Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for Austin J. Ruiz

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff in honor of a Marine who died during a training exercise.

Lance Cpl. Austin J. Ruiz of Naples died last Friday.

Scott, who has a home in Naples, ordered that the U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff at City Hall in Naples, the Collier County Courthouse and at the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset this Sunday. 

“Ann and I are heartbroken to hear of the loss of Floridian and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Ruiz,” the governor said in a statement. “Like all of our incredible servicemen and women, Austin put his life on the line in order to defend our families and our freedom, and we will do all we can to honor his sacrifice.”

Ruiz was killed and another Marine was injured during a live-fire exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

“We join all Floridians in mourning for this fallen hero and praying for his many loved ones during this unimaginably difficult time,” Scott added.”We hope that they may find comfort in remembering Austin’s bravery and dedication to selflessly serving our country.”

Holly Raschein files to run for re-election in 2018

Count Rep. Holly Raschein in for 2018.

The Key Largo Republican filed to run for re-election in House District 120.

First elected in 2012, Raschein defeated Democrat Dan Horton, 57 percent to 43 percent, in the November general election. She led House candidates in fundraising, raising more than $549,000 during the 2016 election cycle.

Raschein currently serves as the chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands subcommittee. She’s also on the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations subcommittee and the Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee.

Raschein is one of dozens of incumbents who have already filed to run for re-election in 2018.

Floridians head to D.C. for Donald Trump inauguration

A hush has fallen on the state capital.

Sure, there’s plenty of work to do before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. But some Florida politicos are using this week to flee Florida and head to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Gov. Rick Scott will be there. An ardent supporter of the New York Republican, Scott was the chairman of the super PAC that backed Trump’s presidential bid. He was expected to head to D.C. on Tuesday, one day before the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott.

But don’t think the Naples Republican (and possible 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) spent the day in his tuxedo and dancing shoes. According to his official schedule, Scott was scheduled to meet with General John Kelly, the incoming Secretary of Homeland Security; Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Neal Dunn; and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Trump transition official.

Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville political guru who helped lead Trump’s Florida campaign, traveled to D.C. on Wednesday. She’ll be on hand for all of the festivities; as will uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, the chairman of Trump’s Florida finance committee.

And it should come as no surprise that state Rep. Joe Gruters and his wife, Sydney, will be in town for the event. Gruters was one of the first big name Floridians to back Trump, and never wavered in his support throughout the campaign. The couple plans to head up to D.C. on Thursday, and plan to attend the swearing in and go to the Liberty Ball.

Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, also has a full dance card. He planned to attend several events hosted by the governor, as well as an event hosted by Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” he said in an email. “Incredibly excited to experience this event as one of just 304 Electors to have cast the votes necessary for him to become our next President.”

Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — joined by fundraisers Trey McCarley and Kris Money —will be there too. Crisafulli was another top Trump supporter, and played a key role in getting him to the Space Coast for rallies throughout the campaign. His name was floated as one of several Floridians who could land a gig within the Trump administration.

He won’t be the only Florida Speaker in attendance. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is will be there, even though he was a slow to warm to Trump. (He backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Sen. Ted Cruz before somewhat reluctantly backing Trump.) And look for Senate President Joe Negron, who as Republican elector helped Trump officially clinch the presidency, in the crowd.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo are expected to be in town; the Miami Herald reported they’re sharing a two-bedroom apartment they snagged on Airbnb. The paper also reported Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is making the trek north.

You’ll likely see Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross, along with their wives Debbie and Ashley, dancing the night away at one of the parties this week. Both supported Sen. Marco Rubio, but eventually joined Team Trump.

Jim Smith and Monte Stevens, both with Southern Strategy Group, are in D.C. for the inauguration. They’re in town with Ambrosia Treatment Centers, which provides care to people suffering from substance abuse, in hopes of raising awareness about the need to make top-notch care available to as many people who need it as possible.

Their trip isn’t just about business, though. Stevens is planning to tweet about all the action from the firm’s Twitter account, @SoStrategyFlorida.

