace the the opportunity at a later date, “the timing of crucial University initiatives warranted an accelerated transition.” Gov. Scott applauded Atwater’s service, calling him a “Floridian, father, husband and friend” and said he will “truly miss working with him.” The announcement set off a scramble of speculation of who Scott and the Cabinet would select to fill the seat. Among the names mentioned: Developer Pat Neal, former state Rep. Tom Grady, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Sen. Aaron Bean, Sen. Jeff Brandes, Sen. Jack Latvala, Sen. Tom Lee, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, as well as state Rep. Joe Gruters, former House Speaker Dean Cannon and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

First blow — Call it a bad week for Enterprise Florida. The House Careers and Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 to approve a bill that would eliminate the state’s economic development organization; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency; and a slew economic incentive programs. The vote was just the latest in a series of moves meant to target the agencies, which have drawn the ire of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Opponents of the committee bill said it would destroy the tourism industry; while opponents applauded House members who “stood up for fairness, for principle, and for Florida taxpayers.” Gov. Scott took to Twitter during the debate, giving supporters shout-outs and scolding members who voted in favor of the bill.

Fast track — The Florida Senate will have plenty to do when the 2017 Legislative Session officially kicks off in a few weeks. The Senate Rules Committee this week approved a bill to repeal a Prohibition-era law that requires businesses, like grocery stores, to have separate stores to sell liquor. The same committee also OK’d changes to the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Both bills now head to the Senate floor. Also on the fast track: The Senate’s “Excellence in Higher Education” legislation. Both bills (SB 2 and SB 4) cleared the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee this week, and are now headed to the full Appropriations Committee, the last stop before the full Senate. The higher education package is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

Term limits — The Florida House is moving forward with a plan to put term limits on judges, a top priority for Speaker Corcoran. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee voted 8-7 for a proposed constitutional amendment that would put a 12-year term limit on Florida Supreme Court justices and appeal court judges. The measure, proposed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, wouldn’t apply to judges who are currently in office, and begin with anyone appointed to an appellate court in beginning in 2019. The Florida Bar is opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment.

Marijuana meetings — The Office of Compassionate Use took its medical marijuana rule-making process on the road this week, holding five workshops across the state to get input from Floridians about how to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. During a workshop in Tallahassee this week, speakers said the agency should, among other things, allow “whole-plant use;” let doctors determine which patients should get medical marijuana, and find ways to keep the costs down. The health department accepted written comment through Friday, and now faces a July deadline to write rules.

Gov. Scott took to the high seas — OK, maybe just stopped by a few of Florida’s ports — this week to highlight a proposal to set aside cash for infrastructure improvements.

Scott visited Port Canaveral and JAXPORT to highlight transportation investments included in his fiscal 2017-18 budget. The budget includes $10 billion for the Florida Department of Transportation’s work program, including $178 million for seaport infrastructure improvements.

“Port Canaveral is a major economic engine for the state, and we have great plans to continue growing and supporting our local community,” said Tom Weinberg, chairman of the Canaveral Port Authority, in a statement. “It is clear Governor Scott knows that by strategically investing in our seaports, we are investing in new opportunities for our state’s businesses, families and visitors.”

Scott also stopped by PortMiami later in the week to highlight the budget request.

“PortMiami is big ship ready and we are honored that the world’s largest container alliances call here, which even further solidifies our position as the World Class Global Gateway,” said Juan Kuryla, director of PortMiami. Governor Scott truly understands the importance of investing in Florida’s ports and making Florida a global trade leader, and we are proud to fully support his budget recommendations.”

Florida’s 15 seaports are responsible for $117.6 billion in economic activity and support nearly 900,000 jobs.

New moms have a friend in Sen. Lauren Book.

Book, who is expecting twins, filed a bill this week to help pregnant women and mothers with infants while they are shopping. The bill (SB 650) would require retailers and shopping centers with more than 100 parking spaces to reserve at least one for expecting mothers.

“As a mother-to-be expecting twins, I’ve spent the last nine months watching moms attempt to balance it all while out in public with their babies. And I’ve seen that we’re just not doing enough to support women during this incredibly challenging time,” she said in a statement. “A new mom simply shouldn’t have to sit on a toilet seat in a public restroom or out on a hot curb to feed their child. We need to provide more dignity, comfort and safety for both mothers and babies. This bill proposes a small change that would make a big difference.”

The bill also requires retailers and shopping centers to maintain one clean and private breast feeding area that isn’t a restroom or changing area.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz is sponsoring the bill in the Florida House.

Want to donate your health data? Sen. Brandes has a bill for that.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed a bill this week to allow individuals to anonymously donate their health records, just like they are allowed to donate their organs.

“The healthcare industry has moved to electronic medical records and there is now an opportunity to use enhanced analytic tools to study those records,” he said in a statement. “Donating our healthcare data enables large, sophisticated studies of a wide range of health records. This bill will leave a lasting impact for future generations, and Florida will lead the nation in healthcare innovation.”

The bill allows individuals to donate all or part of their electronic health records anonymously; and requires the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to develop and implement a program encouraging individuals to donate electronic health records.

Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Alexandra Miller are joining forces with Sen. Dana Young to protect greyhounds.

The threesome filed legislation this week to ban the use of inhumane anabolic steroids on greyhound racing dogs. Female racing dogs are routinely given injections of anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to prevent the loss of race days and push their bodies beyond natural limits. There are currently 19 racetracks in the United States, 12 of which are in Florida.

“Greyhound racing is a cruel, but dying industry that will hopefully be phased out soon in our state,” said Smith in a statement. “I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort with Senator Young and Rep. Miller to ensure the humane treatment of greyhound racing dogs at all 12 of Florida’s remaining racetracks facilities.”

Give this doctor a round of applause.

Gov. Scott presented Dr. D.J. Brickler, with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award during the Florida Cabinet meeting this week. Brickler is the creator of the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Project Exhibit, which is a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, or “Red Tails.”

