Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 264

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 — Panthers prowl with new tag

Rather than adding yet another specialty license plate to the state’s plethora of tags, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is coming out with a new twist on an old favorite.

The department on Friday announced it was releasing a “newly redesigned Florida Panthers (hockey club) specialty license plate,” to be “delivered to the department’s locations and tax collector offices statewide and available to customers” by next Wednesday.

Though specialty tags generally are aimed at generating money for nonprofits, Florida’s many different plates — more than 100 — have caused angst among lawmakers and others. The Panthers tag benefits the Professional Sports Development Trust Fund and the Florida Sports Foundation.

Legislators even agreed back in 2008 to a moratorium, which they broke. By 2014, then-state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, threw up her hands in despair, voting to create a “Fallen Law Enforcement Officers” plate.

“I was here when the moratorium was established and every year, we fought it,” she said, according to a Tampa Tribune article. “You know what? I’m giving up now … I’m throwing in the towel.”

The tags have even led to litigation, as when the head of a Florida environmental group claimed “a rival organization pulled a fast one, heisting its specialty license plate – and thus all its revenue,” according to the Naples Daily News.

The Florida Sportsmen’s Land Trust sued the state in 2015, asking that all the money collected from the “deer tag” be frozen. Court records show only that the trust “voluntarily dismissed” the case this May after a mediation.

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

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

Tropical Storm Emily drenches — The storm crashed into the side of Florida this week, whipping the west coast with 45 mph winds and dumping several inches of rain. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 31 counties, nearly half the state. At Emily’s height, as many as 18,000 residents lost power. Valrico, east of Tampa, got much as 8 inches of rain. The storm came as a stark reminder that the Bay area is still vulnerable to storm surge. Batten the hatches, indeed.

Money and the governor’s race — Between his campaign and committee, Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid is now approaching $17 million in total fundraising, including nearly $1.3 million banked in July. The two-term Agriculture Commissioner ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising, and about $11.6 million on hand between his committee, “Florida Grown,” and his campaign. Moreover, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala has $3.84 million in the bank two weeks before he plans to announce whether or not he will run for Florida governor. He’s waiting till Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor.

Sen. Jack Latvala, who is set to announce in two weeks whether he’ll run for governor, has $3.84 million in the bank; Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising. (Photo by Phil Sears)

VISIT FLORIDA regroups — Agency CEO Ken Lawson continued his statewide tour this week, shoring up support for the embattled public-private tourism marketing organization. “A dozen local tourism programs said goodbye, severing their partnerships … when the new fiscal year began July 1 rather than comply with new transparency requirements,” The Times reported. Lawson wrote Wednesday on the agency’s blog, “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us … It is now time to heal and come together.”

Feds OK LIP money — Federal officials approved a five-year extension of a statewide Medicaid managed care program and finalized a $1.5 billion pot of funding to help with charity care. State and federal officials have negotiated for months on issues such as details of the $1.5 billion for the “Low Income Pool” program, which means millions of Medicaid beneficiaries will continue receiving care through HMOs and other types of managed-care plans through at least June 30, 2022. Also, hospitals and providers such as federally qualified health centers will be able to tap into a larger amount of so-called LIP money to defray costs of caring for uninsured people.

State flexes on gambling — State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permit-holder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state. The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted.

D.C. bound

Kudos, Chester Spellman!

Spellman, the long-time chief executive officer of Volunteer Florida, was appointed by the White House to serve as the director of AmeriCorps for the Corporation for National and Community Service. His last at Volunteer Florida is Aug. 25.

“I believe there is no greater calling than the calling to serve,” said Spellman. “I am deeply honored to be appointed by the White House and thrilled for the opportunity to lead AmeriCorps at the national level. National and community service changes lives every day, and I look forward to working with the team at the Corporation for National and Community Service to strengthen communities across the U.S.”

Volunteer Florida CFO Chester Spellman has been tapped to lead AmeriCorps. (Photo via Volunteer Florida.)

Gov. Scott named Spellman the head of Volunteer Florida in April 2012. Since then, he has overseen more than $32 million annually in federal, state and local funds supporting AmeriCorps and statewide volunteer programs to meet critical needs in Florida communities. He also led statewide coordination of volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters in partnership with the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Prior to joining Volunteer Florida, Spellman worked for Scott as the director of appointments in the Executive Office of the Governor. He also has more than 15 years of experience working in nonprofits, including several faith-based organizations.

“Florida is proud to be the home of many great volunteers who dedicate their time to helping others,” said Scott. “I appreciate Chester’s leadership at Volunteer Florida and wish him the best of luck as he continues to build on his commitment to serving families and communities.”

Appointed

Scott appoints Sniffen, Goodman to circuit courts— There’s a few new judges on the bench.

Gov. Scott announced recently he was appointing Charles Sniffen to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and James Jefferson Goodman, Jr. to the 14th Judicial Circuit Court.

Sniffen, a 44-year-old Parrish resident, is currently a county judge for Manatee County. He previously worked in private practice, and served as an assistant state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit. Sniffen received his bachelor’s degree from Emory University and Florida State University.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Goodman, a 38-year-old Bonifay resident, is currently a solo practitioner who has prior experience in both the public and private sectors. He previously served as an assistant state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, and served as a litigation association for Balch & Bingham LLP. Goodman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Florida State University.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Hentz McClellan.

The governor also announced recently that he had appointed LaTasha Green-Cobb to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The Jacksonville resident is the CEO of Empowered Action Corporation. She succeeds John Hawthrone, and is appointed to a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

Jim Murphy, a Lakeland resident, has been appointed to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board, the governor recently announced.

The 57-year-old is the division president of Florida Sealing Products, Inc. He was appointed to a vacant seat for a term ending March 1, 2021.

The governor also announced Mike Griffin, the senior managing director of Savills Studley Occupier Services, has been appointed to the Tampa Port Authority.

Griffin’s appointment comes amid concerns about wasteful spending by executives at Port Tampa Bay. In a statement, Scott said Griffin committed to conducting a “full analysis of prior and future expenditures by the Port.”

“I am confident that Mike Griffin will do a great job on the Tampa Port Authority and will work with the entire board to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Scott.

