Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 237

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including 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.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Ryan Matthews applies for DEP top spot

Just before 5 p.m. on Friday, the deadline to apply for the open position of secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, the fill-in guy filed.

Ryan Matthews, the interim secretary, wants the job permanently.

“We are in a unique position to continue moving Florida forward when it comes to environmental restoration, conservation and protection,” he wrote in his cover letter to Gov. Rick Scott.

“I look forward to discussing my vision for the agency with you and the Cabinet so we can focus on developing policies, securing funding, and completing projects that directly benefit Florida’s natural resources and local communities.”

Scott and the Cabinet in February OK’d him to serve as interim Secretary to fill in for departing department head Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Matthews may have a leg up on the competition: Attorney General Pam Bondi has said she was “impressed” with Matthews, adding “he cares deeply about our environment.”

As usually happens, quite a few outliers are among the 140 other applications for the position, including some seemingly confused that “secretary” is not an administrative assistant job.

As of Friday night, the Cabinet’s website showed no application from Karl Rasmussen, a deputy chief of staff in the Governor’s Office, who also had been rumored to be a contender for the spot. 

Matthews, named deputy secretary last year, had been in charge of the department’s air, water, and waste pollution programs and for overseeing the agency’s regulatory districts.

He also has been a Florida League of Cities lobbyist, political director for Jeff Kottkamp’s attorney general campaign, and a staff assistant to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Matthews got his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, a law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville and a postgraduate law degree in environmental and natural resources law from the University of Denver.

The governor and Cabinet previously agreed to aim on a hire during the May 23 Cabinet meeting.

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

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

Money, money, money — Finally, allocations! After a week of will-they-or-won’t they, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced it reached an $83 billion budget deal on Thursday morning, and began conference committee meetings that evening. Working off a tight timeline, the final budget is expected to include $70 million for universities to hire elite faculty, research scientists and professors; $1.6 billion to buy land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee; and increase funding for K-12 public schools by about 1.2 percent. But early budget offers did not give any additional funding to Florida Forever, a land conservation program that regularly received $300 million a year before the recession hit in 2008. And the proposal slashes funding for Visit Florida, setting aside $25 million, well below its current funding level. Lawmakers are expected to work through the weekend to hammer out the details to guarantee an on-time finish.

Reporters surround House Speaker Richard Corocoran and Senate President Joe Negron after the first budget conference meeting this week. (Photo via Florida Senate).

Rick Scott smash — The Naples Republican spent much of the week in Argentina on a trade mission, he had one eye on Tallahassee and the verdict is in: He is not happy with the way things are turning out. The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature during an impromptu press conference this week, all but demanding full funding in the budget for his Top 3 priorities: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for Visit Florida, and saving Enterprise Florida Speaker Corcoran’s wrecking ball. His political committee, Let’s Get to Work, got in the game too, releasing a web ad saying if the “politicians in Tallahassee … don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to jobs.”

Tear down this (liquor) wall — The House on a 58-57 vote passed a bill this week that would allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. The vote came after hours of discussion, and lawmakers swatted down several amendments meant to water down the proposal. Opponents warned the bill will make alcohol more accessible and easier to get in the hands of minors. The bill now heads to Gov. Scott, and a veto campaign has already begun, with opponents calling the proposal a job-killer.

Rep. Bryan Avila, who sponsored the so-called “whiskey & Wheaties” bill, toasts with Rep. Scott Plakon on the House floor this week upon approval of a bill to allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. The bill, which Plakon opposed, passed by one vote. (Photo via the Florida House)

Roll the dice — The House and Senate is inching closer to a gambling agreement, meeting several times this week to hammer out the details of the 2017 gambling bill. Under the most recent offer, the Senate agreed with the House to, among other things, extend blackjack to all seven Seminole Tribe facilities, as well as craps and roulette; allow decoupling, but without requiring counties to hold referendums to do so; reduce the slots tax if facilities voluntarily reduce the numbers of slot machines on the floor. The Senate also agreed to two new gambling facilities in Broward or Miami-Dade through a bidding process with up to 1,500 slot machines.

Closer together — After weeks of discussion, proposals to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment are nearly ready for a vote by the full House and Senate. Both bills cleared their final committee meetings this week, and the House began discussions of its implementing bill. While the two bills still have differences, the House amended its bill Friday to move it closer to the proposal moving in the Senate. The amended version of the bill, which could get a vote early next week, allows edible forms of medical marijuana, vaping, and removes a provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can access marijuana.

 

Things got a bit heated this week as budget negotiations appeared to stall. Fingers were pointed, names were called. No one was safe.

Take for example a comment lobbed by House Speaker Corcoran  at Republicans in the Senate early in the week. The divide prompted the Land O’Lakes Republican to compare his colleagues across the call to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” he said at the time.

Later in the week, Corcoran made light of his comments, telling the budget conference committee that budget talks can “get intense.”

Sen. Latvala and Rep. Carlos Trujillo chuckle during a light moment during the budget conference meeting this week. (Photo via the Florida Senate)

“There’s that one quote from the one guy who said something about Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “He was wrong. I don’t condone that kind of conduct.”

Sen. Jack Latvala interjected: We only have one question: Who is who?”

Corcoran quickly responded, smiling: “You don’t want me to answer that, chairman.”

March was a big, big month for the Florida Lottery.

Lottery officials announced this week the Florida Lottery set a new March record of $156 million in contributions to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. That brings the Lottery’s total contribution to education to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2016-17, and marks the 15th consecutive year the Lottery has generated more than $1 billion for Florida’s schools and students.

“The Lottery’s sole mission is to generate funds for students and schools in Florida, but we could not reach these remarkable contributions without the support of our dedicated players and loyal retailers,” said Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie in a statement. “Every time someone purchases a Florida Lottery product, from the panhandle to the keys, they’re contributing to education in Florida and that truly is a win for everyone.”

According to the lottery, the March transfer marks the largest contribution to the trust fund this fiscal year and the second largest single-month contribution to the educational enhancement trust fund behind January 2016.

When it comes to gambling addictions, Florida is 42nd in the nation.

That’s according to a new report from WalletHub, which looked at several metrics, including the presence of illegal gambling operations to lottery sales per capita.

The Sunshine State, according to the report, ranked 34th in the number of casinos per capita and 35th in the number of gaming machines per capita. Florida came in 15th when it came to the number of gambling-related arrests per capita, and 16th in lottery sales per capita.

The new rankings were released as the Florida House voted 111-3 to approve a bill (HB 937) that would require lottery tickets and advertising to carry several warnings about gambling.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, would require all advertising to carry one of six warnings on the addictiveness of gambling. Warnings would warn that gambling causes financial problems and that there are low chances of winning.

The Lottery sells a wide array of tickets, ranging from $1 to $25, at thousands of locations across the state. Similar warnings would be placed on the tickets.

Florida, according to WalletHub, ranks 50th in the percentage of adults with gambling disorders.

The Florida Sheriffs’ Association honored its fallen, adding six names to a memorial in Tallahassee this week.

“The sacrifices these men and women made go beyond what most people would ever do,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, the president of the Florida Sheriffs’ Association. “Losses like these are not easy, but I’m honored to have served alongside these heroes who gave all.”

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Honor Guard present the colors during the Florida Sheriffs Association 2017 Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony at the Florida Sheriffs Association in Tallahassee, Florida.

This year, the association added the names Nassau County Deputy Sheriff Eric James Oliver, Taylor County Deputy Michael Scott Williams, Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff John Robert Kotfila, Jr.; Alachua County Deputy Sheriff William A. May; Alachua County Deputy Sheriff Cornelius “Neal” Rain; and DeSoto County Deputy Sheriff to the wall.

The memorial is dedicated to remembering those who sacrificed and put their lives on the line every day. A K-9 statue was recently added to honor K-9 officers who served the citizens of Florida.

Raising a kiddo is expensive, and the cost of health care accounts for a big chunk of that cost.

When it comes to children’s health care, Florida ranks 37th in the nation, according to a new report from WalletHub. The personal finance website ranked which states offer the most cost-effective and highest-quality health care for children. To do that, WalletHub’s number crunchers looked at data ranging from the share of children under the age of 17 in excellent in very good health, to the number of pediatricians and family doctors per capita.

The Sunshine State ranks 42nd in the percentage of children under the age of 17 in excellent or very good health, and 46th in the percentage of 1- to 17-year-olds with excellent or very good teeth. The state is ranked 12th when it comes to both the percentage of overweight children between 10- and 17 years old, and the percentage of obese children between 10 and 17.

Vermont is ranked No. 1 overall when it comes to children’s healthcare, while Nevada comes in last.

There’s a new coalition in town.

Innovating Florida — a grassroots initiative uniting health consumers, biopharmaceutical professionals, business and community partners — launched this week in an effort to highlight the impact of Florida’s healthcare community.

“Florida life science industry is home to more than 5,900 employers and supports over 83,000 direct jobs that are a key economic driver for the state,” said Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Innovating Florida provides a forum for a diverse group of coalition partners to advocate for this industry and its innovation and discoveries that improve the quality of life for individuals here in Florida and beyond.”

The group’s advisory board includes the Florida Chamber of Commerce, BioFlorida, the Manufacturers Association of Florida, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida and the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center.

The group plans to work to contribute to the overall economic strength of Florida and maintain its role as a leader for medical innovation by fostering an environment for increased economic development; ensuring the state leads in research and development of new cures and ensuring patients’ access; and encouraging decision-makers invest effectively and reinforce the state’s commitment to medical progress.

“Florida has built an impressive and diverse life sciences ecosystem that has considerable potential for continued innovation and growth,” said Nancy Bryan, president and CEO of BioFlorida. “The industry is a major economic driver and has increased the number of high wage jobs in our state. We must continue an all-hands-on deck approach to ensure Florida remains at the forefront of this valuable industry – attracting both the talent and resources needed to solve tomorrow’s challenges today.”

A promotional video from Airbnb has a familiar star: Rep. Rene Plasencia.

The home-sharing company released the video this week, hours before the House voted 63-56 to approve a bill (HB 425) that would essentially reinstitute a 2011 ban on cities and counties from imposing any ordinances that would treat vacation rental homes different from other homes, condominiums or apartments in the community.

The video features videos with Plasencia, his wife Marucci Guzman, and their daughter, in scenes at vacation homes they have rented through Airbnb in Georgia and Tallahassee. The couple talks about the price, convenience and other advantages of renting through Airbnb.

In February, Plasencia and Guzman invited their Tallahassee Airbnb host, Quincie, to their wedding. She was one of the first people to RSVP.

Plasencia did not cast a vote when the issue came up on the floor this week.

Picking health care coverage is the pits, but a bill by Sen. Debbie Mayfield aims to guarantee consumers are actually getting what they paid for.

The Senate unanimously this week to approve a bill (SB 182) that provides additional consumer protections by prohibiting health insurers from removing covered drugs during the policy year, except during coverage renewal.

The so-called “Bait-and-Switch Bill” also prohibits an insurer from reclassifying a drug to a more restrictive drug tier, increasing the amount an insured must pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs, or reclassifying to a higher cost-sharing tier during the policy year.

“Many Florida families carefully choose a health plan that covers the medications they need at a price they can afford, but unfortunately, insurers can pull a bait-and-switch by altering prescription benefits at any time during the policy year,” said Sen. Debbie Mayfield, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “The Bait-and-Switch Bill will ensure that Floridians have access to the benefits that were marketed and sold to them for the year. If a consumer can’t change their health plan in the middle of the year, insurers shouldn’t be able to either.”

The proposal is backed by Floridians for Reliable Health Coverage, a coalition of 39 patient and provider groups.

“We hear from people across the state who are living this reality. When a person is forced to abruptly switch medications or stop taking them entirely, it often jeopardizes their health, causing loss of disease control, side effects and even hospitalization,” said Michael Ruppal, Tampa-based executive director of The AIDS Institute, which leads Floridians for Reliable Health Coverage, in a statement. “We hope that Florida House members will also see that it’s time to provide basic consumer protections around health coverage in our state.”

It was a test of the fittest — and to see who could scurry up the pole the fastest.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association held its annual Florida Lineman Competition last weekend, giving more than 150 line workers from across the state a chance to put their skills to the test. Line workers were asked to perform tasks they would encounter in real-world scenarios, ranging from replacing cross arm beams to relocating transformers to rescuing an injured lineman.

Kissimmee Utility Authority linemen participate in the Florida Lineman Competition (Photo via FMEA Facebook)

“The annual lineman competition showcases the work lineworkers do on a daily basis and provide people with an opportunity to see linework in action,” said Amy Zubaly, the interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association. “We extend our congratulations to the winners and our deepest appreciation to all the lineworkers across the state who literally put their lives on the line every day. Their impact on their communities is profound as we recently witnessed following Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. We thank them for their service.”

This year, the overall Journeymen Team Winners’ Cup went to Terry Cobb, Nick Ellis and Jason Smith from the City of Tallahassee electric utility. Mike Morgan of GRU took home the overall Apprentice Award.

There’s a few more hall of famers in Florida.

Gov. Scott announced recently that he had selected Dr. Arnett Girardeau, Willie Williams, and Patricia Stephens Due from a list of 10 distinguished nominees to be inducted in Florida’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The three were chosen because of the significant contributions they made to the improvement of life for minorities and all citizens of Florida.

Girardeau, an 88-year-old from Jacksonville, led the civil rights effort in the Florida Legislature. He was elected to the Florida House in 1976, serving there until he was elected to the Senate in 1982. He became the first African-American Senate Pro Tempore, and was a founding member and chairman of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators.

Williams, an 85-year-old Orlando resident, was the first African-American hired in the engineering department of Martin Marietta Aerospace, now Lockheed Martin, in Orlando. He has served as president of the Orange County NAACP and vice president of the NAACP of Florida State Conference. He has held an influential role in strengthening NAACP relations with local and state government and corporations, including Walt Disney World.

Due, who died in 2012, is revered as a pioneer of the civil rights movement in the Sunshine State. While attending Florida A&M, she and her sister, Priscilla, established a local chapter of Congress of Racial Equality and led nonviolent civil rights demonstrations throughout the South.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website has a brand new look.

The state agency launched a new URL this week — FloridaConsumerHelp.com — and updated its website to provide key consumer protection information. The updated site includes information on registered charities, business license and complaints, and how to avoid scams.

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the Agriculture Department educates the public, investigates complaints and provides mediation on behalf of consumers. Its call center is staffed with analysts who can respond to questions about programs and regulations under the department’s purview, and provides information on a wide variety of topics.

The House has a brand new caucus.

Inspired by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of House Democrats have formed the Legislative Progressive Caucus recently. The caucus, chaired by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, aims to united the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus as a collective block to influence key legislation and advocate for progressive policy solutions.

Members of the Legislative Progressive Caucus discuss their priorities for final days of session.

“As we enter the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Progressive Caucus will adopt caucus positions on key legislation to underscore our values and priorities,” said Smith in a statement. “As Democrats, we are a big tent party. When we organize, we can be even more effective at shaping policy and working together towards a common goal. The members of the LPC are excited about this new endeavor and at the opportunity to set a bold progressive vision for Florida.”

The caucus includes Reps. Amy Mercado, who serves as vice chairwoman; Joseph Abruzzo, who serves as caucus clerk; Robert Asencio; Lori Berman; Daisy Baez; John Cortes; Nicholas Duran; Joseph Gellar; Evan Jenne; Barrington Russell; Sean Shaw; Emily Slosberg; Richard Stark; and Clovis Watson.