“Dr. Brickler has deep roots in the Tallahassee community as a beloved physician, community servant, and volunteer advocate,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman in a statement. “Today we are especially proud to honor him for his work in creating a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, a tribute which has been shared with over 900 students from 11 Leon County schools in conjunction with Black History Month.”

A native of Tallahassee, Brickler has served as chairman and vice-chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and as Chief of Medical Staff at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

The Florida Senate is taking steps to reduce the number of children prosecuted as adults.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-3 to approve a bill (SB 192) that would dramatically overhaul the way children are fast tracked into the adult prison system. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Powell, would create a uniform system throughout the state based on the child’s age at the time of the crime and on the type of the offense committee.

“In the past, the direct filing of children as adults in the courts was the fallback position by officials who found it easier to dehumanize kids than work to solve the problems driving the behavior,” said Powell in a statement. “This bill reflects a new attitude that kids aren’t disposable, that warehousing them in adult prisons is not a solution, and that redemption and rebirth are possible.”

According to the Senate Democratic Office, the bill aims to bring greater transparency into the criminal justice system by requiring prosecutors to document their decisions to prosecute children as students.

House members filed 319 bills seeking money for local projects as the deadline for such legislation fell. They would cost more than $708 million if enacted.

Under rules approved when Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership, members must file a specific bill describing each project they hope to insert into the state budget. The idea is to get away from secretive logrolling late during sessions.

The most expensive item is HB 2503 by Cary Pigman, a Sebring Republican. He would spend nearly $62 million to tear down and replace the aging Okeechobee High School.

The least expensive is HB 2003, by Deltona Republican David Santiago, to install a virtual reality lab for STEM students at Edgewater Public Elementary School in Volusia County. The price tag is $25,000.

Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier’s solution to the insurance assignment-of-benefits problem includes limiting contractors’ ability to recover attorney fees in litigation against insurance companies.

Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute is intended to shield policyholders against legal bills if they want to sue their insurers for failure to pay or lowballing claims. Critics argue that unscrupulous contractors can exploit these agreements to file inflated claims backed by lawsuits.

Atwater said he wants to specify that only policyholders can benefit by the law.

“If your name is not on the policy, then you don’t. It’s just as simple as that.”

Grab a book and head to Florida State University next week.

The Florida State University community kick off its sixth annual reading marathon at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the main floor of Strozier Library, just outside of special collections. The event is expected to run until 10 a.m. Thursday.

The annual event gives community members a chance to celebrate storytelling by reading aloud fables, fairy tales and myths for 24 straight hours.

“These stories may seem simple, but they help us understand our world, ourselves, each other and what it takes to get along,” said Peggy Wright-Cleveland of FSU’s Office of Faculty Development and Advancement and organizer of the marathon. “Hearing and telling them aloud, in their older forms, will help us pay attention to the power storytelling wields in shaping individuals and communities.” 

Interested in reading aloud? Select your favorite tale and sign up for a time slot by visiting SignUp at

Gov. Scott gave some belated congratulations to the winners of the Governor’s 2016 Hispanic Heritage Month art, essay and educator awards recently.

The awards were presented during a reception at the Governor’s Mansion this week. While Hispanic Heritage Month is held every year in Florida from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the 2016 event honoring awardees was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew.

The 2016 Florida Hispanic Heritage Month theme was “Honoring Hispanic American Heroes” in recognition of those who have protected Florida’s communities and families.

“My wife Ann and I were honored to join Volunteer Florida in recognizing the many great students and teachers who participated in last year’s Hispanic Heritage Month contest,” said Scott in a statement. “We are proud of our diverse and vibrant state and these winners and their projects represent the countless contributions Hispanic individuals and families have made to our communities.”

The Department of Management Services wants you.

The state agency’s People First team recently launched a new platform to attract talented candidates to the state workforce. The enhanced jobs site offers enhanced navigation tools and includes custom, agency branded-pages for state agencies.

“Working for the State of Florida means being responsive to the issues impacting the taxpayers of our state while using innovative approaches to create efficiencies,” said DMS Secretary Chad Poppell in a statement. “The new People First recruitment site is aimed at recruiting top-tier talent from across the country to enhance Florida’s workforce and to engage individuals who are committed to providing exceptional service to Floridians.”

According to the agency, more than 612,000 people have visited the new job site, more than 34,600 candidate profiles have been created, and more than 49,500 applications have been submitted.

A quintessential Florida artist will be on display next time you’re in the capital city.

The Department of State’s Museum unveiled a new temporary exhibit called “Preserving Eden: Clyde Butcher’s Florida Photographs” this week. The exhibit, which consists of 30 of Butcher’s large form black and white photographs, is on display through May 1.

“Clyde Butcher is a Florida icon and has been called the Ansel Adams of the Everglades,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “I hope that everyone will come see this exhibit and learn about Florida’s wetlands, hammocks, and dunes, and about one of the best landscape photographers in the world.”

All the single ladies (and gentleman) are heading to Florida.

A new WalletHub report ranked the Sunshine State as one of the Top 10 places for singles. The personal finance website’s data team compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 23 key indicators when it comes to dating friendliness. The data set included share of single adults, movie costs, and nightlife options per capita.

Florida ranked came in No. 10, rounding out the Top 10 list. It was ranked sixth when it comes to “dating opportunities,” 26th when it comes to romance and fun, and 40th when it comes to “dating economics.”

The Top 10 list included a few places you wouldn’t normally think of when it comes to hotspots for singles, including Montana and South Dakota. Washington grabbed the top spot, followed by Colorado and California.

The worst place to be a single? Mississippi.

Your Florida Cabinet knows fun.

From left, state CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ride the slide at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. As Atwater tweeted Thursday, “Never a dull moment at the Florida State #Fair. Party on!”

This year marks the 113th anniversary of the Florida State Fair. First held in 1904 near Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel, now the site of the University Tampa, the fair moved to its current location in 1977.

The fair showcases Florida livestock, poultry and fresh produce. More than 5,000 animals will be shown in competitions, with more than 1,500 FFA and 4-H participants. There are also several new attractions this year, including the largest traveling Ferris wheel, the Midway Sky Eye.

