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Staff Reports

Ashley Moody to hold AG campaign kick-off event on June 29

Ashley Moody will officially kick off her Attorney General campaign with an event in Tampa later this month.

Moody will hold a campaign kickoff at 6 p.m., June 29 at The Floridan Palace in Tampa. The event comes weeks after the former Hillsborough circuit judge threw her hat in the race to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2018.

The 42-year-old was first elected to the 13th Judicial Circuit when she was 31 years old, making her the youngest judge in Florida. She resigned her seat in at the end of April.

Moody, who filed to run for Attorney General on June 1, is the second Republican to jump into the race to replace Bondi, who can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville state representative, is also running. Democrat Ryan Torrens is also running.

She has already lined up a big name backer in her race. Earlier this month, Bondi said she planned to support Moody in the Attorney General’s race, saying she doesn’t “think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida.”

Mailer in SD 40 races calls Alex Diaz de la Portilla a ‘tax & spend liberal’

Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s legislative record could be coming back to haunt him.

A new mailer calling Diaz de la Portilla a “tax & spend liberal” is hitting the mailboxes of voters living in Senate District 40. The mailer, paid for Making a Better Tomorrow, highlights Diaz de la Portilla’s time in the Legislature, and urges voters to call the Miami-Dade Republican and tell him “he doesn’t deserve another chance.”

“For 16 long years, career politician Alex Diaz de la Portilla has raised our taxes and wrecked our economy,” reads the mailer.

The mail piece says Diaz de la Portilla increased taxes on garbage, hunting permits, and driver’s licenses by $2.2 billion; imposed “a 300 percent job-killing tax increase on small businesses;” and grew the size of government by $20 billion since 1995.

“Career politician Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s higher taxes have killed jobs and hurt seniors,” it reads. “Alex Diaz de la Portilla isn’t really a conservative. His 16-year voting record proves he is just another tax & spend liberal.”

Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected to serve in the Florida Senate. He served in the Senate until 2010, serving stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

He faces Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal, in Senate District 40. The race for the GOP nomination is expected to be a bitter and expensive battle, with outside groups pouring thousands upon thousands of dollars into the race.

Making a Better Tomorrow, a Venice-based political committee, has raised more than $289,331 million since 2014, according to state records. The group hasn’t received any donations since February 2017, when it received a single $4,000 contribution.

State records show it ended May with $41,923 cash on hand.

The special primary election in Senate District 40 is July 25, with the general election set for Sept. 26.

Big, early get: State’s firefighters endorse Jeremy Ring in Democratic primary of CFO race

Former Yahoo executive and state Sen. Jeremy Ring capped off a week on the campaign trail Friday with a big get.

Immediately following a speech at the annual convention of the Florida Professional Firefighters, the group moved to unanimously endorse Ring in the Democratic primary.

In his speech, Ring reaffirmed his support for the state’s firefighters by pledging to give them the resources they require to both fight and prevent fires if elected as Florida’s next chief financial officer.

“These guys put their lives on the line for us every day and we need to make sure we have their backs not only by outfitting them with modern equipment, but also by giving them the peace of mind that their families will be provided for in the tragic event that they fall in the line of duty,” Ring said.

Ring’s quote referenced legislation he championed in the Florida Senate allowing for the spouses of first responders killed on the job to claim the retirement benefits of their loved ones.  Ring has long been an outspoken advocate for first responders and was pivotal in bringing resolution to their protracted and difficult pension negotiations with municipal governments, gaining the respect of both sides for his fair-minded and even-keeled role as an arbitrator in the long-running dispute.

For the past five months, Ring has been crisscrossing Florida, meeting with voters to share his vision for the state in advance of his anticipated candidacy.  His unique background in the technology sector has colored his calls for the creation of an innovation economy and high-paying jobs in Florida.

Ring’s accomplishments in this sphere include helping to build Yahoo from a small startup into a multibillion-dollar venture along with his work in the Florida Senate laying the groundwork for innovation and technology startups to flourish in the state.  Ring has additionally been a watchdog for consumers and a steadfast advocate for retirees and seniors, working to ensure the Florida Retirement System (FRS) remains robust for future generations.

It was a full week for Ring, who huddled with supporters and community leaders at a campaign kickoff Monday in Tampa before heading to central Florida to speak Wednesday at the annual conference of the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans (FLARA).

On Thursday, he spent the afternoon meeting with representatives from the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA) at their conference in Kissimmee.

Among the CFO’s core responsibilities are management of the state’s public retirement system, regulation of the insurance industry and position as statewide fire marshal.