Hayden Dempsey and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig both have jam-packed schedules. Their calendar of events includes the Florida Sunshine Ball; the Republican National Lawyers Association Luncheon, which features a keynote address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and an inaugural reception hosted by the Greenberg Traurig Washington, D.C. office for clients and friends.

Meredith O’Rourke, one of the state’s go-to Republican fundraisers, plans to spend the week in D.C. with “fellow Republicans and strong supporters of our clients, while looking forward to a new day for our country.”

You might spot David and Melissa Ramba, Michael Fischer, Andy Gonzalez, Evan Power (and his wife), Bill Helmich, and Todd Lewis, Nick DiCeglie, Jay Beyrouti, Justin Bean, Bob Fisher, Travis Horn and Matt Lettelleir as you flip through the channels for inauguration coverage.

Robert Hawken is turning the trip into a learning experience for his daughters. They’re planning to take an overnight train from Jacksonville to D.C. for the inauguration. Once there, they planned to attend the Florida ball and check out the parade.

Lake County Property Appraiser (and former state representative and state senator) Carey Baker be in the nation’s capital; so will Richard DeNapoli, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party.

Even Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Republican governor, will be on hand. The St. Petersburg Democrat said he was looking forward to attending the event.

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected the president of the U.S.” said Crist last week.

He won’t be the only Florida Democrat in the bunch: Democrats Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are also planning to attend the inauguration.

Bill would subject police, corrections officers to psychological screening

Legislation filed in the Florida House would mandate that police and corrections officers undergo psychological evaluation upon hiring and every four years subsequently.

HB 37 also would require training academies to seek and maintain accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Each screening would be done by a licensed “mental health professional.”

“It is my belief that by requiring additional certification and training for our law enforcement professionals, we only increase the credibility of the courageous work they do on behalf of the communities they serve,” bill sponsor Shevrin Jones said.

“The brave women and men who put on the uniform every day in order to protect and serve their fellow Floridians deserve nothing less than access to the best training and mental health care services that can be provided,” the West Park Democrat said.

“This legislation will ensure that we are affording them with all the tools they need to succeed.”

Jones said in a press release that the bill was a response to “ongoing discussions taking place between law enforcement officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.” He referred to town hall and panel discussions, plus news coverage of police-community relations.

The commission was formed in 1979 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police; the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the National Sheriffs’ Association; and the Police Executive Research Forum.

Its accreditation process, according to its website, seeks to improve public confidence by boosting local agencies’ crime prevention and control capabilities; formalizing management procedures; establishing “fair and nondiscriminatory personnel practices;” improving service to the public; and fostering cooperation with other police agencies.

“Our focus is to create a system of accountability that allows law enforcement officers to being in a healthy mental state of mind at all times while serving and protecting its people,” said Jerrick Leonard, Jones’ aide, “and to also guarantee appropriate and constitutional handling of the people they serve during any interaction in uniform.”

Personnel note: Audra Burch to NYT

The Miami Herald’s Audra Burch is departing the newspaper to join the New York Times as a Miami-based national enterprise reporter.

Burch, Audra

The Random Pixels blog last week shared a staff memo about Burch’s hire.

Burch, whom Herald editors called their “extraordinarily talented enterprise reporter,” collaborated with Carol Marbin Miller on 2014’s Innocents Lost.

The Herald’s series “painstakingly examined 477 deaths of children who perished despite being under the protective umbrella of the Florida Department of Children & Families,” the memo said. “The series led to an overhaul of DCF’s leadership, new legislation, and won a boatload of prestigious awards.”

Burch “came to the Herald in the mid-1990s after stints at the Sun-Sentinel and the Gary Post-Tribune,” according to the memo.

Florida Power & Light brings 3 solar plants online, 4 more planned for 2017

For 2017, Florida Power & Light became the largest generator of solar power in the Sunshine State by bringing online three new universal solar energy plants.

