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Staff Reports

Taxes tricky for Halloween treats, TaxWatch says

It’s that time of year to be frightened – not by ghosts or goblins, but by Florida’s tax rules on candy.

Every year, Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan government watchdog, uses Halloween to demonstrate the state’s boggling rules on what gets taxed and what doesn’t.

“Groceries are generally exempt from Florida sales tax, but candy can get confusing,” it says.

Most candy is subject to sales tax, as are items “similar to candy,” such as “candy apples, breath mints, chewing gum (except those containing aspirin, laxatives, or antacids), cotton candy, fruit-flavored sticks, jellybeans, licorice, and lollipops.”

Moreover, “chocolate and glazed or sugar-coated fruit is taxable, but chocolate chips and glazed fruit are exempt when they’re advertised or normally sold for use in cooking or baking.”

Want to get more confused? Marshmallow candy is taxable, but marshmallows are exempt, the group says.

“Ice cream and frozen yogurt is exempt if sold in containers larger than one pint, but taxable if sold in pints (sorry, Ben & Jerry) or smaller sizes,” it says.

“Popsicles, fudgsicles, frozen fruit bars, and other frozen novelties are taxable,” but not “cookies (even if chocolate-coated), nutrition bars, cracker jacks, fruit rollups, chips, cheese puffs, granola and cereal bars, nuts, and pretzels.”

And “all these treats can be covered in chocolate, candy, honey, or yogurt and remain tax-free.”

For more wacky tax stories, head to the TaxWatch website here.

Al Franken to fundraise for Bill Nelson at Alex Sink event

When Alex Sink throws a fundraiser, one thing is assured – it will attract some of the most prominent Democrats on the political scene.

In December 2015, the former Florida chief financial officer hosted Hillary Clinton in an event at her Hillsborough County home supporting the former Secretary of State’s presidential bid.

Sink, a 2010 Democratic candidate for Florida governor, was a  longtime Clinton supporter.

In November, Sink brings a similar star power for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election bid, this time with a luncheon fundraiser with special guest Sen. Al Franken. The event will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, at Sink’s Thonotosassa home.

Franken, who has represented Minnesota in the Senate since 2009, is also well-known as a comic actor, writer and liberal political activist.

First elected in 2008 in a tight victory over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman — with a recount that lasted months — Franken won re-election in 2014. He was a longtime writer and performer on Saturday Night Live and hosted The Al Franken Show, a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show. Franken also is the author of six books, four of which were political satires blasting conservatives.

Nelson is seeking a fourth term in 2018; while he currently faces no opposition, it is likely Florida Gov. Rick Scott will enter the Senate race.

Suggested donation to the event is $250; to co-host the reception is $1,000, $2,700 to host and $5,400 to chair the event.

To RSVP or for more information, contact Christina Diamond at christinadiamond@nelsonforsenate.com or 850 363-3424.

Clay County Sheriff latest to back Ashley Moody for AG

Ashley Moody received yet another Florida Sheriff’s endorsement in her bid for attorney general, this time from Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.

“Our community cannot play politics with public safety. We need an attorney general who doesn’t need to learn the job on the job. Ashley Moody is the only candidate who has a proven track record of putting criminals behind bars. She is an experienced leader in criminal justice and I’m proud to endorse her for attorney general,” Daniels said in a statement Monday.

“Sheriff Daniels has a clear vision for his Sheriff’s Office and a laser focus on crime reduction and community engagement. He is highly respected by both his deputies and the residents of Clay County. I’m humbled and honored to have him join our team,” Moody said.

Moody, a fifth-generation Floridian and Hillsborough County native, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting and juris doctor from the University of Florida. She later attended Stetson University College of Law earning a Masters of Law in international law.

Moody began her legal career with the law firm of Holland & Knight, during which she was recognized as one of Tampa Bay’s “40 under 40” distinguished lawyers.  She later joined the United States Attorney’s Office prosecuting drug, firearm, and fraud offenses and was commended by the DEA for prosecutorial excellence and outstanding initiative in drug law enforcement. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recognized Moody for her lead of “Operation Round-Up,” prosecuting violent and repeat offenders.

