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Rick Scott to hold rally in Miami to call for release of Leopoldo Lopez

Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Miami Monday to rally for the release of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.

The Governor’s Office announced Scott, a Naples Republican, will hold a Freedom Rally at 6 p.m., Monday at El Arepazo 2, 3900 NW 79th Avenue in Miami. He is expected to demand the release of López, who was arrested in 2014 and charged with arson and conspiracy after he called for peaceful protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison in September 2015, a move that was highly controversial.

The rally comes just days after reports that Lopez had been rushed to a military hospital with a medical emergency. The leader of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party deflated those rumors by showing a 20-second video on state television in which Lopez appeared in good health and said he was speaking at “May 3 at 9 p.m.”

But Lopez’s father and sister said they doubt the veracity of the video released in response to rumors spreading online about Lopez’s health.

Lopez appeared “unrecognizable,” said Diana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

“We have big doubts about this video and we don’t accept it as proof of him being alive,” she said.

Scott joins other Florida Republicans in calling for López’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called López “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.”

The governor’s decision to hold a rally is also notable for another reason: He’ll be far from Tallahassee as state lawmakers finish work on the 2017-18 budget, which doesn’t fund several of his priorities.

Legislative leaders extended the 2017 Session through Monday so they can pass the 2017-18 budget. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in Tallahassee at 1 p.m. Monday, with a vote on the budget later in the day.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.


See ya Monday: House and Senate adjourn after extending session

The work of the people ended with a whimper Friday, as lawmakers agreed to extend the 2017 Legislative Session to complete the budget, killing a host of other legislation.

As the Legislature turned out the lights around 9:30 p.m., high-profile dead bills included efforts to overhaul workers’ compensation and assignment of benefits, and to implement the state’s medical cannabis constitutional amendment.

The House and Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution extending session to 11:59 p.m. Monday to pass the 2017-18 state budget and several other measures, including the annual tax cut package.

The General Appropriations Act wasn’t delivered until 2:43 p.m. Friday. With the state constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period, Monday afternoon is the earliest that the budget can be voted on.

Now it remains to be seen, with a budget that includes drastic cuts to Gov. Rick Scott‘s tourism marketing and economic development priorities, whether Scott will veto part or all of the spending plan.

“On the Senate side, we tried to work with our friends in the House and the governor to be able to obtain more of the governor’s priorities, but ultimately that wasn’t successful,” Senate President Joe Negron told reporters Friday night.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also said he wanted an approach to workers’ compensation that was fair both to workers and businesses.

“Businesses don’t care whether attorney fees are paid to plaintiffs’ attorneys, whether they’re paid to defense attorneys. They care what the premiums are,” he said. “Whether it’s something we can look at when we reconvene (in January), we’ll have to see.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, expressed similar sentiments about the effort to implement medical marijuana.

“If we’ve learned anything about these constitutional amendments, whether the Legislature acts or not is irrelevant,” he said. “There will be court challenges, because people will not like what we did when we act, and they won’t like our inaction either. So I would expect court challenges no matter what we did.”

Jim Rosica and Michael Moline contributed to this post. 

Florida Chamber and allies unload on Senate for skipping AOB reform this year

The Legislature stiffed the Florida Chamber of Commerce on one of its top priorities this year — abuse of assignment of benefits agreements, or AOBs.

The Chamber isn’t hiding how it feels about that.

“Florida’s hardworking families should remember this – the Florida Senate chose to side with anti-consumer special interests, instead of stepping up and protecting consumers from an AOB loophole that has attracted plaintiffs’ attorneys like gold rush miners,” Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement shortly after the House and Senate adjourned Friday.

“Their failure to act means homeowners will be forced to spend more on property insurance in the coming year, and home ownership will become less affordable for many Floridians,” Ousley said.

An AOB bill (HB 1421) passed the House this year, but the Senate version, which was much friendlier to the trial bar, never made it to the floor.

It was the fifth year the insurance industry pressed for AOB reform. The topic was Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier’s top priority. Gov. Rick Scott was on board. Much of the business community, too.

The chamber issued statements from other members of its Consumer Protection Coalition:

Cam Fentriss, Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association: “There are many roofing firms in our association who see the abuse that is occurring out on the streets and know it needs to end. We really believed this was the year that true reforms would be passed, but the cottage industry that profits from AOBs somehow carried more weight with senators than did consumers.”

Logan McFaddin, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America: “We sincerely thank the House for making AOB reform a priority and sending a bill with common-sense reforms to the Senate. As we approach another hurricane season, it’s unfortunate we were unable to pass reform legislation in the Senate to protect hardworking Floridians.”

Liz Reynolds, Southeast Region for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos: “The House worked to develop a compromise bill and passed it in plenty of time to work with the Senate, but the Senate did not engage on the issue. Without reform, consumers will continue to be taken advantage of by scam artist vendors and lawyers, and insurance rates will continue their upward march in response to exponentially rising claims costs. ’Hurricane AOB’ will rage on.”