Efforts to strengthen Florida’s texting and driving law appears to be dead this year, but lawmakers indicated this week they were willing to consider efforts in the future.

The House Government Accountability Committee held a workshop this week on distracted driving, hearing from bereaved family members and state officials about the need to make driving a primary offense.

“What is it going to take for us to act as a state,” asked Demetrius Branca, whose 19-year-old son died in a 2013 crash involving a distracted driver. “What we need in this state is enforcement coupled with education. This is what works, we know it’s what works. … When are we going to do it?”

The testimony will be used to help OPPAGA come up with a report on the effectiveness of texting and driving laws.

“PCI is advocating for legislation in 2017 to strengthen distracted driving laws, including banning texting while driving for Florida drivers. We also are working to expand public education and awareness on the issue,” said Logan McFaddin, the regional manager of state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “We need to create a social stigma about distracted driving, similar to what we accomplished over the last generation with driving under the influence of alcohol.”

According to the National Safety Council, Florida has seen a 43 percent increase in motor vehicle fatalities since 2014, and McFaddin said

Rep.  Slosberg made one last stand for stricter texting while driving laws this week.

The Boca Raton Democrat filed an amendment on a Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles bill (HB 545) by Rep. Bobby Payne that would have made texting while driving a primary offense in a legally posted school zone.

“I filed a texting while driving bill for everybody, I filed a texting while driving bill for those under 18 and I filed a local bill,” she said. “You can’t make everybody happy, but this is the best you can get. It’s only in school zones. I can’t imagine anyone here who can support texting while driving in a school zone. It’s ridiculous.”

Slosberg, the daughter of former state Rep. Irv Slosberg, said members spent six hours talking about business interests but “haven’t spent nearly enough time talking about the safety of our residents and guests.”

“For me this is personal, I lost my twin sister,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to go what I’ve been through.”

Slosberg withdrew the amendment before it was voted on.

Congratulations to Florida’s newest “top chef.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced this week that Gianna Rivera of Bloomingdale High School was the winner of the 2017 Fresh from Florida Student Chef Cook-Off. River, who competed last weekend against four other regional finalists from across the state, won the competition with her recipe for citrus chicken taco with watermelon salsa.

Giannna Rivera’s recipe will be served in a school cafeteria. (Photo via Department of Agriculture)

Her recipe will be served in a school cafeteria, and the recipes of all five finalists will be converted into school meal service portions and accessible to sponsors throughout the state.

“A healthy diet is the foundation of academic success, and this competition is a fun way for students to learn how to incorporate wholesome ingredients into their daily lives,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

Millennials, they get the job done.

Or at least that’s the goal of the new Florida Future Caucus, a bi-partisan caucus of made up of state lawmakers under the age of 40. The group, which launched this week, is part of a nation-wide movement in statehouses across the country where millennial legislators are hoping to find common ground in an era of hyper-partisanship.

“As young leaders, we need to restore the younger generation’s faith in the democratic process,” said Sen. Anitere Flores. “I’m excited to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on issues that positively impact the lives of young people in Florida.

The caucus was launched by Flores, Sen. Lauren Book, and Reps. Holly Raschein and Sean Shaw.

Flores said the vision that unites the group is a “generational” one.

The Florida Future Caucus will be part of the Millennial Action Project’s effort to support young elected officials.

“While Florida is known more for its snowbirds than its millennials, the state is home to a vibrant and active millennial population. I’m glad that Reps. Raschein and Shaw and Sens. Book and Flores are working together to ensure that our voices are heard in the state capitol,” said Steven Olikara, co-founder and president of Millennial Action Project, in a statement. “I look forward to seeing what they’ll accomplish by reaching across party lines and working together in the House and Senate.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ new rally cry: Free the wine bottle!

Brandes pushed proposals this year that would have repealed the state’s bottle-size law. The provisions would have allowed win bottles of all sizes, placed the regulation of cider-bottle size on equal footing with craft beer, and repealed a state law requiring diners to order and consume a full meal before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

The language was included in a bill dealing with Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, but this week senators stripped it from the bill in order to conform with the House proposal.

Sen. Brandes said this week that “Nothing spells freedom like the ability to buy large bottles of wine.”(Photo via the Florida Senate)

“I can tell you we’re going to be fighting for this, and fighting for freedom, in the Florida Senate for many years to come until we get the ability to sell large bottles of wine, to fill cider just like we fill craft beer, and to be able to take wine home from a restaurant without having to buy a salad course, without having to buy an appetizer, and without having to buy a bread course, and have them individually listed on receipts,” he said in a rousing floor speech as his colleagues looked on. “It is a travesty we have to adopt this amendment. Next year, we are going to fight for individual freedom in the Florida Senate.”

President Negron’s response?  “Let the record reflect that the ‘Freedom Caucus’ is in full alert.”

The Florida House is raising awareness about domestic violence.

The House approved a resolution this week by Rep. Barbara Watson to designate September as Domestic Violence Prevention Awareness Month.

“Florida needs to be a leader in violent crime prevention and it is up to all of us to educate our friends, family, and neighbors on this problem,” said Watson. “With thousands of Floridians affected by violent crime every year, I am happy to see the Florida Legislature pass this resolution and I will continue to work hard in my goal of crime prevention.”

Florida has the 5th highest violent crime rate and the 14th highest homicide rate in the United States, and Watson said recognizing the need for prevention is important to solving those issues.

June 12 will be known as Pulse Remembrance Day, under resolution read into the record this week.

Sponsored by Reps. Smith and Mike Miller, the resolution (HB 8077) establishes June 12, 2017, as Pulse Remembrance Day in honor of the 49 people who were killed and the 53 others who were wounded during the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

“As we approach the one-year mark, it’s important to acknowledge that the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Pulse nightclub was not just a terrorist attack, but a hate crime against my fellow LGBTQ+ Floridians. I am proud to see the Florida House come together to express our compassion for those families directly impacted by the attack and support for our first responders who risked their lives to keep us safe,” said Smith in a statement. “Although our hearts will never fully heal, publishing this House resolution into the historical journal will ensure future generations understand what happened at the Pulse nightclub, the communities who were impacted, and remember the names of the forty-nine angels who were taken.”

The resolution memorializes the into the record the names of those who perished, while acknowledging it was the “most lethal incident of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in the United States history.”

Call it a big win for financial literacy this month.

The Florida Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 392) by Sen. Dorothy Hukill that would require high school students take a half-credit financial literacy course in order to graduate. The passage of the bill, which senators voted to rename the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act,” came in the midst of Financial Literacy Month.

But senators weren’t the only ones talking financial literacy this week. CFO Jeff Atwater also encouraged parents to teach their children the dollars and sense of managing their money, telling them it is “more important than ever to equip our children with the financial tools they need to be successful.”

“If we want Florida’s future generations to know and understand the true value of money, then as parents we must take the lead in teaching them,” said Atwater in his weekly email.

Rep. Sean Shaw has his eye on insurance adjusters.

The House voted unanimously to approve a bill (HB 911) that would streamline the licensing process, establish consumer protections, and raise the ethical standards for insurance adjusters.

“With this legislation, Florida’s consumers can rest assured that individuals engaging as insurance adjusters are licensed, regulated, and held to the highest ethical standards,” said Shaw.

The bill, among other things, eliminates licensure for public adjusters’ apprentices, substituting them for a requirement to be licensed as an all-lines adjuster and appointed as a public adjuster apprentice.  It also prohibits unlicensed public adjusting that is done directly or indirectly, and reduces the time a public adjuster apprentice must be supervised before becoming eligible to be licensed as a public adjuster.

Think of it a jobs bill.

The Florida House voted 86-30 this week to approve a bill (HB 7047) that would, among other things, lower the licensing and training requirements for certain occupations. The hope, lawmakers said, would be to create more jobs by deregulating occupations like barbers, hair braiders and boxing announcers.

The bill, among other things, reduces the hours of training needed to get a license to become a barber, nail specialist, and a facial specialist. It also clarifies the scope of practice for restricted barbers, nail specialists, full specialists, and hair braiders.

A Senate companion has cleared two committee hearings, and includes repealing criminal background checks for talent agents.

Mark your calendars, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association annual conference is just around the corner.

The FCTA will hold its Future of Internet and Television Conference from Oct. 25 through Oct. 27 at the Trump National Doral in Miami. The conference will give industry officials a chance to chat about legislative and regulatory policies, content creation, and the “Internet of Things.”

Pull out the bug spray, the rainy season is upon us.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services hosted a series of Zika preparedness workshops for mosquito control programs throughout Florida recently to discuss mosquito surveillance and control measures.

“As we enter into the warmer months, it’s especially important that Florida communities are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need for their Zika-related response efforts,” said Agriculture Commissioner Putnam.

While the Department of Health is the lead agency when it comes to Zika, the agriculture department continues to support local programs by providing mosquito testing at the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. To date, nearly 90,000 mosquitoes have been tested for the presence of the Zika virus.

Rep. Tracie Davis wants to make sure the teachers represent the state’s “diverse student population.”

That’s why she sponsored a bill (HB 1139) to increase access to the Minority Education Scholars Program, a collaborative, performance-based program for African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, and Native-American students enrolled in teacher education programs.

“This bill is an important first step in expanding opportunities for minority students who wish to enter Florida’s education workforce,” said Davis. “By enabling more students to pursue a career in education, we can begin to address Florida’s growing teacher shortage. Not only does it confront this serious problem in our public education system, but it does so in a way that ensures that our teachers reflect our state’s diverse student population.”

The bill passed unanimously earlier this week.

Sen. Aaron Bean took a minute to tip his hat to one of his colleagues this week while discussing a bill to provide foster families with free annual passes to the state parks.

Bean gave Sen. Dennis Baxley a shout-out, telling members that Baxley had adopted two children with “very special needs.” Baxley, he said, is just one example of the hundreds of foster parents across the state who are “superheroes.”

“This is an intimate thing for me,” said Baxley. “You don’t know what these families struggle with.”

Sen. Baxley, who adopted two children, called Sen. Bean’s efforts on behalf of foster families have been “encouraging.”

Baxley and his wife, Ginette have five children, two of which are adopted. One of those children, Jeffrey, was shaken as an infant, suffering blindness and brain damage. Baxley said this week that “Jeffrey changed our lives,” and commended Bean for the work he has been doing to help foster families.

“These things, like park fees and things, may be minor, but it’s encouraging,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Lee in the House, unanimously passed both chambers this week. It now heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs is out to protect Florida’s coral reefs.

Jacobs’ bill (HB 1143) to create the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area passed the House unanimously this week. The proposal creates a conservation area that includes sovereign submerged lands and state waters offshore Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties from the St. Lucie Inlet in the north to the northern boundary of the Biscayne National Park in the south.

Florida is facing a serious coral disease epidemic, which began back in 2014 and is spreading along the Florida Reef Tract. In the last two years, 21 of the 35 coral species off Florida’s coastline have died.

“The epidemic is unique since it involves multiple diseases and affects several species of coral, some listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” said Jacobs. “Aside from its natural beauty, our reef is also vital to our coastal protection and economic vitality.”

See a python, pick it up — it just might land you a big prize.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission launched a new program to encourage people to remove nonnative Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. The programs, according to the state agency, will provide people with incentives and expanded opportunities to remove the slithery species.

The Python Pickup Program is designed to encourage the public to remove and report wild Burmese pythons by rewarding participants with prizes.

People who remove pythons need to submit photographic evidence of the snakes as well as the location from which it was removed. Anyone who submits the information will receive a free Python Pickup T-shirt for their first entry. For every submission received, participants will be entered into a monthly drawing — as well as a grand prize drawing to be held next year.

A recent executive order allows people to remove pythons year-round from 22 public lands with no hunting license or wildlife management area permit required.

“We know many Florida residents and visitors want to help tackle this tough conservation challenge by going after pythons in the wild and removing any they can find,” said Nick Wiley, the executive director of the FWC. “We want to continue to encourage and support this important citizen conservation effort.”

Need more info about how to identify and safely remove pythons? FWC offers a no-cost Python Patrol training program that aims to create a network of trained individuals who can identify and remove Burmese pythons.

A bit of serenity is heading to Wekiwa Springs State Park.

The Florida Park Service is partnering with the Wekiva Wilderness Trust to create an accessible serenity garden at the state park, expanding access and enhancing the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities. The project, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, will transform a half-acre site within the park into a garden oasis.

“The department is very excited about this project, which will provide groundbreaking opportunities for relaxation, contemplation and education,” said Gary Clark, DEP deputy secretary of land and recreation, in a statement.

The state agency is providing $50,000 for the project, which is being managed by the Wekiva Wilderness Trust. Other partners include Friends of Florida State Parks; the Seminole County Master Gardener Program with the University of South Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; and Sweetwater Oaks Gardening Club.

“Expanding access and offering a unique way for people of all ages and diverse abilities to enjoy the park is something we are very excited about,” said Robert Brooks, manager of the Wekiva River Basin State Parks.

The project is currently in the design phase with work on paths, irrigation and other hardscape elements expected to begin soon. The total cost is estimated to be between $200,000 and $250,00, and the garden is expected to be open within a year.

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

Sunburn for 4.28.17 – Rick Scott angry; Budget deals shaking out; Kevin Rader for the win; Zika returning?

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

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

YOU WON’T LIKE RICK SCOTT WHEN HE’S ANGRY

Gov. Scott did not look like he was negotiating.

The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature, all but demanding full funding in the state budget for his 2017-18 priorirites: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, and salvaging Enterprise Florida from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s wrecking ball.

“All three of those project impact jobs,” he said. “And whatever happens after this session—I’ll have 610 days to go—I’ll spend every day trying to get more jobs in this state.”

Scott met briefly with reporters Thursday after a series of meetings with state senators, including Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

But when asked specifically what he’ll do if he vetoes the budget and lawmakers override the veto, Scott basically said he’ll try again next year.

“I’ll do exactly what I said I’ll do,” he said. “I’ve been completely open on what I ran on. And people agree with me. They care about jobs, they care about education, they care about being safe. And that’s what I work on every day.”

The Governor spoke after legislative leadership announced agreement on budget allocations, the large pots of money that go toward funding major areas, such as education and health.

While the Senate largely has sided with Scott, Corcoran for months has lobbed linguistic grenades at the governor, including calling his favored business incentives programs, including the Quick Action Closing fund, “corporate welfare.”

Scott has endorsed a key element of Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee rehabilitation plan: Storing and treating water south of the lake. He has called upon the House and Senate to invest $200 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike.

Richard Corcoran (seated, at left) and Joe Negron (at lectern) on Thursday address the first meeting of this year’s budget conference.

The state can afford the repairs because the $1.5 billion the Trump administration has provided to reimburse hospitals for charity care has freed up money for elsewhere.

“This is a golden opportunity to get this done,” Scott said Thursday. “It’s an environmental issue and a jobs issue.”

He continued to advocate for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, saying he “could not believe legislators don’t understand the value of continuing to market this state.” Fewer tourists mean fewer jobs in the tourist industry, he explained. “I am shocked at anyone who thinks we should cut one dollar from VISIT FLORIDA.”

But Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

The speaker also has lambasted a promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million.

Scott also said the state was losing deals for companies to move to Florida because he didn’t have money in the Quick Action Closing fund, a pot of cash Scott can use with the least input from lawmakers.

“We are still competing with 49 other states,” he said. “They want the jobs there, I want the jobs here. This legislature is turning its back on its constituents.”

