Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 203

Peter Schorsch

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

Sunburn for 12.19.16 – The latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine debuts today

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

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

LAUNCHING TODAY: THE LATEST EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE

Yes, we did it.

Yes, we based the cover of this quarter’s INFLUENCE Magazine on the poster from a comic book movie, “Captain America: Civil War

Because why can’t lobbyists be superheroes?

Actually, the perception lately of lobbyists seems to be anything BUT super. Upon taking the gavel of the Florida House, Speaker Richard Corcoran promulgated new rules designed to rein in the power of the influence industry.

To extend the superhero metaphor, it’s as if Corcoran is serving up a healthy dose of Kryptonite to Florida lobbyists. But will the new rules have the impact Corcoran — whose brother Michael is a lobbyist and actually was in the very first edition of INFLUENCE Magazine — seeks? Our Jim Rosica explores the issue beginning on page 82.

Whatever impact Speaker Corcoran’s new rules have on The Process, the consensus among many of the most successful lobbyists is that they will quickly abide by and adapt to the changes. In fact, INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2015 Lobbying Firm of the Year — Capital City Consulting —was the first to register with the House under the new guidelines.

Also ready to embrace the new day: Ron Book, perhaps the most well-known lobbyist walking Florida’s halls of power. In an in-depth interview, Book talks about the privilege of working in the people’s Capitol, while also opening up about the toughest battle he’s had to face — his fight against prostate cancer. It’s simply must-read stuff.

CLICK HERE TO READ A DIGITAL VERSION OF THE WINTER 2016 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

Anchoring this edition of INFLUENCE are two major features. The first is a look at the re-emergence of the legal-lobbying firms, like Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig.

If the last decade saw the decline of the one-man (or woman) shops and the rise of the networked mega-firms, the end of this decade is seeing this other trend, where major legal firms are also major players in the governmental affairs industry. For the first time in some time, one of these firms (GT) is in the Top 5 for compensation, while several other law firms, like GrayRobinson and Gunster, are seeing increased revenues.

The second big feature in this edition is the debut of the 2016 class of Rising Stars in the governmental affairs industry. One thing we’ve prided ourselves on is identifying early on the fresh faces to watch … people like Katie Ballard and Sydney Ridley, who we took notice of quickly and are now watching as they bloom into power players.

THIS YEAR’S CROP OF RISING STARS includes Carol Bowen, Emily Duda Buckley, Melanie Brown, Katie Crofoot, Jose Diaz, Eric Edwards, Josh Gabel, Bianca Garza, Whitney Harris, Jasmyne Henderson, Brittney Hunt, Andrew Ketchel, Kristen McDonald, Drew Messer, Jo Morris, Drew Piers, Tara Reid, Joe Salzverg, Kelly Schmidt, Samantha Sexton, Kelsey Swithers and Jared Torres.

Do yourself a favor and get to know the 2016 class. These are the men and women who could be your next big hire — or competition.

A housekeeping note: Instead of publishing the INFLUENCE 100 every year, we’ve decided to alternate it with the list of Rising Stars. The truth is, the INFLUENCE 100 ebbs and flows with the election cycle and there’s just not enough movement within a year to publish it annually. So, for those looking to see who made that list — or are angling to get on it — you have 12 more months.

All of this leads me to say goodbye to 2016, a truly annus horribilis, although not entirely so for the influence industry. It seems even in difficult years, the governmental affairs business prospers. Perhaps this says something about the essential nature of the work done by those in “The Process.”

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE PRINT EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

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DAYS UNTIL: Shopping days until Christmas – 5; FSU vs. Michigan/Orange Bowl – 11; Inauguration Day – 34; Super Bowl – 48; Pitchers & catchers start reporting for Spring Training – 57; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 88: Election Day 2017 – 322: Election Day 2018 – 689.

DONALD TRUMP BRINGS VICTORY TOUR HOME, FIRES UP THOUSANDS IN ORLANDO via Allison Nielsen of Sunshine State News – “With your votes, the great citizens of this country declared to the world that from now on it’s going to be ‘America first,” Trump said in Orlando Friday. Trump soaked in the energy of the 20,000 Floridians who came to support him, vowing to restore “respect” to the American flag, rebuild the military and restructure the country’s foreign policy. “It’s a horrible thing. We are going to do everything we can, we are going to get it straightened out one way or another,” he said about the nation’s foreign policy. Trump promised to build safe zones in Syria, promising to “help people” overseas all while fixing the country’s jobs sector and education system. He recalled election night in great detail, naming all of the states he won and all the upsets which happened during the evening. “The map was so bloody and red. It was beautiful,” he said.

SPOTTED at the Trump rally: Gov. Rick Scott, AG Pam Bondi, U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross and Neal Dunn, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, state Reps. Joe Gruters, Blaise Ingoglia, Carlos Trujillo, former state Rep. Adam Hasner, Sharon Day, Brian Ballard, Robert Coker, Nick Diceglie.

DUMP TRUMP? WON’T HAPPEN WHEN FLORIDA ELECTORS VOTE via the Associated Press – Florida’s electors will meet in the state Capital today to cast their votes for president, after voters in the state chose Trump. Don’t expect any surprises. The people picked to cast Florida’s votes in the Electoral College are among the most faithful Florida Republicans and it’s extremely unlikely any will be swayed by the tens of thousands of emails, letters and phone calls pleading with them not to cast their votes for Trump, who carried the state in November. “I really appreciate all the postcards that I’ve gotten. The front side of them were pretty,” said Sharon Day, an elector who also serves as co-chair of the Republican National Committee. “I kind of find it amusing. What lemmings they are.” … The Associated Press interviewed 22 of the 29 electors and all expressed complete support for Trump.

NICK DICEGLIE: “I’M CASTING MY VOTE FORTRUMP” via Florida Politics – In case there was any doubt, Electoral College member DiCeglie says yes, he’s still voting for President-elect Trump. The Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman spoke with reporters Sunday night before Monday’s Electoral College meeting in the Capitol. He’s also sure none of his colleagues will be defecting, either. “The state party selects all the electors and they do that very carefully,” DiCeglie said. “I have 100 percent confidence that Donald Trump will get 29 electoral votes tomorrow,” the number of Florida’s GOP electors.

HOT VID – SNL’S HILLARY CLINTON GOES FULL ‘LOVE ACTUALLY’ ON ELECTOR Click on the image below to watch

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, joined by community leaders, will hold the final news conference as a member of Congress to reflect on her time in office and announce the return of more than $2.5 million and benefits owed to her constituents, while cutting her office budget by $375,000. Event begins 11:30 a.m. at the Tallahassee City Hall, 300 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee.

CHARLIE CRIST TO HOST JAN. 3 FUNDRAISER IN D.C. — The St. Petersburg Democrat will host a fundraiser from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3 in The Forum Lounge at the Newseum Residences, 565 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C. The fundraiser is meant to celebrate his “swearing-in to the 115th Congress,” and will be held hours after Crist takes the oath of office. The fundraiser starts at $500 for an individual, $1,000 to be listed as a co-host, and $2,700 for an individual host. The maximum individual contribution is $5,400.

TIM CANOVA CONSIDERING ANOTHER RUN AGAINST DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “I’m seriously considering it. An awful lot of folks are putting that bug in my ear and urging me to do so,” Canova [said] on WMNF radio’s MidPoint program … Canova says a lot has happened since his first ever bid for elected office ended Aug. 30, when his effort to defeat Wasserman Schultz in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, fell short. The biggest change, of course, since Canova’s loss was Donald Trump’s stunning election victory Nov. 8, a defeat that the ever-combative Nova Southeastern University law professor doesn’t give his former opponent a pass on. “Just the weekend before the election she was on HBO’s Vice News doing an interview in which she played the victim,” he recounts. “She complained about how Bernie Sanders supporters had demonized her for her role at the DNC. Even if there was validity to that argument, and I don’t think there is – I think she earned all the criticism that she got – but even if there was validity to it, why would somebody in her position, go on the air, three days before the presidential election, to alienate Bernie Sanders supporters who Hillary Clinton needs to get elected?” … “It showed the typical arrogance and overconfidence and really stupidity to be doing something like that,” he said, adding, “So yes, I am thinking of running against her again.”

THE TIMES GETS RESULTS – PAM BONDI’S OFFICE INVESTIGATING RESTAURANT CLAIMS, STATE STEPPING UP INSPECTIONS via Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times – “We are currently looking into restaurants throughout the state of Florida,” Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times … The state’s investigation began just after the Tampa Bay Times published its series “Farm to Fable,” an examination of food misrepresentations. The stories, questioning trendy menu claims of “local,” have been shared nationally. The reporting has inspired similar efforts in other cities. The attorney general’s investigation accompanies other state-level changes to stem what many perceive as a rising tide of food fraud. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has stepped up inspectors’ investigations of restaurant claims, unveiling new training tools and an industry bulletin. And the Department of Agriculture has made efforts to more rigorously define terms, changed language on consumer websites and developed materials to help inspectors assess where food is coming from. Still, farmers and experts around the state say, it all may not be enough. … Bondi declined to say how many investigators were assigned to the task or when the investigation would be complete. She encouraged citizens to report false representations of food products. Misrepresentations fall under the authority of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has developed a flier to help train inspectors on the seasonality of Florida’s produce, according to Jenn Meale, communications director for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She said the department is currently defining more specific terms related to Fresh From Florida, a state-run food marketing program with a budget this year of $13.6 million. They are also refining the requirements for use of the Fresh From Florida logo and the penalties for misuse.