Griffin fills a vacant seat for a term ending Nov. 15, 2019.

All three appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

McKay joins Citizens board — Former Senate President John McKay is joining the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Board of Governors.

McKay, who served in the Florida Senate from 1990 until 2002, was appointed to a three-year term by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The Bradenton resident is the president of The Riverside Real Estate Company, and brings more than 35 years of real estate and property management experience to the Board of Governors.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, where he also completed post graduate studies. McKay is the chairman of the Manatee Rural Health Foundation and the McKay Academy. He is the former chairman of the board of the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and the Ringling Museum of Art.

He succeeds former board member Juan Cocuy, and will serve a term ending July 31, 2020.

Patronis wasn’t the only person who announced appointments to Citizens’ board this week. Gov. Scott announced he was appointing Chris Gardner to the agency’s Board of Governors.

The Winter Park resident is the CEO of Hub International Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and was appointed to a term ending July 31, 2019.

Gardner previously served as a member of Citizens Board of Governors as an appointee of the House Speaker.

Scott also announced he was reappointing Jim Holton, an Indian Shores resident and the president and owner of Holton Companies, and Bette Brown, a Tavernier resident and executive at CenterState Bank, to the board. Holton was reappointed to a term ending July 31, 2020; while Brown’s new term ends March 23, 2020.

Scott reappoints four to faith-based advisory council — There will be four familiar faces on the Florida Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed four members — Jerry Haag, Richard Albertson, Gretchen Kerr, and Patricia Smith — to the advisory board. All four members were reappointed to terms ending July 18, 2020.

Haag is the president and CEO of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Orphan’s Heart, and The Porch Light; while Smith is the community relations director for the Department of Children and Families. Albertson is the founding president of Live the Life Ministries, and Kerr is the executive director of the Northland Church.

The Florida Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council works to build connections and strengthen communities and families throughout the state. It acts as a formal advisory council to the Governor’s Office and the Legislature.

Scott also appointed J. Scott George, the development director of Orlando Hope and the founder of United Against Poverty, and Rosby Glover, the executive director of Mount Bethel Human Services to the council. Both will serve terms ending July 18, 2020.

Havers, Jacobs appointed as compensation claims judges — Walter Havers, Jr. and Jeffrey Ira Jacobs have new titles: Judges of Compensation Claims for the Miami District. Gov. Scott announced both men’s appointment this week.

Havers, a 52-year-old Miami resident, has served as a state mediator for the Miami District since 2013. He previously served as a senior attorney for the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims.

Jacobs, a 55-year-old Miami resident, is an attorney at Malca and Jacobs, PA.

And the nominees are…

Florida State University President John Thrasher may soon be a hall of famer.

Thrasher, a former state House speaker who served in the Vietnam War, is one of 20 candidates for a spot in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, as first reported by the News Service of Florida.

The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Council submitted the maximum number of names to Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to consider them in the hall of fame.

Florida State University President John Thrasher is one of 20 candidates being considered for a spot in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame (Photo by Phil Sears)

Thrasher joined the U.S. Army after he graduated from Florida State University in 1965. He received the Army Commendation Medal in Germany, and was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1970.

The council also recommended Bernard Wilson, a World War II airman. WFSU reported that, after fighting in the Pacific Theatre, Wilson focused on recognizing other service members.

The 2016 class of inductees featured 11 members, including former Gov. Reubin Askew, former Gov. LeRoy Collins, former governor and Sen. Spessard Holland, and former state Rep. William Proctor.

The Cabinet is expected to make its selection in September.

For the heroes

Think of it as a way to say recognize their service.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Operation Outdoor Freedom will hold a special event for Purple Heart recipients and their families on Aug. 7 at Camp Prairie in Lake Wales. Registration for the event is closed; however, Putnam’s office said participants will be able to enjoy barbecue and rides on an airboat and a swamp buggy.

Aug. 7 is Purple Heart Day.

“Operation Outdoor Freedom is one small way we can give back to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Putnam in a statement. “I’m proud to host a Purple Heart Day event for the first time during this program to honor our nation’s Purple Heart recipients.”

Since 2011, Operation Outdoor Freedom has hosted more than 3,000 wounded veterans on more than 400 outdoor events, like guided alligator hunts, freshwater fishing, and canoeing. The events are held on state forests, private lands and along the state’s coasts, and excursions are funded through private donations.

Sugar-free

The state is trying to incentivize some employees to change their lifestyles.

The Department of Management Services’ Division of State Group Insurance this week launched the second year of its diabetes prevention pilot program with the state’s Florida Blue and Capital Health Plan vendors. The program is available for state employees who live and work in Leon County. The 16-week lifestyle change program is valued at $400 per person and is offered at no cost to the participant or the state.

“The health and wellbeing of our state employees and their families is our top priority, and the Diabetes Prevention Program has allowed us to promote healthy lifestyle changes for our employees that lower their risk for developing diabetes while also working to save valuable taxpayer dollars,” said DMS Secretary Erin Rock. “We are thankful for the support of Florida Blue and Capital Health Plan and their willingness to commit to a second year of the program.”

Launched in April 2016, the first year of the pilot program helped participants learn about proper nutrition, weight control and exercise in an effort to prevent diabetes. In the first year, 50 percent of participants lost more than 1,000 pounds combined.

“Diabetes prevention is a critical issue for Floridians as well as all Americans,” said Dr. Carmella Sebastian, the vice president of clinical affairs at Florida Blue. “The State of Florida employee group has had terrific success with the Diabetes Prevention Program piloted last year. Florida Blue is proud to partner with the State of Florida in offering a second program in 2017.”

Awards season

2017 housing champs — The Florida Home Builders Association recently handed out “Champions of Housing” Awards to three lawmakers with deep roots in residential construction.

Sen. Tom Lee and Reps. Bryan Avila and Blaise Ingoglia took home the awards due to their support of a bill (HB 1021) in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Sen. Tom Lee was one of three state lawmakers who was honored by the Florida Home Builders Association as one of its 2017 ““Champions of Housing.” (Photo by Phil Sears)

The law, signed in June by Gov. Rick Scott, slows down the addition of new building materials to the Florida Building Code and implements recommendations from the Construction Industry Workforce Taskforce to address worker shortage in the industry.