In 2006, at the age of 31, Moody became the youngest judge in Florida when she was elected Circuit Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.  As a judge, she founded the Attorney Ad Litem program recruiting volunteer attorneys to stand in the place of parents who did not appear in court with their children. She also developed a mentoring program for at-risk children within the juvenile delinquency system. Ashley previously served as the president of two American Inns of Court and chair of both the Pro Bono and Professionalism Committees for Hillsborough County.

Moody served as an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and on the judicial faculty for Florida’s New Judges College, Advanced Judicial Studies and the Circuit Judges Conference. She is a frequent lecturer on crime and justice as well as best practices for Florida attorneys. In 2015, Moody earned recognition by the national Legal Services Corporation for contributions to pro bono legal service and was awarded the Florida Supreme Court’s Distinguished Judicial Service Award.

Moody lives with her husband, Justin, a federal law enforcement agent, in Tampa with their two sons, Brandon and Connor.

Duke Energy tree-trimming vendor fires Florida chief at worst possible time — weeks before Irma

A personnel shake-up at a Duke Energy tree-trimming subcontractor came at the worst possible time for residents of the Tampa Bay-area.

Weeks before Hurricane Irma, Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a “vegetation management” vendor fired its Florida chief. Now the company is accusing him of using his experience — in violation of a noncompete clause — to siphon off dozens of employees to work for a competitor.

Those defections came at a bad time for Asplundh, leaving it short-handed as they faced fallen trees and debris all over the region from Irma.

Asplundh — Swedish for “grove of aspen trees” — is a family-owned vegetation-management firm that employs about 35,000 people. The 90-year-old Pennsylvania-based company offers tree trimming and other infrastructure services to utilities across U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Among Asplundh’s Florida clients are Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light.

In response to Irma’s path across Florida, the company and its subsidiaries announced it had deployed more than 4,700 workers to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee to help utilities restore power.

Nevertheless, about three weeks before Irma made landfall — creating chaos with fallen trees and power outages — Asplundh fired Juan Angel Garza, the 43-year-old Valrico resident who for six years had overseen the company’s Florida operations. Garza joined Asplundh in 1998, moving into the leadership role in 2011, where he stayed until fired August 18.

According to Asplundh, the company fired Garza for “violating [its] employee hiring standards.”

However,  a suit filed Oct. 20 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court says soon after Garza left, the ex-employee developed a “scheme” to “punish” the company — luring employees to competitor Lewis Tree Service (another Duke Energy vendor) despite having signed a non-compete agreement with Asplundh. Lewis Tree Service, based in West Henrietta, New York, is another “vegetation management” company employing roughly 4,000 people in the U.S. and Canada.

Asplundh is accusing Garza of convincing as many as 68 employees to defect in late September and early October, mostly by falsely telling them Asplundh would soon lay them off by way of contract non-renewals.

Asplundh is asking the court to prohibit Garza from coordinating any further defections and force him to pay for damages he allegedly caused as a Lewis consultant.

An Oct. 9 Tampa Bay Times article found that last year Duke Energy approved a 20 percent reduction in its annual tree-trimming budget for Pinellas and Pasco counties — a drop of $2 million, from $9 million to $7.4 million. The article suggests those cuts may have contributed to Irma’s widespread power outages, where more than 520,000 customers lost electricity from fallen trees and untrimmed branches knocking down power lines.

Asplundh also alleges Garza told an Asplundh employee that if the company hired him as a “recruiting consultant,” he would convince the employees who defected to return.

House

David Richardson to dine with ‘Dreamers’

State Rep. David Richardson will join immigrant youth and their parents this evening (Sunday) at a special dinner.

The Miami Beach Democrat will discuss how the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will affect them and their families.

He says he will commit to pushing policies locally and nationally that protect them from deportation.

“Hardline anti-immigrant forces, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, forced the hand of President Donald Trump to kill off the popular and successful program by March 2018,” a press release said.

The dinner is tonight (Sunday, Oct. 29) at 5:30 p.m. at David’s Cafe, 919 Alton Rd., Miami Beach.

Here’s the rest of the release:

The DACA program is an unqualified success, providing new opportunities and futures for nearly 800,000 Dreamers who live, study, and work in America, including 102,000 who are DACA-eligible in Florida.

Each DACA recipient has come forward, passed a background check and been granted permission to live and work legally in America.

As a result, many have been able to fulfill their dreams of attending and completing college; most are working legally, paying taxes and providing for their families; and all are finding ways to contribute to the country they call home without fear of deportation.