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IS A CONTRACT A TRADE SECRET? RICHARD CORCORAN SAYS NO, BUT DID THE BILL PASSED LAST YEAR SAY IT IS? via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Just months ago, Gov. Scott and legislators passed legislation to expand trade secrets and potentially keep more business deals with entertainers from public view. The governor signed and all but seven Democrats voted for two bills that expanded the definition of trade secrets to allow more agencies to shield commercial and financial information from the public. The legislation took effect Oct. 1. If the now controversial Pitbull contract hadn’t already been signed, Visit Florida could have argued that the state law required it keep the contract details secret, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation who urged the governor to veto the bill. “It would allow them to do exactly what Visit Florida did,” she said. “If the amount of a contract is not commercial information, I don’t know what is.” … Pitbull released the details of the contract on his Twitter feed … Scott ordered Visit Florida to make a series of changes designed to make its operations more transparent … Petersen lobbied against the bills, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter … and Rep. Ray Pilon … and sent letters to the governor urging him to veto them. She argued that because the law added ” financial information” to the information that constitutes a trade secret, and it failed to define that that is, it was “unconstitutionally vague” and could apply to contracts. Instead of a veto, the bills were signed into law. Had the Pitbull contract been signed after the provisions took effect, Visit Florida could have argued that the state law required it keep the contract details secret, Petersen said.

AFP – FLORIDA HAS A HOLIDAY MESSAGE FOR FLORIDA LEGISLATORS – Americans for Prosperity-Florida has launched a new web ad that will run statewide to target Florida legislators over the holiday season with key policies they should focus on when they return for the 2017 Legislative Session. From statewide director Chris Hudson: “As 2016 comes to an end, I am thankful for the hard work of our activists who knocked on over 1,000,000 doors and made over 3 million phone calls. Together, AFP-Florida stopped $250 million dollars in corporate welfare to Enterprise Florida, forced the failed Film Tax Credit to sunset, successfully advocated for several free-market healthcare reforms, and kept “pay-more” Patrick Murphy out of the U.S. Senate! But if we want to make Florida the best state for families and entrepreneurs we need to stay focused on successfully advocating for policies that continue to cut red tape, keep taxes fair while ending political favoritism, and expand the successful school choice policies that empower our kids with the best education possible. I hope legislators, new and old, enjoy this holiday season with their families and come back in 2017 prepared to tackle the most critical issues to our state.” To view the website, click here.

FLAT FUNDING, NEW RULES COULD MEAN TOUGH STATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Every member of the Florida Legislature … has local projects they hope will get a small piece of the budget pie. The act of advocating for and monitoring these member-driven projects is a large part of legislators’ workload during the regular session. That process will change drastically this year in the House, which will ultimately affect negotiations with the Senate. New rules approved in the House require every budget request to be filed as a standalone piece of legislation, making the process more transparent but also more difficult for members to navigate. The Senate chose not to adopt the new House rules, especially since the deadline for these budget bills is March 7, the first day of the session. Senate President Negron said he wanted flexibility to consider requests or new information members could receive during the 60-day session. House Speaker Corcoran included the budgeting overhaul as part of a package of ethics and transparency reforms. He said the late-session process of negotiating a budget agreement — called conference — could get tense if the Senate plan includes funding that doesn’t follow the House rules.

New rules alone aren’t the only thing making the budget process more difficult this year. State economist are predicting that revenue will remain mostly flat, meaning there is little wiggle room for new projects or boosts in funding. The Legislature also approved property tax cut last year that, if continued again, would cost $400 million. Other budget concerns include tens of millions of dollars the state could owe homeowners as a result of lawsuits pertaining to the removal citrus trees as part of an effort to contain the canker-disease outbreak. Lawmakers must also decide how to spend $400 million in funding from the BP oil spill settlement.

LAWMAKERS WANT TO MAXIMIZE CLASSROOM LEARNING via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – How much classroom time Florida students spend actually learning will be a major focus for key state lawmakers in charge of dolling out more than $23 billion for pre-K-12 education next year, and some of those overhauls could be further reductions to mandatory testing as well as tweaks to the school-year calendar. The specifics are yet to be proposed and debated, but Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. David Simmons, the new chairmen of the pre-K-12 budget committees in their respective chambers, are both approaching their new responsibility with broad ambitions. They also share a unified goal to direct more dollars and resources to classrooms, even if it means upending the status quo. Diaz and Simmons both this week suggested revisions to the school-year calendar could be on the table in 2017, such as potentially extending the school-day for students in failing schools and adjusting when standardized tests are administered during the year.

STORM REPAIR TAB LOOMS AS FLORIDA TACKLES 2017 BEACH BUDGET via Eric Staats and Ryan Mills of the Naples Daily News – State lawmakers will need to carve out an estimated $77 million next year to repair damage to Florida’s beaches from hurricanes Hermine and Matthew and to protect development and infrastructure along the shore from future storms, according to a draft hurricane recovery plan from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. That $77 million is in addition to the more than $85 million in state aid beach communities asked for to restore their eroded shores even before Hermine struck Florida’s Big Bend region in September and Matthew buzz-sawed the East Coast in October. In total, the two hurricanes caused an estimated $217 million in damage statewide, affecting more than 500 miles of Florida’s coast, according to the recovery plan. The state would split much of that expense with local communities, and the federal government would help with the remainder. Northeast Florida was hit hardest. Of the $77 million state tab, $66 million represents sand replacement costs from Indian River County north to Jacksonville. Hurricane Matthew was the most severe storm to impact St. Johns and Flagler counties since Hurricane Dora made landfall in 1964, according to DEP. How lawmakers respond to damage caused by those storms will ultimately determine how the state’s beaches fare in 2017 and beyond, Florida’s beach advocates say.

SCOTT PLAKON TRIES AGAIN WITH BILL TO COMPENSATE DISABLED RAPE VICTIM FOR STATE NEGLIGENCE via Larry Griffin of Orlando Rising – The new bill, HB 6501, comes on the heels of an identical one attempted in 2014 by Plakon and Sen. Darren Soto … In 2002, the woman identified in the relief bill as J.D.S., who lived at an Orlando state-supervised facility called the Strong Group Home, was raped and impregnated by Philip Strong, one of the operators of the home. The case was deemed to be the result of negligence on the part of the State of Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities. J.D.S. gave birth in 2003, but was unable to care for the child, and so the infant was taken for adoption. In 2012, a case between Patti R. Jarrell, as plenary guardian of J.D.S., and the State of Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, was settled for $1.15 million, with $200,000 paid to J.D.S. and the remaining $950,000 needing a “claim bill,” or a relief act, from legislature to go through … The difficulty in passing claims bills like this one comes from the fact that sovereignty-immune laws protect government agencies from huge liability payouts. Some legislators are also reluctant to hand over taxpayer money. Plakon is optimistic this time, though. If the state hears any claim bills, he thinks his will be one of the more important ones. “The last year I filed it, there were no state claim bills that passed,” he said.

SABAL TRAIL PIPELINE CUTS THROUGH HEART OF SPRINGS COUNTRY via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – People are suddenly becoming aware of the $3.2-billion, 515-mile pipeline being built in their own backyard, which has been overshadowed by months of demonstrations over Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. And they are seeing similarities between the two causes. Lorinne Myatt, who organized a demonstration at the Capitol Dec. 4 to show solidarity with Standing Rock and draw attention to Sabal Trail, said, “It’s the same issue.” Days after that event, which drew 400 people, about 70 folks gathered at Dr. B.L. Perry Jr. Library on the south side of Tallahassee to learn more about Sabal Trail, which will deliver 1 billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas a day from the Marcellus Shale to Florida energy companies. Many were surprised to learn that the project had been winding its way through the regulatory process for three years before they knew about it. “This is similar to the Dakota Access pipeline in that most people had no idea that this was in the public interest to look at until it was already approved,” said Susan Cerulean, a Tallahasseean who recently returned from Standing Rock … Local residents are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on Florida’s drinking water, the fate of gopher tortoises and other endangered and threatened species, and the neighborhoods the pipeline is going to run through. “You don’t just care about Tallahassee,” Meta Calder said. “You care about the whole environment.”

WHAT MICHAEL CORCORAN IS READING – HILLSBOROUGH LEGISLATORS SUPPORT LOCAL BILL TO ABOLISH COUNTY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times – “The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said state Rep. James Grant … who is sponsoring the bill. With not a single objection, the delegation moved the bill toward next spring’s legislative session. Various legislators have talked about killing the PTC for years — one senator once compared it to Jabba the Hut, with “tentacles everywhere” — but this appears to be the closest anyone has come so far to that goal. “What a difference a year makes, huh?” said delegation chairman Sen. Tom Lee … Last year, the delegation held a lengthy hearing before supporting a bill to regulate Uber and Lyft, which died in during the session. Created by the Legislature in 1976, the PTC has its own staff and is governed by an appointed board of elected officials from the county and its cities. It is unique in Florida, but it increasingly it has stirred controversy, especially as it has wrestled with how to regulate new ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft and faced accusations that it has tried to crack down on those companies to the benefit of the older, more established taxicab companies that it regulates. Grant said regulation of taxicabs, limousines, tow trucks and ambulances would be turned over to Hillsborough County effective Dec. 31, 2017. The local government would have flexibility to craft the new regulations, he said. The PTC also would be banned from taking on any new debt that the county would have to repay after the hand-over.