Lee, a Brandon Republican, is an executive at Sabal Homes of Florida. Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, is a home builder; while Avila. is on the Hialeah Planning and Zoning Board

FHCA honors “Champions of the Elderly” — Nearly a dozen state lawmakers were honored this week for respecting their elders.
The Florida Health Care Association honored 11 state lawmakers — Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sen Rob Bradley, Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Rene Garcia, Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Daisy Baez, Rep. Travis Cummings, Rep. Shawn Harrison, Rep. Alex Miller, and Rep. Frank White — as the organization’s 2017 Champions of the Elderly.

Sens. Rob Bradley and Sen. Anitere Flores were among the state lawmakers honored by the Florida Health Care Association for their work on behalf of Florida’s elderly during the 2017 Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

The lawmakers were chosen because they demonstrated a deep commitment to elders and others who needed the services of long term care centers.
“Florida is fortunate to have so many extraordinary supporters for our long term care residents and families, from the people who work in our care centers to the legislators who advocate on their behalf,” said Emmett Reed, the association’s executive director. “This conference is an opportunity to bring together so many people who tirelessly perform work that is challenging but so meaningful.”
The lawmakers were recognized during the association’s annual conference, which was held at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.

School daze

Tax-free — Need to escape the heat this weekend? Go shopping.

The state’s three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday runs through Aug. 6, and is expected to save families more than $33 million on necessary school supplies, according to the Governor’s Office.

“We are looking forward to another successful back-to-school sales tax holiday, and applaud Governor Scott and the Legislature for recognizing the significance it has on our hard-working families and the 270,000 retailers throughout the state of Florida,” said R. Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Each year, shoppers show up in record numbers and provide a tremendous economic boost overall to retailers’ sales numbers while they are able to afford more of the supplies they need.”

School supplies — like notebooks, backpacks and pens — are just some of the things exempt from sales tax this weekend as part of the 2017 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday.

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shoppers nationwide plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing; $5.6 billion on shoes; $8.8 billion on electronics, like computers and calculators; and $4.9 billion on school supplies, like notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes.

The National Retail Federation survey found parents say they’ll spend an average of nearly $239 on clothing and more than $114 on school supplies.

Under this year’s sales tax holiday, items notebooks, pens and pencils, and backpacks are among those that are exempt from sales tax.

College-bound —  Thirty students can breathe a little easier this academic year, thanks to the Florida Independent College Fund.

The fund announced this week that it distributed $82,500 in scholarships to assist 30 students at private colleges and universities in Florida. The scholarships were made possible by a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges through the CIC/UPS Educational Endowment.

“All Floridians deserve access to affordable, high-quality higher education, regardless of their background,” said Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF), in a statement. “ICUF’s 30 colleges and universities are proud to partner with CIC and the UPS Foundation to make access easier for students throughout Florida.”

The organization gave out more than $1.5 million in scholarships, which make private higher education more affordable and accessible, through state-based associations across the nation.

“Independent colleges and universities in this country are remarkably effective at educating and graduating low-income and first-generation students in less time, with less student debt,” said Richard Ekman, president of CIC. “Helping these students afford a private college education is a truly critical need in our society, and it is rewarding to be a partner with the UPS Foundation and Independent Colleges and Universities as we help to support deserving students.”

Child crossing — With kiddos are heading back to school soon, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants drivers to focus on child safety this month.

“This month, as children head back to school, it is critical that motorists adjust their driving behavior to account for more children on the road,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“Slow down in school zones, follow instructions from crossing guards and properly stop for school buses,” continued Rhodes. “No trip in a vehicle is routine, especially with children. Children are very observant and modeling safe driving behavior may just save their life down the road.”

With more children on the roads, state law enforcement is reminding motorists of a new law that increases the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a school bus, resulting in injury or death.

There were 134,790 children under the age of 18 involved in a crash in Florida last year, according to preliminary data. Those crashes resulted in 1,996 serious bodily injuries and 161 fatalities, a 32 percent increase from 2014.

State law requires all drivers and passengers under the age of 18 to wear a seat belt. Law enforcement issued nearly 9,000 citations last year to motorists for not properly securing children in a vehicle. The agency is also reminding Floridians of a new law — the Cameron Mayhew Act — that increased the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a school bus, resulting in injury or death, to a $1,500 fine and a one-year license driver license suspension.

Recovered

Call it a $280,000 month.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it received $279,375 on behalf of Florida consumers in July. The state agency received 3,186 complaints, initiated 241 investigations and arrested 13 people during the same time period.

The department also provided assistance to 22,458 consumers through its 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and emails, and added 13,964 telephone numbers to the Florida Do Not Call List.

Last year, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, telemarketers, and agencies selling travel.

On board

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is doing her part to get more Republicans in the statehouse.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee announced this week that the Fort Myers Republican has been appointed to the organization’s 2017 executive committee. The announcement came on the heels of the annual meeting, which was held in Atlanta and brought together legislative leaders and business representatives from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee announced this week Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was joining its 2017 Executive Committee. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“With 69 of 99 legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, there has never been a better time to be a Republican legislative leader,” said Mike Turzai, the chairman of the RLCC. “Following our productive meeting in Atlanta, these executive committee members are prepared and ready to help serve the success stories of Republican leadership to voters ahead of the 2018 midterms.”

The RLCC works to Republican legislative leaders, and in 2016 worked to help Republicans gain control in state legislative chambers in Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota.

“The members of our 2017 executive committee will be instrumental in ensuring continued Republican victories in legislative races throughout the country,” said Linda Upmeyer, the vice-chairwoman of the RLCC.

Architects’ group recognizes The Grove

Tallahassee’s Call-Collins House is a winner, according to the American Institute of Architects, Florida/Caribbean Chapter.

The historic home, also known as The Grove, captured the chapter’s 2017 People’s Choice Award among 41 contenders and more than 5 million votes, according to the Department of State, which manages the property.

“The Call-Collins House is the centerpiece of The Grove Museum, which opened to the public in March 2017,” the release said. “The museum features furnished rooms and interactive exhibits inside the Call-Collins House, as well as 10-1/2 wooded acres less than one mile north of Florida’s State Capitol.”