SCOTT CALLS PROPOSED CUTS TO VISIT FLORIDA ‘IRRESPONSIBLE’ IN NEW WEB AD via Florida Politics — In the 60-second spot, released by Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work, the Naples Republican is shown saying “Florida’s been winning, now a group of politicians in Tallahassee want us to lose.” “That’s irresponsible,” he continues. “It’s real simple, if the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. Ever job is important, every family is important to our state. There is not a job that’s expendable.”

VISIT FLORIDA RELEASES VIDEO WARNING OF IMPACT OF CUTS — Facing big cuts in the 2017-18 budget, VISIT Florida released a 2-minute video Wednesday called “The Story of Colorado Tourism – A Cautionary Tale.” The video, which the state agency noted was produced at “no cost” to Visit Florida, features Cathy Ritter, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office talking about the impact of the cuts to her office. In 1993, the Colorado Legislature eliminated the tourism budget. The next year, according to the video, the state went from the No. 1 summer resort destination to the No. 17 summer resort destination. More than 21 years later, the state has regained its market share but hasn’t returned to the top spot, according to the ad.

SCOTT’S DEMAND FOR BUDGET PRIORITIES LEAVES CARLOS TRUJILLO UNFAZED via Florida Politics – House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo did not appear especially intimidated by Gov. Scott’s tough talk on the state budget Thursday evening. That $200 million Scott seeks to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, for example?  Not likely. “That showed up about a week ago, and we’d already gone a far way down the road as far as crafting our budget,” Trujillo told reporters. …  “I think there’s merit in doing it. I don’t there’s merit in ever lending the federal government $200 million that they should be responsible for.” Trujillo sees no need to build a veto-proof majority. “We just have to pass a budget. If he vetoes it or he doesn’t veto it, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

TOUGH EDITORIAL – SCOTT POWERLESS IN HIS OWN PARTY via the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron are wheeling and dealing behind closed doors — and yes, that’s somehow legal in Florida — while crushing Scott’s top priorities. Scott can veto the entire budget, but the House and Senate would still have to come up with a new one before the July 1 deadline, or risk losing some state services. State parks could be shut down over the July 4 weekend. It would be a disaster for Scott. Scott’s veto could be overridden if Republicans convinced a few Democrats to jump on board, but then they’d have to give in to some Democratic priorities. Nobody in the GOP wants that. The entire Florida Legislature is dysfunctional. Corcoran promised all sorts of transparency yet is hammering out major policy in the dark. He’s turning out to be just another politician. But it’s amazing how Scott, a two-term governor with his eyes set on the Senate, is virtually ignored by his own party.

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HOW THEY GOT TO YES – BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, FLORIDA LEGISLATORS REACH BUDGET DEAL via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – … a sweeping deal on a new state budget and other high-priority items ranging from public employee benefits to building a reservoir to deal with toxic algae discharges. The move appears to ensure that the Florida Legislature will end its session on time next week. But by reaching the deal, top lawmakers jettisoned many of the highest priorities of Gov. Scott, raising the possibility that he may veto the entire budget and force legislators to return to the capital later this year. Scott sharply criticized legislators for ignoring some of his top requests, including using $200 million in state money to speed up repairs to the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. He also said the decision to slash money that now goes to the state’s tourism marketing agency would lead to fewer jobs. The budget will cut funding available to the tourism marketing agency Visit Florida from nearly $80 million to $25 million. Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, will remain intact for another year but it will not receive any money for incentives to lure businesses. Scott wanted $100 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for incentives.

BUDGET CONFERENCE MEMBERS, TENTATIVE SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED — House and Senate leaders named their budget conference committee members and announced a tentative schedule for budget conference meetings. Under agreed upon rules, conference committee meetings can meet until noon Saturday, after which time all issues will be bumped to the budget chairs. At noon Sunday, any unresolved issues will be bumped to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. A list of the House conferees can be found here. List of Senate conferees can be found here.

— BUDGET & CONFERENCING HIGHLIGHTS —

MEDICAID CUTS WILL HIT $650 MILLION, SENATE CHAIR SAYS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Sen. Anitere Flores … the Senate’s health care budget chairwoman, confirmed that the state would cut its share of Medicaid payments by $250 million in the upcoming budget, which reduces federal matching dollars by more than $400 million. That’s more than was proposed by either the House or Senate in their original budgets. How each hospital could be affected is not yet clear. But hospitals — particularly safety net hospitals that care for a disproportionate amount of the state’s Medicaid and charity care patients — might be repaid for some of those cuts, Flores and House health budget chairman Rep. Jason Brodeur said.

— “Senate offers an additional $1 billion in health care cuts as budget talks begin” via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida

‘BIG WIN’: FLORIDA BEACHES SCORE $50 MILLION IN STATE BUDGET via Alexandra Glorioso and Eric Staats of the Naples Daily News – … but a bill to overhaul the way the state manages its coasts faces an uncertain future. “It’s a big win to get $50 million in the budget for beaches, big win,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, who made beach funding a top priority this legislative session. Lawmakers often have provided less than the $30 million required in state law each year. Latvala’s bill to reform the state’s beach management system overwhelmingly passed the Senate but has stalled in the House.

— “Senator warns “we are in cut mode” on environment spending” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

— “Senate makes 1st budget offer for justice departments” via Legislative IQ for LobbyTools: The Department of Corrections would get $2.4 billion under the Senate’s offer, about the same as the House proposal. Funds for repair and maintenance were not proposed, but Tim Sadberry who presented the budget said that Sen. Aaron Bean has indicated this area as a high priority and is hopeful additional funding can be provided.

— House’s 1st offer on Pre-K-12 education: It totals a little more than $15 billion for PreK-12 Education, about $340 million more than the Senate is offering.

HOUSE MAKES FIRST OFFER ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –  The House offer is $1.95 billion, less than a $100 million difference between what the Senate passed … The sticking point is over HB 5301 to restructure the state’s IT services. The House kept its position to cut the Agency for State Technology.

SENATE OFFERS TO CULL $21 MILLION IN PROJECTS AS HIGHER ED CONFERENCE OPENS via Florida Politics – Sen. Bill Galvano delivered the bad news first as the House and Senate opened conference negotiations on higher education spending Thursday evening. The Senate would have to cut at least $21 million in projects from its version of the budget to reach the level agreed upon with the House, he said. …  “I just want to manage expectations in that regard. Because when you are starting with a significant reduction, its highly unlikely that a placeholder is going to move in the upward direction, as opposed to either staying where it is or in a downward direction.”

STATE WORKER RAISES IN HOUSE, SENATE BUDGETS via the Tallahassee Democrat – State workers would get across-the-board raises for the first time in roughly a decade … Sen. Jack Latvala … confirmed that the raises are included in both House and Senate budgets …

A HIDDEN TAX ON HARD-WORKING MOTORISTS? TAX COLLECTORS THINK SO via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Every session, private agencies that renew car registrations and licenses seek a greater foothold in the nation’s third-largest state, a lucrative market. They succeeded in getting language in a must-pass tax cut package that allows them to charge drivers a new “convenience fee.” (Republicans in Tallahassee don’t like to use the word “tax.”) The measure sailed through the House on a 117-0 vote … The bill now awaits a final vote in the Senate … “It’s laughable,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, a former Republican legislator who opposed the amendment, as did Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, a former Democratic lawmaker. Because the amendment doesn’t specify how much the fee can be, Fasano speculated, the sky’s the limit. A dollar? $2.50? $10? “You have no idea what they’re going to charge,” Fasano said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Budget Conference Committee on Transportation, Tourism, & Economic Development/Transportation & Tourism will meet at 9 a.m. in 110, Senate Office Building. The HHS conference is also scheduled to meet.

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WHAT BARBARA PETERSEN IS READING – HOUSE CONSIDERS LETTING ELECTED OFFICIALS HAVE SECRET MEETINGS via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – (A) bill going to the state House floor on Friday would effectively thwart significant aspects of that constitutional guarantee and potentially render it meaningless by allowing local elected officials — from city and county commissioners to school board members — to meet behind closed doors and discuss public matters in secret. The proposed law (HB 843) from Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds would exempt from open meetings requirements any gatherings between two members of a local, county or state agency board or commission. Those officials wouldn’t have to give any notice about their meeting and they wouldn’t have to keep any records of what they discuss. (The exemption would apply to boards or commissions with at least five members.)

‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ COMPROMISE REACHED via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Specifics of the proposed deal were not released, as some of it was still being finalized, House and Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairmen said late Thursday. But the general description of the agreement was enough to earn initial support from some House Democrats, who had — until very recently — staunchly opposed the concept. “We’re happy they listened to us and a lot of the ideas we had in committee,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, who helped negotiate the compromise on the Democrats’ behalf. “We’re happy with the direction they’re going in.”

SENATE AND HOUSE MOVE CLOSER TO DEAL ON GAMBLING BILL via Florida PoliticsThe Senate capitulated to the House on several issues Thursday as part of ongoing negotiations to strike a compromise on gambling legislation, while holding firm on others. But the latest offer includes a key provision desired by Speaker Corcoran, OK’ing up to 1,500 slots machines in “facilities in referendum counties” with a requirement “to surrender to the state one active pari-mutuel permit.” Still, it looks like a final deal will be far from the ‘no expansion’ position the House took earlier this year.

PLAY ON? LEGISLATORS MAY APPROVE FANTASY SPORTS via The Associated Press – House and Senate Republicans negotiating a comprehensive gambling bill that focuses primarily on casino gambling are including in the legislation proposals regarding fantasy sports. Senate negotiators offered their support for a House bill that says betting on fantasy contests would be allowed as long as the sponsor of the contest is not a participant. Some Republican legislators tried unsuccessfully last year to legalize fantasy contests.

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SENATE SENDS GROVELAND FOUR RESOLUTION TO THE GOVERNOR AND CABINET via Florida Politics – The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape. The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then voted the resolution out on a voice vote. “This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said. “This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.” … The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles GreenleeWalter IrvinSamuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

FATE TAKES A HAND IN WHISKEY & WHEATIES BILL AS AMY MERCADO CARES FOR HER PARENTS via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Sometimes fate plays that unexpected card that makes all the difference, such when the Florida House of Representatives narrowly approved the controversial “whiskey & Wheaties bill, allowing whiskey to be sold in grocery stores. Earlier that day a 30-year-old Monticello man driving in Tallahassee … slammed his SUV into the back of a car stopped at the light. Victor and Carmen Torres … parents of Rep. Amy Mercado. Mercado rushed to the hospital to be with her parents … In her absence, the House approved Senate Bill 106 by one vote: 58-57, sending it to the desk of Gov. Scott. “I have been against the bill from the beginning, so if I was in the chamber today [and not in the hospital with my parents] my vote would have been a no and made it a tie,” Mercado wrote on Facebook. “Therefore, my one vote could have killed the bill.”

INTERESTS FOR AND AGAINST ‘LIQUOR WALL’ LEGISLATION REACT TO PASSAGE via Florida PoliticsThe reaction to the Florida Legislature’s repeal of the state’s “booze wall” law continued long after Wednesday’s vote … Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a business coalition that included Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods Markets and others who favored the measure, issued a statement saying “the legislation finally removes an archaic regulation which has no basis in today’s modern society” … But ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which has long opposed the legislation, said the Prohibition-era law still “prevent(ed) minors from unlawful access to liquor.” “The protection of minors and small businesses lost by a single vote in the House today because of members who bowed to enormous political pressure and financial influence from Wal-Mart and Target,” said Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of the Orlando-based chain. Gov. Scott on Thursday would only say he will “review the bill.”

BEER ADVERTISING BILL READY FOR VOTE ON HOUSE FLOOR via Florida PoliticsA bill to allow beer companies to sponsor “events, activities, or cooperative advertising” at the state’s theme parks is ready for a final vote in the Florida House. The House on Friday will take up the Senate bill (SB 388), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton. It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing on-site ads, including a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

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RESOLUTION TO REPLACE CONFEDERATE GENERAL WITH EDUCATOR PASSES THE SENATE via Florida Politics – A resolution to depose Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, CSA, from his place in the National Statuary Hall collection and install Mary McLeon Bethune cleared the Senate Thursday on a voice vote. SCR 1360 went to the House, where it’s future was uncertain. Smith is one of two historical figures whose likeness stands in the Statuary Hall collection, which is distributed throughout the U.S. Capitol grounds. The other is John Gorrie, an Apalachicola doctor who invented the ice machine. The Legislature voted last year to bid Smith adieu and create a citizens committee to propose a replacement. Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College, finished first in a poll.

SENATE PASSES HEALTH INSURER REGULATIONS, UNLIKELY IN HOUSE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The Senate unanimously passed a bill (SB 102) to prohibit health insurers and health maintenance organizations from retroactively denying a claim after they have verified the eligibility of a patient. Members also unanimously passed SB 182 that prevents insurers from removing prescription medications from coverage after the contract is signed. But the House versions are still in the committee process with time running out.

HOUSE POISED TO BAN ‘SANCTUARY CITY’ POLICIES ACROSS FLORIDA via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – The bill (HB 697) debated on the full floor intends to force local officials into complying with federal authorities and threatens those who refuse to do so with hefty penalties and a potential oust from office. Florida would be able to withhold state funding from local governments who act as “sanctuary cities” under the bill. However, local jurisdictions that comply with federal law and hold detainees past their sentences would absorb detention costs without the promise of being reimbursed.

WHAT DAVE ARONBERG IS READING – HOUSE PASSES BILL CRACKING DOWN ON SOBER HOMES via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – … strengthening the state’s role in prosecuting criminal and regulatory violations. Rep. Bill Hager, who is sponsoring the measure (HB 807), hopes this is the next step toward stopping problems at substance abuse treatment centers in Florida. Under the bill, sober home operators who allow fraudulent marketing for their operation or run a facility without a license would face criminal penalties punishable by up to five years in prison … Attorney General Pam Bondi has prioritized this piece of legislation saying it will “help curb unscrupulous clinics and protect vulnerable Floridians.” The proposed legislation would be creating a certification program for sober homes based on the recommendations of a state-funded task force that investigated issues at sober homes last year.

LARRY AHERN BRINGS BACK CONTROVERSIAL BILL TO FIX PINELLAS CONSTRUCTION LICENSING BOARD via Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times – Legislation aimed at reforming the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board that died last month has suddenly been resurrected. State Rep. Ahern has brought the bill back to life as the Florida legislative session winds down. That came as a surprise to the Pinellas County Commission, which wants far stronger reforms, and the agency’s interim director, Gay Lancaster, who was appointed to clean up the agency’s operations. Lancaster said she has not heard from Ahern –– a pool contractor –– or any other member of the Pinellas legislative delegation about the bill. One of the reforms in Ahern’s bill would be to appoint a county commissioner to the agency’s governing board. But that’s not good enough for the commission. They believe the best way to reform the agency is to place it under county control.

WAR EAGLE’ TAG ONE STEP CLOSER TO REALITY — The Florida House began discussions about a bill (HB 1375) that includes provisions to create an Auburn University specialty-license plate in Florida. Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Grant, an Auburn graduate, the tag would include “War Eagle” — the traditional chant of Auburn fans. Not to be outdone, Rep. Travis Cummings, offered an amendment Thursday to create a specialty tag for the University of Georgia. The underlying bill makes several changes to the specialty-tag system. The House could vote on the bill in the coming days.