FPL also announced plans to build four more solar plants this year, as well as install several innovative solar systems throughout local communities. The nation’s third-largest utility, a subsidiary of Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy, is now able to generate an unprecedented amount of clean energy for millions of FPL customers statewide.

On Dec. 31, FPL officially connected three 74.5-megawatt universal solar power plants to the electricity grid. With that, FPL currently operates more than 335 megawatts of solar generating capacity, enough to power approximately 60,000 homes.

“FPL has been leading the smart, cost-conscious expansion of solar in Florida since we built our first solar power plant back in 2009,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “By investing strategically in affordable, clean energy, we continue to improve the efficiency of our system, reduce fuel consumption, lower emissions and help keep costs down for our customers over the long term.”

FPL’s universal solar facilities, Silagy added, will provide customers affordable, clean solar energy.

“When the sun rises at one of our solar plants,” Silagy said, “thousands of homes and businesses are powered with cost-effective, zero-emissions energy. We believe in advancing solar affordably and responsibly for our customers and our state, and the coming years will be a game-changing time for solar in Florida.”

The three FPL solar plants — Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, Citrus Solar Energy Center and Manatee Solar Energy Center — were each completed time, under budget and cost-effectively, without a net cost to customers after factoring in savings from fuel and other generation-related expenses.

A typical FPL 1,000-kWh residential customer bill is approximately 30 percent lower than the national average, as well as being the lowest in Florida for the seventh year in a row.

Silagy announced that by the first quarter of 2017, construction will begin on four more 74.5-megawatt solar energy centers across the state, including sites that have received local approval in Alachua, Putnam and DeSoto counties.

Also in development are additional large-scale solar facilities, which will be announced in the coming months.

“Clean energy helps drive economic growth in our state,” said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. “FPL’s solar energy center will provide a boost to our local economy and the solar power it generates will be a draw for companies that value clean, affordable energy.”

FPL’s solar expansion offers energy production cleaner than the 2030 carbon emissions goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan for Florida, all while keeping the average residential customer bill among the lowest in the nation.

“Increasing clean energy production in Florida has been on the minds of many Floridians for years, and it’s great to see FPL continuing to invest in solar,” said Eric Draper, executive director for Audubon Florida. “Clean energy technology will help protect the environment, by reducing emissions and saving water, benefiting everyone who calls Florida home, as well as the millions of people who visit our state each year.”

Major FPL solar installations include:

— Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center, Brevard County

— DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, DeSoto County

— Martin Next Generation Clean Energy Center (hybrid solar/natural gas), Martin County

— Solar Circuit at Daytona International Speedway, Volusia County

— Solar research installation at Florida International University, Miami-Dade County

— SolarNow array at the Broward Young At Art Museum & Library, Broward County

— SolarNow array at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, Palm Beach County

— SolarNow array at the Palmetto Estuary Nature Preserve, Manatee County

— Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, Charlotte County

— Citrus Solar Energy Center, DeSoto County

— Manatee Solar Energy Center, Manatee County

FPL, which serves more than 4.8 million customers across nearly half of the state, has additionally installed small-scale solar arrays for more than 100 Florida schools and other educational facilities.


Professional services firm announces HQ relocation to Tampa from North Carolina

BlueLine Associates, a professional services firm, is relocating its global headquarters from Cary, North Carolina to Tampa.

For the move., BlueLine expects to invest more than $2 million in the local economy, and create 150 new jobs, paying an average wage of $71,909. While the firm currently has offices in Tampa, the relocation of its headquarters will expand the company’s footprint to include its financial, legal and human resources groups.

Gov. Rick Scott hailed the move as “great news.”

“We were competing with North Carolina and Louisiana, but ultimately BlueLine Associates chose Florida for their new headquarters,” Scott said in a statement. “I look forward to BlueLine Associates continued success in our state.”

BlueLine provides consulting, managed services and staffing solutions to small, mid and large companies in a variety of industries. In 2015 and 2016, BlueLine was recognized on the “Best Places to Work” lists of both Consulting Magazine and the Triangle Business Journal.