Richard Keith Call, an officer on Gen. Andrew Jackson’s personal staff, modeled his home after Jackson’s Hermitage in Tennessee and is believed to have finished building it by 1831,” the Associated Press’ Gary Fineout has written about the manse.

The Call-Collins House at The Grove received the 2017 People’s Choice Award from the American Institute of Architects, Florida/Caribbean Chapter.

Call’s great-granddaughter Mary Call married Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, who also later resided in the home. He died there in 1991, and he and his wife are buried on the grounds.

The state took possession of the home and grounds, which underwent an extensive taxpayer-funded renovation that cost nearly $6 million.

“The Florida Department of State is honored and proud that the collaborative effort to restore and preserve the Call-Collins House has been recognized with the 2017 People’s Choice Award,” Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement.

“The awards won by the Call-Collins House and the LEED green building designation symbolizes our commitment to leadership in preservation and historic site stewardship and to honoring the enduring legacy of the Call and Collins families by sharing The Grove with the public.”

Virtual response

Florida attorneys are taking their talents to cyberspace.

The Florida Bar recently launched Florida Free Legal Answers, which aims to give low-income Floridians a way to get their legal questions answered by a licensed attorney free of charge. The website is a cooperative effort between The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association.

“Justice should not be restricted to only those who can afford it,” said Michael Higer, president of The Florida Bar. “As the great information equalizer, technology has the potential to help level the playing field by connecting citizens who have legal questions with those best able to answer them.”

Florida Free Legal Answers is accessible online 24/7, and would match qualified participants with licensed attorneys who can answer questions related to civil law. More than 500 attorneys have already signed up to participate in the program and volunteer their time on a pro-bono basis.

“The legal system can be a challenging maze to navigate for even the most educated and well-versed,” said Higer. “People often contact legal aid because they do not know anywhere else to turn. Many times, they do not need the full range of services from a lawyer, but rather just need answers to a question or two. This program will provide folks in need with readily available lawyers who can answer their questions simply and effectively.”

Pass the butter

Lobster lovers, rejoice: Spiny lobster season is here, well … nearly.

The regular recreational and commercial spiny lobster season kicks off on Sunday and runs through March 31, 2018. The season comes on the heels of a successful two-day sport season in July.

“Based on what we saw during the two-day mini season last month, we look forward to successful recreational harvests as well as ample opportunities for Florida’s robust commercial fishing industry,” said Brian Yablonski, the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The spiny lobster season generates more than $1 million through the sales of more than 200,000 lobster permits a year.

An FWC officer measures a lobster to make sure that it is the appropriate size. The 2017 recreational and commercial season kicks off on Sunday. (Photo via FWC.)

If you’re planning to try and capture a few of the mouthwatering crustaceans, make sure you steer clear of Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, certain areas of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Lobster hunters are also reminded to make sure to stick to the bag and possession limits, which are six spiny lobsters per person.

Folks who try to harvest puny lobsters — lobsters whose carapace is not larger than 3 inches — will be charged with a separate offense, under a new state law. It’s also against the law to harvest egg-bearing females.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

(The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.)

Florida League of Cities applauds Marco Rubio for FEMA claw back bill

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio got a pat on the back from the Florida League of Cities for filing a bill that would protect communities that receive FEMA funds from claw backs years after a disaster strikes.

The Post-Disaster Fairness to States Act puts a three-year cap on the FEMA seeking refunds for money handed out to help with disaster recovery. Similar legislation has also been filed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

“Floridians should not be subjected to permanent uncertainty about when the federal government might claw back support distributed after a disaster,” Rubio said. “Our state has experienced numerous storms since 2004, and although recovery efforts have long been completed, under current law the federal government can take back these funds, sometimes decades later—financially decimating the recipients who relied on them.”

The Florida League of Cities agreed, thanking Rubio and other lawmakers for their taking up the issue.

“Florida’s communities accept the constant threat posed to our state by hurricanes and other natural disasters, but they should not be forced to live at risk of a drawn out bureaucratic process that is confusing and inconsistent,” the League said in a press release.

“In the aftermath of a disaster, Florida’s municipalities do heroic work restoring order to their communities, and the value of help from agencies like FEMA is impossible to calculate. We applaud Senators Rubio and Nelson, Representatives Frankel and Diaz-Balart and Florida’s other congressional members, for their steadfast support on this matter.”

Rubio’s bill also applies to homeowners and carves out the claw back limitation if objectives specified for the FEMA funds are not accomplished. It also keeps in place requirements that communities getting federal resources after a disaster act as good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Pair of claims bills filed for 2018 session

Two Florida Democrats filed claims bills for the 2018 Legislative session this week, one of which would pay a Franklin County company for trees destroyed in a prescribed burn and another that would compensate a Miami-Dade man for a shaky rape and robbery conviction.

Tallahassee Sen. Bill Montford’s SB 34 seeks to compensate Shuler Limited Partnership, a timber company, for 835 acres of trees destroyed when a 2009 prescribed burn in Tate’s Hell State Forest spawned three wildfires.

A  jury awarded the company $770,493 in a 2012 lawsuit in Franklin County circuit court, but state laws prevent the company from collecting more than $100,000 without legislative approval. A claim bill has been filed on behalf of the company every year beginning with the 2015 Legislative Session.

Fort Lauderdale Sen. Perry Thurston’s SB 30 seeks $1.9 million in compensation for Barney Brown, who was released after 38 years behind bars for a rape and robbery.

When he was 14 years old, Brown went on trial for raping a woman and robbing her husband and was convicted despite the victim having an inconsistent, contradictory story and being unable to positively identify him as her assailant.

Brown was released in 2008 after a Miami-Dade County circuit judge found that “significant doubt existed as to his guilt.” Thurston’s bill would pay Brown $50,000 a year for the 38 years he spent in prison.

Both claims bills will go before lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January. Historically, only about one in five claim bills are approved by the legislature, and many of those are passed after several sessions of being filed and forgotten by lawmakers.

 

Retailers expect record breaking sales during back-to-school tax holiday

The Florida Retail Federation expects Sunshine State stores to make a bundle during the back-to-school sales tax holiday in August.

A survey conducted by FRF’s parent organization, the National Retail Federation, estimates U.S. retailers will pull in a total of $83.6 billion in revenue during the tax-free holidays in Florida and other states.