PERSONNEL NOTE: ALEXA CHAPPELL HIRED AS HOUSE MINORITY STAFF DIRECTOR – Top House Democrat Janet Cruz has hired a former Justice Department lawyer to serve as staff director for the Minority Office. Alexa Chappell, most recently an attorney with the Department of Justice, will replace Joe McCann, who exited the position last month. Before her time at the Justice Department, Chappell served in a number of roles for Obama for America in 2008, ending the campaign as Director of Compliance. “Alexa is an incredibly accomplished professional and I know she will do a great job directing our caucus,” said Cruz in an email to her members. During her time at DOJ, Chappell served as the Justice Department’s liaison for state caucuses and governors, both Republican and Democrat, where she dealt with the intricacies of the federal budget.

APPOINTEDJoseph Triolo and Michael Guju to the Pinellas County Housing Authority; Janet RabinFran Oreto and Christy Conolly to the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board; Jim McCarthy and Frank Gummey to the Environmental Regulation Commission; Bev Capasso to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners, District 1; David SkupJesus Socorro and Mindy Rankin to the Florida Board of Accountancy; Chris Jernigan to the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital Corporation; Johnny Thornton and Willie Richardson Jr. to the Indian River County Housing Authority.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Sebastian Aleksander: Element Lab Partners

Patrick Bell: Okeechobee County School District

David Bishop, Solaris Consulting: EMTeLINK

Angela Bonds: Department of State

Jennifer Bonfanti, Larry Williams, Gunster: Treadwell Nursery

Kevin Doyle: Sarasota Classic Car Museum

Charlie Dudley, Teye Reeves, Floridian Partners: Consortium; Ricky Carmichael Racing

Jacob Elpern: The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus

Lani Ferro: Miami Children’s Healthy System

Ronald Jackson: American Insurance Association

Jason King: AIDS HealthCare Foundation

Jessica Love, GrayRobinson: Florida Brownfields Association, Inc.

Cindy Meredith: Prestige Health Choice

Lisa Miller: Everbridge, Inc.; Verde of Florida

Wes Underwood, Department of State

SPOTTED at the wedding of Ailyn Avila Portal and Cesar Fernandez: Sens. Jeff Clemens and Gary Farmer, Juan Cuba, Marcus Dixon, John Fox, Brian Goldneier, Matt Harbinger, Beth Kennedy, Omar Khan, Brian May, Virginia Poe, Stephanie Smith, Christian Ulvert.

THE WORST STORY YOU’LL READ TODAY – WITHIN REACH OF ADOPTION, TODDLER DIES WHILE IN FOSTER CARE via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times – After about five months in foster care, and just weeks away from a new home with adoptive parents in North Carolina, little Aedyn Agminalis was rushed to the emergency room. The 17-month-old boy arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital for Children unresponsive and with signs of head injuries, according to information given to his adoption agency by a social worker. He suffered cardiac arrest, bleeding on the brain and acute respiratory failure. The small boy was hooked up to a life-support system but doctors could find no brain activity, according to Artha Healton, Aedyn’s biological mother. The youngster died Dec. 11 after doctors turned off the machine. His death is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. The Florida Department of Children and Families has assigned a critical incident team to look into the death because the boy died on the state’s watch. “The loss of this child is absolutely devastating and we’re grieving with all those who loved him,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told the Tampa Bay Times in an email … Aedyn was living in a foster home licensed by the service, A Door of Hope. His case was handled by Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. Both organizations are subcontractors of Eckerd Kids, a nonprofit contracted to run the county’s child welfare system. “We will be doing everything we can to support the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office investigation,” said Adrienne Drew, a spokeswoman for Eckerd. Aedyn’s death has raised questions about whether the child could have been moved out of foster care and adopted sooner.

REST IN PEACE – FORMER LT. GOV. JIM WILLIAMS DIES AT 90 via Carlos Medina of the Ocala StarBanner – Known simply as Jim, he also served during the Carter administration as deputy secretary of agriculture. During his time in office, Williams was a champion of agriculture and the environment. “He was against the barge canal at a time when it wasn’t a popular stance,” said Jim Williams III, his son. The project, which would have built a canal across Florida and through Marion County for commercial ship traffic, was eventually shelved in 1971 by President Richard Nixon. The land slated for the project became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, which is used for hiking, biking, fishing and other recreational activities. The elder Williams also helped establish the water management districts, which are still largely the same as when they were designated. The districts were drawn up to prevent regional disagreements between areas due to water issues. His life of public service, however, continued long after he officially left political life as he worked on several major charitable initiatives in Marion County.

RESIDENT CHASES CHRISTMAS THIEVES WITH METAL PIPE via The Associated Press – The Polk County Sheriff’s department announced that a Lakeland resident heard a loud noise Wednesday morning and called another neighbor, who looked outside and saw the men taking gifts from a nearby home. The neighbor yelled and they fled in a car. Lakeland police and sheriff’s deputies tracked them down. They bailed from the car and ran into a home, but the homeowner chased them out with a metal pipe. Authorities arrested 18-year-old James Davis and 21-year-old Antonio Thomas. Both face multiple charges and remained in the Polk County Jail Friday.

CHRISTMAS CARD FUN via The Stonebridge Group: 

BEST NEWS EVER – DISNEY WORLD ADDING BEER, WINE TO 4 RESTAURANTS via The Associated Press – Starting Friday … four more Magic Kingdom restaurants will start serving beer and wine. Until now, only the Be Our Guest Restaurant sold alcohol in the Magic Kingdom. It began selling alcohol in 2012. Alcoholic beverages have been sold at the Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom parks at Disney World. Disney officials said the change was made because of requests from customers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY from the weekend to the best person in the Florida political process, Stephanie Smith. Belated birthday wishes to the great Carol Dover, Holly McPhail, and Andrew Wiggins. Celebrating today is Sean Jacobus, Brianna Jordan, and David Singer.

Reading about new promotions at the Tampa Bay Times and hoping Adam Smith…

The Tampa Bay Times has announced a round of new promotions among its editorial staff, including the naming of two veteran journalists as assistant managing editors.

Reading about the Times ‘opening the books’ and elevating some of its best talent into top positions, there are a lot of smart decisions. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Michael LaForgia is the new investigations editor. Pulitzer Prize finalist Alexandra Mayas is the new enterprise editor. The always-interesting Stephanie Hayes is now in charge of features.

Even I agree that these and other personnel moves will help continue to make the Times the best pound-for-pound daily newspaper in the country.

That said, wouldn’t it have been a great way to end 2016 to read that the bosses at the Times had decided to shake up its political reporting roster? How amazing for all of those who truly care about Florida politics would have been to read that political editor Adam Smith is the new editor of the fishing report or movie times or the comics section? Move him anywhere, just as long as his laziness and out-of-touchedness is transferred out of the beat he once dominated but now can’t keep up with.

Instead, Florida politicos are likely stuck with Smith through the 2018 election cycle, which will be the busiest/could be the most interesting in decades.

Ugh!

On another note, the story about the promotions indicates that Amy Hollyfield “will add oversight for features and lifestyles to her portfolio, which includes political coverage.”

I don’t not like Hollyfield like I despise Smith, but this ‘promotion’ is the kind of thinking that has led/will lead to further erosion of the Times’ dominance of the political news market. The editor in charge of politics should live and breathe the stuff. They should not be splitting their time with stories about health and fitness or fashion or decorating or culture.

You think the editors at POLITICO also oversee stories about travel?

You think the bosses at News Service of Florida care about food stories?

Nah, they mainline politics into their veins 24/7.

Oh well, as long as Smith is the political editor, my competition for scoops and such will remain Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo and Dara Kam and, well, you get the point.

 

Personnel note: Alexa Chappell hired as House minority staff director

Top House Democrat Janet Cruz has hired a former Justice Department lawyer to serve as staff director for the Minority Office.

Alexa Chappell, most recently an attorney with the Department of Justice, will replace Joe McCann, who exited the position last month. Before her time at the Justice Department, Chappell served in a number of roles for Obama for America in 2008, ending the campaign as Director of Compliance.

“Alexa is an incredibly accomplished professional and I know she will do a great job directing our caucus,” said Cruz in an email to her members.

During her time at DOJ, Chappell served as the Justice Department’s liaison for state caucuses and governors, both Republican and Democrat, where she dealt with the intricacies of the federal budget.

Cruz said her federal level policy experience will be a major asset for our caucus.

“You will be as impressed as I am by her sharp intellect and vision for our office,” said Cruz.

All staff, including those who work in the Minority Office, technically work for the Speaker, but tradition dictates that the Minority Leader be allowed to hire their own staff.

Chappell is an Indiana native and a graduate of Indiana University and Michigan State College of Law.

 

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pro tips

Pro tip: Never forget your bag in the Florida Capitol. “Suspicious packages” are not taken lightly.

Monday afternoon, people who went to get a late lunch were turned away from the lower-level cafeteria by Capitol Police.

“The cafeteria’s closed right now,” they told potential customers as they shut the doors.

Soon, the three officers became seven, then about a dozen.

“We’re going to have to ask you to move back,” one said, making onlookers move to the area in front of the Cabinet meeting room on the other side of the elevators.

One cafeteria worker finally let on that someone had left what looked like a briefcase, and police were taking no chances. Within minutes, still another officer led around a bomb-sniffing dog.

Behind closed doors, officers were using a portable X-ray device to see inside the bag, said Capitol Police spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.

“We couldn’t find anyone who owned it at the time, so obviously, we took every preventative measure,” she said later. “We just wanted to be extra sure.”

After about an hour, calls of “clear” started to be heard: The #CrisisInTheCapitol came to an anticlimactic conclusion.

“It was just a briefcase of someone who works in the Capitol,” Plessinger said. She wouldn’t say whose.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by A.G. Gancarski, Michael MolineMitch PerryJim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch. (Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster was off this week.)

