Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Adam Putnam to head out on “Florida First” campaign tour

The Adam Putnam campaign for Governor on Tuesday announced a “statewide tour of Florida with at least one stop planned in every major region of the state.”

The tour comes as Putnam is hurting in the polls and in recent fundraising against President Donald Trump-endorsed GOP candidate Ron DeSantis.

The state’s primary election is two weeks away.

“From Perdido Key to Key West, Florida is a prize and you must be present to win,” Putnam said in a statement – a swipe at Congressman DeSantis’ regular absence from the state.

“Over the next two weeks I will be making stops in communities across our great state and sharing my vision to make Florida the launchpad for the American dream,” Putnam added.

“This is a grassroots-driven campaign and as our state’s next governor I will fight to keep power in the hands of Florida families, not Washington or Tallahassee.”

The Florida First statewide tour will kick off Wednesday and continue through Saturday, Aug. 25.

Planned stops include, but are not limited to Santa Rosa Beach, Panama City, Lake City, Winter Park, Ormond Beach, Jacksonville, Fruit Cove, Clearwater, Brandon, Dade City, Bradenton, Sarasota, North Port, Moore Haven, West Palm Beach, Miami, The Villages, Sanford, and Temple Terrace.

For more information, visit the Adam Putnam for Governor Eventbrite page.

Rick Scott OKs emergency loans to cope with algae, red tide

Small businesses hurt by algae blooms and red tide can now apply to the state for emergency loans, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Tuesday.

Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, which provides “short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses experiencing physical or economic loss.” The program is managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

“Florida’s businesses are a large reason why our state is the best place in the country to live,” Scott said in a statement. “This program will help our business community recover from these emergencies.”

— Small businesses affected by blue-green algae in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties may apply for assistance from today through Sept. 7.

— Small businesses affected by the red tide in Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties may apply for assistance from today through Oct. 12.

The short-term, interest-free loans help ‘bridge the gap’ between the time damage is incurred and when a business secures other financial resources.

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For more information on the program, visit www.floridadisasterloan.org, call the Florida Small Business Development Center Network at (850) 898-3479 or email <Disaster@FloridaSBDC.org>. The phone line will be answered during regular business hours; all voicemails and emails will be responded to within 24 hours.

Six candidates qualify for two seats on Seminole City Council

A half-dozen candidates have made the ballot to run for a pair of  seats on the Seminole City Council.

At the end of the Aug. 13 qualifying deadline, incumbents Chris Burke and Trish Springer had made the cut, as had former council member Dan Hester, perennial candidate Thom Christy and first-time candidates Thomas Marrah and Kelly Wissing.

The six candidates will all appear next to each other on the ballot and the top two vote-getters when all ballots are counted will be elected to a three-year term on the Seminole City Council. Councilmembers are paid $8,200 a year.

Burke has been on the council since 2012, and is currently serving as Vice Mayor. Springer, an insurance professional and owner of Springer Electric, has been on the council since 2015.

Hester, who served on the council from 2005 through 2010, is the founder of Meow Now, an organization that traps and humanely neuters and vaccinates feral cats in an effort to bring down the areas feral cat population.

The Seminole seats will be up for grabs on the November ballot. Along with Dunedin, which has two commission seats on the ballot, Seminole is one of two municipalities that will have candidates on the general election ballot.

The six candidates will all appear next to each other on the ballot and the top two vote-getters when all ballots are counted will be elected to a three-year term on the Seminole City Council. Council members are paid $8,200 a year.

Are smartphones boosting workers’ compensation claims?

One area is bucking the long-term decline in workers’ compensation claims nationally, according to a study by an industry data clearinghouse and rate-setting agent: Motor vehicle accidents.

These increased by 5 percent between 2011 and 2016, amid a 17.6 percent decline in all claims. The blame likely lies with use of smartphones and other distractions to drivers, according to the analysis by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI.