NRF also said families with children in K-12 schools will spend nearly $30 billion of that total with the average family shelling out $687.72, an increase of 8 percent over the 2016 average.

“We are looking forward to another successful Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, and applaud Governor Scott and the Legislature for recognizing the significance it has on our hardworking families and the 270,000 retailers throughout the State of Florida,” said FRF President and CEO R. Scott Shalley in a news release. “Each year, shoppers show up in record numbers and provide a tremendous economic boost overall to retailers’ sales numbers while they are able to afford more of the supplies they need.”

Florida’s back-to-school tax-free weekend will run from Aug. 4 through Aug. 6 and will include most school supplies $15 or less, clothing, shoes and accessories under $60 and computers and related accessories under $750. More information on qualifying items is available from the Florida Department of Revenue.

NRF expects retailers nationwide to sell $10.2 billion in clothing, $8.8 billion in electronics, $5.6 billion in shoes, and $4.9 billion in school supplies such as pens, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes.

Overall, school supplies look to be the most popular purchase, with 97 percent of consumers saying they are on their shopping list. More than nine out of 10 shoppers also plan to purchase clothes and shoes, while 60 percent of those polled said they would purchase electronics.

Of those browsing for electronics, nearly half said they were looking to purchase a laptop, while a little over a third said they planned to purchase a tablet or a calculator, and about a quarter said they would pick up accessories such as a mouse or flash drive.

Parents also said they would spread out their purchases across a wide variety of stores. Department stores will get a sale from 57 percent of shoppers, followed by discount stores at 54 percent, and clothing stores and online retailers at 46 percent a piece. About a third of shoppers said they would swing buy office supply stores such as OfficeMax or Office Depot to pick up school supplies.

Sunburn for 8.4.17 – Happy Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday Weekend

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

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

Attention, Florida shoppers: Be prepared for a busy weekend at mall.

The 2017 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday kicks off today and runs through Sunday. The sales tax holiday — which was included as part of a $180 million tax cut package signed into law earlier this year — is expected to save Florida shoppers more than $33 million in taxes this weekend, according to the Governor’s Office.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for families to save money while purchasing the supplies their students will need for school,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in a statement. “The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for Florida students and the back-to-school sales tax holiday makes it easier for parents and students to prepare for a successful year.”

And the sales tax holiday couldn’t be coming at a better time. The National Retail Federation estimates families with children in elementary through high school about $29.5 billion in 2017, up from $27.3 billion in 2016.

According to a recent National Retail Federation survey, parents said they will spend an average of $238.89 on clothing and $130.38 on shoes. They’ll also spend an average of $204.33 on electronics, like computers or calculators, and an average of $114.12 on school supplies, like notebooks, folders, pencils and backpacks.

“We are looking forward to another successful Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, and applaud Governor Scott and the Legislature for recognizing the significance it has on our hard-working families and the 270,000 retailers throughout the State of Florida,” said R. Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Each year, shoppers show up in record numbers and provide a tremendous economic boost overall to retailers’ sales numbers while they are able to afford more of the supplies they need.”

If you’re shopping in Florida this weekend, many of those items will be covered by the sales tax holiday.

The tax holiday covers clothing, footwear and certain accessories that sell for $60 or less; certain school supplies — such as binders, notebooks, lunch boxes, and pens — that sell for $15 or less; and personal computers and computer-related accessories — like flash drives, memory cards and web cameras — that sell for $750 or less.

Want to cash in on the holiday? Better hurry, it ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL — 

Save the date:

Gwen Graham grabs four Democratic women leaders’ endorsements” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – She picked up the endorsements of former state Reps. Karen Castor Dentel and Kelly Skidmore, Democratic National Committee member Alma Gonzalez, and former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan … Gonzalez also is a former treasurer of the Florida Democratic Party. “Gwen Graham understands building an economy that works for every Floridian starts in our public schools and colleges,” she stated. “Gwen will fight to increase public school funding by ending the lottery shell game, expand technical education starting in our middle schools, and expand access to our colleges and universities. To move forward, we must build a 21st-century economy and ensure our children and grandchildren have the skills they need to fill those new jobs.” Hanrahan, of Boca Raton, said: “Gwen Graham understands building an economy that works for every Floridian starts in our public schools and colleges. Gwen will fight to increase public school funding by ending the lottery shell game, expand technical education starting in our middle schools, and expand access to our colleges and universities.”

Adam Putnam campaign banks another $1.3M in July” via Florida PoliticsPutnam’s gubernatorial bid is now approaching $17 million in total fundraising … The two-term Agriculture Commissioner ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising, and about $11.6 million on hand between his committee, “Florida Grown,” and his campaign. Bevis said Putnam added $1.299 million between the two accounts in July to finish the month with $16.98 million in total fundraising and $12.3 million in the bank. Also noted was the fact that more than 5,000 donors had chipped in since the campaign started, with about 4,000 of those being small-dollar donors, defined as giving $500 or less.

NRCC targets potential swing Miami voters in mobile ads about health care” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – National Republicans are wading into the 2018 race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, launching a mobile ad campaign targeting potential swing voters in Florida’s 27th Congressional District. The new National Republican Congressional Committee ad, which will also go out in seven other states, is intended to grab users’ attention. The narrator adopts a frightening tone in warning voters Democrats might want to pursue single-payer health care system. One of the Democrats who has filed for Ros-Lehtinen’s Democratic-leaning seat, state Rep. David Richardson … has said in a fundraising email that he backs a single-payer system. When the latest candidate, Matt Haggman, declared his candidacy, the NRCC quickly called on him to take a position on the issue, which the GOP wants to use to paint Democrats as radical.

David Richardson responds: “Damn right I’m supporting the creation of a single-payer healthcare system.  The only healthcare plan Republicans have is to throw millions off of their insurance, then lie about people like me who actually do have a plan to expand access to healthcare to more Americans.”