The fair runs through Feb. 20.

Congratulations, Tyler Montgomery!

Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet presented Montgomery with the Young Entrepreneur Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Montgomery is the president of Mont Motorsports, a Panama City automotive company that fabricates, builds and sells aftermarket performance parts and vehicles.

“At Mont Motorsports, we work hard to create a strong relationship with our customers and provide a marketplace that offers thousands of performance parts, all in one location,” said Montgomery.

Speaking of business achievements, Scott honored presented Javier Nava with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Nava is the president and founder of Javi’s Salsa.

“I’m proud to recognize Javi’s Salsa with the Business Ambassador Award,” said Scott. “We work hard to cut taxes so we can make Florida a great place for small businesses like Javi’s Salsa to succeed.”

The spicy snack is distributed throughout the state.

Here’s something to celebrate: A new report from Florida TaxWatch found Florida’s sales tax holidays are beneficial to taxpayers and businesses.

“Not only are sales tax holidays popular, they also are valuable to Florida taxpayers and businesses,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Taxpayers save money when shopping during the holiday while simultaneously boosting Florida businesses. The Legislature should continue to implement these holidays.”

The report found that any decrease in sales tax revenue for the state is offset by growth revenue. It notes the sales tax holidays are successful in increasing consumer spending, and also states the Back to School sales tax holiday is the second biggest shopping weekend in the state, second only to Black Friday.

“Florida’s sales tax holidays have been extremely popular with taxpayers over the years and have led to millions of dollars in savings for Floridians,” said Sen. Dorothy Hukill. “Extra money in the pockets of hard-working Florida families gives them additional flexibility when making monetary decisions.”

The Florida Cabinet said “thank you” to three Broward County heroes.

Gov. Scott presented three Broward County deputies with the Governor’s Medal of Heroism during the Cabinet meeting this week. The three deputies — Deputy Robert Bennet, Deputy Benjamin Fischer, and Deputy Jesse Doucette — for their actions in response to a house fire in January.

According to the Governor’s Office, Doucette arrived on the scene of the house fire and entered to find a woman unconscious in a wheelchair. He carried her outside, where he and Fisher began lifesaving first aid efforts. Bennet then arrived on-scene, and entered the house to search for additional residents, where he found a dog lying in the house. He carried the unconscious dog out of the home, and used an oxygen tank to provide aid until the dog started breathing again.

“Every day, our first responders put their lives at risk to protect our communities and families,” said Scott. “I’d like to thank Deputies Doucette, Fischer and Bennett for their quick response and selfless actions to rescue a woman trapped in a house fire. It’s an honor to present them with the Medal of Heroism today.”

Tip your hat to Florida’s teachers.

Gov. Scott presented eight educators with the Governor’s Shine Award during the Cabinet meeting his week. The award is presented to teachers and administrators in Florida who make significant contributions to the field of education.

“I am proud to present these eight educators with the Shine Award today. Great teachers help ensure our students are prepared for higher education and careers,” said Scott. “I’d like to thank these teachers and educators around the state for their impact on today’s students and generations of students to come.”

Scott recognized Antonio Alves from Manatee County, Matthew Burton from Broward County, Khea Davis from Sarasota County, Vicki Forte from Putnam County, Wilhelmenia Jacobs from Palm Beach County, Yolanda Pittman Martin from Hillsborough County, Susan Rodriguez from Pasco County, and Benjo St. Fleur from Orange County.

Ginger Delegal is in charge.

The Florida Association of Counties executive committee unanimously appointed Delegal, the organization’s deputy executive director and general counsel, as the interim executive director of the association. Delegal will replace Scott Shalley, who announced his resignation this week.

“Ms. Delegal’s extensive experience and steady hand have played a crucial role in the Association for the last 13 years and I know she will be able to provide leadership needed at this time to safeguard a smooth transition,” wrote Kathy Bryant, the president of the association.

Delegal has served as general counsel at the Florida Association of Counties since 2003. Prior to that, she was a shareholder at Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson in Tallahassee.

Shalley, according to the association, will stay on to help with the transition through March 3.

Mark Halperin is talking shop in West Palm Beach net week.

Halperin is scheduled to speak at the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Feb. 15. A well-known political reporter and the co-author of “Game Change,” most recently served as the co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics. During the 2016 election, he produced and co-starred in Showtime’s The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth.

Established in 2012, The LeMieux Center provides students with opportunities to engage with state and national officials, journalists, authors, academics and other notable thought leaders on issues important to Florida, the United States and the world.

The Old Capitol went purple this week to mark the annual “Rally in Tally” Alzheimer’s Association State Advocacy Day.

More than 140 delegates from across the state converged on Tallahassee to talk about the needed for increased state research funding, support services, education programs, cultural outreach, and increase respite care services. Advocates attended more than 70 meetings, and the event was expected to be one of the largest in the state.

Floria Sen Stewart stands in front of the Florida Capitol lighted in purple by the Alzheimer’s Association for the annual “Rally in Tally” Alzheimer’s Association State Advocacy Day at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and Florida has the second highest incidence rate in the country. An estimated 510,000 Floridians live with Alzheimer’s.

Congratulations, Brevard Clerk of Court Scott Ellis!

The First Amendment Foundation announced this week Ellis was the winner the 2016 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment award. Ellis was recognized for his “commitment to ensuring compliance with Florida’s public records law and his tenacious struggle to obtain records from the Economic Development Commission of the Space Coast,” according to the organization.

The award was created to recognize the significant contribution made by Pete Weitzel, the former managing editor of the Miami Herald, and the founder of the First Amendment Foundation. It is given annually to someone in Florida who has made a significant contribution to the cause of furthering open government.

The First Amendment Foundation also announced Curtis Lee as the winner of the 2016 James C. Adkins/Sunshine Litigation Award. He was honored for his role “continuing commitment to ensuring that Florida government remains open and accessible to its people.”

“We owe Mr. Ellis and Mr. Lee special thanks for all they have done for the public,” the organization said in an email to members. “They set a standard that citizens and those in government should emulate.”