#CATESINEDIE PREDICTION: SESSION ENDS AT 7:24 P.M. FRIDAY — The state’s political elite has spoken, and the general belief is the Legislature will adjourn sine die relatively early Friday. The median #CateSineDie prediction, minus outliers, is 7:24 p.m. on Friday, May 5. Those outliers likely include the earliest prediction, which is at 1:15 p.m. today (wishful thinking?) and the latest prediction: 2:37 a.m. on July 17 (boo, hiss!). Need a refresher on the rules? Head to CateSineDie.com.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Kionne McGhee will hold a press conference to discuss his bill to establish a permanent slavery memorial in the Florida Capitol at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor in front of House Chamber.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Republican Party of Florida will kick off its two-day quarterly meeting at 6 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel, 4500 W. Cypress Street in Tampa.

DWIGHT BULLARD WON’T RUN FOR FRANK ARTILES’ SEAT in Miami-Dade via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – “After much thought and personal reflection, I have decided at this time not to run for this office,” said Bullard, a Democrat who said he will focus on his role as political director for the New Florida Majority.

HOUSE DEMOCRAT PLANS TO RUN FOR ARTILES’ SEAT via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – State Rep. Daisey Baez plans to become the first high-profile Democrat to run for (SD 40). Baez earlier this week was still uncertain about running for the seat, but she changed her mind after looking at the data for Florida’s 40th Senate District in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by 36–32 percent. … Baez’s fellow Democratic state Rep. Robert Asencio might also seek the seat along with a handful of other possible candidates. Republicans might also have a large field, but legislative leadership is hoping state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who lives in the district, runs for the seat. State Rep. Jeannette Núñez also might run but, like Baez, doesn’t live in the district. Attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, a Spanish-language Trump surrogate, has announced he’ll run as a Republican.

CHRISTIAN ULVERT SAYS HE IS SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING SD 40 RUN via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “I’ve had a greater calling to serve in public office just because of the issues and the work that I do,” Ulvert told FloridaPolitics Thursday morning, just before he was scheduled to get on a plane to attend a family wedding out of state. … Ulvert said that if he is to run, he would center his campaign on three main issues – public education, health care and affordable housing. “Those are three things that I’ve faced personally and I can present a strong narrative to and talk to voters and really empathize and bring authenticity to the message because I’m living it,” he says. “I have lived it.”

INFIGHTING THREATENS SALE OF FLORIDA MARIJUANA DISPENSARY via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – According to the details of a lawsuit brought by politically connected Panhandle developer Jay Odom against his partners, the shareholders of the Chestnut Hill Tree Farm cannabis nursery in Alachua have splintered over the pending sale of the company’s assets to a new operator. A partnership between South Florida’s Delavaco Group and publicly traded Canadian cannabis conglomerate Aphria announced the planned acquisition this month, but infighting has jeopardized the chances of completing a sale by a June 1 deadline. Odom’s attorney, Barry Richard, downplayed the significance of the lawsuit in an interview as a “garden-variety business dispute.” But the overall value of Aphria’s deal to effectively buy a Florida cannabis cultivation and distribution license — one of only seven in the state, for now — has been valued at $177 million, and thousands of future patients could be affected. “Both sides are a little nervous,” Richard acknowledged.

KEVIN RADER CARRIES CAMPAIGN AGAINST LOBBYIST INTO CAPITOL LIFTS via Mike Moline of Florida Politics 

If you entered an elevator in the Capitol Thursday, you might have spotted a piece of paper resembling a wanted poster bearing the pixelated photo of a smiling woman.

“Senator Kevin Rader would like to know… Where is ‘Concerned Citizen’ Mary Beth Wilson,” the letter-sized document announced.

Surrounding the photo were six red question marks — three per side. In the top left corner, the Senate seal.

The woman pictured looked an awful lot like Lisa Miller, a lobbyist with clients including Demotech Inc., a company that rates Florida insurance companies.

Rader, a Democrat from Boca Raton, asked Gov. Rick Scott in February to look into whether Miller had posed as “concerned citizen” Wilson during a conference call between Demotech and industry figures.

A number of Tallahassee lobbyists were certain they recognized Miller’s voice, as Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, reported on his blog (password protected).

Miller and Demotech president Joe Petrelli have strongly denied it.

Asked about the elevator sheet following the Senate’s session, Rader issued a non-denial denial.

“That wasn’t Lisa Miller. It was about Mary Beth Wilson,” he said.

But he acknowledged his hand in posting the fliers.

“It’s just a reminder that I would still like the governor to take a look into it,” Rader said.

LIQUOR LOBBYIST ARRESTED ON DUI CHARGE via Tallahassee DemocratA lobbyist and elected official who represents the liquor industry has been arrested for driving under the influence after losing his balance and nearly falling over during a field sobriety test. Eli Nortelus, 41, was arrested after 2 a.m. Wednesday at the intersection of Capital Circle NE and Park Avenue … At the beginning of the 2017 Legislative session, Florida Politics reported that Nortelus was let go from the Akerman Law Group because he represented a client that conflicted with one of the law firm’s clients on the ‘liquor wall’ bill.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Erin Daly Ballas, Public Affairs Consultants: CR833 LLC

Douglas Bell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Rural Economic Development Association

Douglas Bruce, Nicole Graganella, Trevor Mask, Katherine Webb, Colodny Fass: Southeast Overtown Park West, CRA

Nathan Adams, Joshua Aubuchon, Kimberly Case, Mark Delegal, Holland & Knight: Efficiency Energy

Jorge Chamizo, Charles Dudley, Cory Guzzo, Floridian Partners: Kathleen Winters

Michael Harrell, Paul Hawkes, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Timothy Stanfield, Mac Stipanovich, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Marsy’s Law for All

Brecht Heuchan, The Labrador Company: Tarpon Towers II

Doug Holder, The Legis Group: Benderson Development

Lila Jaber, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart PA: Q Link Wireless LLC

Mia McKown, Holland & Knight: Nicole Yontz; Tammy Johnson

— WEEKEND TV —

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: It’s been a long debated controversial question. what constitutes art? What is considered creative expression? What happens when some deem art to be hateful and racist? Answer Suncoast’s Ruth Beltran & Gregory Cruz join the discussion about a piece depicting Sarasota’s Black community.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: This week’s panel includes former state representative and current Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, journalists Mike Deeson and Amy Hollyfield and attorney Brian Willis.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: This week’s Political Connections present look at the first 100 Days of the Trump administration. Featured interviews include Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration; Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy; Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation; Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education; Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President; and Omarosa Manigault, Director of Communications for the office of Public Liaison.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Host Kent Justice will be joined by Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute Director Rick Mullaney, as well as former Alvin Brown Chief of Staff Chris Hand and former state Rep. Mia Jones.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Steve Vancore and Gary Yordon will be joined Dr. Ed Moore, President of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the great Jenn Ungru. Best wishes this weekend to the St. Pete Chamber’s Travis Norton and photog extraordinaire Mark Wallheiser.

WILL ZIKA RETURN TO FLORIDA THIS SUMMER? YES, AND IT COULD BE WORSE via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times – “We are preparing for local transmission, and we are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” said Dr. Beata Casanas, an infectious disease expert and associate professor at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. Scientists agree on one point: They need more money to research and fight the virus. Federal funding for Zika has mostly run out, with its future unclear. And new cases are already popping up in Florida. One reason this year’s threat might be greater than last year’s: There is evidence the Zika virus can survive in mosquito eggs. And mosquito eggs can lie dormant for months, if not years. “If they are already primed with the virus, they are ready for the next season,” said Derric Nimmo of the British biotechnology firm Oxitec, which has created genetically modified mosquitoes to help stop the spread of viruses like Zika. “The virus doesn’t have to be brought into the country.”

The Delegation for 4.27.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Freshman class reflects on their first 100 days

President Trump’s tumultuous first 100 days conclude this week. For the freshman members of Congress, their 100th day came in mid-April.

How do the first-term Members of Congress feel about their experience or their performance over that span? What are their highlights and disappointments?

Val Demings created a video showcasing her first 100. The Orlando Democrat highlighted her opposition to the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the military response to Syria, and her call for a “commitment from the President to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them in the first place.” The video ends with Demings proclaiming “we’re going to put America first and it starts with putting the American people first.”

Others offered their thoughts exclusively to The Delegation.

“In the first 100 days, I have sponsored and co-sponsored over 25 bills, supported rebuilding our military, led a Congressional delegation to the southern border and responded to over 25,000 constituents,” said Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford. “My number one priority is serving as the voice for Northeast Floridians, and we have only just begun our work on their behalf.”

“In the first 100 days, we opened three district offices, responded to 25,000 constituent concerns and assisted over 300 people who were having Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans claims – returning $350,000 in earned benefits,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.

Crist also touted his four pieces of legislation that dealt with assisting seniors, protecting Social Security and benefits, mental health care for veterans and flood protection for homeowners. He expressed pride in what “our team has accomplished in such a short period of time, and look forward to continuing the fight for the people of Pinellas!”

Naples Republican Francis Rooney expressed disappointment that health care is not yet solved, but was proud that his first bill, which reduced regulations on the private sector, was passed and signed by the President. He has poured much effort into his signature issue of water supply and quality.

Rep. Francis Rooney explains the Everglades to a group of students visiting his office earlier this year. (Photo via Facebook)

“The predominant issue facing Southwest Florida has been fixing our water quality,” he said. “I have been vigorously focused on building support for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration projects.”

Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, talked about the fight to get things done, but is particularly proud of co-sponsoring bills that would impose term limits on Congress and another to authorize building the border wall. He also expressed major disappointment in the failure to replace Obamacare.

“No one said that draining the Washington Swamp was going to be easy,” he said. “Despite the excitement of these first hundred days, and all its challenges and victories, I remain impatient – there’s still much work to do.”

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

State Department removes webpage featuring Mar-a-Lago — The State Department removed an article on its website about the South Florida resort this week after criticism it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, reports George Bennett with the Palm Beach Post.

In an April 4 blog post, the private resort was described as President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, where he has hosted foreign leaders.

According to the Associated Press, the post said that by “visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer.” Bennett reports ShareAmerica, the State Department’s website, “posted pictures of the resort and a description of it and original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s vision of Mar-a-Lago as a presidential retreat.”

Photo credit: AP.

The president has hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago since his inauguration.

The post was removed Monday night, and replaced with a message from the State Department.

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the post reads. “We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

That apology might not be enough, though. On Tuesday, Common Cause, a watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint over the article. The complaint claims the article “constitutes a misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Federal law, the complaint goes on to say, prohibits employees from using public office “for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”

“Common Cause calls on the Department of State and the Office of Government Ethics to conduct an investigation and to take disciplinary action to hold all responsible federal government employees accountable for this misuse and abuse of taxpayer funds,” wrote Karen Hobert Flynn, the group’s president, in the complaint.

Scott to Trump: Argentina committed to ‘pursing closer trade relations’ with U.S. — One day after Gov. Rick Scott met with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the Naples Republican sent a letter to President Trump about his upcoming meeting with Macri.

In his letter, Scott said Macri is “already working hard to create robust economic opportunities for his country and has demonstrated a commitment to pursuing closer trade relations with Florida and the United States.”

“I know that increasing job creation and economic growth across the U.S. continues to be a major goal for your administration,” wrote Scott. “As you prepare for your upcoming meeting with President Macri, I hope that you see Florida as an example of the significant impact of increasing trade with Argentina. We are competing in a global economy, and increasing trade and business opportunities with Argentina is not only good for Florida, but good for our entire nation.”

Florida is one of the top trading partners with Latin America, and about one in four Florida jobs is dependent on international trade. Scott said the Sunshine State is “second among all U.S. states in origin exports to Argentina.” Last year, Florida and Argentina trade exceeded $4.2 billion, and the state is “far and away the most popular U.S. destination for Argentine tourism,” said Scott.

“Maintaining a strong relationship with Argentina is incredibly important to establishing Florida’s position as a global hub for trade and ensuring job creation opportunities for generations to come,” wrote Scott.

Putnam accuses Mexico of unfair trade practices; seeks help from Trump Administration — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is convinced Mexico isn’t playing by free trade rules as defined by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Putnam believes unfair trade practices by the Mexican government is hurting Florida agriculture and he wants the Trump Administration to look into it.

He recently took his concerns to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Palm Beach resident. In a letter to Ross, Putnam extolled the virtues of Florida’s agricultural products and his belief in “free and fair trade.”

“Unfortunately, the current trade environment created under NAFTA is anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers,” he wrote. “I urge you to initiate an investigation into Mexico’s unfair trade practices, which have allowed Mexican producers of specialty crops – in a matter of 20 years – become the dominant supplier of specialty crops into the U.S. market.”

President Trump has often voiced his dislike for NAFTA and hinted he may seek to remove the U.S. from the 23-year-old trade agreement that includes the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Late Wednesday night he publicly stated the U.S. would stay in, but the deal would need to be renegotiated.

Nelson to Tillerson: Open temporary passport office in Miami — The Orlando Democrat sent a letter this week to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to open a temporary passport office in Miami, after the passport agency suddenly closed because of extensive water damage.

“Closure of the Miami Passport Agency — even for a short period of time — is an inconvenience for Florida travelers and others from around the southeastern United States, especially those with urgent or emergency travel plans,” wrote Nelson in his letter.

The office, located in the Omni building on the northern edge of downtown Miami, was unable to take appointments or process passports, reported David Neal with the Miami Herald. According to the State Department, the office suffered serious water damage Sunday.

The Herald reported that customers with appointments at the Miami office were rescheduled at another agency office out of state. Those customers, as well as those scheduled to pick up a passport or in need of expedited passport, should call the National Passport Center at 877-487-2778.

“Until the Agency can be re-opened, I urge you to make every effort to minimize the inconvenience, including issuing clear guidance to affected travelers and opening a temporary location in Miami for emergency passport services as soon as possible,” wrote Nelson. “I also request that the Department provide regular updates detailing the steps taken to re-open the Agency and assist travelers in the meantime.”

– “What to do about passports while the closed Miami passport office dries out” via David Neal of the Miami Herald

Zika bills sponsored by Nelson, Rubio clear key panel — The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a measure this week co-sponsored by Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio that reauthorizes the “Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act” (SMASH Act) of 2004.

The bill would authorize an additional $100 million per year for five years in grant funding to local mosquito-control efforts to eliminate the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. It would also authorize additional funding for public health laboratories so they can better test for the virus, and would require the Government Accountability Office to find ways to improve existing mosquito-control programs.

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of the Zika virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson said in a statement. “As summer approaches, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.”

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved the companion bill, introduced by Rep. Darren Soto.

Rubio meets with renowned Cuban activist — Florida’s Cuban-American Republican Senator expressed his honor to have the opportunity to meet with prominent Cuban human rights activist Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. A longtime opponent of the Castro regime, Biscet spent nearly a decade in a Cuban prison for his outspoken views on freedom.

“Dr. Biscet’s actions and words continue to inspire those living in Cuba under the repressive Castro regime, and others around the world who are beaten and bloodied for expressing their ideas, living out their faith, or disagreeing with their government’s leaders,” said Rubio.

Sen. Marco Rubio meets with Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, a prominent Cuban dissident and human rights activist.

Biscet was released in 2011 after having eight years of his freedom and livelihood taken away. While imprisoned, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007.

He was briefly detained three months ago in Havana, but subsequently released. According to the Miami Herald, Biscet was told he would go back to prison “if he continued.”

“I commend Dr. Biscet for standing strong against a dictatorship that continues to oppress its own people, and I look forward to working with him in the days ahead to bring hope and freedom to the people of Cuba,” said Rubio.

Paulson’s Principles: Will Corrine Brown Lose Again?

After a twelve-term, 24-year Congressional career, African American Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, was defeated by fellow Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee. After losing a Congressional race, Brown now faces losing her personal freedoms when she goes on trial for fraud and tax evasion.

