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Scott Powers

Jason Brodeur raises nearly $400K for 2020 state Senate bid — then gives $165K back

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur had a very, very good fundraising month in February for his campaign for state Senate District 9, raising nearly $88,000 in his campaign account and another $318,000 for his political committee.

But then he gave much of it back.

“We worked real, real hard,” Brodeur, of Sanford, stated in comments to, adding that his PAC, Friends of Jason Brodeur, is going to report in April that it raised another $100,000 in the first few days of March before the Legislative Session started and shut down all fundraising.

However, a big chunk of the money went around in a circle, leaving Friends of Jason Brodeur’s coffers just a few days after it came in.

The incoming money to Friends of Jason Brodeur included a Feb. 8 $150,000 donation from the Florida Committee for Conservative Leadership, run by Republican state Reps. Ben Albritton, Jr. of Wauchula and Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers.

Then, at the end of February, Friends of Jason Brodeur donated $165,000o to Friends of Matt Caldwell, another committee supporting Caldwell.

All totaled, Friends of Jason Brodeur brought in $318,000 in February but donated or spent $173,000.

Seven other political committees also each donated more than $10,000 to Friends of Jason Brodeur during the month, from other political committees, health care and food interests.

His official campaign picked up scores of checks for $1,000, primarily from political committees and health care and hospitality interests.

Brodeur is running to succeed state Sen. David Simmons, who’ll be term-limited out in 2020.

His February hauls give him $100,000 in his official campaign chest, and $910,000 in his PAC.

That dwarfs other Senate candidates from Central Florida.

Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland raised $17,000 in February to start his campaign fund for a 2020 re-election bid in Senate District 11. Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando has not yet reported raising any money for his 2020 re-election bid in Senate District 15.

Brightline regulatory bills may be pre-empted

A legislative staff legislative bill analysis for a Florida Senate bill seeking to regulate the proposed, privately owned and run Brightline 110-mph passenger train suggests that Florida may not be able to regulate trains.

The analysis on Senate Bill 386, introduced by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne, includes a comment from the general counsel’s office that declares: “Because of the nature of railroad regulation, the proposed bill – in whole or in part – may be pre-empted by federal laws and regulations.”

If that comes to pass, or if that comment derails SB 386, it could be a critical blow to opponents up and down the east coast of Florida who have been trying to tightly control or even stop the private trains from traveling through on the way from West Palm Beach and Orlando some day.

Mayfield and state Reps. MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta and Erin Grall of Vero Beach had introduced companion bills seeking to lay down safety and security regulations, inspections, fines, and liability standards for private passenger trains traveling at high speeds. Last month they clashed with representatives of the companies behind Brightline during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee over the necessity, practicality and viability of the measures.

No staff analysis has yet been released on Magar and Grall’s proposal, House Bill 269.

Mayfield, Magar and Grall could not be reached late Friday after the analysis was released.

The analysis of SB 386  also includes this description of federal law:

“Generally, if a railroad is engaged in transportation-related activities, federal law will likely preempt state and local attempts to regulate railroad operations and safety. A number of federal laws control railroad operations, but three commonly found to preempt state and local attempts to regulate railroad activities are the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, and the Noise Control Act of 1972.”

Brightline intends to open the first leg of its passenger service this summer connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, though those trains would travel no faster than 79 mph.

The proposed route from West Palm to Orlando is in limbo in part because of opposition from local governments and others in the ride-over counties, notably Indian River and Martin, which have sued, putting a crimp in Brightline’s financing plans to raise $1.1 billion to build out the tracks on that route. Those trains, if they run, could travel 110 mph from West Palm to Cocoa, and up to 120 mph between Cocoa and the Orlando International Airport.

David Smith starts Florida House run with $25K loan; David Santiago, Mike La Rosa raise $21K

Republican candidate David Smith has started his run for Florida House District 28 with a personal $25,000 loan to his campaign.

Smith, of Winter Springs, is running to replace state Rep. Jason Brodeur, who is term-limited out in 2018, in a district that covers east Seminole County.