Dulce Suarez-Resnick, Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies: “For many lower-income Floridians and those on tight budgets, AOB abuse may literally put the dream of home ownership out of reach. The affordability and availability crisis is already rocking Miami Dade – in another few months, Broward and Palm Beach counties can expect to feel that same crunch. Given these facts, it is hard to understand why the Senate failed to pass meaningful reforms this session.”

Senate confirms Justin Senior, Celeste Philip

On Friday, the scheduled last day of the 2017 legislative session, the Florida Senate confirmed Gov. Rick Scott‘s picks to run the state’s health care agencies.

The Senate approved Justin Senior to head the Agency for Health Care Administration and Celeste Philip to lead the Department of Health as Florida’s Surgeon General.

The Florida Medical Association issued a statement Friday applauding the selections.

“The Florida Medical Association is committed to ensuring every Floridian receives the best medical care possible, which is why we are so pleased Dr. Philip and Mr. Senior have been confirmed by the Florida Senate today,” said FMA President David J. Becker, M.D.

“They both bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that are integral to promoting good health and developing strong relationships among stakeholders, so residents are educated and empowered to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he added.

“The Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration are fortunate to have two champions for excellence in patient care at the helm.”

Added FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton: “Florida Medical Association would like to congratulate Dr. Philip and Mr. Senior on their well-deserved confirmations today … We thank them for their commitment to protecting and advocating for the highest level of health for all Floridians and are confident that under their leadership, our state will continue to improve the equity and access to quality health care.”

How pink became sine die tradition in Tallahassee

Pink is what distinguishes the last day of Florida’s Legislative Sessions.

Lobbyists, consultants, former lawmakers and observers, clad in pink outfits, roam the Capitol hallways during the session’s final hours.

Pink is the tradition for Capitol veterans to pay tribute to the late lobbyist Marvin Arrington.

“Marvin was here for a long time, and he had a tradition of wearing a pink sports coat on the last day of Session,” said Wayne Malaney, who lobbies for newspaper publishers.

In 2002, Arrington succumbed to a heart attack in a parking lot a block north of the Capitol. It was the Monday of the last week of session for that year.

By the time people realized he was in crisis, smoke from the spinning of his car tires filled the downtown area.

“Marvin wore pink carnations and no one serving today was here when Marvin was, but those who remembered him by wearing pink,” said Keith Arnold, who served in the House in the 1980s and 1990s and now lobbies.

The last day of the 2002 session, Arrington’s son, Reynolds, and nephew, Patrick, showed up at the Capitol wearing Arrington’s trademark pink jackets. Joining them are more than 100 lobbyists sporting pink: carnations, jackets, shirts, all responding to Reynolds’ request to remember his dad with a display of pink.

“Anyone that’s man enough to wear pink at your age is man enough for us to listen to,” former Speaker James Harold Thompson said to the Orlando Sentinel.

People observe traditions for a variety of reasons. They are a tool to keep up predictability in a changing world, to create self-identity for a group within a larger society and serve to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next.

“I wear a hideous pink jacket for Marvin; he was a great guy, a wonderful man,” Dave Ramba said. “His son comes for the final day and we as a community watch out for him, he was just 13 years old when he lost his father. We’ll all be wearing pink carnations.”

Marvin Arrington’s father, C. Fred, served in the Florida House in the 1950s and Marvin would tell friends he grew up at the Capitol. Among lawmakers, their staff and journalists he was known as a “white hat,” an honest broker of information.

For some Tallahassee politicos wearing pink is a statement of values.

“We respected him greatly for his intellect and honesty,” said Steve Schale, who knew Arrington while working for Rep. Doug Wiles. “And my way of paying homage to the way I think we are supposed to treat this business as advocates is to wear pink for Marvin Arrington.”

Seeing pink at the Capitol on Session’s final day, to paraphrase Artis Whitman, is a visual reminder of how each generation takes nourishment from earlier ones, giving knowledge to those who comes after.

Or, then again, Ramba may be right: It’s a hideous fashion statement but a fun way to remember a “great guy and wonderful man.”

Lobbyists wear their pink, in honor of Marvin Arrington, an insurance lobbyist with an affinity for pink who died during the last week of the 2002 Session, on the fourth floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Photo by Phil Sears

Renewable-energy tax break bill headed to Rick Scott

The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that will give a renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties with solar installations.

The measure (SB 90) was sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday after passing the Senate unanimously. If signed into law, businesses that install solar panels to their properties would not have to pay additional property taxes from the increased value of adding such devices.

“The voters of Florida spoke loud and clear in support of an expanded solar market in the sunshine state,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes in a statement. “Reducing property taxes on solar and renewable energy devices will bring more solar energy to Florida. The unanimous support of the legislature shows that we are dedicated to expanding the share of renewables in our energy portfolio, and I am excited to continue to advocate for energy reform.”

The bill , sponsored by Brandes in the Senate and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues in the House, carries out a decision by voters last year to extend a tax exemption already provided to residential properties. The tax break would be in place for the next 20 years.