We have a deal: Rick Scott expands scope of special session

Gov. Rick Scott expanded the call of the Legislature’s special session Friday to include money he wants to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike and higher education investments important to the Senate.

And here are the details that got us here:

The Senate will relent on trying to appropriate more money for hospitals; there will be nothing that looks like a tax increase; Scott will allow restoration of $60 million in preferred Senate projects; there will be no changes in the ‘required local effort’ part of public schools funding.

These widgets will be in the House’s bill on the Florida Education Finance Program, sources said.

Scott will get $50 million to repair the dike. House Speaker Richard Corcoran had proposed the changes in a letter to Scott earlier in the day.

The Senate earlier was in recess pending what President Joe Negron referred to as “an amendment being prepared based on current developments.”

Corcoran put forward the dam project as economic development spending, fully compatible with the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund created in legislation that cleared the House floor earlier Friday.

The deal lacks $100 million the Senate sought to ameliorate Medicaid reimbursement cuts to Florida hospitals. It wouldn’t increase taxes or change local schools property taxes. It would include $60 million for Senate higher education projects, and $50 million for the dike.

“This disaster has all the characteristics and consequences that the (fund) is designed to address,” Corcoran wrote — specifically, “the devastating economic impact resulting from the blue-green algae bloom in South Florida” last summer.

“The House believes infrastructure projects, such as the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, can assist economic recovery and support the area’s workforce,” he wrote.

Corcoran noted that “your friendship with President Trump” has resulted a promise for federal matching money for the $200 million project, which Scott urged the Legislature to support during the regular session.

Negron on Thursday evening demanded respect for the Senate’s higher education priorities — he wants Florida’s colleges and universities to rank among the nation’s best. The upper chamber has voted to override Scott’s vetoes of $75 million in higher ed projects.

Corcoran found a way to qualify those projects as economic incentives. “These institutions can and ahould provide ongoing research, training, and support for local economic recovery,” he wrote.

“As I have publicly stated, the House will not participate in any legislative action to override your higher education project vetoes,” Corcoran stressed.

“However, with your agreement, we can support more conservative appropriations to provide funding for higher education projects that will contribute to the broader goal of strong public infrastructure and a skilled workforce.”

Scott confirmed in a written statement that Trump has promised money to fix the dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee.

“Along with SB 10, a major priority for Senate President Joe Negron, that I signed into law last month, repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike will ensure that future generations of Floridians will not be plagued with safety concerns during flooding events and problems with algae. I urge the Legislature to take up this call and fund these critical repairs,” Scott said.

“Also, today, I updated the call to include higher education funding. Last week, I signed a historic $4.9 billion budget for Florida’s universities, which is a $174 million increase over last year,” Scott continued.

“By adding higher education to the topics that can be considered during the ongoing special session, the Legislature will have the opportunity to modify these issues for my consideration.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson backed VA reform bill clears the Senate

A bipartisan bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees is headed to the U.S. House, after clearing the Senate on a voice vote this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

Rubio said he was “incredibly pleased that (his) Senate colleagues … passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act.”

“It’s bipartisan and what it basically does is it’s now going to give the VA secretary the power to fire and dismiss bad employees and also to protect whistleblowers who come forward,” he said in a prepared statement earlier this week. “We’ve been working hard on this for years. Today is a great day. I can’t wait to get it to the president’s desk.”

The bill had significant bipartisan support, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” said Nelson during a speech on the floor before the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines.

The House could vote on the Senate passed version of the bill next week.

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

Labor relations panel will hear complaint against Sarasota Herald-Tribune

A Florida-based division of the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing on a complaint against the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the paper’s leadership intimidated and threatened “reprisals” if newsroom employees voted to form a union.

The hearing is currently set for Aug. 21 in Tampa.

Last September, the newsroom staff of the Herald-Tribune, a GateHouse Media paper, voted to unionize under the NewsGuild-CWA by a vote of 22-16.

Among the allegations, the complaint said publisher Patrick Dorsey in August “created an impression among employees that their union activities were under surveillance.”

Later that month, former executive editor William Church “threatened employees with unspecified reprisals” if they tried to unionize, the complaint said.

And investigations team editor Michael Braga “threatened to blackball employees from the industry and end their career in print journalism,” it said.

Dorsey, in an email, said he and the paper’s management “disagree with all the assertions made by the union, which were issued without talking to the people involved to get all sides of the story.”

“As we have said from the beginning, we do not think the union is good for our employees, for our newspaper or for the communities we serve,” said Dorsey, previously publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat. “These unfair allegations continue to create turmoil at our newspaper and, unfortunately, hurt all employees as we have to spend precious resources to defend ourselves against untrue allegations and attempts to create an inflexible newsroom environment.