The former Marine colonel and modeling and simulation business consultant faces student Devin Guillermo Perez, who reported no campaign money through the end of February, in the latest information filed with the Florida Division of Elections and posted Friday.

Smith raised more than $200,000 in a failed primary challenge to then U.S. Rep. John Mica in 2014, in a race in which he contributed only about $3,000 to his own campaign.

Among Central Florida House races, Smith’s loan gives him one of the biggest campaign chests of those who have reported.

Both Republican incumbent state Reps. David Santiago of Deltona and Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud reported raising $21,000 during the month, all in contributions, and that represents their full campaign fund for the cycle so far.

Santiago has a primary opponent in House District 27, Deltona personal injury lawyer William McBride, who kicked off his campaign last year with a $250,000 loan, then took some of it back. He has not raised any money in several months but still has $114,000, including $37,000 he raised early last year.

La Rosa does not yet have an opponent in House District 42.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood has $29,000 so far for his re-election bid in House District 29. All of it was raised last year. He has no opponent yet in House District 29.

Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando raised $2,000 in February, giving him $27,700 for his re-election campaign in House District 50.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs raised $6,000 last month and $18,400 in his coffers. He has no opponent yet in House District 30.

Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora did not raise any money in February but has $5,000 on hand, with no opponent yet in House District 31.

In House District 44, where state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle is leaving from term limits, two candidates have filed, but neither has reported raising any money yet. The candidates there are Republican Usha Jain of Orlando, who ran for Orange County Commission last year and also is running for governor at the moment, and Democrat Paul Jason Chandler of Orlando, who just entered the race on Monday.

In House District 45, Democratic state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee has not reported any campaign finance activity yet. She has no opponent yet.

In House District 46, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone of Orlando also has not reported any activity, and has no opponent.

In House District 47, February reports have not yet been posted for Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park. He ended January with $4,000. He is unopposed so far.

House District 48 incumbent Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando has not yet reported raising any money, and has no opponent yet.

Space Florida approves loan to get OneWeb factory under construction

With a $17.5 million, third-party loan arranged and approved Friday by Space Florida, OneWeb expects to begin construction of its satellite factory next week outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center.

OneWeb already had received approval for a $17.5 million package of state incentives through the Florida Department of Transportation in a deal SpaceFlorida worked out last year. The loan, through SunTrust Bank, approved Friday by the SpaceFlorida Board of Directors, expedites the flow of that money to get construction started, while OneWeb and its partners, principally Airbus, work through some corporate arrangements on longterm financing.

The company is committed to building a $300 million satellite factory in Exploration Park, a business park operated by SpaceFlorida. OneWeb’s factory will go in across the street from another space factory already being built there by Blue Origin, for the construction of that company’s next generation rocket, the New Glenn.

Earlier this week OneWeb and Blue Origin announced plans for five launches of OneWeb satellites on New Glenn rockets, from a launch site Blue Origin has leased at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

OneWeb tentatively is talking about breaking ground for the first phase of its new plant next Thursday. When the factory was announced a year ago, OneWeb founder Greg Wyler pledged 250 jobs paying an average salary of $86,000.

The Space Florida board went through the loan arrangement with virtually no debate or opposition.

According to Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the loan is to be paid back by OneWeb or its partners, and if for some reason they cannot, the loan will be paid back through the money the Department of Transportation set aside for incentives last year. “Space Florida is not on the hook,” for the money, he said.


State attorney: Law enforcement to look into Andrew Gillum’s email

The office of State Attorney Jack Campbell in Tallahassee confirmed reports that he has advised Leon County or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into whether Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a newly announced Democratic candidate for governor, illegally used city software to send out campaign email.

“I can confirm there have been allegations; a complaint has been made. And that it has been referred to an investigative agency,” said Assistant State Attorney Eddie Evans of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit.