First, a quick note: We’re taking the next two weeks off to sip eggnog, eat fruit cake, and enjoy the holidays. We’ll be back with all the leftovers from the week that was on Jan. 7.

Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a very Happy New Year from our families to yours.

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

Meet the new justice — Conservative appellate judge C. Alan Lawson will become the next Florida Supreme Court justice, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday morning. Lawson, who will replace retiring Justice James E.C. Perry, is chief judge of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach. Perry’s retirement is effective Dec. 30; Lawson’s first day is the 31st. Lawson now makes a third conservative vote on a seven-member state Supreme Court that often splits 5-2 on matters of public policy. To date, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston have been the court’s most reliable conservative voices.

We have chairs — House Speaker Richard Corcoran rounded out his leadership team with the announcement of full committee and subcommittee assignments and chairs for 2016-18. Corcoran, who said he wanted to “decentralize authority,” said the decisions were made based on “member consultations, preferences, committee chair interviews, leadership team meetings, and input from the Minority Leader (Democrat Janet Cruz of Tampa).” Notable picks: Heather Fitzenhagen, an attorney at Morgan & Morgan, takes over Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee; Mike La Rosa and Mike Miller, two Orlando (read as probably pro-Disney) lawmakers, respectively take chair and vice chair of the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

Visit Florida gets “ridiculous” — Gov. Scott called on tourism agency CEO Will Seccombe to quit Friday afternoon, continuing a bloodbath at the organization that saw two other top executives fired earlier in the fallout from how it handled a marketing contract with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull. In a letter sent to Visit Florida’s board chairman, Scott called for a complete overhaul of how it does business, sayning he wants to see it publish details about how it spends money, including contracts. And Scott said that in order to do so, Seccombe has to go. “… I believe it would be best for the future efforts of Visit Florida for Will to step down,” Scott wrote to Visit Florida Chairman William Talbert III. “The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to taxpayers is just ridiculous.”

Tattle if necessary — That was the advice from Don Rubottom, staff director of the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, to lobbyists during a workshop on the Florida House’s stringent new ethics rules. The rules required lobbyists to be diligent about using the House’s online system to disclose each and every client they represent, and each topic about which they hope to influence lawmakers. “We are going to apply common sense,” Rubottom said. Say hello to a member at a bar or a meet-and-greet? No need to disclose. Monitoring or tracking legislation without advocating for it? All good. And if a member buttonholes you in a hallway and demands to know what you think about something you haven’t disclosed? “If it surprises you, let the member know you are not free to discuss it because of the requirements” of the new ethics rules, Rubottom said. “If your member is impatient with your respect for the rule, feel free to let chairman Oliva or chairman Metz know of the discourtesy.” That’s Rules Committee chairman Jose Oliva and Ethics chairman Larry Metz.

“Just my luck” — The Senate Appropriations Committee began work on next year’s state budget this week. The future does not look bright. One witness after another described demands on the state’s pocketbook: $95 million in claims, and growing, arising from the citrus canker eradication program; lawmakers’ promise to pour three-quarters of its latest installment from the BP oil spill settlement — $300 million — into the worst-affected counties; additional millions to restore beaches scoured to bits by Hurricane Matthew. And deficits projected at $1.3 billion one year from now and $1.9 billion the year after that. Bottom line: Florida has to start getting its finances straight right now. All of that will make it hard to boost economic development spending for Gov. Rick Scott or higher education for Senate President Joe Negron, or grant tax relief for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “To do any increases, we’re going to have to find areas to cut. That’s a certainty,” said budget chairman Jack Latvala. “Just my luck to be chairman in a year like that.”

Travis Hutson doesn’t need to know the way home; all he wants is life beyond the … Thunderdome.

The Republican state Senator from St. Augustine is now the new chair of the Regulated Industries committee, which had been nicknamed “the Thunderdome.”

That’s a reference to the caged fight arena in the Mel Gibson 1985 post-apocalyptic flick, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”

But on Wednesday, at the committee’s first meeting in preparation for the 2017 Legislative Session, Hutson put a stop to that.

“In the past, this committee – for one reason or another – has held up bills,” he said. “It was known as ‘Thunderdome.’ We are dropping the title today.”

“…We will move bills, and this year there are no sacred cows,” he added. “We plan on shaking up the status quo.”

The panel handles, for example, questions of alcoholic beverage and gambling regulation, and most notably handled the contentious Seminole Compact and related gambling bills last session.

Hutson jokingly put the pressure on state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who likes to say he sits on the “Deregulated Industries” committee, to come up with a new nickname. We’ll let you know…

The City of Miami Beach’s minimum wage ordinance has spawned a lawsuit by three state trade groups.

The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and Florida Chamber of Commerce, all based in Tallahassee, filed suit this week over the local law.

It increases the minimum wage in the city to $10.31 per hour starting Jan. 1, 2018, and raises it $1 a year until it reaches $13.31 in 2021.

The ordinance “disregards a state statute which establishes the State of Florida will determine one consistent minimum wage for the entire state,” a press release said.

“We don’t support any mandates in which local governments are dictating what private businesses should be paying their employees,” Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Randy Miller said.

House Speaker Corcoran this week opened up the application period for his picks for the next Constitution Revision Commission.

That’s the panel that reviews the state’s constitution every 20 years and can suggest changes that go directly to a statewide ballot for approval.

Gov. Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and select its chairperson. Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron each get nine picks. Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks.

This will be the fourth commission to convene since 1966, and the first to be selected by mostly Republicans, suggesting it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Corcoran is taking his task seriously: His application requires notarization.

Tallahassee city commissioners have approved a 6-month moratorium on the opening of any new retail stores for medical cannabis, WFSU reported earlier this week.

The capital has one of four brick-and-mortar cannabis outlets in the state. Trulieve is on Capital Circle Northeast.

Hitting the pause button will “give us some time to figure out what’s going to happen, get some guidance from the Legislature,” City Commissioner Gil Ziffer said.

The city now will stop taking applications for new dispensaries. But the moratorium “won’t officially take effect until the Commission holds two public hearings and makes its final vote,” according to the WFSU report.

Florida State University was named one of the best values in the nation on the Kiplinger’s Personal Finance “Best College Value” list for 2017.

Florida State was ranked the 12th best value among public colleges for out-of-state students, a seven-place jump over last year. FSU was rated 28th best value among public colleges for in-state students.

“We deliver a high-quality education while remaining accessible and affordable,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie. “It’s great to be recognized as one of the nation’s best values.”

The complete rankings, including the top schools overall as well as the best values in public schools, private universities and private liberal arts colleges, are available online at Top 300 Best College Values of 2017.

A newly-filed “trigger lock’ bill is no lock to pass.

This week, state Sen. Gary Farmer Jr., a Broward County Democrat, filed a bill (SB 142) to tighten requirements on safely storing loaded firearms.

It would require firearms to be kept in a “securely locked box or container” or to be secured with trigger locks.

Among the “locations and circumstances” revised: Storage of a firearm around a “minor,” which the bill defines as someone 16 years of age or younger.

Don’t expect a bipartisan consensus behind this one: Longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who also leads the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, told us that “if Sen. Farmer really wanted to do something to make Florida safe, he would focus on abolishing gun-free-zones where law-abiding citizens are defenseless targets of terrorists and people with mental illness.”

Surprise: We still need more judges.

In fact, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday said the state’s trial courts need a dozen new judges. According to a certification of need, three new judgeships will be added in the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties, and one new judge will be added in the 5th Judicial Circuit for Citrus County.

Citrus County will also pick up one new county judge, as will Broward, Flagler, Lee and Palm Beach counties. The Florida Supreme Court recommended three new county judges in Hillsborough.

The court also decertified one county judgeship each for Charlotte, Collier, Brevard, Monroe, Pasco and Putnam counties.

The court certified the need due to the increasing workload for the state’s judges after the completion of an 18-month study produced with help from the National Center for State Courts, which has produced judicial workload assessments for 31 states.

Last year, the court certified the need for one new circuit court judge and 23 county judges, though none of the judgeships were funded in the state budget.

A circuit court judgeship costs the state $512,934 a year including salaries for the judge, a judicial assistant and three law clerks. A county judgeship costs $279,000 a year.

A James Madison Institute report released this week examines Florida’s federal grant process and suggests new policy measures to improve accountability.

Florida’s Federal Grants: Special Handling Required” notes the Sunshine State’s high reliance on federal funds, which accounted for 12 percent of the state’s total receipts between 2012 and 2015.

Overall, Florida ranks 30th out of the 50 states when it comes to federal grants dependency, with over $23 billion in federal grant receipts annually. Additionally, 13 percent of land in Florida is federally owned.

The report does list some things Florida is doing well, including making reporting of federal money adoptable and accessible to both agencies and watchdogs, and making the governor’s office and Legislature aware when agencies apply for grants.

“While Florida has been a leader on financial accountability so far, more can be done,” the report said. “Florida’s next steps should include more consistent reporting by agencies, more thorough integration of grants into the budget process, and strict scrutiny for grants.”

Among the suggestions for improvement, JMI recommends reporting requirements for local agencies that apply to funds directly, continuous monitoring of grants for mission creep and cost increases, and requiring the amount of federal dollars being spent each year to be listed in the state budget so lawmakers can see the impact they have on the state budget.

The CareerSource Florida network in November reported helping 38,961 Floridians who got jobs, according to a press release. The network includes 24 local workforce development boards, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and 100 career centers throughout the state.