Save the date:

Miami’s special Senate election getting national attention” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida –Florida Senate District 40 is grabbing national attention … Along with the Republican State Leadership Committee last week promising to give $100,000 to the Republican state Rep. José Félix Díaz … the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee named the campaign one of its “spotlight races” and pledged $150,000 to Democrat Annette Taddeo. Because it’s a relatively quiet off-election year, both parties are pouring resources into the race to do things like test messages headed into 2018. A committee led by incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens found Taddeo up by 4 percentage points, but he would not release the polling questions, which include insights on messaging and how the party frames issues.

North Escambia native Rebekah Bydlak running for HD 1” via NorthEscambia.com — Republican Rebekah Bydlak of Cantonment has filed to run for the seat currently held by Clay Ingram. Ingram can’t run again due to term limits. During the 2016 primary, Bydlak ran for Congress, taking fourth place in an eight-candidate race. “I have dedicated my life and professional career to fighting for conservative principles as a private citizen,” said Bydlak upon announcing her run for the Florida House. “For too long we have witnessed the same politicians saying one thing at home and doing another when elected, all the while getting nothing done. I’m running to fight for our conservative values and deliver for Northwest Florida.” Bydlak is currently the executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, an advocacy organization dedicated to reducing federal spending and debt.

Bruno Portigliatti up with new TV ad in HD 44 special election” via Scott Powers of Orlando RisingPortigliatti’s commercial picks up on the theme of his first, which aired two weeks ago, introducing the small-business man to voters who watch Fox News channel on cable or satellite TV, only this time seeking to characterize his main opponents as a politician and a political insider. He doesn’t name them, but presumably, former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski is the politician, and Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce President John Newstreet is the political insider. Ignored is the fourth Republican in the race, Dr. Usha Jain. “All right, now that you know me, let me tell you why I am running,” Portigliatti says in the spot. “There are too many politicians in Tallahassee. And we won’t solve our problems by sending another one.”

Click on the image below to watch the ad.

Save the date: Rep. Bryan Avila is hosting a joint fundraiser at 7 p.m. at Hialeah Park, 2200 East 4th Avenue in Hialeah. The fundraiser will benefit Avila, who is running for re-election; Manny Diaz, who is running for Senate District 36; and Frank Mingo, who is running for House District 103.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Feds sign off on Medicaid managed care, ‘lip’ money” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida – Federal officials approved a five-year extension of a statewide Medicaid managed care program and finalized a $1.5 billion pot of funding to help with charity care … State and federal officials have negotiated for months on issues such as details of the $1.5 billion for the “Low Income Pool” program … it means that millions of Medicaid beneficiaries will continue receiving care through HMOs and other types of managed-care plans through at least June 30, 2022. Also, it means that hospitals and providers such as federally qualified health centers will be able to tap into a larger amount of so-called LIP money to defray costs of caring for uninsured people. The money can go to hospitals, federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics and medical-school physician practices, according to details of the LIP money posted online by the federal agency. It can only go to help pay for what is considered charity care provided to uninsured low-income people — not for care of low-income people who have insurance.

An old tuxedo, wine and cigars” via Gary Fineout of the Fine Print – While legislators and other top state officials are not allowed to take gifts directly from lobbyists or the principals who hire lobbyists, state officials can accept gifts from others that are worth more than $100 if they report them. A look through some forms shows that only Pam Bondi and Richard Corcoran are the only top officials to regularly file them. Scott, former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have maintained that they have received zero gifts worth $100 or more in recent years. One top public official, however, who has disclosed gifts on a routine basis is Corcoran. A review of his forms for this year shows that Corcoran accepted a “old tuxedo” from fellow representative and House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo at the time of the presidential inauguration. Sen. Keith Perry gave Corcoran a box of cigars worth $100 in late January. But Negron – whose relationship with Corcoran seemed strained at times during the legislative session and subsequent special session – gave Corcoran a “humidor, crystal, wine, lighter and cutter” worth approximately $1,000 during the first week of the 2017 session.

Lizbeth Benacquisto appointed to RLCC executive committee — Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is one of several state lawmakers appointed to the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s 2017 Executive Committee, the RLCC announced this week. The announcement came on the heels of the annual national meeting in Atlanta. The RLCC is one of the leading campaign organizations for Republican legislative leaders, and has played a major role in returning legislative power to Republicans since 2010. In 2016, it helped Republicans gain control in state legislative chambers in Iowa, Kentucky, and Minnesota. “The members of our 2017 Executive Committee will be instrumental in ensuring continued Republican victories in legislative races throughout the country,” said Linda Upmeyer, the RLCC vice-chairwoman.

Bill seeks payment for injured sunbather” via the News Service of Florida – A  Central Florida senator filed a bill that would direct payment of nearly $1.9 million to a woman who suffered severe injuries when she was hit by a Volusia County Beach Patrol truck. Sen. David Simmons filed the “claim” bill, which would lead to Volusia County paying $1.895 million to Erin Joynt. The bill (SB 38) would help carry out a $2 million judgment in a lawsuit filed by Joynt, a Kansas woman who was injured in July 2011. Joynt was hit by the truck while sunbathing on Daytona Beach. Simmons’ bill … said she suffered injuries such as cranial fractures, facial fractures and rib fractures. A similar bill was approved by one Senate committee during the 2017 session but then stalled.

— STATEWIDE —

Citing ‘political games,’ tourism executive quits VISIT FLORIDA” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times Bill Lupfer, president and CEO of the Florida Attractions Association, told fellow board members he was resigning effective immediately. He cited the Sunshine Law as a factor, noting that he’s prevented by law from discussing his reasons with them in private. “I am now free,” Lupfer told board members, “to work with VISIT FLORIDA board members, other tourism industry leaders, and especially our FAA members to develop a new vision for how our state’s DMO (direct marketing organization) can best serve our industry, free of government restrictions, bureaucratic governance and political games.”

Tampa, Miami, Orlando tourism boards cut ties with VISIT FLORIDA” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Concerned about possible liability under a sweeping new disclosure law, a dozen county tourism groups, including Visit Tampa Bay and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, have broken off co-op advertising partnerships with VISIT FLORIDA. “We have not renewed our partnership as we often would do,” said Visit Tampa Bay spokesman Patrick Harrison. “We still don’t have a clear idea as to quite what the new regulations mean. We’re kind of in a wait-and-see pattern. Harrison said Visit Tampa Bay interprets a new law to require local tourism board members, who serve without pay but who also have full-time jobs in the private sector, to disclose their income. The new law requires disclosure of “employee and board member salary and benefit details from public and private funds.”… “That is one of the concerns,” Harrison said.