Brown faces a 24 count federal indictment and potentially faces up to 357 years in prison and a $4.8 million fine. Brown is accused of using her position as a member of Congress to extract over $800,000 in contributions for her One Door Education Foundation. Federal prosecutors contend the “one door” must have been to Brown’s bank account, since most of the funds went to Brown. Only two scholarships worth $1,200 were given to students.

The 53-page indictment claims that Brown and her assistants took money out of the Foundation account and put it in their own bank accounts. In addition, Brown is accused of using Foundation money to pay for personal expenses such as $2,643 in car repairs, and a $5,000 magazine cover featuring Brown and the words “Corrine Delivers.” Another $200,000 was used to promote and honor Brown, including luxury boxes at a Beyoncé concert and a Washington Redskins/Jacksonville Jaguars football game.

The indictment contributed to Brown’s loss to Al Lawson, as did the redrawing of Brown’s district. After the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Congressional boundaries drawn by the Republicans, they adopted a map offered by the League of Woman Voters which changed the district from a north-south district to an east-west district stretching to Tallahassee.

A similar east-west map was rejected by both the Florida NAACP and Federal Judge Clyde Atkins in 1992 because they believed it would be more difficult for a minority to effectively compete. The NAACP pointed to the legacy of discrimination in the east-west district, as well as the large number of voting age minorities incarcerated in jails and prisons in that district.

Brown claims the indictment is just one more example of racism. The charge is difficult to sustain given that Barack Obama was the president at the time of the indictment, and Eric Holder was the first black Attorney General. She also maintains that she never had a formal role in One Door and had no authority over finances.

Brown and her attorney have lined up more than 30 defense witnesses to testify on her behalf. Defense witnesses include former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, Brown’s former colleagues and fellow black Congress-members Sheila Jackson Lee and Bennie Thompson, newly elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic and former Florida campaign manager for Donald Trump, Susie Wiles.

I testified as an expert witness in the 1992 federal court case which created Brown’s district and resulted in the election of the first three black members of Congress from Florida in 110 years. As I was on the witness stand, there suddenly arose the voices of hundreds of minorities singing spiritual and black protest songs, many of them bused in by Brown.

Brown always puts on a good show. I expect nothing less in her trial. Jury selection began on April 24th, and the trial is expected to run until mid-May. The federal case against Brown is substantial and other defendants have already pled guilty and agreed to testify against Brown. A second loss for Brown may be unavoidable and far more painful than her Congressional loss.

Gaetz expands Florida lionfish program to feds – Panhandle Congressman Gaetz is expanding to the federal level a Florida program providing incentives to spear fishermen for collecting invasive lionfish.

Gaetz is planning to submit legislation that expands the state’s lionfish program beyond the state controlled 10.3-mile limits in the Gulf of Mexico and 3.4-mile limit limits off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“I’m looking to mirror the success of the program in state waters,” Gaetz, said during a recent visit to Pensacola.

The state program gives rewards to fishermen who collect large numbers of the invasive lionfish, allowing them to collect additional red grouper or cobia beyond the mandated catch limit.

Dunn digs new agriculture executive order — The freshman Republican from the 2nd District is all-in on President Trump’s Executive Order designed to assist the country’s agriculture, ranching and forestry industries. It includes forming a task force, led by the Secretary of Agriculture, that requires government agencies to work together to facilitate growth in those industries.

Representing a largely rural district, Dunn extolled the benefits of the President’s action.

“Farmers and ranchers in the Second District are an integral part of our economy,” said Dunn in a statement. “The task force’s work can’t come soon enough, and I look forward to reviewing any recommendations that require congressional action. I am looking forward to working with President Trump and our new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to ensure that our farmers, ranchers, and foresters are supported.”

Dunn also saluted Lynetta Griner from Levy County, who was one of Trump’s 15 invited guests to an agricultural and timber roundtable held at the White House this week. Griner, who is a highly successful cattle rancher and timber producer, was Florida’s 2013 Woman of the Year in Agriculture and the first female President of the Florida Forestry Association.

“Lynetta is a champion for Florida agriculture, and President Trump will benefit from her wise counsel,” Dunn said

Murphy introduces bills to address North Korea, Asia-Pacific security — Winter Park Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy said this week she plans to introduce legislation to require the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies to address international security concerns with North Korea and the Asian-Pacific theater.

The bills would would require the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies to set up special units to deal with both areas.

One bill — the “North Korea Intelligence Enhancement Act” — would require the director of national intelligence to create a North Korea-focused integration cell, consisting of experts who would streamline, synthesize and synchronize intelligence on North Korea so that U.S. policymakers have the best information possible upon which to base decisions.

“North Korea is a difficult intelligence target. It is a secretive society where dissent is severely punished. This makes the recruitment of human sources inside the country very challenging,” said Murphy, a former U.S. Defense Department national security analyst who now sits on the House Armed Services Committee,” during a floor speech. “Moreover, high-level defectors from North Korea with intelligence about the regime are rare.”

The other — the “Asia-Pacific Defense Commission Act” — would create a commission of U.S. security officials and their counterparts from allies to ensure stability of the Asia-Pacific region, by working on issues ranging from terrorist networks to international intelligence coordination, and from cyber-security to free navigation of international waters.

Bilirakis touts grant funding to fight opioid addiction — The Tarpon Springs Republican took to the House floor to weigh in on the opioid problem that has become a crisis. He told his colleagues that “addiction knows no bounds and does not discriminate based on race, age, income or zip code.”

Part of his message included the announcement of $27 million in new grant funding for Florida to combat the scourge. The grant is part of $485 million in federal grants generated through the landmark 21st Century Cares Act, signed into law in December, 2016.

Bilirakis, a member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was instrumental in obtaining the grants. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor is also a member of the subcommittee.

“The $27 million will go towards increasing access to treatment and recovery services, strengthening public education efforts, and improving pain management practices,” Bilirakis said in his floor remarks. “This critical grant is the first of two rounds of funding to support an all-hands-on-deck approach in Florida to combat opioid abuse and save lives.”

Crist asking feds to require safety belts on all school buses — The St. Petersburg Democrat introduced legislation this week, dubbed the Best to Use Safety (BUS) Belts Act, that would to enhance school bus safety by requiring all new buses be equipped with safety belts. The proposal would also provide grants to upgrade existing buses with seat belts.

“Families across Florida teach their children to buckle up. But for millions of kids across the country their school bus lacks this basic safety feature,” said Crist. “All students deserve access to a safe education – this measure simply extends that principle to children’s transportation to and from school.”

In the past six months, school bus accidents have killed and injured students in Maryland, Tennessee, Massachusetts and on Tuesday, in Omaha, Nebraska. The BUS Belts Act aims to prevent injuries and deaths when school bus accidents occur.

“Children are provided the protection of three-point belts when they ride in a car. The same protection should be offered to them in school buses. This legislation would enable this to happen,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Ross pondering run for House Oversight chair — Rep. Dennis Ross might have his eye on a chairmanship, reports Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan with POLITICO.

Ross told House Speaker Paul Ryan he plans to run for chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as long as U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy doesn’t.

“I think Trey Gowdy would be exceptional for that … but if he chooses not to do that, I would definitely choose to be in the running for that position,” Ross said in an interview with POLITICO. “I think I’ve got as good a shot as anybody if Trey decides not to do it, so I’m going to make a push for it.”

Ross, an attorney who sits on the House Financial Services Committee previously served as the chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and the U.S. Postal Service.

Reserve judgment on Trump., Buchanan says – As the new administration approaches the 100-day mark, the Sarasota Republican urges constituents to withhold judgment of the new president’s achievements.

“I know we like to focus on the 100 days … but the bottom is: Let’s give him the first year, let’s see what he can do,” Buchanan told Sarasota Republicans last week.

Buchanan said the confirmation of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is a “significant achievement” within influence that could last decades.

“He could be there 30 years, the president’s there four to eight,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s campus visit focuses on workforce development — Education and jobs were on the agenda for the Republican from the 16th District as he recently toured the SouthShore Campus of Hillsborough Community College located in Ruskin.

Joined by campus President Dr. Allen Witt, administrators, and student ambassadors, Buchanan received an overview of the campus and degree and certificate programs offered by the school, including workforce development.

“The SouthShore Campus was delighted to welcome Representative Buchanan to Hillsborough Community College to discuss our efforts to raise the educational attainment levels in our community and provide an ongoing pipeline of skilled workers to advance the region’s business and industry,” said Witt.

The visit was Buchanan’s first since the most recent reapportionment placed the area within the 16th District. Nearly 7,000 students study at the Ruskin campus.

“Hillsborough Community College is providing vital educational opportunities for people in our region,” said Buchanan.

Mast calls out Obama Administration’s “interference” in Iranian investigations — The freshman Republican from the 18th District, in conjunction with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, wants to get to the bottom of possible interference with law enforcement investigations. Mast and Royce, a California Republican, are responding to the recent revelations in Politico about the release or non-prosecution – in conjunction with the Iran nuclear deal — of individuals allegedly involved in helping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

The two wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the federal government to re-open closed cases. The request follows Politico’s findings that in addition to releasing some individuals, pending cases against other dangerous Iranians were “hindered” or “unwisely abandoned” under the Obama Administration.

“Needless to say, the Obama Administration appears to have done serious damage to our national security,” they wrote. “To better understand the impact of the prior Administration’s interference in law enforcement investigations….we respectfully request that your agencies brief the Committee on law enforcement investigations delayed by the previous Administration.”

The letter concluded with a pledge to “support the Administration’s efforts to more aggressively investigate, indict, and extradite those involved in supplying Iran’s nuclear, missile, or conventional weapons programs in defiance of U.S. law.”

F.Rooney backs Scott/Senate in Lake O dispute — The Naples Republican has taken sides in a dispute between the Florida Senate and Gov. Rick Scott on one side, and the Florida House on the other. The issue is funding to create a reservoir to handle rising waters in Lake Okeechobee and prevent releases that damage fresh water rivers in the region. Scott and the Senate want the funding while the House does not.

“The single biggest issue impacting our Southwest Florida community is water quality,” said Rooney. “Our economy is forever tied to our ecology, and having clean water flow through our rivers, streams, estuaries and Everglades. I fully support solutions that will solve our water issues in the quickest and most efficient way possible, and I agree with Governor Rick Scott and his priorities for restoring the Everglades.”

Rooney has been a staunch supporter of Everglades restoration both before the election and since his swearing in on Jan. 3. A member of Congress’s Everglades Caucus, he has testified on four occasions on water quality issues. He has also chastised the federal government for “reneging” on their promises made in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

Deutch, Sen. Durbin team up to combat climate change — The Boca Raton Democrat and Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois have teamed up file a bill in both chambers designed to raise funds for communities committed to addressing climate change.

The Climate Change Adapt America Fund Act would empower the Secretary of Commerce to issue up to $200 million annually in “Climate Change Bonds” which could be purchased by those Americans concerned by climate change. Proceeds would go into the “Adapt America Fund” for distribution to states and communities preparing for the effects of climate change.

“With rising tides and sunny-day flooding, my constituents in South Florida are all too aware of the urgent need to respond to climate change,” said Deutch. “There’s no time to waste.”

“Americans are seeing the impact of climate change everywhere — from flooding coastlines and year-round forest fires, to extreme droughts and food shortages,” said Durbin. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with Congressman Deutch, which would give Americans an opportunity to help communities prepare for and deal with the damaging effects of climate change.”

Deutch, Wasserman-Schultz commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day — The South Florida Democrats shared their thoughts with their constituents, especially Holocaust survivors on the day of remembrance. Increased violence and threats against Jews in the present day fit in with the message of the lessons from the past.

“As this last generation of Holocaust survivors pass form this world, our moral responsibility to keep their memories alive becomes more sacred and essential,” said Wasserman-Schultz. “The resurgence of anti-Semitism and bigotry toward religious and ethnic minorities makes that mission more urgent and vital than ever.”

“As we reflect this Yom HaShoah on the horrors of the Holocaust and remember the millions who perished at the hands of blind, coldblooded hatred of Jews, we also recognize the undeniable spike in anti-Semitism across this country and around the world,” Deutch said. “While it is our responsibility to never forget the horrors that befell the Jewish communities in Europe, it is also our responsibility to ‘never again’ allow such atrocities to occur.”

Wilson brings in Capitol Hill veteran to serve as Chief of Staff — The Miami Gardens Democrat has brought back a Capitol Hill veteran to serve as her Chief of Staff. After a 12-year absence, Stephanie Jones has returned to Congress to head Wilson’s congressional office.

Jones previously held a similar position for a former member and was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee before joining the National Urban League and the Department of Transportation. Most recently, she operated her own consulting business.

Jones replaces Kim Bowman, who left in February.

Curbelo taking more heat on health care — The Miami Republican is coming under more fire from a liberal group over the possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A 30-second ad from the Alliance for Healthcare Security targets Curbelo and other Republicans in swing districts around the country with the charge, among others, that care for “pre-existing conditions would no longer be guaranteed.”

The ad appears to be a pre-emptive strike against Curbelo since the American Health Care Act (AHCA) went down in flames on March 24. With the rumors of a possible deal between the House conservative Freedom Caucus and the Republican moderates on a new plan, Curbelo may be called upon to cast the vote that was halted one month ago.

Curbelo, who voted for the AHCA in committee, is cast as being for higher costs on “coverage for maternity care, cancer treatment, (and) substance abuse treatment.” In addition, the ad makes a subtle case that Curbelo and the other targets would be OK with a “massive age tax for people over 50.”

The ad’s claims of the dire ramifications appear to stem only from a direct repeal of the ACA without a replacement. The group’s website features an item headlined “Where will we end up if Congress repeals our healthcare without a replacement plan that protects our care?”

Curbelo, who is also being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has not advocated for repealing the ACA without a replacement.

Ros-Lehtinen hails departure of golf sponsorship targeted by Holocaust survivors — As many paused to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Miami Republican was praising the end of a sponsorship agreement between the PGA Tour and a German-based insurance company. That company, Allianz, has hosted the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, but has a history that has outraged Holocaust survivors for years.

“The end of Allianz’s sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s Boca Raton tournament is welcome, but long overdue news,” said Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. “For the past seven years, I have echoed the concerns of Holocaust survivors who have rightly protested against this sponsorship.”

At the most recent tournament in February, dozens of protestors held up signs saying “Survivors Can’t Wait.” The company reportedly owes survivors more than $2 billion from claims surrounding actions carried out against Jews by the Nazis.

“It’s fitting that the survivors are marking Allianz’s departure on Yom HaShoah, when we honor the six million Jews who were murdered and we re-commit to never forget them or the unparalleled crimes of the German Nazi regime.

Sean Buchan enters CD 9 GOP field — A political newcomer, the Winter Have Republican announced last week he was running for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the 2018 election.

“The time is right,” Buchan stated of his entry into politics.

Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq.

The district includes most of south Orange County, all of Osceola and much of eastern Polk. Last year Soto, a former state senator, defeated Liebnitzky, to replace two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Liebnitzky won in Polk but Soto handily carried the vote in the other two counties.

Buchan said he’s currently reaching out to county Republican executive committees and Young Republican clubs to begin pulling together support and organization.