The awards will be presented during the annual Sunshine Recognition luncheon on March 14 at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee.

Playing golf this weekend? Head out to the Hollywood Beach Golf Resort.

The Hollywood golf course has been chosen as the featured golf course on the Florida Historic Golf Trail for the month of February. The first nine holes were completed and in play by 1922. The hotel and 18-hole golf course was opened in 1924.

“The Hollywood Beach Golf Resort is honored to be selected as the Florida Historic Golf Trail’s featured course for February 2017,” said Josh McCumber, director of Golf at Hollywood Beach Golf Resort. “The golf course at Hollywood Beach Golf combines the best of old and new, where Old Florida meets the 21st century.”

Still need a plan for Valentine’s Day? Consider going to Orlando.

WalletHub recently ranked The City Beautiful as the third best place in the nation to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The personal finance gurus compared 100 of the largest cities across the country across 20 different metrics, ranging from florists per capita, number of attractions, and cost of a three-course meal for two.

The city ranked No. 1 when it comes to “gift accessibility” and No. 2 when it comes to “activities.” It was ranked 55th when it comes to budget and 35th when it comes to the weather forecast.

Orlando wasn’t the only Florida city to earn a spot on the list. Tampa was ranked No. 11 and St. Petersburg earn a place at No. 37. Jacksonville is considered the 66th best place to celebrate Valentine’s Day, while Miami was ranked No. 74 by WalletHub’s number crunchers.

San Francisco earned the top spot on the list, while Hialeah was ranked as the worst city for Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day might not be so sweet for Florida retailers.

A new survey by the Florida Retail Federation found consumers plan to spend about $10 less on gifts, and fewer people say they will celebrate the holiday this year — reversing a decade-long trend.

Randy Miller, FRF president and CEO, said consumers report they will spend an average of $136.57 in 2017, down from last year’s record high of $146.84. Nationally, though, spending is still projected to be robust – $18.2 billion.

“This day is still expected to mean significant revenues for Florida’s retailers as consumers shower their loved ones with gifts, flowers, candy, tickets to events and dinners at local restaurants,” said Miller.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $85.21 on their significant others; $26.59 on other family members, like children and parents; $6.56 on children’s classmates/teachers, $6.51 on friends, $4.27 on co-workers, and $4.44 on pets.

Those shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts plan to go to department stores (35 percent), discount stores (32 percent), online (27 percent), specialty stores (18 percent), florists (18 percent), and local small businesses (15 percent).

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















Mosaic pushes back hard against Tampa Bay Times over sinkhole reporting

Following a report from the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman regarding the sinkhole that opened up on Mosaic Fertilizer’s property in late 2016, the company sent out a scathing rebuke to media alleging Pittman “continues to provide a platform for false information.”

In the report, Pittman interviewed Don Rice, a former hydrologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, who alleges the company should have seen the signs of a sinkhole forming.

Jackie Barron, a Mosaic spokeswoman, said the claims made in Pittman’s article are “fundamentally wrong.”

“The water level increases cited in his article were observed in a location that is in no way related to the recent sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility,” Barron wrote in a memo to media.

The company is also taking issue with the newspaper’s failure to check the facts before reporting.

“Responsible journalists check facts from multiple sources to get to the truth before they accuse a company of negligence,” said the memo. “That did not happen here.”

In a separate release, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims allegations by Rice are wrong because they reference a section of Mosaic’s property where a sinkhole did not form.

“This is false because the data they are referring to is from the North stack,” the release said, “which while continuously monitored and intact, has been closed and non-operational for nearly 12 years.”

The DEP also takes issue with the Times’ failure to disclose the data used by Rice as the basis for his allegations.

“After multiple requests for the Tampa Bay Times’ reporter to provide the data being referenced, DEP was pointed to one chart on Page 5 of a July 2016 monitoring report, which DEP had reviewed and posted online Aug. 11, 2016,” the statement said. “DEP has posted monitoring reports for the two stacks, North and South, at the Mosaic New Wales facility dating back to 1994, and these reports have been available online since 2013.”

Last week, Mosaic employees began work filling the sinkhole. As part of the effort, Mosaic employees plan to work 24 hours per day with a six-day workweek.

Mosaic estimates the sinkhole will be filled by the rainy season.


Sunburn for 2.10.17 – New Fla. Retail Fed. prez; Bill Nelson primaried? Jeff Atwater’s win; Rick Kearney antes up

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

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

FIRST IN SUNBURN – SCOTT SHALLEY TO BE NAMED NEW PRESIDENT/CEO OF FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION – Look for the Florida Retail Federation to announce the hire of Scott Shalley to replace Randy Miller, who is retiring. Miller will continue to consult with FRF on issues as needed going forward. Shalley becomes only the 6th person to serve as both president and CEO in the 80 year history of the FRF. Shalley comes to the FRF from the Florida Association of Counties, where he served as Executive Director since 2015.

BILL NELSON COULD FACE PRIMARY CHALLENGE IN STATE SEN. RANDOLPH BRACY via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Nelson, 74, is the only Democrat in Florida elected to statewide office and is expected to run for another six-year term in 2018 … Bracy, 39, was elected to the state Senate last year after serving four years in the Florida House. He currently serves as chairman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, hand-picked by Republican Senate President Joe Negron to carry out his aggressive platform of juvenile justice reforms. Bracy is a consultant by trade, a former teacher and has been active in politics for years, mostly in his hometown of Orlando.

NELSON BLASTS TOM PRICE’S MEDICARE RECORD via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Price‘s views on Medicare vouchers and eligibility would be bad for senior citizens … Nelson vowed to vote against affirming his nomination to be Donald Trump‘s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Nelson charged that Price’s support for a Medicare voucher system would lead to increased out-of-pocket costs for seniors’ medical bills and his support to raise the eligibility age to 67 would break promises to people paying into the system. “Our country deserves an HHS secretary who will uphold those promises, not inflict deep cuts that alter the financial security Medicare provides Americans in their later years,” Nelson stated … “And so for these reasons and others, sometime in this next 11 and a half hours when we vote, I’m going to vote no on this nominee. There’s too much at stake for our seniors to give this nominee the control over these programs.”