The top three local boards for job placements reported last month are:

  1. CareerSource Heartland, which serves Desoto, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties;
  2. CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough County; and,
  3. CareerSource Pinellas, which serves Pinellas County.

The network reports since January assisting 383,684 Floridians who secured employment. A person who receives employment or training assistance in a career center or both via employflorida.com, and finds a job within 180 days, may be reported by a local workforce development board as a placement.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida can feel the excitement.

The self-described “grassroots advocacy organization” issued a press release this week reacting to the announcement of new House subcommittee chairs for the 2017 Legislative Session.

“We are excited to begin working with the new House subcommittee leaders this upcoming session on several key issues: Fighting against corporate welfare, pushing for education reform and removing barriers for our state’s entrepreneurs to freely innovate,” AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson said.

“We commend Speaker Corcoran for his strong selection and are confident that together we can lead Florida to a brighter and more prosperous future.”

More from Sen. Jeff Brandes: He has ideas on how best to implement Florida’s new constitutional amendment allowing very sick people to use medical marijuana, now that lawmakers are getting down to that task.

”I think we should grandfather in the individuals who are currently growing today, and I think we should scrap the entire old system and start anew. Trying to run two, parallel systems doesn’t make any sense,” Brandes said.

Under existing law, non-euphoric marijuana is available to children suffering severe seizures and muscle spasms, and stronger forms to terminally ill patients.

The amendment, approved by 71 percent of the voters last month, “allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician,” according to its text.

Brandes wants to get rid of “barriers to entry,” he told reporters this week.

“We should not be starting up state-supported cartels,” he said. And “that’s essentially what we’ve done” regarding providers approved under the old system.

“It’s time to break down the barriers. It’s time to let people make investments. But I won’t support any bill that restricts the market.”

Still more: Brandes this week defended his proposed legislation to do away with personal-injury protection insurance as “probably the right way for Florida.”

The St. Petersburg Republican filed SB 156 on Tuesday. He and Bill Hager on the House side have attempted the move before, but without success.

“This proposal is simply saying, ‘PIP as of 2020 will go away and in the interim time the Legislature will have a conversation what the next generation of car insurance is going to look like for the state,” Brandes told reporters.

“But I think we can do it better. I think we can do it smarter and save Floridians money.”

Gov. Scott wants Jacksonville to be the home for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadron, but his wishes clash with President-elect Donald Trump.

Scott tweeted Friday that “Florida has the best national guardsmen and facilities and Jacksonville would be a great home for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

The U.S. Air Force announced last week that Jacksonville’s Air National Guard was one of five finalists for two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II fighters, with Montgomery, Alabama; Boise, Idaho; Selfridge, Michigan; and Dane County, Wisconsin, also making the cut.

Trump, however, criticized the F-35 program on the campaign trail and reaffirmed his stance in a Monday tweet.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” he said. “Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”

The F-35, produced by Lockheed Martin, is the most expensive jet ever purchased by the U.S. government. The program is expected to cost a total of $400 billion, and, according to the New York Times, $100 billion of that money is already spent.

Trump’s tweet caused Lockheed Martin stock to tumble Monday, closing 2.5 percent down, for a loss of $2 billion. The U.S. Air Force has not announced a timeline for choosing which base will get the fighter squadrons.

Scott this week said Florida’s gross domestic product, or GDP, grew 2.3 percent annualized in the second quarter of 2016. What’s important is that beat the national GDP growth rate of 1.2 percent.

The state’s GDP annualized growth rate tied with Michigan as the highest among the 10 largest states, including California and Texas, his office said in a release.

“We will continue to work each day to make it easier for job creators and families to succeed in Florida,” he said.

Florida gross domestic product “is the measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced within the state in a given time period,” the release explained. “A final product is one that is produced and sold for consumption or investment.

“GDP excludes intermediate goods, which are goods that are used to produce other goods. GDP is presented in both nominal and real dollars. Real GDP removes the influence of changing price or inflation. GDP is important because it is the most closely watched measure of output. It is a measure of overall economic activity.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will serve as co-chairman for policy of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association next year.

The organization elected its new leaders by a vote of its members, and announced the results Tuesday.

Lopez-Cantera saw GOP control of the White House and Congress, and strength in statehouses, as“an incredible opportunity to advance conservative values from coast to coast at every level of government,” he said in a written statement.

“As the second-in-command in the states, lieutenant governors will play a critical role in determining and defining policy discussions nationwide, and I am humbled to have been chosen by my peers to serve as the RLGA’s co-chair for policy in such a critical and exciting year.”

Sen. Tom Lee this week said he wants to “revamp and streamline” the way Florida’s Building Code is amended.

The code “has been an effective tool for improving the structural integrity and energy efficiency of our state’s housing stock, (but) it’s time to look for a more common sense and cost effective approach to updating the code,” he said in a statement.

The way it works now is the Florida Building Commission is required to update the Code every three years. Lee, vice president of Sabal Homes of Florida, wants to let the Commission decide when to update as “appropriate and necessary.”

“The goal is to strike a balance between keeping our code current without letting trivial updates and pressure from suppliers create an unnecessary burden on the industry and the consumer,” Lee added.

Florida’s Revenue Estimating Conference completed its work for the year Friday by trying to predict receipts from the state’s vast array of tax sources 10 years into the future.

All that’s left for the economists engaged in the process now is to sweat a few details before they deliver their final report to the Legislature.

“This is the end of the conference season!” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research. “We survive! We need T-shirts!”

The enterprise began in November with a state demographic study — how many people live here? How many per household?

Along the way, the conference forecast that lawmakers will have $142 million above existing spending levels to play with next year — but that deficits loom of $1.3 billion one year from now and $1.9 billion the year after that. Barring tax hikes or spending cuts.

How confident can members be in a 10-year forecast? Fairly, Baker said. The state has solid historical data to back up many of its projections. Of course, it’s hard to know what Donald Trump and Congress will do to federal grants and programs next year.

“When we depend on other people for the decisions, it’s much harder to deal with,” Baker said. “With our own sources, we can come closer to it, generally.”

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has some consumer advice for Floridians during the holiday season: Don’t let your Christmas tree burn the house down.

“Christmas tree fires do not happen often, but they have the potential to be serious fires when they do,” Atwater said in a written statement Wednesday.

“More often than not, these fires occur because the tree has not been properly watered and has become dried out and repeatedly exposed to multiple heat sources,” he said. “The mix of dry tree branches and hot holiday lights can quickly become a tragic combination.”

Make sure to top off the water in your tree stand regularly, lest it run dry.

“Don’t place it next to your fireplace, radiator, or any candles that you may be lighting,” Atwater said.

“Also, make sure that you unplug your tree when you leave the house to prevent overheating. These tips sound simple — and they are — but you must make sure to follow them.”

Besides caring for the tree, the Florida Forest Service also has some recommendations for “Fire-Safe Outdoor Holiday Decorating.”

Here are the top tips:

— Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant decorations.

— Check the labels on lights to make sure they were tested at a facility, such as UL or ETL, and follow manufacturer’s instructions for use.

— Discard any lights with cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.

— Always turn off holiday lights and extinguish candles when going to sleep or leaving the house.

On a related note, clear any dry debris from roofs and yards to eliminate the link that could carry fire from any nearby woods to your home.

And if you normally burn your yard waste (grass, clippings, etc.), don’t do it now. Instead, check with your local authorities for information regarding yard waste pick-up and disposal.

Speaking of trees, is it us, or does Atwater’s Christmas tree – ahem, holiday topiary – in the lobby of his Capitol office look like the Grinch?

Now, here’s the photo of it decorated.

Indeed, before the usual Rotunda holiday displays are put in place – the all-black Festivus pole is on its way – we decided to take a look at the other trees in the other statewide elected officials’ lobbies.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s tree, laden with citrus slice-shaped ornaments, shimmers with an almost blue glow. It’s be-twinkled with energy-efficient LED lights. (Putnam oversees the state’s Office of Energy.)

Gov. Scott‘s takes on a vanilla feel, with white and off-white decorations predominating.

Finally, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s tree, circled in wide red ribbon, is notable for being the only one with a star on top.

Also in Christmas news, Gwen Graham spent her last workday as a congresswoman at a Christmas tree stand in Tallahassee.

She tucked in like a pro, lugging trees larger than she was around so customers could select the right one to take home.

“Are you that Gwen?” one customer asked. Later, Graham joined the customer and her mother in a mobile phone video chat.

“It’s a real opportunity to know people on a different level than you might if they just came to talk to you in your office or met you in Costco or something,” Graham said. … As for her future, Graham said she fully intends to seek the governorship but that the timing will depend on the health of her husband, Steve Hurm.

He’s due at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Wednesday for evaluation of Stage IV prostate cancer.

Hurm has been encouraging her to campaign. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said.

Finally, bears: The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission has awarded $825,000 to local governments to reduce interactions between bears and humans.

The two counties who received the most money were Orange County with $150,000 and Seminole County with $159,000. Lake County and Santa Rosa County are also receiving $150,000.

What the money is going to will mostly be bear-resistant trash cans – unsecured trash is the most prominent cause of bears and humans interacting. The trash cans will be sold to residents at a discounted cost.

At least 60 percent of the funding is going toward counties like Seminole and Orange who have already implemented local legislation requiring trash to be secured so bears can’t get to it.

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

Wal-Mart outsourcing security issue could make Democrats ‘natural allies’ in whiskey and Wheaties fight

Chinese philosopher-general Sun Tzu once wrote: “Know your enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

This could also be valuable advice for Florida unions and Democrats — pick your battles wisely.