“Tourism is Florida’s leading industry. Visitors and residents alike, will benefit from the energy savings resulting from the passage of this legislation,” said Richard Turner, general counsel and vice President of government Relations for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “The hospitality industry is excited to support our lawmakers’ smart policies that promote sustainability and diversify our energy grid.”

The final version of the bill is viewed by those in the solar industry as a more consumer-friendly approach than what had been initially proposed.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Budget deal includes no money for Florida Forever

The Senate accepted the House offer on the agriculture and natural resources portion of the budget, agreeing not to set aside any money for Florida Forever in 2017-18.

The $3.6 billion plan zeros out funding for land acquisition. Sen. Rob Bradley said the budget includes $13.3 million — $5 million of which is recurring dollars — for the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake. Bradley called it a “huge win for the region and particularly the Keystone Heights lake,” saying with the recurring dollars there “is money to finance the project.”

The offer also included $13.3 million for beach recovery and $39.9 million for beach projects, on top of the $10 million base budget.

But the offer zeroed out funding for land acquisition.

“In 2014, Floridians made one simple demand of the Legislature: protect our remaining natural areas from bulldozers and build more neighborhood parks for our families. By zeroing out Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust, this is now the third year in a row that politicians in Tallahassee have thumbed their noses at voters,” said Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, in a statement. “To say that we are disappointed would be a gross understatement. And to the millions of Florida’s conservation voters I say: set up appointments to welcome your legislators back home next week and give them an earful.”

Sen. Jack Latvala said the funding was sacrificed to the House demand for a larger rainy day fund, now at $1.2 billion.

“As the father of Florida Forever, as the person who passed that bill, I’m obviously disappointed to have a year when I’m Appropriations chairman and not be able to fund it,” he said. “But it you look at the totality of our budget, and look at what we’re doing for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, springs, Lake Apopka, the St. Johns River, beaches … I believe you’re going to probably find there’s more money in this budget for the environment than we’ve had in a long time.

This story has been updated to reflect corrected funding amounts for St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes.

for computer stuff

Agency for State Technology reorganization plan moves forward

The House on Wednesday accepted the Senate’s budget language to reorganize the Agency for State Technology.

“The House initially pushed for a complete overhaul of the state’s IT services, which included replacing the agency, but late in the budget negotiations a deal to keep the agency while making changes emerged,” Legislative IQ powered by LobbyTools reported.

Proviso language includes the appointment of a “chief data officer.”

Jason Allison resigned as head of the agency and the state’s Chief Information Officer in February. He joined the Foley & Lardner law firm as a “director of public affairs” in the Tallahassee office.

The Agency for State Technology, which replaced the predecessor Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, was created by lawmakers in 2014. Allison was appointed its head that Dec. 9. He was paid $130,000 a year.

In January, a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

Among the audit findings were that “access privileges for some AST users … did not restrict (them) to only those functions appropriate and necessary for assigned job duties or functions.”

Also, some “accounts remained active when no longer needed and some … inappropriately allowed interactive logon, increasing the risk that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of AST data and IT resources may be compromised.”

The AST also failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

Andrew Gillum picks up Broward County endorsement

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has picked up his first Broward County endorsement.

Gillum announced Wednesday that Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness has endorsed his 2018 gubernatorial bid. In a statement released by the Gillum campaign, Holness said Gillum has worked “tirelessly to lead Tallahassee in the right direction.”

“Andrew Gillum will work for increased prosperity for all Floridians by strengthening Florida’s economy, creating high-paying jobs and will build an advanced educational system by investing in early childhood and K-12 initiatives,” he said in a statement.” “Broward County and Florida deserve a champion in the next Governor and Andrew is the right choice at the right time. I am proud to endorse Mayor Andrew Gillum for Governor.”

Gillum, one of three Democrats currently running for governor, said he was proud to have Holness’ endorsement.

“We must address the persistent economic challenges that have plagued us for generations and gotten worse under Governor Rick Scott,” he said in a statement. “Dale has been at the forefront of the critical fight to create jobs, increase wages for working families, and provide access to affordable housing. As Governor, I look forward to bringing it home for Broward County.”

Democrats Gwen Graham and Chris King and Republican Adam Putnam are also running.

Report: Rob Bradley says 2017-18 budget will include money for land conservation

Sen. Rob Bradley isn’t giving up hope the 2017-18 state budget will include money for the Florida Forever conservation lands program.

POLITICO Florida reported Tuesday that Bradley said the budget would include spending for Florida Forever, for Florida Keys wastewater projects, his proposed projects along the St. Johns River, and Senate President Joe Negron’s proposed water storage reservoir.

“This is going to be a budget that those who care about the environment are going to be very proud of,” the Fleming Island Republican told reporters, according to POLITICO.

The environmental budget has been a sticking point for budget negotiations. Lawmakers will need to go into overtime to complete the budget, since they did not finish it in time to be able to vote on it Friday. State law requires the budget be finalized 72 hours before the final vote.

The Senate’s proposed budget included $15.2 million for Florida Forever projects and $5.4 million for the the Florida Communities Trust.

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