Bullied girl is third Florida foster child to hang herself in year” via Carol Marbin Miller and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – On her last night, Giulianna Ramos Bermudezrepeatedly refused to take her prescribed medication and bickered with the mother of her Orlando foster care group home. Sometime in the small of the night, she tied a belt around her neck and pulled until it squeezed the breath out of her. The 16-year-old became the third Florida foster child to hang herself in less than a year, and the second for whom medication may have played a role. She left behind a child of her own, a 2-year-old girl who was born shortly after Giulianna was taken into state care. Mazzelyn Marsh, a 17-year-old who took Giulianna under her wing when she entered foster care, said her best friend was desperate to get out of the group home and reunite with her daughter. In the home, called Eva House, Mazzelyn said Giulianna was bullied by the other girls for her weight, her thick Hispanic accent and her status as a young mother.Like most foster kids she knows, Mazzelyn said, Giulianna was in therapy. And like her peers, Mazzelyn said, her friend didn’t like it. She was prescribed a powerful antipsychotic drug that is also used to treat depression.

Firefighter pay raise fight goes to Supreme Court” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida –The International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 filed a notice this week as a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case … The notice stems from a June ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that rejected arguments that Scott’s veto of $2,000 pay raises for firefighters violated collective-bargaining rights. In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget — and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not. The veto, which was controversial at the time, followed a series of events that included a bargaining impasse on a union request for $1,500 pay raises for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to the June 6 appeals-court decision. The Legislature resolved the impasse by including $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language. A state law gives the Legislature responsibility for resolving impasses in collective bargaining, but the appeals-court majority focused heavily in the June ruling on Scott’s constitutional authority to veto spending items in the budget.

“Dania casino shut out in gambling permit case” via Florida Politics – State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permitholder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state. Dania Entertainment Center, the company that owns The Casino @ Dania Beach, asked for a declaratory judgment on its “converted” summer jai alai permit. The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted. The department’s “final order” also is a win for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which asked to intervene in the case. The Seminoles, who operate the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, had said allowing gambling licenses to be moved within a county “would provide out-of-state companies (with) an incentive to (buy) a license, possibly resulting in increased business competition for the Tribe.”

Post-Pulse push for gun reforms hits a wall” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando SentinelOne year later, calls for tougher gun laws have gone nowhere in Washington or Tallahassee. The reasons behind that include the election of strongly pro-gun President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress as well as the rise of a progressive movement looking to reach out to working-class voters, many of whom are inclined to support gun rights as they are. “For a lot of progressive candidates, they still care about gun-control issues, but there are so many other issues important in the age of Donald Trump,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. As the 2018 races approach, many Democratic candidates and officeholders in Florida still back a ban on assault weapons — a key part of Hillary Clinton’s platform in 2016 and supported by 52 percent of Central Floridians in a Mason-Dixon poll six months after Pulse.

Duke Energy seeks to recoup higher fuel costs” via the News Service of Florida – Duke Energy Florida has filed a proposal that could lead to recouping about $200 million from customers … because of unanticipated fuel costs. Fuel such as natural gas and coal makes up a large portion of electric bills, with utilities typically going before the Public Service Commission each fall to get approval for fuel costs, which are then passed through to customers. In denying the midyear increase for Duke, the Public Service Commission effectively put off a decision about whether the utility should be able to recoup the higher-than-anticipated costs. The filing seeks what is known as a “true-up” of $195.5 million in fuel costs and $5.1 million in other costs, the document said. A hearing is scheduled in October.

— WEEKEND TV —

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: James will discuss “back-to-school “legal basics” with attorney Shelli Freeland Eddie of the Freeland Eddie Law Group.

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include Tampa Bay Times reporter Kathleen McGrory, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith and Democratic political consultant Victor DiMaio.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: Topic is teacher retention, with state Rep. Rene Plasencia and Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Topic is the House District 44 special Republican primary with business executive Bruno Portigliatti and Dr. Usha Jain, medical director for the Emergi Care Medical Center. PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter examines Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham’s claim about people being more prone to death while covered by Medicaid as opposed to being uninsured.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will speak with attorney and lobbyist Sean Pittman and Joanne McCall of the Florida Education Association.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Justice talks with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Congressman John Rutherford of Florida’s 4th Congressional District and Chris Hand, former Chief of Staff for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Caption: Marco Rubio will be the special guest on This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice.

— ALOE —

What Jeff Brandes is reading –Humans cause most self-driving car accidents” via Kia Kokalitcheva of Axios – Since 2014, there have only been 34 reported accidents involving self-driving cars on California roads, according to state incident reports — and most happened when a human-driven car rear-ended or bumped into a self-driving car stopped at a red light or stop sign, or driving at low speed … A major benefit to self-driving cars is the potential to reduce traffic accidents caused by human error. While it’s a small set of data, the low rate of accidents caused by self-driving cars underscores the technology’s enhanced safety. But humans will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. A closer look at those accident reports reveals stark differences between how self-driving cars interpret the rules of the road and how humans behave behind the wheel. For example, human drivers make sudden lane changes or run red lights — not the way self-driving cars are taught to behave on the road. These awkward interactions between self-driving and human-driven cars will probably result in more fender-benders as more autonomous vehicles arrive on the roads.

Happy birthday to Rep. Tom Leek and our friends, Ryan Anderson, Marty Fiorentino, and Herbie Thiele. 

Adam Putnam campaign banks another $1.3 million in July

Between his campaign and committee, Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid is now approaching $17 million in total fundraising, including nearly $1.3 million banked in July.

“The finance operation continues to gain strength, with nearly $17 million in contributions to support Adam Putnam for Governor. But, more importantly, our grassroots momentum is gaining speed,” campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis announced Thursday. “Floridians are passionate about Adam Putnam’s willingness to fight for our freedoms and his ability to bring common sense, business smarts to our state’s capital.”

The two-term Agriculture Commissioner ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising, and about $11.6 million on hand between his committee, “Florida Grown,” and his campaign. Bevis said Putnam added $1.299 million between the two accounts in July to finish the month with $16.98 million in total fundraising and $12.3 million in the bank.