MARCO RUBIO RE-SHARPENS CONDEMNATION OF PUTIN AND ANY U.S.-RUSSIA DEALS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “The United States, The Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead,” Florida’s Republican senator condemned prospects of a grand deal between the Trump administration and Putin involving ISIS, sanctions over Russian hacking, and Ukraine, calling it “a really stupid deal” that would have no chance of forwarding American interests. “I think this whole notion of a grand bargain, where they are going to help us kill terrorists and fight ISIS in exchange for lifting sanctions, is a fantasy,” Rubio said in response to comment from two witnesses, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove, USAF (Ret), and Julianne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for New American Strategy.

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DONALD TRUMP RAGES IN ALL CAPS AFTER APPEALS COURT RULES AGAINST HIM via William Cummings of USA TODAY – Trump wasted no time in responding to a federal appeals court decision rejecting the Justice Department’s effort to reinstate his executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim nations. “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” Trump tweeted. Either the president’s caps-lock button is stuck, or he is one angry commander in chief. According to, “When someone is TYPING AN ENTIRE SENTENCE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, that person is SHOUTING. It is not proper netiquette to TYPE IN ALL CAPS, especially in email.” Stephen Colbert responded to the president’s tweet, taking issue with the grammar rather the substance of Trump’s social media scream: “Sir, this is two sentences. It shouldn’t be a comma. It should be a period. #GrammarNeoNazi”

TRUMP TO ARRIVE IN PALM BEACH COUNTY DURING RUSH HOUR TODAY via Kristina Webb of the Palm Beach Post – According to a temporary flight restriction by the Federal Aviation Administration, Trump will fly into PBIA sometime close to 5:15 p.m. Friday. The restrictions expire at 10 p.m. Sunday, indicating a late return to Washington, D.C. Trump is traveling to his Mar-a-Lago Club this weekend — his second weekend visit in a row — as he hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT’S CEO MEETS WITH TRUMP via Francis McMorris of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Joe Lopano flew to Washington, D.C. and was among several airport and airline leaders to meet with Trump … as the new administration turned its sights to improving the aviation industry … Trump has vowed to focus on U.S. infrastructure projects and has called some U.S. airports “obsolete.” Lopano, speaking as he was boarding a plane back to Tampa, said the main topic of discussion was the customer experience. “That encompasses infrastructure on the ground,” he said. “We had a great discussion on how we can improve that.”

HOW TO BUILD AN AUTOCRACY via David Frum for The Atlantic – If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled … The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so … liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state … not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is … with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered.

WE ARE NOT THE SAME; THE IMMORAL EQUIVALENCY OF PRESIDENT TRUMP via Darryl Paulson of Florida Politics – President Trump turned in one of the most disgusting performances of any American president when he placed America and the Soviets on the same moral plateau. In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump defended Putin against O’Reilly’s charge that “Putin’s a killer.” Trump responded that “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” If Obama had made that statement, Republicans would be calling for his impeachment. But, weak-kneed Republicans, who have no problem praising Trump, have a far more difficult time criticizing him when he becomes ill with “foot and mouth” disease. In their silence, supporters of Trump are neither doing him, or the nation, favors anyway. Do you remember when one of our political leaders ordered the assassination of a political opponent?  Neither do I. But, Putin did that to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

MATT GAETZ: DISSENTERS WELCOME AT ‘OPEN GAETZ DAY’ via Joseph Baucum of the Pensacola News-Journal – In the run-up to Gaetz’s all-day visit to Northwest Florida Feb. 23, the Fort Walton Beach Republican has urged all with input to partake in the day’s organized events, even those critical of his recent performance on Capitol Hill. “I encourage anyone to show up and participate who’s willing to be peaceful and nondisruptive,” he said. “It’s ‘Open Gaetz Day.’ The point is to get people’s ideas, suggestions and even criticism.” Several local groups aim to attend to voice their dissent to Gaetz’s recent policies. Those include members of the Escambia County Democratic Women’s Club … Their disapproval centers on the lawmaker’s recent drafting of a bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.

CHARLIE CRIST WANTS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO LOOK INTO VOTER SUPPRESSION, DISENFRANCHISEMENT via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Crist and 75 other Democrats are signing on to a letter originally penned by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, Alabama’s Terri Sewell and Washington’s Derek Kilmer calling for an evaluation of state voter restrictions in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida. Those states bar individuals with past felony convictions from voting unless they are able to meet a burdensome clemency requirement. This law has led to the disenfranchisement of an estimated 1.5 million Floridians. “Unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are being used as cover to enact policies aimed at disenfranchising certain voters — something Floridians are all too familiar with,” said Crist … “Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy. I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ STAFFER UNDER INVESTIGATION, REPORT SAYS via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – … for equipment and data theft …  Imran Awan has worked for various members of the House of Representatives since 2004. Multiple relatives of Awan who have also worked for House members are also part of the investigation. A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, David Damron, didn’t respond to questions about Awan but sent a statement to the Miami Herald: “At this time we are continuing to gather information from House officials, and will determine the best approach to move forward once we have received a thorough review. We are consulting House counsel to ensure that due process is afforded to her employees before any action is taken.” A spokeswoman for U.S. Capital Police, Eva Malecki, sent a statement … “At the request of Members of Congress, the United States Capitol Police are investigating the actions of House IT support staff. No Members are being investigated. No arrests have been made. We have no further comment on the ongoing investigation at this time.”

FLORIDA ‘CROSSOVER’ CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS GIVE DEMOCRATS GLIMMER OF HOPE IN 2018 via Florida Politics – 2016 cycle’s “crossover” congressional seats – districts that voted for one party on the congressional level, and another for president … There were 26 such seats in the 2012 cycle, and 2016 saw an increase to 35. A dozen of the crossover seats sent a Democrat to Congress and backed Trump for president, while the remainder, including Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, voted a Republican into Congress while backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. Despite the jump in crossover seats … the Clinton versus Trump election may not be an “accurate gauge” of these seats true partisan leans, and says most of the districts are “more competitive on paper than in practice” … the GOP has a much firmer grasp on their Congressional seats than Democrats did in 2010, when Republicans won the midterm election by a landslide. Democrats lost 48 House seats, and their majority, in that cycle.