Heather MacDougall appointed to Trump’s OSHA Review CommissionTrump named employer relations expert MacDougall of Melbourne to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Since January, MacDougall has been acting chair of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama nominated her to the Commission, and she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. MacDougall brings 20 years of experience in labor, employment, occupational safety and health law, most recently with Akerman LLP law firm based in West Palm Beach. In addition, she served as Chief Counsel to OSHRC Chair W. Scott Railton in 2002-2003 under the George W. Bush administration. OSHRC is the independent federal agency as an administrative court deciding contested OSHA citations. MacDougall also served as associate general counsel of a Washington, D.C. trade association standing for human resources executives of Fortune 500 corporations.

Jeff Miller heads to K Street — The former Republican Congressman from District 1 is moving his employment address to Washington’s lobbyist row located on K Street. The Hill reports Miller will serve as a senior legislative advisor with the international advocacy and law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Miller will be the GOP balance to the firm’s other prominent legislative advisor, former Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia. The two will “join forces to provide a bipartisan approach to a vast array of issues” in the area of government affairs.

Both are prohibited from lobbying former colleagues in Congress for one year, but can approach the Trump Administration immediately. Miller’s “knowledge of the Administration will be of great value to clients,” said Steve Ryan, head of McDermott’s Government Strategies practice.

Miller served as Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was an early supporter of President Trump. During transition, he was reportedly under consideration for the role of Secretary of the Veterans Administration.

“I wasn’t quite sure when I left Congress what I wanted to do on a full-time basis, but I knew I wanted to stay involved in policy work and education,” Miller told The Hill. He “felt they were the best fit.”

Ballard Partners quickly making a mark in DC — Florida super lobbyist and President Trump confidante Brian Ballard and his firm are already lining up clients just a few weeks after setting up shop in Washington, DC. USA Today reports Ballard and his firm Ballard Partners have already signed up 20 federal clients (that number has quickly risen to 24), including the governments of Albania and the Dominican Republic, while hauling in $1.1 million over the first three months of 2017.

The focus of the paper’s “investigation” quickly shifts to Ballard in the second paragraph, labeled as one of “more than a dozen” allies of Trump setting up shop for going to work for a DC lobbyist. Not even competitor Corey Lewandowskicould shake Ballard  from top billing.

Fred Wertheimer, President of “watchdog” group Democracy 21, believes what Ballard and others are doing is bad for America and “represents the complete opposite of what candidate Trump claimed he would do something about.” He was referring to Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.”

Ballard made the decision to expand into Washington, adding to a network that includes 7 Florida cities, after some of the firm’s Florida clients asked him to “please open an office in Washington.” Those clients were seeking, according to Ballard, an understanding of “how the administration operates, how it works, what are the thought processes of the people behind it.”

In addition to the founder, Ballard DC has built a team with campaign and advocacy experience. Sylvester Lukis, Managing Partner, has more than 25 years lobbying for Florida entities in Washington. Susie Wiles, is well-known in political circles and most recently served as Florida Senior Strategist for the Trump campaign.

Former Ambassador Otto Reich has more than three decades of foreign policy experience, including his service as Ambassador to Venezuela under President ReaganDan McFaul has run campaigns and served as Chief of Staff for both Jeff Miller and Matt Gaetz.

NYC bar earmarks profits for progressive causes — At Coup in Manhattan, every cocktail is a cocktail for cause, reports Deepti Hajela with the Associated Press.

The bar — a reference to a sudden seizure of power, not the house for chickens — opened this month with protest-themed décor, a distinctly anti-President Donald Trump vibe and a promise by its owners to donate their profits to organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.

As a response to the Trump Administration, the bar in Manhattan’s East Village offers patrons the chance to put their money where their politics are by earmarking where the profits should go from a range of liberal or progressive options like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

When patrons buy a drink, they are given a token to drop in one of a half-dozen jars, each labeled with the name of a nonprofit group. The list of recipients will rotate. Jars on tap this week included the Natural Resources Defense Council and Human Rights Watch. After labor costs, liquor bills and other expenses are paid, the profits are divided among the groups based on the number of tokens they receive.

 

Budget deal struck, House and Senate leaders appoint conferees

There is a deal.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced a settlement Thursday on the major points of difference between their chambers on an $83 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and appointed conference committee members to work out the details.

The conferees were to begin work at 1:30. They have until noon Sunday — any differences remaining at that point would go to Corcoran and Negron to settle.

“I am confident we can produce a final, balanced budget that incorporates the priorities of our constituents,” Negron said in a written statement.

“Over the next few days, we can and we will complete our work in a timely manner that appropriately meets the needs of our growing state and responsibly plans for Florida’s future,” he said.

“The reports of the demise of session have been greatly exaggerated,” Corcoran said.

“We look forward to working with our friends in the Senate to produce a budget that is balanced, provides tax relief, funds critical needs, and preserves the fiscal security of future generations.”

The news of a budget deal came after days of will-they-or-won’t-they over the state’s multi-billion dollar spending plan.

The two chambers appeared to reach a stalemate early this week, after a weekend of negotiations. The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

But as the week progressed, there was word of movement, with many expecting the House and Senate to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. That afternoon Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron Negron, said there would be no conference.

Budget breakdowns appeared to stall again Wednesday, when another day passed without budget allocations or conference meetings.

The budget framework could give Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

 

Sunburn for 4.27.17 – Gambling bill negotiations; Gov. is back; Vic Torres OK after crash; John Legg’s new role

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

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

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Congratulations to Erin and James Ballas on the birth of their daughter, Dayton Jane, who was, of course, born on Erin’s favorite day of Session – Lilly Pulitzer Day in the Capitol.

WHILE BUDGET NEGOTIATION MOVE AT A SNAIL’S PACE, GAMBLING TALKS ARE MOVING ALONG

Negotiations for a 2017-18 state budget may be mired, but talks to finalize a gambling bill for the year keep zipping along.

The Conference Committee on Gaming sent out a notice Wednesday for a meeting 9 a.m. Thursday, at which the Senate is expected to respond to the House offer.

As of Wednesday night, the best guesses are that the next Senate offer will include:

— Confining licenses for two new slot machine facilities to Miami-Dade County,

— Sticking to their guns on allowing the expansion of slots to those counties that approved them in local referendums, and

— Tweaking the language on designated-player games to make it more favorable to the cardrooms.

Designated-player games are a hybrid between blackjack and poker, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

But regulators have said card rooms were flouting state law by allowing third-party companies to buy their way into the games, using a worker to act as a virtual bank—or “button”—that rarely or never rotated. That amounted to a sham, one judge determined.

“What we want to avoid is a scenario where there really isn’t an open game where everybody can participate,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the vice-chair of the conference committee. “We would like to see that ‘button’ move.”

Otherwise, the card game plays too much like blackjack, which violates the promise of exclusivity to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

That’s what caused a federal judge to rule that the state’s OK of non-tribal card rooms at dog and horse tracks offering designated-player games broke the exclusive rights to blackjack promised to the Seminoles in 2010.

Despite the blackjack provision expiring in 2015, the judge allowed the Tribe to keep its blackjack tables because of the broken promise.

Other gambling concerns puzzle over the first Senate offer’s position on bingo, which would “authorize park and recreational districts created as independent special districts to conduct bingo and instant bingo.”

“I’m surprised no one has keyed in on the bingo language and what that could mean for the state and the compact,” one consultant said.

And still not addressed is the issue of “summer jai alai permits,” which can allow hotels to open cardrooms and possibly slots.

“That will be addressed at some point,” said state Sen. Bill Galvano, the conference committee’s chair. “I may have that in my next offer.”

YESTERDAY’S MOVEMENT – HOUSE TAKES GIANT STEPS IN GAMBLING NEGOTIATION via Florida PoliticsThe House made several major offers Wednesday to get a gambling deal done this session, including authorizing decoupling for dog and horse tracks if county voters OK it in a local referendum. House and Senate negotiators met in the morning in their ongoing effort to agree on an omnibus gambling bill for 2017, including an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. State law requires dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling such as cardrooms. Getting rid of that requirement is known as decoupling.

WHAT JOHN SOWINSKI IS READING: “Opposition mounts in Miami to new plan for casino via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

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FROM ARGENTINA, RICK SCOTT KEEPS UP THE CHATTER FOR ECONOMIC INCENTIVES via Florida Politics –  Gov. Rick Scott, while on a trade mission to Argentina, urged the Florida Legislature Wednesday to include his economic incentives programs when finalizing the next state budget. “Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families by cutting funds for tourism marketing and economic development,” Scott said in a written statement distributed by his office. “I would be absolutely shocked if politicians in the Florida Legislature put their self-interests before the interests of our families and small businesses,” he wrote. … It was the second time in as many days that Scott has spoken up for his economic development programs. Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

SCOTT WARNS OF HIT TO STATE REVENUES via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott has issued another missive urging full financial support for Visit Florida. This one is a memo written to Scott by Christian Weiss, in-house economist to the governor, who warns that cutting the tourism-development program by $50 million — as House and Senate budget negotiators are considering doing — would result in a $210 million decline in state revenues. Two thirds of that would comprise sales tax receipts to the state, Weiss wrote; the rest, in sales tax distributions to local governments and gas, rental car, and other taxes. …  Nearly 113 million tourists visited the state in 2016, Weiss notes — a nearly 6 percent increase over 2015, and the sixth straight record-setting year. They spent $109 billion here.

HAPPENING TODAY – SCOTT MEETS WITH LAWMAKERS — Gov. Scott returns from his trade mission to Argentina today, and has several meetings scheduled with lawmakers scheduled for the afternoon. The Naples Republican will kick off his whirlwind afternoon of meetings at noon with a meeting with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, before meeting Sen. Rene Garcia at 12:15 p.m. At 12:30 p.m., Scott is scheduled to meet with Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, followed by a meeting with Sen. Jack Latvala at 12:45 p.m. and Sen. Rob Bradley at 1 p.m. He’ll then chat with Sen. Anitere Flores at 1:15 p.m., Sen. Bill Galvano at 1:30 p.m., Majority Leader Wilton Simpson at 1:45 p.m., and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto at 2 p.m. He’ll meet with Sen. David Simmons at 2:15 p.m., before meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon, the lone member of the House on his schedule, at 3:30 p.m.

HOUSE SPEAKER SAID HORSE-TRADING YIELDS ‘BAD POLICY.’ NOW, IT’S OK – SOMETIMES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran were asked two months ago if their legislative priorities in higher education and K-12 public schools, respectively, would end up becoming bargaining chips this session, Negron wouldn’t rule it out. But Corcoran offered a definitive response: “No.” And he’s now backing away from that — and making a key distinction — as the two chamber leaders have, indeed, agreed to horse-trade significant education policy in budget talks to ensure they get their priorities into law before the scheduled end of session May 5. “The process always works best when both of them — to the extent that they agree that those are good policies — move forward,” he said.

INTERESTING MOMENT IN THE HOUSE:

VICTOR TORRES, WIFE CARMEN TORRES, RECOVERING AFTER CAR CRASH via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Orlando Democratic State Sen. Torres and his wife were injured in a car crash in Tallahassee but have been released from the hospital. The three-car crash – with the Torres’ in the middle – occurred early Wednesday right in front of the Capitol Building, at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Calhoun Street, said their daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado … “They are OK,” Mercado said. “Obviously, they are going to have a little pain, but they are good.”

LAWMAKERS AGREE TO PAY SURVIVING BARAHONA VICTIM $3.75 MILLION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – … and sent the bill to the governor for his signature. Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, would receive the money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, which admitted negligence after Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old and in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder. “They would tie them up, beat them, smear feces on their face,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz sponsor of the House bill, HB 6523, which was approved 114-2. The Senate had already passed SB 18 in a 37-0 vote. He described the abuse as “the most horrible, atrocious thing you can imagine.” The Florida Department of Children and Families “had many red flags they did not pay attention to,” he said.

LEGISLATURE VOTES TO TEAR DOWN THE ‘LIQUOR WALL’ via Florida PoliticsThe House, on a by-a-nose vote of 58-57, Wednesday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers, at least those who choose to do so, to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. The legislation now heads to Gov. Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items. Beer and wine now can be sold in grocery aisles in Florida. But opponents said their veto campaign has already begun, starting with an argument that the bill will be a “job killer”—a term sure to catch in the jobs governor’s ear.

TIA MITCHELL CATALOGUES THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THIS VOTE here

— Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said she would have voted against the bill but missed the vote after leaving the room to work on an amendment to a separate measure she sponsored that relates to craft distilleries.

— Rep. Barrington Russell voted “yes” at first but later said he meant to vote “no.” Legislative rules allow members to submit or change votes after the fact, but it has no impact on the official tally.

— Reps. Mike Bileca and Cary Pigman also missed Wednesday’s vote and logged “no” votes afterward. Rep. Emily Slosberg also did not cast a vote despite being present on the floor at other times.

HAPPENING LATE WEDNESDAY – MEDICAL MARIJUANA AMENDMENT NARROWS GAP BETWEEN HOUSE, SENATE BILLS – An amendment filed by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues allows for edibles and vaping, and cuts the 90-day requirement of the relationship between patients and doctors before recommending medical marijuana. However, differences remain, including regulations on the number of companies that can obtain licenses and limits on retail outlets. The Senate version allows five more “medical marijuana treatment centers” in the first year, with four more for every 75,000 registered patients. The House does not allow any immediate expansion, increasing the number of treatment centers by five, limiting those to companies that had unsuccessfully bid on a license, and only after the registry reaches 150,000 patients. Five more centers can be opened after 200,000 patients, with three for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

CRAFT DISTILLERY BILL PUT ON HOLD, THEN PASSED via Florida PoliticsA bill to allow craft distillers to sell more product directly to customers was set for a final vote Wednesday, was instead “temporarily postponed,” then finally voted out later in the day. The House eventually passed the measure (HB 141) by a 114-2 vote. … (The) measure would let distillers sell up to six bottles of spirits per customer in a given year. Now, they may sell two bottles.

— “Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE PASSES INCREASED HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION MEASURE via Florida PoliticsVoters next year could decide whether to approve a measure that would amount to a reduction in their property tax. The House on Wednesday passed a measure (HJR 7105) on a 81-35 vote to increase the current $25,000 homestead exemption. The language “increas(es) the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $75,000 and up to $100,000,” it says. Democrats, however, warned that cutting taxes meant less money to fund critical local services like police and fire. It wouldn’t affect taxes to fund local public schools.

HOUSE VOTES TO SHIELD COLLEGE OFFICIAL SEARCHES FROM SUNSHINE via Florida PoliticsJob searches for the top officials of the state’s public universities would be shrouded in secrecy under a bill passed Wednesday by the Florida House. House members OK’d the measure (HB 351) 103-11. But its reception in the Senate is unclear: With less than two weeks left in session, a companion bill (SB 478) has not had a hearing. The legislation would maintain the privacy of candidates who apply for positions of “president, vice president, provost, or dean of a state university or Florida College System institution.”

SENATE VOTES APOLOGY FOR ABUSE AT DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS via Florida Politics – The Senate voted, 35-0, Wednesday to apologize for decades of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee. Addressing 14 middle-aged and elderly survivors viewing from the Senate gallery, Sen. Daryl Rouson said: “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.” The House voted to apologize on April 18. CS/SR 1440 details the history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by school staff from the 1940s through the 1960s. A forensic examination conducted between 2013 and 2016 uncovered at least 55 burial sites at Dozier, 24 more than records indicated.