“This move gives us access to Florida’s strong talent pool and allows us to continue the strategic expansion of our business,” said BlueLine President Rocky Silvestri. “Our company culture is at the core of our business success, our client’s satisfaction, and the happiness of our people.  We are excited to bring those guiding principles to Tampa.”

According to Scott’s office, the project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Several state and local leaders added their voices to applaud BlueLine’s decision.

Chris Hart IV, Enterprise Florida president and CEO, said: “Blueline Associates has chosen Florida because it is the best place to do business. The talent and the strong, business-friendly climate in Florida continue to attract growing businesses. Hard-working Floridians are getting jobs that could have gone to other states, but they ended up right here in Florida.”

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor added: “BlueLine Associates’ relocation to the Tampa area is yet another example of a business recognizing the unique opportunities for growth in Florida. Our state boasts a strong and talented workforce, a business-friendly, low tax environment and fewer regulations that enable companies to grow and succeed.”

“Hillsborough County offers BlueLine Associates a deep bench of information technology consulting, staffing and management consulting talent, as well as the amenities that will make it easy for them to recruit exceptional candidates to the area,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chair Stacy White.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn pointed out that the move is further proof that Tampa’s star “continues to rise.”

“As millennial talent flocks here and our downtown undergoes a historic and exciting transformation,” Buckhorn said, “Tampa is gaining a national reputation as the place to be for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We wish BlueLine Associates a prosperous future here.”

Candidates interested in a position with BlueLine Associates can visit, for more information on available positions.

Northeast Florida lawmakers continue to advocate for F-35s in Jacksonville

Northeast Florida lawmakers continue to make their push for bringing F-35 jets to Jacksonville, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal.

The laudatory comments about the fighter jets, which would be housed at the National Guard hangar at the Jacksonville International Airport, were made in the Florida Senate’s Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.

Chairwoman Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, declaimed that “I’m excited about the possibilities and I certainly want my pilots in planes that actually function and something doesn’t break down midway to where they are going,”

That last reference? To the aging F-15 jets currently in use.

The support for F-35 upgrades was bipartisan, with Clay County Republican Rob Bradley joining his Democratic colleague from Jacksonville in support.

“I think everybody has come to a real understanding of how important this would be to our area if we were to gain these assets,” Bradley, a Clay County Republican, said.

With worries about the BRAC process never far from the minds of military-minded Northeast Florida legislators, virtually all are in support of bringing the F-35’s to Jacksonville.

However, that federal decision is not imminent.

EMTeLink hires David Bishop as legislative lobbyist

EMTeLINK, a leading medical information company, has enlisted the help of Solaris Consulting.

David Bishop, the president of Solaris Consulting, registered as a lobbyist to represent EMTeLink on Dec. 13

A technology company, EMTeLINK provides first responders with information patients medical conditions in the event of an emergency. The technology allows first responders and medical technicians to access a patient’s medical information with the patient’s driver’s license.

The company allows families and individuals to store emergency contacts and medical histories, including medications and allergies.

State records show Richard Watson with Richard Watson & Associates was also registered as a lobbyist to represent the firm before the Legislature in 2016. Watson’s registration went into effect Jan. 6, 2016.

Will Gary Fineout leave reporting for academia?

…Well probably not, but he is going to guest lecture for former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Fineout, Gary

Fineout, a Capitol Press Corps fixture, posted Monday on his Facebook page he was heading to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas later this week.

That’s where he’ll be “a guest speaker” at the university’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

“I’m going to help with a segment on Crisis Management and Media Relations that is part of a course being taught (by Bush) on gubernatorial leadership,” he wrote.

“I am excited about the prospect of discussing how different governors have dealt with the press, especially how they have dealt with hard-hitting coverage, access and transparency.”

Fineout is “a veteran political and policy reporter who has worked at The Miami Herald, the N.Y. Times Regional Newspaper Group and other newspapers,” including the Tallahassee Democrat, his official bio says.

He’s covered four governors: Lawton Chiles, Bush, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. Fineout now works for The Associated Press.

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