“Continued advances in workplace safety have helped drive a long-term decline in workers compensation claim frequency,”Bill Donnell, NCCI’s president and chief executive officer, said in a written statement. “Troubling, however, is that claims resulting from injuries and deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents have been on the rise.

“This rise in motor vehicle accident claims coincides with the increasing popularity and use of smartphones, which points to distracted driving as a key contributing factor,” he said. “It’s time for all stakeholders to better understand and work together to address this important societal issue.”

NCCI collects and analyzes claims data and provides loss-cost calculations nationally. Florida is among the states for which the organization recommends premium levels to state regulators.

The decline in overall workers’ compensation claims began around 2000. NCCI attributed the trend to automation, robotics, and other advances in workplace safety. The motor vehicle accident trend mostly involved workers who spent the most time behind the wheel — truckers, taxi drivers, and salespersons.

“A wide variety of external factors may contribute to MVAs (motor vehicle accidents),” a study summary reads.

“However, it is striking how the increasing popularity and use of smartphones coincides with this growing trend of MVAs. By the end of 2010, approximately 27 percent of all cellphones were smartphones. But by the end of 2016, that figure had tripled to 81 percent.”

At least 27 percent of crashes involved drivers talking and texting on cellphones, according to National Safety Council data. However, “there is strong evidence to support that underreporting of driver cellphone use in crashes is resulting in a substantial underestimation of the magnitude of the public safety threat,” the council concluded.

Given the potential for serious head, neck, and multiple injuries, these claims can cost employers and carriers as much as twice the average claim, the NCCI report says. They are 12 percent more likely to involve a fatality.

“These often involve very serious injuries that can take their toll on injured workers and their families,” said Jim Davis, an NCCI director and actuary who wrote the analysis. “Our intent is for this article to bring attention to this troubling trend and generate more discussion on possible solutions.”

NCCI pointed to several strategies to reverse the trend, including apps that block calls or texts while a vehicle is moving; state-level legislative bans on calls and texts while driving; and self-driving vehicles.

Machinery tax cut leads manufacturers to back Rick Scott Senate bid

The Manufacturers Association of Florida, a group 20,000 strong, on Monday threw the weight of its endorsement behind Gov. Rick Scott in his Senate bid.

Scott’s move to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery, cutting $73 million in taxes for the sector, factored heavily into the endorsement.

“Governor Scott’s work to successfully eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment was a game changer for our industry and a great win for all of Florida. Because of Governor Scott’s efforts, the manufacturing industry is responsible for more than 378,100 jobs across the state, and we are growing more year after year,” asserted MAF President Al Stimac.

“We also appreciate the Governor’s focus on workforce development, and we are excited to build on this focus through our Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program,” Stimac added.

Scott framed the endorsement as vindication of his larger legacy.

“Over the past seven and a half years, we’ve worked hard to permanently repeal the manufacturing sales tax, cut burdensome regulations and make important investments in workforce development so businesses can grow and Floridians can be prepared for new job opportunities,” Scott said.

“It is time to bring that way of thinking to Washington and as U.S. Senator, I will fight to require a supermajority vote of Congress to approve any tax or fee increase before it can become law, so job creators like our manufacturers can continue to grow,” Scott added.

Marco Rubio looks for his place in Trump’s Republican Party

After flaming out in the GOP presidential primary — and enduring rival Donald Trump’s taunts along the way — Sen. Marco Rubio is entering his next act in politics.

The once-rising star used to be criticized for being in too much of a hurry, but now he’s hunkered down in the Senate with nothing, it seems, but time.

Rubio passes his days buried in the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a leading advocate of bolstering election security and slapping sanctions on Russians if they interfere again in 2018. In the hallways of the Capitol, he brushes past reporters looking for reaction to the news of the day, focusing instead on legislative proposals or policy speeches on the Senate floor. And back in Florida, he’s involved in long-running disputes over the Everglades and toxic algae blooms.

But one thing Rubio isn’t doing, he says, is gearing up for a White House run in 2020.