According to a report from the Republican Governors Association, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Gillum released the following statement from the Tallahassee Mayor’s Office:

“The state attorney has a duty to follow up on the complaints his office receives. While I am certain there are no grounds for further action, I will fully comply with the Sheriff’s Office. I have apologized for the human error and reimbursed the city for the expense of the software. I look forward to bringing this inquiry to a speedy conclusion.”

The matter involves reports that have been breaking in the Tallahassee Democrat, starting last week, which say Gillum had used Tallahassee city property to send campaign email in his just-announced Democratic campaign for governor in 2018.

Campbell received a letter from someone (apparently on the Jefferson County Grand Jury) wanting to know what he would do about it. In a response letter dated Thursday and provided to through an open records request, Campbell replied:

“I am aware of the complaints concerning Mayor Gillum’s use of an email system and have recently spoken to the Leon County Sheriff and Tallahassee Police Department concerning an investigation of these allegations. I believe that either the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the Leon County Sheriff will do the investigation and then present their findings to me.”

After the first Tallahassee Democrat reports, Gillum acknowledged he conducted campaign correspondence on city property, called it a mistake, and said he was reimbursing the city for the costs.

Campbell made it clear he knows very little about the facts right now.

In his letter to the complainant — Paul Henry, whose address was redacted, which Campbell’s office cited as an open records exemption — Campbell declared:”I, like you, currently only know what I have learned from the media and the internet and would never base any decisions purely on those reports.”


Study contends Airbnb running ‘illegal hotels’

A new study released Thursday by a national hotel group that has criticized the growth of app-based home-sharing networks contends the biggest of  them, Airbnb, has gotten away from home-sharing and now is promoting illegal hotels.

The study, conducted by the CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research and released by The American Hotel & Lodging Association, takes a look at how many Airbnb host properties are something besides home-sharing, and finds that in a lot of cities cities the answer is many, and in Miami the answer is most.

The study looked at only 13 cities in which Airbnb does business, and Miami was the only Florida city. In Miami, according to the study, 58 percent of the revenue generated came from “hosts” who operate two or more self-contained residences where no one lives except the guests who are paying to stay a few nights at a time.

Unless they’re fully licensed, that’s an illegal hotel – not a home-sharing arrangement, AHLA President and Chief Executive Officer Katherine Lugar contended in a news release.

“Once upon a time Airbnb might have simply been a home sharing company, but this analysis shows that’s just a fairytale now,” she stated. “This report provides a stark contrast to the picture that Airbnb presents to policymakers and the public and sheds light on why the company has largely refused to take even basic steps to stop illegal hotel operators, because these actors drive the overwhelming – and growing – portion of its revenue.

“Indeed, it appears that Airbnb is actively supporting this commercial activity rather than trying to operate within the boundaries of the law. Today we are calling on Airbnb to finally come clean, tell the truth to the communities where it operates and crack down on the illegal hotels that it facilitates.”

The study contended that in almost every market examined the percentage of revenue from multi-unit hosts increased from 2015 to 2016. The exceptions were New York City and San Francisco, where, the report states, policymakers enacted regulations to limit abuse by commercial operators and ensure short-term rentals represent true home sharing.

Benjamin Breit, spokesman for Airbnb Florida, responded by calling the report misleading and inaccurate “and bought and paid for by the big hotels.”

It is, he said in a written response, “The latest example of the industry’s willingness to say and do anything to protect their record profits, preserve their ability to price gouge consumers and squash their competition. As the AHLA already knows, many of their member inns, motels and hotels list rooms on our platform, so these are included in the very data on “commercial” listings the big hotels seem so concerned about.”


Stephanie Murphy bill to repeal ban on gun violence research

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy introduced a bill Thursday to repeal the federal ban on scientific research into gun violence and then blasted any fellow members of Congress who “seek to suppress research” as un-American.

Murphy, from Winter Park, specifically referred to the June 12 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub as one reason for her sponsorship but also noted the 33,000 annual gun deaths in America, calling it “the daily drumbeat of violence.”

Her bill, which she dubbed the “Gun Violence Research Act,” would repeal provisions that prevent the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies from researching gun violence and firearm injury prevention.