The recent dust-up between unions and Wal-Mart over outsourcing security in Florida could impact another upcoming fight in the 2017 Legislative Session – the effort to tear down the wall of separation between groceries and liquor stores.

Recently, the Tampa Bay Times estimated law enforcement in four Florida counties logged nearly 17,000 calls to the retailing giant in a single year. In the Indiana town of Beach Grove, city officials declared Wal-Mart a public nuisance after more than 1,000 police calls were made in the last two years.

As union representatives protest Wal-Mart’s offshore and security costs, tying it to the fight for a $15 minimum wage, the campaign could become a natural fit with the effort in Tallahassee to keep grocery stores and liquor sales separate.

Florida Businesses Unite is an alliance of retailers like ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Publix and the Florida Independent Spirits Association. The organization believes there is no need (or desire) to tear down the wall of separation, and, if passed, could negatively impact Florida businesses.

Those union activists seeking to influence one of their No. 1 priorities is essentially a food fight without a constituency calling for it.

But if that should happen, Democrats could become natural allies in the effort to block SB 106, the proposed “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation to repeal a state law requiring grocery chains and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart to have separate stores to sell liquor.

With this constituency rising to fight them, if they catch wind of their priority in Tallahassee, do they take this fight to Tallahassee?”

Florida Businesses Unite likely feels the effort to repeal the wall of separation between groceries and liquor – much like Wal-Mart’s leaning on local law enforcement for its security – is just another example of out-of-state retailers attempting to influence Florida law.

And then fight against both issues could be a battle Democrats and unions would be wise to take up.

Visit Florida axes top officials after Pitbull controversy

Gov. Rick Scott has confirmed the firings of Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps at Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

Scott was in Orlando Friday to release the latest unemployment figures.

Seccombe

CEO Will Seccombe suddenly postponed a quarterly staff meeting scheduled for Friday morning to the afternoon. Speculation was that he was heading to the Governor’s Office to get marching orders about requested “job actions.”

The agency has been criticized for keeping secret a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. In fact, it embraces secrecy: It does not disclose its own staff salaries, for instance.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued to get the contract released to the public, saying Visit Florida’s “trade-secret” claims can’t shield the contract’s terms from legislative oversight.

But Pitbull himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

Visit Florida, the “official tourism marketing corporation” for the state, was created by the Florida Legislature in 1996 as a public-private partnership, according to its website.

Its mission “is to promote travel and drive visitation to and within Florida, supporting its vision to establish the Sunshine State as the #1 travel destination in the world … through cooperative destination marketing programs both domestically and internationally,” it says.

Orlando correspondent Scott Powers contributed to this post. 

Incumbents have better-than-average year in 2016, says Sabato’s Crystal Ball

It was a good year to run as an incumbent according to an article published Thursday in Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

“Looking over the down-ballot outcome, there’s one inescapable conclusion in a year that was defined by a political outsider, Donald Trump, winning the presidency: It was still a really good year to run as an incumbent in 2016, all things considered,” the report states.

Since the end of World War II, about 93 percent of incumbent representatives, 80 percent of senators and 73 percent of governors won re-election, but the 2016 cycle beat those averages handily.

Overall, 27 of 29 senators, four out of five governors and 380 out of 393 representatives running for re-election won another term on Election Day.

More incumbents could have won re-election, too, were it not for court-ordered redistricting in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia that put a handful of incumbents in each state at a disadvantage.

Also, outgoing North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McRory and exiting New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte each lost their re-election bids by slim margins.

There will still be plenty of new blood in Washington D.C. and state capitols next year even though incumbents enjoyed a high success rate.

Seven new governors will take office next year, and about an eighth of the House will be new when the next Congress convenes. The Senate will also welcome seven new members, and will likely add an eighth after Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings for the Attorney General job.

“However, despite the fact that there is some churn in Congress and in the statehouses, the reality is that if an incumbent is on the ballot, he or she typically has good odds of winning,” Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley wrote. “That’s been true for much of recent American history, and it was still true in 2016.”

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.16.16

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

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

DONALD TRUMP BRINGS THANK YOU TOUR TO SUNSHINE STATE

If President-elect Donald Trump wanted to bring his thank you tour to only to areas of dense supporters, his Friday evening visit to Orlando might not have been an obvious choice.

Trump will be speaking Friday evening at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, in a county he lost by 25 points to Hillary Clinton. And the fairgrounds and Orlando Amphitheater, where he’ll be at specifically, are in the heart of Orlando’s largely-African American west side, where Trump’s Nov. 8 election performance approached humiliating defeat.

“It’s an island of blue in the middle of the state; we wonder why he’s coming to Orlando. It doesn’t make sense,” said Wes Hodge, Orange County Democratic Party chairman. “This is not Trump country.”

But still, it is the I-4 Corridor. It is what passes as the center of Florida. It is relatively easy to reach for anyone living in a state that arguably made the biggest flip in the country into Trump’s winning column.

Orange County is a place with a 100,000 voter registration advantage for Democrats, an advantage that increases with every month’s new registrations. And yet Republicans still sit pretty in many ways. They have the county mayor’s office and control the county commission.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t hold it in Orlando,” said Randy Ross, Trump’s campaign chairman in Orange County. “We wanted people to come from all parts of the state to a central location … This is a chance for everyone to say hello to him and for him to say hello to everyone. It’s a good time.”

And campaigning never really ends. Trump intends to seek ways to unite, Ross said.

“Quite honestly we have a lot more work to do in Central Florida. We didn’t win Orange County. We didn’t win Osceola County. And we barely won Seminole County,” Ross continued.

“It’s an eye on 2020. It’s that simple.”

The amphitheater has lawn seating that makes its capacity flexible up to about 10,000. When Trump spoke there in early November, on a blisteringly hot day, there were an estimated 5,500 people. Ross said more tickets than that have been distributed for this event, but he has no idea how many will actually come.

TRUMP TO SAY ‘THANKS’ – AND RAISE MONEY via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Before Trump gives his 7 p.m. address … Republicans will hold back-to-back fundraisers for his transition and the national party. … Trump is first scheduled to appear as a “special guest” at the $5,000-per-head Transition Finance Committee that’s being organized by his longtime lobbyist and top Florida Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard … Trump might also stick around for the $35,000-per-head RNC fundraiser that’s being held immediately after the transition team fundraiser.

FLORIDA ELECTORS’ INBOXES FLOODED WITH HATE MAIL OVER TRUMP ELECTION via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Joe Gruters’ email notifications won’t stop ringing … the Florida for [Donald]Trump co-chairman and state elector has received 50,000 emails. Apart from the sheer magnitude of them, the subject of some of the emails teeters between offensive and obscene. Some emails tell Gruters to “seek professional help.” Others are littered with four-letter expletives about Trump and Gruters himself. Then there are a few that hit close to home. “You’re what’s wrong with this country,” reads one email. “May Donald Trump one day rape your children too. Let’s hope.” Gruters says he isn’t angry with the people who send him these emails. “I would be doing everything I could if [the election] had the opposite results,” he [said]. “I don’t blame these guys … I understand what their goal is, but my guess is, like many of the other electors, we are pretty solid in where we are at …”

TWEET, TWEET:

JOE NEGRON CALLS ANTI-TRUMP FERVOR ‘SOUR GRAPES’ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Negron, one of Florida’s 29 presidential electors, said he has received several hundred messages from people who don’t want him to vote for Trump. But he says he’ll cast his vote for Trump when the electors meet Monday, Dec. 19, in the newly-remodeled state Senate chamber in Tallahassee. “I read them. Most of them come from states won by Secretary Clinton,” Negron said … “The common theme of the letters is, ‘We’re unhappy with the outcome of the election, so you should substitute your judgment for the judgment of the people.’ For me, it’s a simple case. In Florida, there’s no dispute. President-elect Trump won Florida, so he’s entitled to 29 electoral votes … Donald Trump won fair and square.”

IS TRUMP PASSING ON JEFF MILLER AS VA SECRETARY? via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Miller has not shown up at Trump Tower, at least to the knowledge of reporters, at the same time other names have come to the forefront. On ThursdayPete Hegseth, founder of Concerned Veterans for America, was seen taking the elevator up to where Trump is filling out his administration. Trump is also said to be considering Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, as well as Gen. Ann Dunwoody. At the same time, Trump is under pressure to keep the current secretary, Robert McDonald, “out of concern that his rumored candidates’ inexperience and ideological leanings could cripple the massive veterans’ health care system,” The New York Times reports. Miller, who is retiring from Congress, was on most shortlists.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Congressman Ted Deutch and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will host a roundtable discussion with a variety of health care leaders on President-elect Trump and Republicans’ intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Discussion begins at 10 a.m. at the United Way of Broward County Jean and David Colker Center, 1300 S. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.

BEN CARSON’S WEST PALM BEACH HOME CAN BE YOURS FOR $1.2M via Jennifer Boehm of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – The 6,155-square-foot house was built in 1994 and features five bedrooms, four full baths and a half-bath and three car garage. But the highlights are in the details. “Mrs. Candy Carson did a masterful job herself” of decorating the home, said Arthur Martens of Engel & Völkers Florida, the listing agent. Coffered ceilings are adorned with hand-painted inlays and arched display niches. Columns, marble floors, custom built-ins and remote-controlled window treatments are found throughout the home. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light in and the master suite has views of both the lake and the golf course. But the real centerpiece of the house? “For me, it is the grand entry,” said Martens. “It’s so palatial and beautiful with the golf course, water and pool in the foreground.” Sale of the home also includes an extra perk for avid golfers — a Premier Golf membership package which includes access to the three Nicklaus family-designed courses at Ibis Golf and Country Club.