The “Dreamer Dinners” initiative invites Members of Congress and local elected officials to join an immigrant family for a meal to discuss how federal immigration actions impact children, families, and communities.

This campaign is a spinoff of the “DAPA Dinners Campaign” – read more about that initiative here

For more information on the Dreamer Dinners campaign, please contact Nicky Vogt at press@americasvoice.org

Rick Scott is Canada-bound next week

Florida Gov. Rick Scott continues his recent spate of travel next week with an international trip to America’s neighbors to the north.

In Naples Friday, Scott announced that he will lead a tourism and trade mission to Toronto, with Florida business and tourism leaders.

Scott seeks Canadian tourists — and job creators, per a release from the Governor’s office, which notes that Canada is among Florida’s top trade partners and is the Sunshine State’s top source of international visitors.

“We are working to market Florida across the globe as the number one destination for business, job creation and tourism, and that is why I will be leading a mission to Canada next week,” Scott said.

“Canada is a major partner for Florida trade and tourism and it is incredibly important that we continue to work with our international partners to support ongoing economic growth for years to come. I look forward to sharing Florida’s success story with Canadian job creators and tourism partners to help bring additional investments and visitors to our great state,” Scott added.

Scott spent part of this week in Chicago, where — consistent with his other trips to high-tax Democratic enclaves — the Florida Governor made his case to local businesses and in the media.

“I’ve cut taxes 75 times,” Scott said to local media. “It’s the opposite here. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has raised your taxes, and your State Legislature has raised your taxes, making it more difficult for companies to do business.”

“I’m up here to try to recruit companies to come to Florida, to get jobs in our state,” Scott continued.

Scott has traveled to Canada before — and the trips have reaped benefits.

In 2011, Scott’s office promoted the decision by Garda, billed as one of the world’s leading security companies, choosing Boca Raton for its American HQ.

Scott will be in Canada on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

Greyhound steroid ban filed for 2018 Session

A bill to ban the use of steroids in racing dogs has again been filed in the Legislature.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, is behind the House bill (HB 463), and Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, has the measure in the Senate (SB 674).

The legislation, which died in the Senate in the 2017 Session, bans the use of the drugs as called for by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or ARCI.

“The legislation also enacts penalties against dog trainers who continue using them,” a press release said. “An identical measure, also sponsored by Rep. Smith, overwhelmingly passed the full Florida House of Representatives during the 2017 Session.”

“I will not give up on our bipartisan work to protect racing greyhounds from harmful anabolic steroids,” Smith said in a statement. “We passed the bill in the House last session and are ready to do it again in 2018. These beautiful dogs are depending on us.”

Added Young: “Greyhounds are gentle dogs, and deserve to be protected. I’m proud to fight for this good bill, and am confident we can pass it this year.”

Last Session’s measure had been vehemently opposed by racetrack and racing dog associations. There are 18 race-dog tracks remaining in the United States, 12 of them in Florida.

Smith had argued in committee that trainers use steroids on female greyhounds to keep them from going into heat and losing racing days, and thus the ability to make money. He called the use of steroids on dogs equivalent to “doping.”

This summer, 12 greyhound racing dogs in Florida tested positive for cocaine, and their trainer had his license suspended.

‘Trailblazing’ Pat Frank endorses Gwen Graham

Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank, “a trailblazing female elected official,” has endorsed gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, the campaign announced Friday.

The endorsement comes right before the Florida Democratic Party’s statewide conference this weekend in Orlando.

“Now more than ever, we need a woman to straighten out Tallahassee — and Gwen Graham is the right woman for the job,” Frank said in a statement.

“The Republican politicians have turned Florida’s public school system into an education industry that profits special interests,” she said. “With her experience as a mother, PTA president and public school official, Gwen understands we need to put parents, teachers and local school districts back in charge of education. As governor, she will end high-stakes testing, support our teachers and always put students first.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Frank was one of the first women to attend the University of Florida and began her career in public service as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board, where she was a fierce advocate for desegregation.

She also served in the Florida House and Senate, where she sponsored legislation in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, and mandatory kindergarten in public education. Before her election as clerk in 2004, Frank also served on the Hillsborough County Commission.