“This research would inform policymakers as they consider whether to enact reasonable reforms that both save lives and protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Murphy said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday.

“The decision rests with elected officials about whether to pass new laws designed to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous individuals, in a manner consistent with the Second Amendment,” she continued. “But lawmakers of both parties should have the benefit of the best scientific research on the subject as they deliberate and debate.”

The bill likely will face powerful and potentially united Republican opposition, as the 20-year-old ban on federal funding of gun violence research has been an unmovable position for many years.

Murphy took aim in advance of anyone ready to defend the ban.

“I can respect that elected officials, like the diverse Americans they represent, have a range of views about the wisdom of enacting reasonable reforms within the space allowed by the Second Amendment,” she said on the floor. “What I cannot respect is any lawmaker who would seek to suppress research into gun-related incidents merely because the lawmaker fears this research could serve as the basis for legislative action that the lawmaker does not favor.

“Restricting research because you may disagree with its results is un-American to its core, a deviation from our proud national tradition of free and open inquiry.”

In a press release issued by her office, Murphy proclaimed it is time to act.

“No community should ever go through an attack like we saw at the Pulse nightclub and too many people around the nation are dying from gun-related incidents. It is past time to act,” Murphy stated. “Across the spectrum of public safety, we know research saves lives. To deny lawmakers and other public officials access to critical, life-saving data is to allow decisions to be made based on politics, not facts. My bill allows evidence-based research into one of the leading causes of death in America that will help us save lives.”

Central Florida Expressway Authority to look closely at Split Oak Park highway proposal

Plans to push an extension of the Osceola County Parkway through an environmentally-sensitive Split Oak Forest Park are not yet the concern of the Central Florida Expressway Authority but they soon will be and that agency’s leaders promised worried environmentalists Thursday that they will look closely at it.

“We’re going to engage the environmental community, all of the stakeholders … to be a part of the process,” vowed CFX Executive Director Laura Kelley.

Kelley was responding to a wave of opposition that earlier this week washed over the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, another agency with limited or no jurisdiction yet, and on Thursday onto the CFX Board of Directors meeting.

Specifically, she was referring to the CFX’s plans to essentially go back to square one on planning for the road, with a $1.1 million feasibility study the board signed off on Thursday.

The Osceola County Expressway Authority is set to vote on the route at its April meeting.

The Osceola County Expressway Authority is planning to extend the Osceola Parkway east and south, to eventually connect up with a network of new tollroads that agency has been planning. But the parkway extension plans call for the tolled highway to actually enter Orange County and then pass through the middle of the Split Oak Forest Park. That nature preserve originally established in the 1990s as a wetlands mitigation bank straddling the Orange-Osceola counties line.

Environmentalists, conservationists and others flooded the Orange County meeting on Tuesday and then appeared at the CFX board meeting urging them to recognize that the Split Oak park must not be traversed by a broad, four-lane divided highway and that the financial reasonings behind that preferred route are suspect.

They included former Orange County Commission Chair Linda Chapin, who said the park was created for both conservation purposes and passive park purposes.

“It has served us very, very well for 20 years,” Chapin said. “I do feel compelled to say that the very notion that any entity would contemplate building a major roadway in another county’s jurisdiction, without the very closest of consultation and collaboration, is really quite disappointing.”

CFX is in the process of taking over the Osceola County Expressway Authority and eventually will own and control all that the Osceola County agency now owns, controls and plans. Already, CFX is negotiating contracts to redo some of the planning for the parkway and other longterm projects.

That includes the feasibility study with CH2M Hill, which the board approved Thursday, to begin anew looking at what could or should be done with the Osceola Parkway.

Jennifer Thompson, both a CFX board member and an Orange County commissioner whose district includes the Split Oak Park, convinced the CFX board to require a second public hearing, in Orange County, during the feasibility study process. She also called for presentations before the Orange County commissioners.

“I’ve been working on this project from the Osceola County Expressway side for about two years,” Thompson said.