“I’m not primarying the president, and no one else should either unless we want to lose the White House,” Rubio told The Associated Press. “I’m kind of approaching every day as if the U.S. Senate is the last place I’ll ever serve in public office and trying to make that meaningful.”

Like the other Capitol Hill also-rans against Trump — Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — Rubio is finding his way in the Trump-era Republican Party, testing whether there is room for his own brand of conservatism.

He says he keeps in contact with Trump, talking to him on the phone two to three times a month, including last week. But he is continuing to reshape his own political identity, separate from the president, and isn’t ruling out another White House run somewhere down the line.

“I still peek around the corner every now and then, but by and large I try to be more and more focused on what’s in front of us,” Rubio said.

He added that he remains “impatient,” but “like anyone who is alive, and is watching, listening and trying to learn, time teaches you things.”

After he ended his 2016 presidential campaign, Rubio appeared to be on his way out of Washington. He had pledged not to run for re-election, but colleagues pressed him to reconsider.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the AP he was among the first Republicans to nudge Rubio to seek re-election to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his own pitch as Republicans fought to keep the Senate majority. Eventually Rubio agreed.

Since then, people who have observed Rubio during his career see a more mindful, even liberated, politician who no longer carries the weight of being “The Republican Savior,” as Time magazine once called the charismatic young son of immigrants. Instead, the 47-year-old is keeping his head down and doing the grunt work of governing, answering head-on the criticism that he was more flash than substance as a candidate.

“He seems to have found his place,” said longtime ally Nick Iarossi, a Florida-based GOP lobbyist and fundraiser.

On several fronts this year, Rubio has started taking his shots to “modernize” the GOP agenda for the 21st century, as he puts it, with an emphasis on countering China abroad and helping working families at home.

In the spring, Rubio helped lead an effort to rein in the Chinese telecom giant ZTE for violating U.S. trade rules over selling goods to Iran and North Korea. He sought to impose stiffer penalties than the Trump administration wanted. The Senate approved the bipartisan effort, but Rubio ultimately lost that battle with the White House, as the legislative provision was abandoned.

Earlier this month, Rubio unveiled a family leave plan, after having successfully worked with Ivanka Trump to expand child tax credits in the 2017 GOP tax overhaul. The paid leave plan would allow young parents to take their Social Security funds early, to help pay for time off with children, rather than in retirement. Both ideas had been part of his presidential bid.

“His distance from the middle of the political firestorm,” said Rubio’s former campaign manager and top adviser Terry Sullivan, “has allowed him the space to practice his style of politics.”

But mention of Rubio still draws a collective eye roll from some critics who see just another survival strategy after the brutal presidential campaign. He’s doing what Rubio often does, they say, which is trying to chart a middle ground that often pleases no one.

Jesse Ferguson, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, said the idea that Rubio is emerging as some independent Republican voice “is indicative of the way Trump has turned Congress into a bunch of yes-men.”

“In the GOP today, showing independence from Trump is like being awarded valedictorian at summer school,” he said. “The bar is so low that any Republican that doesn’t salute, praise or genuflect any time he walks in the room is suddenly seen as a thoughtful, independent-minded leader.”

It’s also not clear that there’s space for Rubio’s brand of conservatism in the GOP’s Trump tent.

Despite his roots as a tea-party-backed candidate in 2010, Rubio always played better to suburban voters — the Starbucks moms and dads whose households look a lot like his, with kids, mortgages and college costs in the distance. It’s those same voters who are at risk of fleeing the GOP in the Trump era.

Jenny Beth Martin, of the Tea Party Patriots, surveyed several hundred members at the start of this year and found a mixed response to Rubio.

“It really went the whole spectrum from excellent to ho-hum to disappointing,” she said. “They just cannot figure out exactly what issues are driving him the most and how they align with the tea party values or President Trump’s agenda.”