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DAYS UNTIL: Pitchers & catchers report for Spring Training – 2; Valentine’s Day – 4; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 25; Florida Capitol Press Corps Press Skits – 32; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die – 84; FSU vs. Alabama – 204; Election Day 2017 – 269; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 307.


ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a press conference at 9 a.m. to highlight proposed transportation investments at Southwest Florida International Airport, 11000 Terminal Access Road in Fort Myers. The event will be on the third floor of the airport.

JEFF ATWATER WINS FIRST ROUND OF $1 BILLION BONDS FIGHT WITH FEDS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics– Atwater has scored a preliminary win in his fight against the federal government over U.S. savings bonds he holds as unclaimed property. The U.S. Treasury has agreed to redeem “just over 1,000 bonds, worth a little more than half a million dollars, excluding accrued interest,” Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr said … The total value of all the bonds in question is more than $1 billion. In November, Atwater sued the feds for that amount, saying they had refused to make good on matured U.S. savings bonds he holds as unclaimed property. The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which adjudicates demands for payment from the federal government.

HALSEY BESHEARS NOT A CANDIDATE FOR AG COMMISSIONER via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – The three-term Republican represents nine north Florida counties and the southwest section of Leon including Woodville. He had expressed interest in a statewide run last month but indicated the urge has passed. “I’m thinking of a fourth Bird Legs Bicycles shop,” said Beshears, who operates a popular Tallahassee Trek specialty shop and recently opened two stores in Jacksonville Beach. Beshears has family ties to a huge Jefferson County farm and nursery.

ICYMI: BEN ALBRITTON LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR DENISE GRIMSLEY’S SENATE SEAT via Florida Politics – Albritton, the Wauchula Republican who represents House District 56, filed for the Senate District 26 seat. SD 26 covers a wide swath of Central Florida from Charlotte and Glades counties through southern Polk County. Currently holding the seat is Denise Grimsley, the Lake Placid Republican who recently filed as a candidate for Agriculture Commissioner. “It has truly been an honor to serve Florida’s Heartland for the past seven years,” Albritton said in a statement. “If given the opportunity, I want to continue the fight for the conservative reforms that protect and grow jobs here at home, that make our communities safer, and that value the lives of all Floridians.”

HOUSE, SENATE TRYING TO AVOID BUDGET SHOWDOWN OVER RULES via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Florida Senate and House have agreed to work together on a joint rule to avoid a “who blinks first” approach to this year’s budget negotiations. Sen. Jack Latvala … who heads the Appropriations Committee … told the Rules Committee he was “pleased to report” House leaders had agreed to consider what’s known as a “joint rule” to streamline the process. The House now requires each request to be filed separately; those were due Tuesday. But the House’s method also required any senator’s project request to have its companion filed in the House or that chamber would not consider it. Latvala called that an “unprecedented situation” at the Rules Committee meeting … He said he consulted with Senate President Negron, who agreed the Senate “could either pass a budget and see who blinked first, or be proactive and try to resolve the situation.”

ANGRY RICHARD CORCORAN DARES SENATE TO SUE HIM; JOE NEGRON SAYS IT’S NOT HAPPENING via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Corcoran dared the Senate to make good on a threatened lawsuit challenging the House’s power to impose new budget-writing rules that affect how the Senate crafts a budget, but Senate President Negron responded by saying it’s not going to happen. “Legislative business should be resolved in the Capitol — not in the court system,” Negron told the Times/Herald. “I expect that to happen.”

JACK LATVALA SAYS EVIDENCE DOESN’T SUPPORT HOUSE ON JOB INCENTIVES via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Visit Florida, for example, returns $3.20 cents for every dollar spent on advertising, according to figures from Amy Baker, state government’s top economist. Enterprise Florida’s international offices program, meanwhile, returns $4. And its export assistance program returns $1.90. That’s as measured in tax revenue. Not counting spending on beaches, transportation and aviation, five of the top programs in return on investment involve the sort of incentives that would be outlawed under a bill approved by the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee. “They all produce a net increase in tax revenue, over and above what we invest in them. And all five of them are included in the bill the House passed out of committee yesterday to abolish,” Latvala said during a meeting of his committee.

JOINT AUDITING COMMITTEE REVIEW HEARS MIXED REVIEW OF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA’S SUCCESS RATE OVER THE PAST DECADE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Officials with the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) provided commentary on their recent audit of the private-public partnership before the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee … The appearance came a day after a House committee voted to kill Enterprise Florida, along with Visit Florida …  Dan Raulerson wanted to know if there was a way to compare how well Florida is doing in using tax incentives to recruit businesses compared to other states? “One of the analysis we did shows that Florida does not rank as favorably with respect to competitive states when you look at just the targeted industries,” said Laila Racevskis, a senior legislative analyst with OPPAGA. She added that her office also compared Florida on major economic indicators. The analyses included six qualified target industries—manufacturing; wholesale trade; information; finance and insurance; professional, scientific and technical services; and Management of Companies and Enterprises.

FLORIDA NONPROFIT HOSPITALS BRACE FOR LEGISLATIVE BATTLE via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – A growing number of Republican legislators are signing on to Gov. Scott’s call to deregulate the health care industry, a move that nonprofit hospitals fear could cripple their ability to care for the poor … The deregulation push gained steam with Sen. Rob Bradley‘s bill to repeal the law that determines how many hospitals, nursing homes and hospices can be in one area at a time based on demand for their services. Bradley called the bill a “vehicle” for the Senate to join the House and governor in a debate Senate leaders have avoided that dates back years regarding the repeal of what is known as the state’s certificate of need process. The arguments against the idea by the nonprofit hospital association have historically prevailed in the Senate, thus making repeal of the certificate-of-need regulatory process a perennial loser in the Legislature. Scott has defined the bill as one of his top priorities, and it has been pushed as a longtime priority of House Speaker  Corcoran … as well as his likely successor, Rep. Jose Oliva.