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DAYS UNTIL: Shopping days until Christmas – 8; Inauguration Day – 34; Pitchers & catchers start reporting for Spring Training – 60; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 91: Election Day 2017 – 325: Election Day 2018 – 692.

IN TAMPA, BILL NELSON CALLS RUSSIA HACK ON DNC EMAIL SERVER “CLOSER TO AN ACT OF WAR” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Speaking to reporters at his Tampa district office, the Florida Democrat made his most outspoken comments about the continuing to evolve story, which a new level of attention Friday, when The Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system. “Not only is this an outrage, this is unprecedented. This is crossing the line, closer and closer to an act of war,” Nelsonsaid, adding that hacking information to influence an election is damaging to the integrity of an election. “I think there’s going to be serious ramifications of this, regardless of where you hear that different people in the intelligence community have differing opinions,” he said.

GWEN GRAHAM SPREADS HOLIDAY CHEER DURING FINAL WORKDAY via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Graham spent her last workday as a congresswoman at a Christmas tree stand in Tallahassee, helping customers select trees to take home — and reflecting on her time in Washington and plans to run for governor. “Are you that Gwen?” one customer asked. She was, engaging in a campaign tactic that propelled her father, Bob Graham into the governor’s office in 1978 and later the U.S. Senate, and helped send his daughter to Washington. “It’s a real opportunity to know people on a different level than you might if they just came to talk to you in your office or met you in Costco or something,” Graham said. … As for her future, Graham said she fully intends to seek the governorship but that the timing will depend on the health of her husband, Steve Hurm. He’s due at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Wednesday for evaluation of Stage IV prostate cancer. “Every part of me wants to run for governor,” Graham told reporters. “It’s what I know I need to do for the state of Florida. But things happen in life that might take me off that path. I hope not.” Hurm has been encouraging her to campaign. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said.

RICK SCOTT TO ANNOUNCE HIS HIGH COURT PICK via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Either Wendy BergerC. Alan Lawson [or] Dan Gerber will be standing next to … Scott in his Capitol office at 8 a.m. … for a rare Tallahassee news conference to announce the governor’s first — and potentially only — pick to the Florida Supreme Court. The new judge will be replacing Justice James E.C. Perry who is retiring at the end of the month because he has reached the mandatory retirement age. The candidates all have two things in common: they are all self-professed conservatives, who abide by the “originalist” judicial philosophy that adheres to the notion that interpretation of law should be based on the original meeting of the text of the statute or the Constitution at the time its enacted, and they have each been heavily promoted by members of the Florida chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian lawyers group many of whose members serve as the governors’ appointees to the Judicial Nominating Commission. The JNC interviewed 11 candidates to recommend the three names (who were widely expected to be the pre-determined list) to the governor.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Scott will announce November job numbers at HostDime, a global data center provider of cloud-based products in Orlando. Event begins 10:15 a.m. at 440 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1, in Orlando. Entrance is located on the backside of the Office Furniture Outlet. For questions on driving directions, please contact Vikki Fraser at vikki.f@hostdime.com or (407) 222-5313.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – FLORIDA’S GDP GROWTH BEATS THE NATION’S IN SECOND QUARTER OF 2016 – Florida’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 2.3 percent annualized in the second quarter of 2016, beating the national GDP growth rate of 1.2 percent. The state’s GDP annualized growth rate tied with Michigan as the highest among the 10 largest states, including California and Texas. Gov. Scott said, “I am proud to announce that Florida’s GDP growth exceeded the nation’s in the second quarter of this year, even exceeding other large competitor states like California and Texas. Not only is Florida’s GDP growth increasing faster than other large states, but we are also adding jobs at a faster rate, which is great news for our families. We will continue to work each day to make it easier for job creators and families to succeed in Florida.” Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor said, “Florida’s growing economy is a testament to our efforts to improve prosperity for every Floridian. By investing in new jobs, training and community infrastructure, we can continue to ensure strong economic success.”

ENVIRONMENTALISTS GIVE MIXED ASSESSMENT OF SCOTT’S 2014 SPENDING PLEDGE via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – During his campaign for re-election in 2014 with a land conservation spending measure sharing space on the ballot, Scott pledged to request $150 million per year in a second term for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program. As Scott begins to announce elements of his 2017-18 budget request, it’s not clear-cut whether he has owned up to his 2014 pledge for Florida Forever. The pledge was blurred by vague wording and parsed language that makes it difficult to determine whether he was promising money exclusively for land-buying. Environmentalists are mixed on the issue of whether Scott has met his promise or on what the promise was for. Eric Draper of Audubon Florida said Scott walked away from the pledge last year when the governor’s office said it requested $63 million for land acquisition. But Draper still praises the governor for his initiatives elsewhere on environmental spending. “I certainly hope he goes back to it (the 2014 pledge) this year,” said Draper, the group’s executive director.

MOST FLORIDA KIDS FAIL TO GET HEAD START, REPORT FINDS via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel – The Sunshine State enrolls 16 percent of its 4-year-olds who live in poverty in Head Start and 12 percent of its eligible 3-year-olds, said the report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. That means thousands of youngsters aren’t in the 50-year-old program designed to help them overcome the disadvantages of poverty before they start formal schooling. Florida’s Head Start centers, as a group, also don’t provide the high-quality classroom instruction the children need to be ready for kindergarten, the State of Head Start report says. Head Start, largely funded by Washington but with a requirement that local programs get some funding from other sources, spent more than $8 billion in the 2014-15 fiscal year and would need $14 billion more a year to serve all eligible preschoolers, the report said.

PERSONNEL NOTE: MARIA SACHS TO LEAD INNOVATION FLORIDA via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Former state Sen. Sachs will be the next executive director of Innovation Florida, the new not-for-profit incubator for startup technology companies. “I am excited to be a part of a new initiative that will link venture capital and multinational corporations to research and development with our state universities, colleges and entrepreneurs,” Sachs said in a statement. “One of the keys to Florida’s success as the third most populous state is that every Florida graduate should have the key that will open a career in innovation.” Sachs “will use her lifetime background as a former prosecutor, attorney, legislator and community activist for the benefit of the organization, its partners and the future of Florida,” the release added. It also says that “through state appropriations, the Senator championed for expansion of research centers throughout the University systems especially at the South Florida based state universities and colleges.” Sachs, however, falls under the state’s 2-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying the Legislature or executive agencies. The 68-year-old, elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election this year.

LEGISLATORS FACE $750 MILLION GAP IN NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – The Legislature will need to come up with more than $750 million for next year’s state budget if lawmakers choose not to raise property taxes for schools and not to take cash from counties affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a Senate budget committee learned Thursday. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said he would not take the $325 million the Legislature promised to the eight Gulf Coast counties affected by the 2010 oil spill. The counties are Wakulla, Franklin, Gulf, Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia. … Latvala was unwilling to promise a second year without a property tax increase needed for schools. This year, the Legislature froze property taxes used to pay for public schools, instead using $392 million from general revenue. “I think we’re going to have to let them take the additional property value,” he said.

JACK LATVALA NOT KEEN ON RAIDING OIL SPILL FUND TO BALANCE STATE BUDGET via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Latvala isn’t interested in balancing state government’s books on the backs of counties hit hard by the BP oil spill. And he believes the state might have to let local property taxes increase along with home values. All in the name of meeting pressing needs in a state in decent financial shape now, but facing scary long-term deficits. “We made the commitment, and I believe in keeping my commitments,” Latvala said of the BP money. Of local taxes, he said: “It’s clear to me that if we can’t capture the new property values, there will be slim of any increases for K-12.” Latvala said the Legislature will have to cut some programs if lawmakers want to approve Gov. Scott‘s requested increases for economic development, House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s desire for tax relief, and Senate PresidentNegron‘s hopes to boost education spending. “To do any increases, we’re going to have to find areas to cut. That’s a certainty,” Latvala said. “Just my luck to be [appropriations] chairman in a year like that.”

JANET CRUZ FILES FIX FOR VOTE-BY-MAIL SIGNATURE PROBLEM via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Cruz … filed legislation that would let voters fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted. The bill (HB 105) would require supervisors of elections and their staff “to allow submission of an affidavit to cure signature discrepancies.” The measure was in response to a federal case earlier this year. Cruz … said a “permanent statutory fix” was needed “to ensure that all Floridians have the ability to remedy a mismatched or illegible signature.” … “As the right to vote is a bedrock principle of our democratic society, it is vital that the people of Florida have every opportunity to ensure that their voice is being heard at the ballot box,” she said.

BOOZE BILL WOULD BENEFIT CRAFT DISTILLERS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The bill (SB 166), filed by Republican state Sen. Greg Steube … would change state law to craft distillers’ benefit. One proposal expands how much booze they can produce and still be considered “craft,” raising the limit from 75,000 gallons per year to 250,000 gallons. The bill reduces distilleries’ state license tax from $4,000 to $1,000, provided “it is distilling and bottling all of its products in containers approved for sale.” It repeals limits on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it maintains a limit on bottles being no bigger than 1.75 liters. The measure also lets them sell their liquor not only in an on-site gift shop but also at “one other approved sales room located in the same county as the distillery’s production building.” Most notably, the plain language of the legislation appears to allow distillers to bypass the three-tier system of separate alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers set in place after Prohibition. The bill would allow a distiller to “transfer … spirits … out of its federal bonded space or nonbonded space at its licensed premises or storage areas to its vendor’s licensed premises or approved sales room.” Distributors and liquor stores have opposed measure to loosen restrictions, saying it would cut into their business.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: State Rep. Loranne Ausley will visit two schools to promote her “Ready to Run” contest to encourage kids to get out and run. At 8:55 a.m. Ausley will visit DeSoto Trail Elementary School, 5200 Tredington Park Dr. In Tallahassee. Then, at 10 a.m., she will be at the Kate Sullivan Elementary School, 927 Miccosukee Road, also in Tallahassee.