Rubio, for his part, tweets Bible verses many mornings, which some see as an antidote to Twitter’s usual rants, and he is perhaps the only rank-and-file lawmaker to be guarded by a security detail after it was reported there was a possible threat on his life.

He expects the nation’s political pendulum to swing back his way eventually. Americans will one day grow exhausted of the current “outrage cycle and the constant fighting,” he says.

Or so he hopes.

“Because if it doesn’t, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Irma memories spark call for homeowners to check their insurance

Hurricane Irma should have been warning enough, but insurance regulators in Tallahassee are underscoring the imperative for homeowners to make sure they’re carrying enough insurance, including flood coverage.

Most flood policies typically take effect 30 days after purchase, officials said in a written statement issued last week. With the 2018 hurricane season nearing its peak, there’s no time to waste.

“As we approach the time of year when tropical activity is at its highest, complacency is not an option,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said.

“Last year, reports indicated a vast majority of Florida’s residences were inadequately insured,” he said.

“Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered. Prepare now, and protect your property for when the next storm arrives.”

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, recalled the damage Irma inflicted up the length of Florida last summer.

“The images of the flood damage and losses I saw when traveling the state following Hurricane Irma will forever be ingrained in my memory,” Patronis said.

“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern, but a statewide issue,” he added.

State leaders have been encouraging private insurance companies to offer flood policies, often at comparable or lower prices than offered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The number of companies eligible to write these policies increased from 20 to 26 between June 30, 2017, and March 31 this year — and, as of April, they’d issued more than 30,000 policies.

Basic homeowners policies tend not to cover flood damage. The insurance office offered this link to private flood insurance writers.

Additionally, the insurance office maintains a Hurricane Season Resources webpage, and Patronis has his own Disaster Preparedness site.

Also available is Patronis’ Insurance Consumer Helpline: 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).

Delegation for 8.10.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Primary races picking up steam

Primary elections are less than three weeks away. Most have little drama, but some, especially on the Democratic side, will be fun to watch. Republicans have far fewer tight races.

President Donald Trump has weighed in on a few races, most notably his full-throated endorsement of Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor. He has also made a couple of safe choices for House seats.

He backed Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach in his three-way primary in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. On Thursday, he came out in support of Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville in CD 3.

Full-throated: Donald Trump is all-in for Ron DeSantis.

Neither Gaetz nor Yoho expect to face significant difficulty in their re-election races.

Pundits will be watching Districts 6, 7, 15 and 17.

Democrats have some great primaries. The race in District 5 between former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee seems to make news every day. The state’s Stand Your Ground Law (see below) is the latest high-profile issue in the campaign.

In CD 6, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is up with her first ad of the campaign. Titled “Hurdles,” it is an introductory piece taking voters through her life as a diabetic who was refused health insurance, and a lengthy diplomatic career one “who helped bring Northern Ireland’s opposing sides together,” and among the first to say “let’s get (Osama) bin Laden.”

Soderberg, who is running against John Upchurch and Steve Sevigny, has nearly $400,000 more cash on hand than any of her opponents from either party in this GOP-leaning district currently held by DeSantis. The winner among three closely matched candidates running on the Republican side will be slightly favored in the fall.

The matchup between Rep. Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson is heating up. Soto is leading by 7 points in a recent poll.

The most competitive, and most costly, primary race is the free-for-all for the CD 27 seat held by the retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrats are favored to flip the seat into their column and the top three candidates have each raised $1 million.

One of those candidates is bucking the national Democrats who have told their members to stop talking about impeachment of Trump. National Democrats have tried to quash talk of such action, but state Rep. David Richardson is out with a new ad that uses humor to get his message across.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

 

Standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, Richardson utters the impeachment word three times, only to have it bleeped out each time. Richardson appears to be calling out front-runner Donna Shalala for not taking a stand.

Shalala is touting two new ads. One talks about health care, an issue where she has come under attack for not supporting universal health care as well as her investment in a for-profit health insurer.