***The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. They’ll share the plan on Wednesday with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services. Learn more at***

STAND YOUR GROUND BURDEN OF PROOF BILL SHOOTS THROUGH FINAL SENATE COMMITTEE via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The Senate Rules Committee passed SB 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley… by a vote of 8-4. The bill will now head to the Senate for debate and approval. If passed, the proposal would give defendants more protection from prosecution in “Stand Your Ground” cases by requiring prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity. The legislation would flip the responsibility onto the prosecutor to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed to use the Stand Your Ground defense in court. The bill has gathered significant attention around the state, particularly from those who say the bill is necessary to uphold Second Amendment freedoms.

TERM LIMITS FOR TOP FLORIDA JUDGES CLEARS FIRST HURDLE via The Associated Press – A divided House panel approved a measure (HJR 1) that would ask the state’s voters to approve a 12-year term limit for all Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. If passed by the Florida Legislature, it would go before voters in 2018. Justices and appeals court judges currently must go before voters every six years for a merit retention vote. Supporters of the term limits proposal note that no judge has ever lost a merit retention vote. But opponents say the amendment would undercut the independence of the judicial branch and argued it would lead to less people seeking to become judges.

BRAD DRAKE, BLAISE INGOGLIA WANT LYING CANDIDATES PAY SOME TYPE OF PRICE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Drake … At the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee … asked state election officials what recourse is there when a candidate is subjected to “malicious” comments from his opponent? Amy Toman, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, said that a candidate can always file a complaint with her organization … Ingoglia said the real problem with such negative and false allegations is the extensive delays between reporting an elections violation and the time the commission addresses it. “If somebody is talking about peanut butter and veins, then they know that it is a political calculation, knowing that the time you all rule, the election is over,” said Ingoglia. He’d like a “fast-track process” where if a candidate sends out false information, the other candidate can file a complaint and get a response from the election commission within five business days. Ingoglia posited that “vile speech” is protected by the First Amendment, but said that “false speech should be protected at least by the courts.”

HOUSE PANEL HONES IN ON ATTORNEY FEES FOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION FIX via Florida Politics – The chairman of a key House subcommittee said this week that legislation to address rising worker’s compensation premiums will include curbs on attorney fees, “the biggest driver of the premiums.” Danny Burgess, chairman of the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, spoke following a hearing into a raft of possible solutions to escalating worker’s compensation premiums. Also on Wednesday, the 1st District Court of Appeal scheduled oral argument for Feb. 22 in a challenge to a 14.5 percent rate increase that began to take effect in December. “There is no question that one of the more prominent focal points that need to be looked at very closely and addressed is the attorney-fee issue,” the Zephyrhills Republican said.

HOUSE MEMBERS MULL DETAILS OF HOW PANHANDLE OIL SPILL GROUP WILL OPERATE via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. was established by the state to oversee spending of economic claims in eight Panhandle counties. The House select committee is considering draft legislation to establish processes for how the spending is administered. “We want this to be the most transparent procedure that we can have,” Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Republican from Panama City and chairman of the Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast, told committee members … His committee discussed an 18-page draft bill establishing procedures and another two-page bill that establishes the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The bill requires that $299 million from the 2016 payment be transferred to the trust fund along with $1 million for administrative expenses to establish Triumph Gulf Coast.

HOUSE PANEL NARROWLY PASSES ABORTION TORT LEGISLATION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The bill, HB 19, creates a “cause of action” for a woman who is physically injured or suffers emotional harm due to an abortion if the doctor did not first get “informed consent,” which is when a doctor gets a patient’s permission before doing a medical procedure. Mark Delegal, a lobbyist representing The Doctors Company, said there is concern, if the bill becomes law, about increased insurance costs for physicians. “This is bigger than the abortion issue,” said Delegal, who called the bill shocking. It’s the same position taken by Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ organization. The bill was originally announced as defeated by the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, but passed after some confusion and a recount. There is not yet a companion bill in the Senate.

AARON BEAN FILES BILL FOCUSED ON NURSING HOME MEDICAID REIMBURSEMENT RATES via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – SB 712 transitions nursing homes that accept Medicaid payments to a prospective payment system. But LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer said Bean’s bill “creates a better way to pay for care without devastating the highest quality” homes, unlike a model recently put forth by consultants. The Florida Legislature OK’d legislation in 2016 set aside $500,000 for a study to develop a proposal to convert Medicaid payments for nursing home services from a cost-based reimbursement to a prospective payment plan. The state hired Navigant Consulting to conduct the study, which included a series of public meetings across the state. Bahmer said a model developed by Navigant could shift “Medicaid funding from the highest quality nursing homes to the lowest quality nursing homes.” That model divides the state into two regions — the South region, which consists of Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and the North region, which is the rest of the state.

JASON BRODEUR INTRODUCES AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE LEGISLATION IN FLORIDA HOUSE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – HB 275 would streamline the process for use self-driving vehicles on public roads in Florida. “With more than 90 percent of crashes in 2015 being the result of human error, autonomous vehicles have the potential to eliminate this error and transform the way we travel,” Brodeur said … “I am proud to support HB 725 this session, as Florida is largely recognized as the nation’s leader in autonomous vehicle public policy. But in order to maintain this position and encourage companies to begin testing and deploying in the Sunshine State, we must address the current laws governing motor vehicle operation that never contemplated a driverless future.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Mayor Andrew Gillum will hold a press conference at 9:15 a.m. to condemn House Bill 17, which would take away from local governments, outside City Hill, 300 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee. Representatives from Equality Florida and Sierra Club are also expected to attend.