MORE NICE MOMENTS IN THE SENATE:

HOUSE APPROVES ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM LEGISLATION via Florida Politics – Assignment of benefits reforms ardently sought by the insurance industry and business passed the Florida House Wednesday on a vote of 91-26. A spokeswoman for the Consumer Protection Coalition, a business-oriented lobby aligned with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, immediately praised the action. “The House’s action is a big step toward ending costly AOB abuse and protecting Florida’s homeowners and businesses,” chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement. In debate, Democrat Joe Geller argued against the attorney fee provision. “It’s going to result in more, not less, litigation,” Geller said. “It’s going to be tied up for the next two years.” Co-sponsor James Grant replied that the problem has festered too long and that it was time to act. “Vote up on this good bill, and make sure we do not go home yet again having done nothing with the assignment of benefits problem,” Grant said.

HOUSE VOTES TO IMPOSE WORK REQUIREMENTS ON MEDICAID RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Medicaid recipients who are able to work would have to prove to the state that they are working, actively seeking work or enrolled in a job-training program. It wouldn’t apply to people with disabilities, the elderly and children, groups that make up the majority of Florida’s Medicaid enrollment. Failure to meet the requirement will result in a loss of coverage for a year. The provision, which was tucked into a broader Medicaid bill (HB 7117), passed 81-34. Opponents say kicking people off Medicaid will end up costing the state and federal government money. They say that instead of seeking preventive care, sick people will go to hospital emergency rooms, where taxpayers and those with private insurance foot the bills of the uninsured.

VOTERS MAY VOTE ON NEW PROPERTY TAX BREAK via The Associated Press – Homeowners may get an additional $25,000 homestead exemption if voters go along with the proposal. The House voted 81-35 to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would allow homeowners to shield an additional $25,000 of the value of their home from most property taxes. The additional exemption would not apply to taxes charged by school districts. If 60 percent of voters say yes, the amendment would take effect in 2019.

EPILOGUE: EX-MIAMI REP DIDN’T FILE TAX RETURNS FOR 9 YEARS via Patricia Mazzei and Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – For eight years, Erik Fresen served in the Florida House … leaving office November due to term limits. During all eight of those years, Fresen never filed a federal income tax return. Fresen … pleaded guilty in federal court to failing to file a tax return for 2011, a year in which he received $270,136 in income he didn’t report to Uncle Sam. But in all, Fresen admitted he actually failed to report his income to the Internal Revenue Service from 2007-16, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement. His tax troubles with the IRS arose before his political career, including the year before he was elected as a legislator. In total, Fresen still owes at least $100,000 in back taxes, excluding fines and penalties, federal prosecutor Harold Schimkat said.

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#CATESINEDIE IS HERE — The end of the 2017 Session is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to get your bets in. Yep, it’s time for #CateSineDie. You should know the rules by now, but if not, here’s a refresher: Tweet #CateSineDie along with your prediction for the exact date and time the hanky will drop, ending the 2017 Regular Legislative Session — closest without going over wins. Like last year, the winner will get $500 to their favorite charity. And this year, media guru Kevin Cate upped the ante — adding “something even more silly — a trophy.”All entries must be tweeted by 4 p.m. today

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Conference Committee on Gaming will meet at 9 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The newly formed Legislative Progressive Caucus will hold a press conference to announce its launch and announce key legislative priorities for the final two weeks of session at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor outside the House chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Department of Economic Opportunity will hold a press conference as part of its annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day event at 10:30 a.m. on the 22nd floor of the Capitol. Cissy Proctor, the DEO’s executive director; Clay Tomlison, an education assistant at Challenger Learning Center; and several students are expected to attend. The DEO will host an event on the 22nd floor from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing beginning at 11 a.m. in the Kent Campus Auditorium at Florida State College Jacksonville, 3939 Roosevelt Boulevard.

SUPREME COURT DENIES ARAMIS AYALA’S FIRST WRIT TO WIN BACK CASES RICK SCOTT REASSIGNED via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – In denying Ayala’s emergency, non-routine petition to overturn Scott’s executive orders reassigning the cases to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King, the Supreme Court concluded that the matter “is more properly addressed” through her other legal challenge, a writ of quo warranto, which she later filed. That leaves the matter where most expected it to be left, in her second challenge of Scott’s action, a case that has drawn broad support for both Ayala and Scott from a variety of outside groups who expect the ruling to be pivotal in determining the extent of powers in Florida of both the state attorney and the governor.

TODAY IN #STARCHAMBER: HEARING IN MACHETE-MURDER CASE CAN BE SECRET, MIAMI APPEALS COURT RULES via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald – The decision upends decades of press access to Miami criminal court and bans reporters from covering a bail hearing for two defendants accused in the machete-death of a Homestead student in 2015. The panel of three judges from the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial court that the flood of information available in the modern digital age could potentially sway jurors at a future trial. “The speed of dissemination and the high percentage of likely jurors with access to social media and the internet also support the trial judge’s concern,” Judge Vance Salter wrote in the opinion.

ANDREW GILLUM’S FUNDRAISING PAC TOOK SHAPE IN CITY EMAIL via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee DemocratGillum and his chief of staff used city resources to hash out the framework for a political action committee that would become the cash machine for Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign. In a message from Dustin Daniels via his city account to Gillum at his People for the American Way account March 2, 2016, — a year before Gillum announced his candidacy — Daniels discussed revisions to the mission statement of Forward Florida, Gillum’s leadership PAC. “Adjusted language is below and attached. I can’t seem to edit the document from Word, so the logo may not appear at the top. If that’s true, I will fix it tomorrow,” Daniels wrote in the email. The email once again shines a light on the use of the city’s email accounts to convey political and campaign business unrelated to city activities.

AS A TEEN, GAINESVILLE PIVOTAL TO SHAPING GILLUM’S POLITICAL RISE, AMBITION via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – For the charismatic, 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, a day in Gainesville was an opportunity to campaign for Florida governor … but also a chance to reconnect with a place and some people who he describes as “pivotal.” His family’s move to Gainesville from Miami — to be closer to his paternal grandfather, JT Gillum, who was ill at that time — “felt like moving to a foreign place,” Andrew Gillum said. But the slower pace, compared to Miami — as well as family members and other community connections in Gainesville — were transformative for Gillum. “People took time to ask you, “how you doin’?’” he remembered, adding, “It was pivotal to slowing down my life to a pace where I could start to pay real attention to my education, to my community, to setting goals because I got exposed to a different type of environment,” he said … it was Gillum’s friendship — beginning in high school — with Christopher Moore Chestnut, the son of Charles Chestnut III and Cynthia Moore Chestnut, that drew Gillum into the politically active Chestnut family.

LENNY CURRY’S PENSION SUCCESS FUELS BUZZ ABOUT STATEWIDE OFFICE via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union – How will Curry use that legislative victory? Speculation is rife that Gov. Scott is considering Curry for appointment as the state’s next chief financial officer, which would vault Curry into a high-ranking position in the state Cabinet. Or Curry could continue as mayor of Jacksonville and use the budget relief from pension reform to focus on the unfinished business of turning the tide on the city’s violent crime problem and getting long-delayed construction projects underway. Either way, Curry’s successful push to end pensions as a retirement benefit for new employees will lift his statewide profile, said University of North Florida political science professor Matt Corrigan.

JOHN LEGG JOINS STEP UP FOR STUDENTS BOARD via Travis Pillow with RedefineED — A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major private school choice programs. State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016. … Step Up’s board unanimously elected Legg to the unpaid position this week. He will join another former state lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Al Lawson. “John Legg is an innovative and successful educator, as well as a gifted legislator and a great person,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “John is committed to serving disadvantaged youth, and will be a wonderful addition to our organization.”

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GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Viva Italia! It’s Thursday at the Governors Club with tomato basil soup, roasted eggplant salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, Caesar salad – hearts of romaine, Parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, Caesar dressing – shrimp Bucatini Pomodoro, roasted garlic chicken, Parmesan garlic risotto, cauliflower, plum tomatoes, eggplant Parmesan.

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PULSE NIGHTCLUB TO BECOME A SANCTUARY OF HOPE via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The memorial will someday house a museum showcasing the artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the Pulse tragedy. Barbara Poma … will reveal plans May 4 on how donations collected since the June 12 tragedy will be used to honor the 49 murdered, the 68 injured victims and the first responders and health care professionals who treated them. The onePulse fund will support the construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for survivors and victims’ families and endowed scholarships for each of the 49 angels.

Pulse owner Barbara Poma intends to create a permanent memorial on the site of the former nightclub as a “a sanctuary of hope” for Orlando’s LGBTQ community. The memorial will eventually house a museum of artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil by a single shooter.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our beloved Papa Ben.

No budget deal yet, Jack Latvala says

With just days left in the 2017 Legislative Session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said Tuesday morning there still isn’t a budget deal.

“There is no budget deal,” the Clearwater Republican said, as of 8:15 a.m.

About 15 minutes later, Latvala tweeted “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Senate President Joe Negron wants to see everything in writing, and sent back the House offer within the last 12 hours with changes he’d still like to see made, said Latvala.

The House and Senate were expected to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. The budget framework was expected to give House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

On Tuesday afternoon, Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, the spokeswoman for Negron, said there would be no conference.

The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

On Wednesday morning, Kristen M. Clark with the Miami Herald reported Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told Senate Democrats during their caucus meeting the only thing that is firm is allocations. Everything else, Braynon said, “is in play and it’s stuff we have to vote on.”

Braynon, according to Clark’s report, said he expects conference committee members to be named during the floor session today, and meetings to begin tonight.

Sunburn for 4.26.17 – Sleepless nights for job creators; Budget contours; Pepi promises big step; ‘Frozen 2’ is coming when?

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

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

WHILE LAWMAKERS DEBATE NEW BILLS AND THE BUDGET, HERE’S WHAT’S KEEPING JOB CREATORS UP AT NIGHT

The latest Florida Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index Survey is out, and one thing is clear: Small businesses are increasingly concerned about the quality of workforce.

According to the survey, 22 percent of respondents said “workforce quality” was their top issue. Government regulations went from being tied for first place in the last survey — and in first place to a year ago — to second place in the most recent survey, with 16 percent of respondents saying it was their top issue. Healthcare costs grabbed the No. 3 spot, something the Florida Chamber noted is an indication “of the increasing concern for Florida’s small businesses” since healthcare costs weren’t in the Top 5 list during the same period in either 2016 or 2015.

Economic uncertainty and access to capital were tied for fourth in the most recent survey, while lawsuit abuse rounded out the list with 6 percent of respondents indicating that was the top issue facing small businesses.

“Florida’s small businesses continue to face a number of challenges, including increased concerns about workforce quality and healthcare costs,” said Tami Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council, and founder and CEO of Entropy Technology Design. “Florida’s economy is dependent on the small business community, and the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council remains committed to advocating on their behalf.”

The survey was conducted electronically from March 29 through April 14. According to the Chamber, 37 percent of respondents employ less than five employees, while 42 percent employ between five and 49 employees.

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LEGISLATURE ENDS BUDGET BATTLE, SETS STAGE FOR END

It’s April 26. Do you know where your state budget is?

With the clock ticking toward the Legislature’s scheduled May 5 adjournment, House and Senate leaders appeared tantalizingly close Tuesday to agreeing on how much money to let their Appropriations subcommittee spend.

Then came the word — no conference tonight.

It was that kind of day.

Tuesday got off to an ominous start, when the House Appropriations Committee approved a “standard operating budget,” pegged to existing spending levels, that the Senate had already announced it wasn’t buying.

Budget chief Carlos Trujillo denied it was a bargaining tactic, saying he was intent on bringing the budget to the floor.

By 4 p.m., House Speaker Richard Corcoran could announce that the two chambers were “very, very, very close” to agreeing on allotments — pots of money for budget subcommittees to spend.

“And I mean close in the hand grenades sense, not the horseshoe sense,” he said.

Trujillo suggested the first formal House-Senate conference committee meeting of 2017 could begin as soon as 6 p.m.

FOR THE RECORD: It was FloridaPolitics.com, not the cute guy from Wisconsin, which broke the news about the breakthrough on the budget.

– “Contours of a $83 billion budget deal emerge” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

RICK SCOTT ENLISTS STATE BONDS CHIEF IN FIGHT FOR VISIT FLORIDA FUNDING via Florida Politics – Gov. Rick Scott has distributed a letter by Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating. The letter, dated Tuesday, addressed to Jack Latvala in the Senate and Rep. Trujillo in the House, warns that cutting back on tourism promotion has harmed the economies of states that have attempted it, including Colorado and Pennsylvania. “Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins wrote. … “I believe it is important for policymakers to be informed about the important spending decisions and their financial and economic consequences.”

WHAT CHRIS NOCCO IS READING – ‘COLD CASE’ MURDER VICTIMS GET DRAGGED INTO BUDGET CONTROVERSY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – When Speaker Corcoran excoriated “liberal” senators for loading the budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects, the Senate responded in kind. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala noted that Corcoran wants to take home $4.3 million for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, where the speaker does legal work. It’s a first-of-its-kind Florida forensics laboratory in Land O’Lakes, near the Pasco County jail, that would teach law enforcement professionals and students while focusing on 16,000 estimated “cold case” unsolved murders and missing person cases in Florida. “I haven’t criticized the project,” Latvala said. “I’m just saying that it’s ironic: He’s against projects, but the largest single project in the budget is for him … It’s do as I say, not as I do.” “It had nothing to do with me,” Corcoran said. “It’s a project, but it’s not parochial. It’s for the entire state.”

– “Pasco Sheriff  ‘very disappointed’ Latvala is putting political ambitions first” via Florida Politics

– “Jack Latvala, Larry Ahern trade budget jabs on Twitter” via Florida Politics

HOUSE SETS UP $300 MILLION TAX HOLIDAY PACKAGE FOR FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – Legislation extending $300 million in tax holidays and breaks for veterans, college students, farmers, young families, and more moved closer to a final House vote Tuesday, picking up an amendment expanding use of private contractors to collect auto tag fees. The amendment, by Republican Jason Brodeur, would let tax collectors in 64 counties where tax collectors don’t answer to county commissions contract third parties to sell auto tags after hours and on weekends, in exchange for a “convenience” fee on top of the state fees. ”Any county that doesn’t want to do this, they don’t have to. Just do it the way they do it now,” Brodeur said. HB 7109 provides for a range of sales tax breaks and holidays. … Florida’s “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products would be eliminated, as it was between 1977 and 1986, Democrat Katie Edwards said.

SENATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA PLAN READY FOR A FLOOR VOTE via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Senate’s medical marijuana plan easily, with only one senator voting no. The Senate version allows edibles and vaping, while the House does not. And it would result in more treatment center licenses in the state as the number of medical marijuana patients grows. The House and Senate now will have to finish negotiations to come up with a final bill that both sides can agree on, vote out, and get to the governor for signing.

BUSINESS TAX BREAK FOR VETERANS, LOW-INCOME READY FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Government Accountability Committee approved a measure that creates a local business tax exemption for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, unremarried surviving spouses of veterans, and low-income individuals. A change to HB 487 adopted by the committee cuts out language that said local governments could only levy business taxes adopted before 2017. The bill now says any municipality can continue to levy business taxes but “may change, by ordinance, the definition of a merchant, but not the rate of the tax.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL PASSES DIRECT PRIMARY CARE AGREEMENTS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its plan to allow patients to contract with doctors through direct primary care agreements … It now heads to the floor. An amendment to SB 240 also “directs [Medicaid managed care] plans to provide enrollees the opportunity to enter into direct primary care agreements with identified network primary care providers as well as encourages the plans to enter into alternative payment agreements with these direct primary care providers,” sponsor Tom Lee said. That language is not in HB 161 which already passed the House.