Another is in Spanish and serves as an introduction to Hispanic voters. Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli is the narrator.

Fellow Democrat Matt Haggman earlier put out a 15-second video that said he would work to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. He also took a poke at Shalala saying “She’s had her chance. It’s time for a new day.”

On August 28, all of the winners can celebrate. Some represent a district that virtually assures their win in November.

For others, it’s back to raising money and appealing to independents for the following two months.

Nelson, Scott in rare agreement

The race between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson seemingly grows more bitter each day. Scott ads criticize Nelson for “cutting Medicare” by way of his support for the Affordable Care Act; a supporting group now says Nelson “is too old” for the rigors of being a Senator.

Republicans are asking if Bill Nelson is getting ‘too old for this s**t.’

Nelson is focusing on his stands relating to current issues like gun control and the environment. He went after Scott’s environmental record recently by blaming the governor for asking EPA to delay implementation of stricter water quality standards, which have a role in the recent algal bloom outbreak in South Florida.

The Tampa Bay Times may have taken away that advantage for the three-term Senator. The newspaper revealed that Nelson wrote a similar letter to the EPA before Scott weighed in asking them to finalize the water quality standards “in a deliberative manner.”

Nelson said he did not recall the letter but freely admitted that he wanted Floridians to have time to comment on the standards. He supported their implementation.

Rubio slammed for endorsement

Rubio recently endorsed a Republican South Florida blogger who is one of three Republicans challenging Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch for his District 22 seat. Deutch claimed he was not upset that Rubio endorsed one of his opponents, but he was upset that it was Javier Manjarres, who Deutch claimed insulted the father of a Marjory Douglas High school shooting victim.

“If Rubio wants to endorse in this race because it’s important to him, it’s his prerogative, but for him to choose to endorse someone who has cruelly attacked a grieving father and regularly mocks student survivors, I think that just surprised a lot of people,” Deutch said.

Marco Rubio is taking heat for supporting a shady South Florida congressional candidate. (Image via Getty)

Deutch has also said that he was surprised to see Rubio “wade into” the primary to endorse a candidate. He has suggested that the endorsement could mean that Rubio agrees with the comments Manjarres made about the victims of the shooting.

Deutch pointed to comments Manjarres made on Twitter during exchanges last month with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was one of 17 people killed during the massacre.

“C’mon Fred. I can’t only imagine the pain you are feeling over the loss of your daughter, but stop exploiting her death in the name of some political agenda. Your daughter was shot by some lunatic who had an AR-15, not by the gun itself. #Fixit #VoteJavi,” Manjarres wrote.

Deutch claimed that since Rubio endorsed Manjarres, publisher of the conservative Shark Tank blog, he must share the views of the candidate.

“I don’t know why (he endorsed),” Deutch said. “If this is some signal about the beliefs that Senator Rubio has, I think he ought to be more upfront about them because it’s certainly not the image that he puts forth. I was very surprised about that.”

Rubio’s office is declining comment.

Nelson’s phenomenal elections claim

Trump finally conceded the Russians tried to influence the 2016 elections directly. Now two Congressional committees have concluded they are working at it again.

Nelson claims they already have.

“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free reign to move about,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. It marked the second time this week he made such a claim.

Bill Nelson makes a wild (and as yet unsubstantiated) claim about Russian meddling in Florida.

Nelson’s claim takes previous warnings to the next level. Last month he joined with Rubio to warn the state and the 67 elections supervisors in a letter urging them to be wary of hacking activities.

Nelson would not elaborate saying the information was “classified.” State elections officials are puzzled.

“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in a statement. “If Senator Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida.”

Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, has raised alarms himself. He also continues to express concern, though not as overtly.

VA clinic renaming draws big guns

Congress routinely names government buildings, post offices and Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities after local politicians or other individuals. On Tuesday, the Tallahassee VA clinic was renamed for a Monticello World War II soldier, but it was far from routine.