EDITORIAL: LET TRACKS DROP DOG AND HORSE RACES via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Sen. Bill Galvano … filed Senate Bill 8, which he describes as a “comprehensive, statewide approach to reforming current gaming laws.” The 120-page bill would … enable the owners of pari-mutuel tracks to drop increasingly unpopular dog and horse racing but maintain their card rooms … Galvano’s bill wisely “decouples” the racing requirement from the operation of card rooms that have cash pots. Requiring track owners to conduct greyhound or horse racing that the public – gamblers and non-gamblers alike – no longer supports doesn’t make sense. Eliminating the state mandate would acknowledge well-established trends in gaming, and help greyhounds and horses avoid fates they don’t deserve.

TALLAHASSEE ENTREPRENEUR RICK KEARNEY BOOSTS FLORIDA COMPETES CAMPAIGN WITH $100K via Florida Politics – Kearney gave $100,000 to Florida Competes, the coalition of businesses working to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Kearney’s check is the largest single donation to Florida Competes so far. Kearney, who serves as chairman and CEO of the Tallahassee-based Mainline Information Systems, said in a statement the donation represents a “longstanding commitment to LGBT equality” and is an investment in improving Florida’s reputation as a place of equality and inclusion. “I’m proud to stand with Florida’s business leaders to advocate for equality for all,” he said, “by adding these overdue protections to Florida’s civil rights statute.”

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

MORE BAD NEWS AS FLORIDA ORANGE CROP DROPS AGAIN via Florida Politics – Florida’s grapefruit crop held steady at nine million boxes, but its orange crop went down slightly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s February forecast. Thursday’s report projects a one million box reduction in the state’s orange crop to 70 million boxes. That’s after last month’s forecast also predicted a decrease.

ROBERT J. LUCK ELEVATED TO APPEALS COURT JUDGE via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott appointed Circuit Judge Luck to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami. Luck, 37, of North Miami Beach, has served as a circuit judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit since 2013. He previously was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.


Slater BaylissChristopher Chaney, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Alan Beckman LivaNova, PLC

Melanie Bostick, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Florida Justice Reform Institute

Melanie BrownJon Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: Selah Freedom

Bradley Burleson, Ballard Partners: DLRdmv, LLC

Edgar CastroNelson Diaz, Southern Strategy Group: Mark Anthony Brands, Inc.

Jennings Lawton DePriest, Strategos Public Affairs: Early Childhood Initiative

Pete DunbarMartha EdenfieldBrittany FinkbeinerCari Roth Dean Mead: Homestead Communications, Inc.

Candice Ericks, Ericks Advocacy Group: Handy, Inc.

Mercer FearingtonJerry McDanielClark Smith, Southern Strategy Group: RELX Inc.

Marnie GeorgeMichael HarrellPaul HawkesTimothy Stanfield, Buchanan Ingersolll & Rooney: National Strategies, LLC on behalf of American Kratom Association

Thomas GriffinLisa Hurley, Smith Bryan & Myers: Johnson & Johnson Services, Inc.; Summit Care, Inc.

Wayne Malaney, Wayne R. Malaney PA: Business Observer Florida

Charlotte Mather-Taylor, CMT Consulting: Envision

Kim McCray, McCray & Associates: Dosal Tobacco Corporation

Evan Power, Ramba Consulting Group: Building Officials Association of Florida

Christopher Snow, Snow Strategies: Pediatric Supplier

HAPPENING NEXT WEEK – FAPL HOSTS LAWMAKER RECEPTION — The Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists will host a “Welcome Back FAPLtini” at 5:30 p.m. at the Southern Public House, 224 E. College Ave in Tallahassee. The event is meant to welcome new and returning legislators to Tallahassee and is sponsored by Century Link and PIFF.

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

DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD MAY BE TOO GOOD TO LAST via The Associated Press – ESPN has been one of Disney’s crown jewels, but with cable viewership on the decline, its ratings have been under pressure … Disney has been working hard to adapt to the new realities of online TV watching. Its channels — ABC, The Disney Channel, ESPN and others — are all part of less expensive “skinny” channel bundles on streaming services such as Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue and DirecTV now. Disney also took a $1 billion stake in BAMTech , which provides streaming for Major League Baseball. Disney plans to use that technology for an ESPN streaming service, set to launch this year, which will offer live game streaming and programming not offered on regular ESPN. Disney might also one day offer a standalone streaming version of ESPN, much the way HBO has with its $15-a-month-service HBO Now.

JEFFREY LORIA HAS PRELIMINARY AGREEMENT TO SELL MARLINS via Steven Wine of The Associated Press– Loria has a preliminary agreement to sell the team to a New York businessman, but the deal could fall through because the final purchase price hasn’t been determined, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations … the Marlins have not commented publicly on the negotiations. The preliminary agreement was for a purchase price of about $1.6 billion, the person said, but added that was before the prospective buyer did due diligence. The final offer by the potential buyer could be much lower, the person said. The person declined to identify the prospective buyer but said other parties are also interested in purchasing the team, and negotiations with them might eventually be reopened.

RIVERS OF LIGHT PREMIERS AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – A nighttime show that celebrates the relationship between animals and nature will debut at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Feb. 17. Rivers of Light is set on the Discovery River and features special water effects, decorative floats, laser projections and a live storytelling performance. Animal Kingdom’s first nighttime show starts with an ancient lantern festival that draws out four animal spirit guides – an elephant, owl, tiger and turtle. The animals are lit with LED technology and take shape on lantern floats, some measuring 15-feet-tall and 30-feet-long. Video projections and choreographed laser animation combine to create the appearance of glowing fireflies that light up the sky.

STAR WARS LANDS TO OPEN AT HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS, DISNEYLAND IN 2019 via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – … bringing the largest ever themed expansions to both parks. The 14-acre attractions are under construction at both parks and are expected to bring large crowds capitalizing on the success of the Star Wars series of films. Star Wars Episode IX opens in theaters the same year as the two lands are scheduled to debut. “Our intent is to make it feel as if you just walked into one of the movies…,” said Disney Imagineering executive Scott Trowbidge in a 2015 interview for the fan publication Disney twenty-three. “Bringing Star Wars to life in the physical world gives us the opportunity to play with a whole bunch of things we’ve never done before… to really engage all of the senses.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our friends Carrie Henriquez and Franco Ripple. Also celebrating today is Jamie Wilson.

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