HOUSE ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM MOVES CLOSER TO FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – The House cleared its version of assignment of benefits reform for a final vote Tuesday, defeating an amendment that would have frozen property insurance rates and required a premiums rollback next summer. PCS/HB 1421 would tighten requirements for contractors to report claims to insurance companies and establish a graduated scale for determining whether contractors holding AOBs qualify to recover litigation expenses from carriers. …  An amendment by Democrat Evan Jenne would have held property insurance rates at existing levels through July 1, 2018, then rolled rates back by 6.5 percent. And property insurers could no longer file “use and file” rate increases, but rather would have to go through formal, public hearings. “Rep. Jenne, I think you know, is one of my favorite members in this chamber to work with,” Grant said. “But this would actually be, I believe, a counterproductive way to roll back rates.”

HOUSE REVISES MEDICAID BILL TO DROP PROPOSED PREMIUMS – The House scaled back a proposed bill requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to pay monthly premiums. HB 7117 would have directed the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to ask the federal government for permission to charge monthly premiums of either $10 or $15, based on income. However, lawmakers approved an amendment put forth by Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran that drops the plan. The amended bill, sponsored by Orange Park Republican Travis Cummings, chair of the House Health & Human Services Committee, is set for a vote by the full House. The bill also allows the state to seek federal approval to enact a work requirement for Medicaid beneficiaries.

GUN BILL AFFECTING FLORIDA COURTHOUSES PASSES FINAL COMMITTEE, GOES TO SENATE FLOOR via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – A proposed law that would let 1.7 million conceal-carry permit-holders temporarily store their guns with security while visiting Florida’s courthouses is on its way to the Senate floor. SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed its final committee … Members of the Rules Committee endorsed the relatively noncontroversial measure — with at least a couple Democrats opposed — after offering no discussion or debate.

LIQUOR ‘WALL OF SEPARATION’ COULD FALL IN FLORIDA via Florida Politics A bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods is one step closer to passing the Legislature. The House decided to take up the Senate’s version of the “whiskey & Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) out of a “spirit of compromise,” said bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican. After two and a half hours of questions and a string of amendments that were defeated or withdrawn, the House could take a final vote on the bill as early as Wednesday. Its version has been struggling out of committees on one- and two-vote margins. The Senate bill would repeal a Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Speaker Corcoran confronts state Rep. Scott Plakon during questions on the floor as members considered the “whiskey and wheaties” bill.

LOTTERY WARNINGS COULD GO ON ADS, TICKETS via Florida Politics – The House is expected to pass a bill mandating warnings on Florida Lottery tickets and advertisements. The measure (HB 937) would require printing or broadcasting any one of six advisories on a rotating basis, including “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW,” and “WARNING: LOTTERY GAMES ARE A FORM OF GAMBLING.” It would also require retailers that sell lottery tickets to “prominently” display a sign, “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE.” It’s sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

JOSE FELIX DIAZ: HOUSE WILL ‘TAKE GIANT STEP’ IN GAMBLING CONFERENCE via Florida PoliticsThe House will make its offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year, Diaz told reporters. “I expect to make significant progress in the conversation,” he said, without offering many details and saying the House’s offer was still in flux. “The earlier we get it out, the better.” The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. But, Diaz added, “considering that the House took a very conservative approach in its bill, most people who look at our offer will think that we took a giant step forward toward the Senate’s position on certain issues.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The House is expected to make its offer on the 2017 gambling bill when the Conference Committee on Gaming meets at 9:45 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide the breakdown of bills that have been placed on the calendar for a hearing up to this point. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As of Tuesday, April 24th, 1,172 bills have been placed on the calendar in the Florida House. Of those, 884 are sponsored by Republicans, 144 are sponsored by Democrats, and 144 bills have bi-partisan co-sponsors. To put that in a percentage, 75.4% of the bills that have been heard are Republican bills, 12.3% are Democratic, and 12.3% are bipartisan.”

WHERE IS CARY PIGMAN’S DISCIPLINARY ACTION? via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – In a House of Representatives that makes a priority of members behaving ethically, how is it Rep. Pigman gets to come back from a DUI arrest where his dishonor and dishonesty were on full dashcam display — and carry on as if nothing happened? You’d better believe Frank Artiles is wondering the same thing. Pigman in the House? The Avon Park Republican returned to Tallahassee after a boozey drive home, interrupted by a stay March 24 in the St. Lucie County slammer. And what was the worst that befell him? He resigned his chairmanship of the House’s Health Quality Subcommittee. That’ll show him … This is a busy session. I don’t expect anymore to happen now. But if Pigman runs for re-election, I plan to be right here, writing reminders for voters in HD 55 of this low moment in the life of an otherwise honorable House of Representatives.

– “Correction on Nancy Smith’s Cary Pigman column” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News

*** The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

HAPPENING TODAY — PUERTO RICO DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Hosted by the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the event is meant to recognize the contributions of the Puerto Rican community across the state and celebrate the culture. This year, the event will feature panel discussions on the fiscal crisis, migration patterns, and the impact on education, housing, healthcare and criminal justice. The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 22nd floor.

IT’S ALSO LILLY PULITZER DAY AT THE CAPITOL h/t to Erin Daly Ballas.

BIG WIN FOR FLORIDA – JEFF VINIK, WILL WEATHERFORD, PAM IORIO NAMED TO TECO BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Tampa Electric Co. is adding five prominent Florida business and community leaders to its board of directors … TECO parent company Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based energy conglomerate, said the new members are as part of a commitment to keeping the company under Florida oversight. “Emera believes local directors who are community leaders are best-positioned to oversee that our utilities provide the service our customers desire,” the company statement said. In addition to Vinik, Weatherford and Iorio, joining the board, effective May 2, will be Pat Geraghty, chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Florida Blue, and Rhea Law, chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PA law firm and immediate past chair of the Florida Council of 100.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida, 3201 Hull Road in Gainesville.

UF LAW STUDENTS DISCUSS, DEBATE AHEAD OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION COMMISSION MEETING via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – With the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission set to hold a public hearing [in Gainesville] — the fifth of nine hearings scheduled throughout the state … several dozen law students at the University of Florida assembled in an auditorium named in honor of the chairman of the state’s first CRC, Chesterfield Smith, to discuss the constitutional revision process with a member of the 1997-98 Commission, Jon Mills, and a historian of the state constitution, Mary Adkins. One thing the students learned in the hourlong talk is that the CRC that convened this year is the first in Florida history that has not been chaired by a graduate of the UF law school. “Here’s a fun fact,” said Adkins. “From the 1956 group that was created by statute to originally draft this constitution, through to the 1997-98 group, all of them were chaired by a UF law grad.” Referring to the chair of the 2017-2018 CRC, Carlos Beruff — a real estate developer appointed last month by Gov. Scott — Adkins added, “This particular chair is not a college graduate.”

BOB BUCKHORN SAYS PRIMARY FOR GOVERNOR WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUGH via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Bob Buckhorn has already made clear he is not running for governor. But during a brief appearance in Tallahassee, he sounded like he is still struggling with having passed up a chance to run. “I’m built for a good fight,” Buckhorn said. He made clear there were a lot of good reasons to pass on the race, but he said he thinks he would have been a strong candidate. The trouble he said was always going to be how to manage a primary because of his willingness in the mayor’s office to work with Republicans like Gov. Scott on issues. “That’s what governing should be,” Buckhorn said, acknowledging in a primary it would have been used against him. “I would have had more trouble with the primary than a general.”

SEAN BUCHAN OF WINTER HAVEN ENTERS CD 9 REPUBLICAN FIELD via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in 2018. “The time is right,” Buchan stated … Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq. His top concern is the economy which he described as “doing better, but not well enough,” particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, which he said are in need of across-the-board jobs from technical trades to high-tech. He also stressed national security as a critical concern, and expressed a strong desire for tax reform that simplifies the system for tax payers.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Wayne Bertsch, Civility Management: Florida Swimming Pool Association; Swearingen and Associates

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti, Beth Keating, Larry Williams, Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Q Link Wireless LLC

Dean Cannon, David Griffin, Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Disasters, Strategies & Ideas Group, LLC

Al Cardenas, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: IAP Worldwide Services

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies, LLC: Florida Municipal Electric Association; Monroe County Board of County Commissioners

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: The Able Trust

Rob Johnson, The Mayernick Group: Big Brothers Big Sisters Association Of Florida

Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: AMOAF

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Absolute Software, Inc.; salesforce.com, inc

Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yaeger, One Eighty Consulting: salesforce.com, inc

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – The Governors Club greets lawmakers Wednesday with Caribbean fare that includes conch chowder soup, salads, yucca salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, tomato salad, carne asada-beef, chicken à la plancha, BBQ grilled salmon, arroz con gandules and black beans.

BLUE ANGELS, THUNDERBIRDS MEET FOR RARE JOINT TRAINING via The Associated Press – The Thunderbirds landed at “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” The eight Air Force F-16 pilots and more than 50 other officers and support staff from the Nevada-based Thunderbirds will join the six F/A-18 Blue Angels pilots and support staff at Naval Air Station Pensacola … The U.S. military’s two elite fighter-jet demonstration teams are seldom in the same place. Department of Defense guidelines say the teams must perform at the different air shows to cover as much recruiting territory as possible. The two teams haven’t been in Pensacola together for more than 15 years.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds join the Navy’s Blue Angels for a rare joint training session through Wednesday at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

‘STAR WARS,’ ‘FROZEN 2’ AND ‘THE LION KING’: DISNEY UNLEASHES A BARRAGE OF RELEASE DATES via Anita Busch of Deadline Hollywood – Disney just unveiled a bevy of release dates for its upcoming slate, not the least of which is Star Wars: Episode IX (in 3D) which will bow May 24, in 2019. In addition, it removed the mystery around the untitled animation title previously announced Nov. 27 in 2019. It will be the highly-anticipated sequel to Frozen. Also, they have pegged the live-action The Lion King (also in 3D) based on the animated worldwide smash hit to July 19, 2019, … the new Indiana Jones movie has been pushed back by a year … Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 for the Wreck-It Ralph Sequel; it is also moving the film from March 9 of 2018 to the Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 21, 2018. Toy Story 4 is still on schedule for June 21, 2019, as is Marvel’s Captain Marvel for March 8 of the same year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Larry Ahern, Tampa International Airport’s Gina Evans, and the voice of AFP-Florida, Andres Malave.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco says he is ‘very disappointed’ Jack Latvala is putting political ambitions first

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco is criticizing Sen. Jack Latvala for standing in the way of what he calls a big win for Pasco County.

“I am very disappointed that Senator Latvala is putting his political ambitions ahead of the needs of the state,” he said.

As the battle over the 2017-18 budget continues to wear on, several hometown projects could be on the chopping block, including $4.3 million for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

The money, according to the Times/Herald, will be used to create the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security and Tactical Training. The forensic laboratory, located in Land O’Lakes near the Pasco County jail, would teach law enforcement officers and students, all the while focusing on an estimated 16,000 unsolved murders and missing person cases in Florida.

The Miami Herald reported Tuesday that Latvala said it was ironic that the “single largest project in the budget is for” House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I haven’t criticized the project,” said Latvala, according to the report. “”I’m just saying that it’s ironic: He’s against projects, but the largest single project in the budget is for him … It’s do as I say, not as I do.”

Corcoran said the project is for the “entire state.”

The project’s leaders include Nocco and forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who led the research that unearthed the remains of young boys buried in unmarked graves at the Dozier School for Boys.

Nocco said he’s surprised Latvala’s Tallahassee politics could be blocking a win for Pasco and the state.

“He said he would not be our biggest cheerleader, but he also said he would not stand in our way,” said Nocco.

Nocco also doesn’t understand why Latvala won’t support a project that will be based in Pasco.

“He does remember that part of his district is in Pasco County,” he said.

 

State budget deal struck? Jack Latvala says, ‘no,’ but…

Updated 2:45 p.m. — The House has sent over an offer and the Senate is reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

After teetering toward a late-session meltdown, the bones of a roughly $83 billion 2017-18 state budget are in place, according to three sources close to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office and several lobbyists familiar with the negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, however, early Tuesday morning said to “not believe the rumors.”

The budget framework, as it stands now, gives legislative leaders Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private economic development organization Scott wants full funding for.

Latvala even told Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom Monday evening that a deal was coming together and Grissom “would not like it.”

Flexing their muscle, future Senate Presidents Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson played pivotal roles in shaping the compromise plan, sources said.

There was bound to be horse-trading: The Senate agreed to fund the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter-school proposal and backed down on increased property taxes, while the House will go along with the Senate’s plan to revitalize Lake Okeechobee.

Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to help Lake O and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams earlier passed the Senate 36-3. The Senate wanted to leave mandatory local property tax levels (“required local effort,” in Capitol parlance) where they are, to capture rising property values for school funding; the House sees that as a tax increase. Negron also gets more money for higher education.

But the deal also sets up a showdown with the Governor’s Office: Funding for Enterprise Florida, which gets far more public than private dollars, would be zeroed-out.

And VISIT FLORIDA‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency also would be put in place, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

The sticking point in all of this may be the torpedoing of EFI, explaining Latvala’s resistance to saying there is a deal. He’s carried Scott’s water in the Senate, but at this point he may willing to go along with a deal if, as those close to the negotiations suggest, the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that his committee has shepherded get funded.

Unable to reach a deal over the weekend, the House offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept state funding intact at current levels in many places.

That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate rejected this idea. Negron, in a memo to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget,” adding he had “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

Despite Senate opposition, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would freeze most spending and allow for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Jeff Vinik, Will Weatherford, Pam Iorio named to TECO board of directors

Tampa Electric Co. is adding five prominent Florida business and community leaders to its board of directors, including developer and Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

In an announcement Tuesday, TECO parent company Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based energy conglomerate, said the new members are as part of a commitment to keeping the company under Florida oversight.

Emera acquired TECO in July 2016.

“Emera believes local directors who are community leaders are best-positioned to oversee that our utilities provide the service our customers desire,” the company statement said.

Board members guide both TECO and its natural gas utility, TECO Peoples Gas. TECO, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, services about 730,000 electric customers in Hillsborough and parts of Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.

Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, serves about 370,000 customers across Florida.

Joining the board, effective May 2, will be:

Pat Geraghty, chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Florida Blue (Florida’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan) and its parent company, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp., where he serves on the board. He is the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonprofit group of community leaders who work closely with the governor and other state leaders on economic development issues. He is very involved in the community, serving on the board for MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, as chair for United Way of Northeast Florida’s board of trustees and as a member of the Jacksonville Civic Council.

Iorio is president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. She has spent three decades in public service, including two terms as mayor of Tampa.

Rhea Law, chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PA law firm and immediate past chair of the Florida Council of 100. She has held the top leadership positions in many civic and charitable organizations, including the chair of the University of South Florida’s board of trustees.

Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) team. Together with Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Vinik is a partner in Strategic Property Partners, a development company embarking on a $3 billion, 10-year redevelopment of southern downtown Tampa. Vinik previously managed the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund and Vinik Asset Management.

Weatherford is currently managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a private equity investment and strategic business advisory firm based in Tampa. He served four terms in the Florida House of Representatives, including two years as speaker, when he was the youngest speaker in America.

“We are delighted to have these five well-admired leaders join the Tampa Electric Co. board,” said Scott Balfour, chief operating officer of Emera Inc. and chair of the TECO board. “Their interest in serving is a testament to the outstanding reputation built by this company for over 100 years. This dynamic group will help guide Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to a future of cleaner, sustainable energy and service for our customers and communities.”

Emera currently holds $21 billion (USD) in assets; 2016 revenues were nearly $3 billion (USD).

 

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