The recently confirmed VA Secretary, Robert Wilkie, flew to Tallahassee for the ceremony to rename the facility the Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas VA Clinic. Joining Wilkie was Nelson and the two delegation members who represent the area in Congress; Lawson and Republican Rep. Neal Dunn.

The Tallahassee VA facility, newly renamed for Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas.

Sgt. Thomas was part of the famous group, who raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. While four of his group raised the flag, Thomas and a handful of others served as protectors. Thomas was killed the next week, just 7 days before his 21st birthday.

“Thank you for rededicating this wonderful facility in the name of a man from a generation that continues to inspire,” Wilkie said.

Nelson and Lawson were credited with responding to requests from Jefferson County residents to honor Thomas and carrying the bills through Congress. Opening originally in 2016, the clinic serves more than 16,000 veterans in North Florida and South Georgia.

Everglades Foundation asks McConnell for reservoir vote

With the algae outbreak in South Florida continuing to infect local waterways, residents and advocates believe the need for the proposed Everglades Reservoir is greater than ever. The Everglades Foundation is going directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speed things up.

In a letter to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg urged McConnell to schedule a vote on a bill that would authorize a vote on the reservoir when the Senate returns to Washington next week.

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. (Image via Ricardo Rolon/news-press.com)

“There is no other way to say this,” Eikenberg wrote. “Florida is being ravaged by a perennial algae crisis that is destroying our beaches, fisheries, tourism and real estate industries, and we are desperate.”

The area is prone to algal blooms each time highly polluted water is released from Lake Okeechobee. A proposed reservoir south of the lake that would create nearly a quarter-million acres of dynamic water storage gained the approval of the White House last month.

“On behalf of Florida’s 20 million citizens and the countless millions of other Americans — many of them from Kentucky — who visit or call our state a second home, I implore you to save Florida from its perennial algae crises,” Eikenberg added. We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Yoho honors Korean War vets

When the remains of Korean War soldiers returned to the United States two weeks ago, Vice-President Mike Pence spoke of these veterans as “forgotten no more.”

This week, Yoho joined the effort to remember Americans who served, including those who never made it home, at a ceremony that included a high-level representative of the South Korean government.

Ted Yoho honors Korean War soldiers whose remains returned to the U.S.

Korean War veterans were honored at Camp Blanding in North Florida at the ceremony, which included South Korea’s Ambassador to the U.S., Cho Yoon-Je. Cho presented the Ambassador for Peace medal to each veteran attending the ceremony.

“There is simply not enough we can do for our veterans and today is no exception,” Yoho said during his remarks. “While today we are exceptionally hopeful for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, we are ever mindful of the service of those who fought during the Korean War. Thank you for your service.”

Camp Blanding leadership helped to arrange transportation for the veterans seeking to attend the ceremony. In addition to the media from South Korea, Yoho also presented them with a Congressional challenge coin.

Black caucus endorses Lawson, who changes on SYG

Lawson got a big boost this week from some of his colleagues in Congress. On Tuesday, 37 members of the Congressional Black Caucus jointly announced their endorsement of his bid for re-election.

“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said in a news release. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to a quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”

Al Lawson gets backing from most of the CBC. (Image via Roll Call)

Lawson is one of 49 members of the caucus, which makes almost one-fourth of the House Democratic Caucus.

For his part, Brown has hammered Lawson for his support of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, while Brown favored repeal. Lawson pointed out the legislation passed unanimously in the Florida Senate and would only go as far as saying the Legislature needs to “look at it.”

On Wednesday, at a rally in Tallahassee advocating the law’s repeal, Lawson officially changed his position and now seeks to repeal. Joining him was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a candidate for governor committed to the law’s repeal.

“It’s been used to let people get away with murder,” he said. “We’re not going to let that happen in the state of Florida.”

Crist bill to legalize medical pot for vets working for feds

Medical marijuana is gradually becoming more mainstream in some states. Florida placed its use into the state Constitution in 2016.