INSURANCE GROUP JOINS CAMPAIGN FOR ASSIGNMENT-OF-BENEFITS REFORM via Florida Politics – The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America has thrown its weight behind the drive to control assignment-of-benefits fraud against insurance companies. The organization said in a written statement that it “will be encouraging public policymakers to explore ways to protect consumers better from contractor fraud and litigation abuses that frequently occur following major storms.” The statement marked the end of the most active hurricane season in four years, including hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. The latter storm, according to AIR Worldwide, the risk-management consultancy, caused nearly $6.8 billion in insured losses within the United States. “The increase in storm activity also puts a spotlight on the need to curb abuses from unscrupulous individuals and companies that capitalize on consumers during a time of need,” said Chris Hackett, senior director for personal lines policy at the insurance group. “In Florida, we have experienced a sharp increase in assignment of benefits claims and lawsuits, which drive up costs and put financial strain on Florida consumers,” Hackett said. “It is imperative that our state leaders consider these reforms that will help curb AOB abuse and alleviate pressure on Florida’s insurance system.” Assignment-of-benefits (AOB) agreements allow policyholders to sign away their rights under their insurance policies to third parties — often contractors — in exchange for quicker repairs. But they are ripe for abuse by parties who inflate repair bills or file costly lawsuits.

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IF AT FIRST THEY DON’T SUCCEED: ELECTION CHIEFS WILL RENEW PUSH TO SHIELD VOTERS’ PERSONAL DATA via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Fresh off a smooth election cycle, Florida’s 67 county election supervisors will pursue changes to the election laws in the 2017 legislative session. They pitched their ideas for the first time at a meeting of the revamped Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, chaired by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo … The supervisors’ point man on legislative issues is David Stafford, the Escambia County supervisor of elections. He told senators that the state should follow the lead of 19 other states and join ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center, an information-sharing consortium that helps states track down people who are registered to vote in more than one state. (Being registered to vote in more than one state is not a crime, but voting in more than one state would be). The state has rejected joining ERIC in the past, but Stafford said joining forces with other states is the right course of action. He said ERIC has identified more than a million voters who have changed states in the past four years. Stafford also renewed a request that proved controversial in the 2016 session: Making voters’ personal information, such as home addresses and birth dates, exempt from disclosure under the public records laws.

FORMER PROSECUTOR WILL CHALLENGE DAPHNE CAMPBELL FOR MIAMI-DADE SENATE DISTRICT via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he’ll be “pleasantly surprised” by the work of new state Sen. Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago. But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he’s already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years. Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork … in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy — giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise. “Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn’t and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone’s families — including mine,” Pizzo told the Herald/Times. Pizzo cited Campbell’s recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn’t advocate for women’s rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38. “There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone’s life — their life, their health, their education, the climate,” Pizzo said.

APPOINTEDSherri L. Collins to the Palm Beach County Court. Victoria del Pino to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

BALLARD PARTNERS TEAMS UP WITH LEADING ILLINOIS INFLUENCE SHOP via Florida Politics – Ballard Partners announced a “strategic alliance” with the Chicago-based All-Circo political consulting firm. “It gives us a marketing opportunity in a very important part of the country,” firm president Brian Ballard said. “We try to find the ‘best of class’ wherever we go.” John J. Kelly Jr., All-Circo’s president and owner, has been an adviser to Illinois’ Secretary of State, Senate President, and the Cook County Board President, as well as several state senators and representatives. The firm represents nearly four dozen clients – Fortune 100 corporations, top sports franchises, local governments and nonprofit organizations – in the state capital of Springfield, as well as Chicago and Cook County. “Blue-chip companies such as ADM, Miller-Coors, CVS Caremark, Bank of America and The Blackstone Group retain All-Circo to address their public policy interests and provide professional guidance in the always-fluid climate of Illinois politics,” a press release says.

PERSONNEL NOTE: COREMESSAGE ADDS BRIANNA SHOAF AS ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE via Florida Politics – Shoaf, a Rhode Island native and Florida State University graduate, will develop communications strategies for corporate, political and government clients across the state. Before joining CoreMessage, she spent nearly two years with The Zimmerman Agency. There, Shoaf worked with several award-winning hotels and resorts in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. While at Zimmerman, Shoaf had stories placed in a variety of national, regional and local media outlets while creating press releases, talking points, strategy memos and other assets. “We’re excited to welcome Brianna to our team,” said CoreMessage President Cory Tilley in a statement Wednesday. “Her industry knowledge and diverse background will be tremendous assets to both our staff and our clients.”

32 UNBELIEVABLE THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN FLORIDA IN 2016 via Matt Stopera of BuzzFeed News – Some favorite headlines … ‘Naked Florida man breaks into home, bites resident, dies’ … ‘Burglar breaks into St. Pete apartment, steals cash, cooks and eats pizza’ … ‘Woman who was driving while praying with her eyes closed hits house’ … ‘Florida man poops, pees in  cop car after warning deputy he was speeding home to go to the bathroom’ … ‘Florida State student vapes semen.’

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Holly Raschein.

Ballard Partners teams up with leading Illinois influence shop

Ballard Partners on Thursday announced a “strategic alliance” with the Chicago-based All-Circo political consulting firm.

“It gives us a marketing opportunity in a very important part of the country,” firm president Brian Ballard said. “We try to find the ‘best of class’ wherever we go.”

John J. Kelly Jr., All-Circo’s president and owner, has been an adviser to Illinois’ Secretary of State, Senate President, and the Cook County Board President, as well as several state senators and representatives.

The firm represents nearly four dozen clients – Fortune 100 corporations, top sports franchises, local governments and non-profit organizations – in the state capital of Springfield, as well as Chicago and Cook County.

“Blue-chip companies such as ADM, Miller-Coors, CVS Caremark, Bank of America and The Blackstone Group retain All-Circo to address their public policy interests and provide professional guidance in the always-fluid climate of Illinois politics,” a press release says.

And the alliance with Ballard, Tallahassee’s most notable lobbyist, signals All-Circo’s interest in expanding its influence business beyond Illinois.  

“By working with Brian and his seasoned team, together we’ll continue to get the job done and exceed any challenges posed by our clients,” Kelly said. “Expanding our network and leveraging our combined resources will bring added value to all of our clients.”

Reading between the lines: Richard Corcoran’s subcommittee appointment choices

House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he’s “proud of the way” his subcommittee chairs were chosen – which makes you wonder what devils were in the details.

In a statement, the Land O’Lakes Republican said he wanted to “decentralize authority” in selecting the chairs for the next two legislative sessions.

The decisions were made based on “member consultations, preferences, committee chair interviews, leadership team meetings, and input from the Minority Leader (Democrat Janet Cruz of Tampa).”

As The Wire’s Omar Little liked to say, “Indeed.” That said, if one reads between the lines, there are some appointments and assignment which really stand out, including:

— In the case of Manny Diaz chairing the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, this is a case of the right man in the right place at the right time.

— As Florida Trend’s Jason Garcia first noted on Twitter, Corcoran — already viewed as being sympathetic to Florida’s trial attorneys — handed the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee to Heather Fitzenhagen, an attorney at Morgan & Morgan. And as The Capitolist’s Brian Burgess points out, Fitzenhagen isn’t the only trial lawyer on that committee. Danny Burgess, an attorney at the firm of Lucas Magazine, also sits on the panel.

— The gaming industry isn’t expecting much out of Corcoran’s House, especially from a subcommittee with the words “Gaming Control” in its name, but the appointment of two Orlando (read as probably pro-Disney) lawmakers – Mike La Rosa and Mike Miller – as chair and vice chair only made lobbyists for gambling interests even more suspect. Still, one lobbyist’s nose count has the committee at plus-one for a smart, Senate-initiated gaming bill.

— Another sector which has to be somewhat worried by the chair appointed to oversee it is the utility industry. Pinellas’ Kathleen Peters is in charge of the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee. She’s also an ally of state Sen. Jack Latvala, who has been a tough but fair critic of some of FPL, Duke, etc.

— Blaise Ingoglia quarterbacking the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee. This is the panel which has oversight over much of the Rick Scott administration’s budget. And while publicly Ingoglia and Scott get along, don’t think for one second the Hernando Republican has forgotten how little Scott has done for Ignoglia’s Florida GOP. Kevin O’Reilly, Scott’s Director of Legislative Affairs, has his work cut out for him here.

— Increased funding for higher education is one of Senate President Joe Negron‘s top priorities, so it’s, um, interesting that Corcoran tapped veteran lawmaker Larry Ahern as the chair of appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the state’s colleges and universities. Ahern is a well-meaning, principled conservative, but he’s never struck me as a rah-rah guy for the Gators, Noles, etc. Maybe that is Corcoran’s point.

— She didn’t receive a gavel in her first term, but Tampa state Rep. Jackie Toledo did score some nice committee assignments, including a spot on the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, where the engineer can put her experience to work.

— As POLTICO Florida’s Matt Dixon observed, Scott Plakon seems to be the only lieutenant of Eric Eisnaugle, who was muscled out by Corcoran’s allies from one day serving as House Speaker, who ended up with a chairmanship. Speaking of Dixon, kudos to him for pushing out the likely subcommittee chairs well in advance of the rest of the press corps.

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