Also noted was the fact that more than 5,000 donors had chipped in since the campaign started, with about 4,000 of those being small-dollar donors, defined as giving $500 or less.

Neither fundraising report is available on the Florida Division of Elections website, though the figures provided by the campaign indicate Putnam spent more than $600,000 last month.

The campaign also touted a trip to Kennedy Space Center with Vice President Mike Pence and stops at fire houses and Republican barbecues last month. The campaign also beat Putnam’s recently acquired “NRA sell out” drum, complete with mention of a clay shoot and picture of him gun-in-hand.

Putnam is currently the only major GOP candidate running for governor, though Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran each mulling a run.

Latvala has $3.84 million on hand in his political committee, “Florida Leadership Fund,” while Corcoran recently announced hitting nearly $3 million in total fundraising since starting his committee, “Watchdog PAC,” in May.

Latvala will announce whether he will run Aug. 16 at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, while Corcoran will wait to announce until after the 2018 legislative session.

Jack Latvala to announce 2018 plans at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

If there’s one mammal who has done more to bring dollars to north Pinellas’ economy than Winter the Dolphin, it’s state Senator Jack Latvala. So it’s perhaps fitting that the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has picked the Clearwater Marine Aquarium – home to Winter and friends – to formally announce his political plans for 2018.

It’s widely expected that Latvala, who is term-limited from running again for the Senate, will join the race to be Florida’s next governor. In July, he told the family and friends who gathered at his annual Maine confab that he would reveal his intentions on August 16.

Thursday morning he supplied more details about what will happen that day, telling Florida Politics that his announcement will be at 1 p.m. at the aquarium.

The aquarium has benefitted substantially from Latvala’s role in writing past and current state budgets. When he was chairman of a Senate committee overseeing economic development, Latvala saw to it that the aquarium received million-dollar appropriations.

In 2003, Latvala and state Rep. Ed Hooper were the political forces behind an allocation of $5 million to speed production of a sequel to Dolphin Tale, the movie about Winter’s recovery after losing its tail after being caught in a crab trap.

“This is a proven project. It’s put heads in the beds in our hotels here,” Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times at the time.

One report showed that the increase in attendance at the aquarium since the Dolphin Tale movies premiered has led to a $2 billion economic boost to Pinellas County. The study found that 44,440 jobs were supported by the aquarium over a four-year period, or about 11,000 jobs a year.

Job creation will likely be at the center of Latvala’s campaign for governor, should he decide to run. While spending the summer seemingly in pursuit of attending as many chamber of commerce luncheons as possible, Latvala has bracketed his possible GOP primary opponents — Adam Putnam and, probably, Richard Corcoran – for having never signed a paycheck.

Meanwhile, Latvala continues to stock up for the long fight ahead.

Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee will report it raised $336,000 in July.

Contribution records on the committee website run through July 27 and show $255,000 raised, meaning the Clearwater Republican brought in more than $100,000 in the final days of the month.

Latvala hasn’t budged from waiting until Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor.

“Everything is coming along according to plan,” he said.

State ethics panel clears Aaron Bean in budget controversy

It’s a swing and a miss for The Naples Daily News and its man in Tallahassee, Arek Sarkissian, as state ethics commissioners tossed out a case against Sen. Aaron Bean stemming from his hand in a $1 million special appropriation.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found “no probable cause to believe that Senator Bean misused his position to secure an appropriation in the State budget for a business venture in which he was personally involved, and dismissed the allegation,” according to a Wednesday press release.

The claim, according to a March exposé penned by Capitol reporter Sarkissian, who’s edited by Pulitzer Prize-winner and Manny Garcia hire Brett Blackledge:

“Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically.”

But wait, there’s more.

The Commission also “voted to dismiss an allegation that he had a voting conflict when he voted to approve a line item appropriation for the business venture,” according to the release.

And “no probable cause was found to believe that the Senator misused his position to ask a fellow legislator to include a request for the business appropriation in the Florida State University budget.”

Why, the board even cleared Bean of “misus(ing) his position to receive a $7.76 reimbursement for mileage.”

Sarkissian was tipped to the salacious story by Carlos Slay, a self-styled “public advocate” who lost a contentious race to Drew.

“Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean are childhood friends. The e-mail obtained through a records request show that John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean were working on creating a business opportunity that would allow each of them to make money,” Slay wrote, in emails he sent to this outlet in October.

He then filed the ethics complaint.

We didn’t bite then. Seems we called it right.

As for Sarkissian: Sorry, no investigative reporting award for you on this one.

As The Wire’s Omar Little said: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

Jack Latvala now has $3.84 mil on hand for possible 2018 run

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala has $3.84 million in the bank two weeks before he plans to announce whether or not he will run for Florida governor.

Latvala’s fundraising arm, “Florida Leadership Committee,” will report it raised $336,000 in July. Contribution records on the committee website run through July 27 and show $255,000 raised, meaning the Clearwater Republican brought in more than $100,000 in the final days of the month.

Latvala is waiting until Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor, and hasn’t budged from the planned reveal.

“Everything is coming along according to plan,” he said.

His current cash on hand puts him slightly ahead of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whose political committee just announced it has raised almost $3 million to date. Corcoran will decide on his 2018 plans after the next legislative session.

Top contributions to FLC in July include $50,000 from Destin-based Sterling Diversified, $25,000 from helicopter training outfit Vestcor Companies and another $25,000 from the FBTA Transportation PAC.

FLC also had at least seven donors at the $10,000 level: The Wilbur C. Smith Law Firm, JM Family Enterprises, Disney Worldwide Services, Jacksonville Kennel Club, the Florida Hospital Association, ChiroPAC and Creating Possibilities, a political committee chaired by longtime Latvala ally and former Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff.

Latvala’s committee also spent about $68,000 in July, with another $50,000 heading out in the first two days of August. Most of that money is going to consultanting researchers, a necessity for any successful statewide campaign.

Palm Harbor-based Tel Opinion Research picked up $20,000 for research, Champion Consulting was paid more than $16,000 to help with political strategy and  Jacksonville-based Whitson Group got a $10,000 check for research.

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