It is technically not legal on the federal level, but Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg wants to take the step of making it available to veterans serving as government employees. As part of a roundtable featuring veterans and cannabis industry representatives, Crist announced he had filed the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act.

The act would apply to states like Florida that have legalized medical marijuana.

Georgia Republican Drew Ferguson. (Image via Time magazine)

“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD,” Crist said. “At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” Crist said.

Georgia Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson joined Crist in filing the bill. He said “no one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” including the veterans who make up one-third of the federal workforce.

“Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws, because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities,” Crist continued.

Realtors endorse Steube

In the battle to win the CD 17 seat currently held by the retiring Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, two Republicans are running in a highly competitive primary. State Rep. Julio Gonzalez and state Sen. Greg Steube have raised similar amounts of money and each claiming endorsements worth noting.

This week, Steube gained the backing of the American Realtors organization. The National Realtors PAC announced they were supporting Steube for his service as first a member of the House and now the Senate.

National Realtors give the nod to Greg Steube for Congress. (Image via Phil Sears)

“Greg Steube has a varied background of public service and experience, which will help make him a strong leader and a voice for Realtors and property owners,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “His desire to serve, to listen and to work hard makes him the Realtors’ choice.”

The group cited Steube for his stances on behalf of property rights and low taxes.

“I have been a champion of private property rights, low taxes, and low regulation during my time in office,” said Steube. “I am proud to receive this endorsement.”

White House Hispanic comms chief moves on

Helen Aguirre Ferré of Miami, the White House head of communications for Hispanic media, has quietly left her position, according to Univision. She has not spoken publicly about her departure.

“We greatly appreciate Helen’s work, service and dedication during her time in the White House,” Mercedes Schlapp, White House Director of Strategic Communications, said in an email to Univision. “She will continue to work for the Administration in a different capacity.”

A quiet exit: Helen Aguirre Ferre, director of media affairs, departs the White House.

Schlapp, also a native of Miami, would not divulge what future role Aguirre Ferré would play. Rumors are she may head to the National Endowment for the Arts,

Her exit from the White House comes at a tumultuous time when the administration was dealing with the aftermath of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, but Aguirre Ferré has not commented publicly on the controversy.

In June, she said: “I support the President’s efforts in securing the border, and I support the President’s efforts in ensuring that the laws are enacted properly.”

At one time, both Schlapp and Aguirre Ferré were Trump critics, especially over some of his statements toward women. But they later came around after Trump won the Republican Party’s presidential nomination; he was preferable to Hillary Clinton, they concluded.

On this day in the headlines

August 9, 1974 — Facing certain impeachment from the House of Representatives, President Richard Nixon became the first chief executive to resign from office. Vice-President Gerald Ford was sworn in and told the American people “our long national nightmare is over.”

“To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American,” Nixon said in his farewell remarks. “In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: may God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.”

August 9, 1998 — Democrats worry that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will drop an “October surprise” just before this year’s midterm elections. Starr is said to be wrapping up his Whitewater investigation that morphed to include the Monica Lewinsky scandal that involves President Bill Clinton.

Normally, midterm elections are years of losing House seats for the party in power, but Republicans say the report should be released when it is finished and not wait. Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the report should be made public regardless of its proximity to the election.

(NOTE: Democrats defied history by gaining five seats in the fall elections.)

Trump backer/Never Trumper trade jabs

Tallahassee-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson and Republican Rep. Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach have a couple of things in common. In addition to being Republicans, both have a sense of humor that can add a humorous touch to any story.

Wilson is among the country’s most vocal “Never Trumpers.” He has written a book called “Everything Trump Touches, Dies …” In it, he mentions Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest supporters.

Renowned ‘Never Trumper’ Rick Wilson mixes it up with Matt Gaetz.

“You’ve seen Matt on a hundred cable news shows,” Wilson wrote. “Young, dark-haired, and slowly going to seed, he looks like a frat boy wearing his father’s suit.”

Gaetz had a measured response.