“I’m able to run for governor today because of trailblazing Florida women like Pat Frank,” Graham said. “I’m honored to receive Pat’s endorsement and will work every day to follow her example of public service.”

Graham has been endorsed by Democratic female leaders across the state and is energizing young women to participate in the 2018 election.

“After 20-years of Republicans passing policies that hurt Florida’s families, women can’t afford to sit on the sideline,” Graham said. “Our campaign is carrying on the momentum from the Women’s March and working to empower female leaders across the state. Starting in November 2018, the future of Florida is female.”

Rob Bradley, Aaron Bean win awards

Two Republican Senators from Northeast Florida, Fleming Island’s Rob Bradley and Fernandina Beach’s Aaron Bean, brought home some hardware this week in the form of awards.

On the strength of his SB 10, Bradley won Audubon’s Champion of the Everglades Award.

“I am extremely honored to be recognized by Audubon Florida,” said Sen. Bradley in a press release.

“The ecological importance of the Florida Everglades reaches far beyond our state. I’m proud to have sponsored the legislation that will reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and will allow for a large volume of water to be cleaned, stored and moved south into the Everglades and Florida Bay,” Bradley added.

“Senator Bradley‘s leadership on behalf of the Everglades proves his dedication to protecting Florida’s land and water resources,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon Florida’s deputy director.

“He secured support in the Florida Legislature for the biggest legislative victory for Florida’s environment in 2017. We applaud Senator Bradley and are glad to name him as this year’s Champion of the Everglades,” Hill-Gabriel added.

Bean, meanwhile, won the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center’s 2017 See the Girl Legislator of the Year Award, which honors “systemic changes to positively impact girls and young women affected by the justice system,” per a press release from his office.

“I am truly honored to receive the 2017 See the Girl Legislator of the Year Award from the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center,” said Sen. Bean.

“Far too often in our society, the unique needs of girls are overlooked and a one-size-fits-all approach is applied in our justice system. Our young women want and deserve better,” Bean added, “which is why I am honored to advocate for Florida’s girls and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.”

Fan ejected from Bucs game sues over lack of ‘family friendly’ environment

A longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan is fed up with the lack of a “family friendly” environment after being unfairly ejected from a recent game at Raymond James Stadium.

Chris Palermo, a 49-year-old Tampa attorney whose family has been Bucs season ticket holders since 1980, is taking three privately employed security guards to court after they kicked him out for a skirmish with drunk and rowdy fans.

On Oct. 5, Palermo, joined by his wife Tina, celebrated their son Christopher Jr.’s seventh birthday at a Bucs-Patriots game – which New England won 19-14.

But Chris Palermo didn’t see the entire game.

According to a lawsuit filed Oct. 23 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Palermo says his son – in a wheelchair at the time due to a broken leg – was “petrified” by the actions of an “intoxicated and aggressive” Patriots fan sitting nearby.

The individual had been blocking other fans’ sight lines and arguing profanely, Palermo claims.

After Chris and Tina Palermo complained to off-duty police officers – defendants Carl Berghorn, Oliver Jones and Gig Brown – who were working security at the game, the couple say they were told to sit down and be quiet, while the rowdy Patriots fan was “slapped on the back” and told “not to worry about the complaints.”

During the game’s third quarter, as Chris Palermo sat with his 5-year-old daughter Christina, a fight broke out nearby, leaving him “battered and assaulted by the commotion behind him.”

Security guards responded by removing Chris Palermo from the stadium in front of family and friends, leaving his two children “crying and traumatized” and the birthday party “ruined.”

In the suit, Chris Palermo points out that he has never engaged in “even a single incident of misconduct” in nearly four decades of attending Bucs games.

According to the suit: “In fact, Christopher Palermo [Sr.] has attended over 98 percent of the games ever played by the Buccaneers in Tampa since the first season of 1976, and has never had one incident of any kind at a Buccaneer game … Palermo Sr. can be considered one of the most die-hard Buccaneers fans, and attended Super Bowl XXXVII as well as many additional road games. [He] has never been forced to miss a minute of play of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game he attended.”

The Palermos say they are now afraid to attend future games due to the lack of a “family friendly and safe environment.” They are seeking damages against the three security guards for “tortious interference with a business relationship.”

Palermo is clearly a Bucs fan, since the suit does not accuse the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization or the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, the two groups most likely to be the actual employers of the security guards.

 

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