Brevard County wins twice in pursuit of place on expressway board

Brevard County’s push to get onto the Central Florida Expressway Authority Board won almost simultaneous victories Thursday in a Florida House panel and the expressway authority’s board itself.

The effort is being spearheaded by state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Merritt Island Republican whose House Bill 299 would create a 10th seat on the expressway board and reserve it for a Brevard County representative.

On Thursday that bill swiftly and unanimously cleared the House Government Accountability Committee with no discussion and no debate. It’s the second House committee the bill has cleared. A companion bill, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield‘s Senate Bill 720, awaits two hearings in the Senate.

The matter had come to a surprise to the expressway authority itself, which was not aware of the bills or the effort behind them, until after the bills had been filed. CFX officials initially had expressed confusion about the effort because no CFX highways extend into Brevard, and only very long-term plans – 20 or more years out – envision any, and those plans had anticipated the Brevard portions would be built by the state.

Yet on Thursday, the CFX board decided it liked the idea, given the current and growing cross-commuting and tourist transportation between the two counties and the longterm prospects.

The CFX board got its first briefing on the matter Thursday morning from Brevard County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Curt Smith in Orlando — literally simultaneously with when Goodson presented his bill to the House Government Accountability Committee in Tallahassee.

Ten minutes after the House committee approved Goodson’s HB 299 in Tallahassee, the CFX board crafted and unanimously approved a resolution supporting the bill in Orlando.

Goodson and Smith both made clearer the intentions behind the bill. In his Feb. 22 presentation to the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, Goodson implied that CFX already has highways in Brevard County. On Thursday, before the House Government Accountability Committee, Goodson clarified that to say only the non-CFX portions of those roads enter Brevard.

“Sections of the expressway also go into Brevard… Now once it hits the county line, it’s not theirs,” Goodson said. “But we encompass a lot of traffic coming from the airport, Disney and all that to the cruises and Port Canaveral.”

In his presentation in Orlando to the CFX board, Smith made it clear that he wanted Brevard to have a seat on the board because the traffic between the two counties is intertwined, and Brevard would like to be involved in any discussions that could lead to new toll roads to serve that traffic.

In particular, he advocated extensions of at least one CFX tollroad into Brevard to carry some of that traffic.

“Brevard would like to come to the table and be a part of CFX. We think we have a lot to offer. It would certainly be beneficial to us,” Smith said. “As Brevard continues to grow, and Central Florida continues to grow, it would provide another east-west corridor and greatly relieve the traffic on [State Roads} 520 and 528. Because if anybody has traveled up the East Coast … they stopped building roads about 20 years ago, but they didn’t stop adding people. And the roads are just crazy, terrible.”

Several CFX board members, led by Seminole County Commissioner Brenda Carey, said they thought a  Brevard voice would be important to long-term planning for the region.

“I don’t know of any east-west roads that we have or that we’ve planned that stop at the east Orange County line,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, chair of the CFX board. “All of them if they reach the Orange County line they go ahead  and go into Brevard County. So I think there is a pretty good consensus here that it would be wise to add a seat to this board and to include Brevard County.”

Bill Nelson warns of Russia, China cyberthreats

After a classified intelligence briefing for a newly-formed U.S. Senate panel on cyberterrorism, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson issued a strong warning Wednesday.

Nelson, the Ranking Democrat, acknowledging a “very serious” cyberattack by Russia on American elections and warning that American infrastructure is vulnerable.

The classified briefing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cyberterrorism Subcommittee, chaired by Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, took place Wednesday afternoon. Nelson issued the following statement:

“We have to accept the fact that right now, countries like Russia and China can inflict serious damage on our critical infrastructure through cyberspace, despite our best efforts to defend ourselves. In order to protect ourselves as we build up our capabilities, we have to deter these countries by making the consequences of an attack so severe that they wouldn’t even consider attacking us in the first place.

“We have already suffered some very serious cyberattacks such as Russia’s recent interference in our elections and China and North Korea’s hacking of U.S. corporations on a near daily basis. Developing methods and plans to threaten what these countries value the most — in order to deter future attacks — is one of our top priorities.”

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