“Three things happen to #NeverTrump Republicans — they lose, disappear from relevance, or get a job at MSNBC/CNN,” Gaetz said. “I’m glad Rick got the best of these options. I’ve always liked him.”

Wilson is a frequent CNN commentator.

Tallahassee murder investigation now includes insurance fraud charges

An alleged murder conspiracy in Tallahassee has spun off charges of insurance fraud.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has leveled three felony counts against Denise Williams, accused in the death of her husband, Mike Williams, nearly 20 years ago.

“The Williams case is a tragedy that has shocked the Tallahassee community and reverberated across the nation,” Patronis said in a statement. “The insurance fraud charges are just one part of this case, and I assure the community we will work diligently toward a successful prosecution.”

“Insurance fraud is a very serious crime … It’s especially disturbing when an individual is attempting to profit off someone’s death. I am proud of our dedicated insurance fraud team for their commitment to bringing criminals to justice.”

An investigation by the state Division of Investigative and Forensic Service concluded that Denise Williams fraudulently listed her husband’s death as accidental drowning on insurance claims forms involving three policies when she knew the cause was homicide. She collected $1.75 million.

Brian Winchester, Mike William’s best friend, has turned state’s evidence and has testified that he plotted with Denise Williams kill her husband.

He told investigators he first tried to drown Mike Williams in Lake Seminole, and shot him when that didn’t work. He subsequently married the widow, but the marriage ended in divorce.

More stormy weather for Jim Van Fleet, ‘bartering’ legal bills on WTSP suit

After a stalled effort to sue his employer, former 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Jim Van Fleet faces another legal storm, attempting to “barter” payment of his legal bills.

Van Fleet, 43, served as chief at WTSP-Channel 10 in St. Petersburg from 2011-2016. He currently works as the chief meteorologist for Royal Caribbean International.

In 2016, Van Fleet sued WTSP, accusing the station of planting false rumors of drug use and other misbehavior, which he called a “conspiracy to oust him from his job.” Tampa-based Solomon Law attorneys Stanford Solomon and Gabriel Pinilla represented him — billing Van Fleet at $500/hour.

According to a July 30 lawsuit filed by Solomon Law in Hillsborough County, Van Fleet told the firm that he couldn’t afford to pay them quickly — first promising $500 a month, then lowering it to $300 — because Royal Caribbean paid him $55,000 less per year than what he made at WTSP.

Now living in Miami, Van Fleet claimed rents are higher there than in the Tampa Bay area.

However, according to the court records, Solomon points out that there were some months when Van Fleet didn’t pay a dime.

Documents attached to the filing show Van Fleet urged Solomon to accept “in-kind payments” in lieu of cash.

For example, Van Fleet suggested he could help the firm grow its client base — and counteract negative online reviews — by publicly endorsing the firm, in exchange for an 80 percent reduction of his balance.

Van Fleet also claimed people would naturally think Solomon helped him win a big settlement, despite neither winning nor losing his case against WTSP. Records show Van Fleet dismissed the case on Sept. 20, 2017. He also offered to help repay his debt by becoming an expert witness — for free — on meteorological issues.

Stanford Solomon rejected each suggestion: “I just want you to pay the outstanding g [sic] invoices as you keep promising to do. I am not interested in barter.”

In an April 2018 email, Van Fleet then offered to pay Solomon back at the reduced rate of $300/month.

“I paid $1,000 last month and quite surprisingly got a very nasty email in return,” he wrote. “I shouldn’t have been surprised though given all the reviews and feedback regarding Sandy and warning to stay far away.”

In 2015, Van Fleet’s landlord sued him and girlfriend Kenlie Reed in Pinellas County for unpaid rent.

According to an online docket for Van Fleet’s divorce case, ex-wife Gillian Van Fleet is still trying to get him to make court-ordered payments. The couple split in 2010.

Solomon Law says the weatherman owes $57,931 in legal fees, plus 12 percent annual interest. It is seeking payment.

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