“We are working very hard to maintain a strong business and protect our journalism and we will continue to negotiate with our local employees to that end, despite the divisive actions of the national union.”

Two reporters also said they were demoted and reassigned to other beats because of their involvement with the effort to unionize the newsroom.

Elizabeth Johnson was one of the reporters, who has since left the paper, who said she was “removed from the paper’s investigative unit.”

“I hope the Herald-Tribune management learns from this experience, so that reporters and other newsroom staff don’t have to endure the work environment that I and some of the others experienced,” she said in a NewsGuild statement.

The news staff of The Ledger of Lakeland, another GateHouse paper, also voted to join the News Guild-CWA last year, by a vote of 22-3.

The Ledger and the Herald-Tribune were owned for decades by the New York Times Co., then were sold to Halifax Media in 2011, and again sold to GateHouse in 2015.

Denise Grimsley, Kelli Stargel ask Joe Negron to support veto overrides of 2 budget line items

Two senators have asked Senate President Joe Negron to support expanding the call for a special session to override two line-item vetoes.

Sens. Denise Grimsley and Kelli Stargel sent a letter to Negron on Wednesday asking for his “assistant and support in expanding the call for Special Session 2017-A to include the veto override of two budget line items.”

Grimsley and Stargel have asked for Negron’s support to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $3 million for Polk State College and $1 million for the IFAS 4-H $ Family Initiative.

In their letter to Negron, Grimsley and Stargel said the decision to veto funding for Polk State College “will have a negative impact in our community and will result in the Lake Wales campus shutting down.”

As for the 4-H & Family Initiative veto, the two women said it will “negatively impact the development of leadership skills for young Floridians interested in the agriculture industry.” The funding, Stargel and Grimsley wrote, has been part of the base for “many years and was singled out for the the first time in the 2017 Regular Session.”

Andrew Gillum ‘slams’ Special Session

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, issued a brief statement Tuesday calling this week’s Special Session “a complete embarrassment to our state.”

Gillum also took a swipe at a education policy bill (HB 7069) Gov. Rick Scott is considering that, among other things, could funnel more money to privately-managed charter schools.

The session “was called with a total lack of transparency, and thanks to HB 7069, Floridians’ tax dollars are almost certainly about to enrich for-profit charter school executives,” Gillum said in the statement.

“I’d urge Governor Scott to veto this bill—if only he and Speaker (Richard) Corcoran would come out from their smoke-filled room. This session is a case study on why Florida needs new leadership.”

Report: Mailers from Illinois PAC targeting Joe Negron over education bill

A mailer from an Illinois based political committee targeting Senate President Joe Negron is landing in Treasure Coast mailboxes.

The Palm Beach Post reported voters living in Negron’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are receiving mailers from SunshinePAC, a newly formed Illinois-based PAC, criticizing the Stuart Republican over his support of a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069).

The mailer, according to the Palm Beach Post, calls Negron out for making making “backroom deals” and says “our schools are paying the price.”

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the mailer says, according to the Palm Beach Post.

It also urges voters to call Gov. Rick Scott and encourage him to veto the measure, a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill, according to House records, has not yet been sent to Scott for his consideration. However, Scott is largely expected to sign the bill once he receives it.

According to the Federal Election Commission, SunshinePAC formed on May 26 and is headed by John Hennelly. Hennelly is a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union, and now serves as a consultant with Democracy Partners, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Missing penny almost costs House candidate

A missing penny nearly cost one Miami-Dade Republican his chance at the ballot.

Daniel Anthony Perez, a Miami Republican, is one of two Republicans who qualified Tuesday for the race to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. But state records show Perez, who qualified via check, had to submit two checks to the Division of Elections after his first check appeared to be one penny short.

According to the Division of Elections, candidates choosing to qualify by the fee method needed to submit a “properly executed campaign check signed by the treasurer or deputy treasurer in the amount of $1,781.82 (partisan) or $1,187.88 (no party affiliation).”

The Division of Elections received a check from the Perez campaign at 9:24 a.m. on Monday. That check, however, had conflicting amounts written on it. In one place, the correct amount – $1,781.82 — was written out; while in a second place on the check, the sum was for $1,781.81.

The Division reported receiving a second check at 8:09 a.m., Tuesday for the correct amount, allowing Perez to qualify by the noon deadline.

Perez faces Jose Mallea in the GOP primary to replace Diaz in House District 116. The winner of the July 25 special primary will face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon in the Sept. 26 special general election.

Diaz resigned his House seat, effective Sept. 26, to run in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40. Artiles resigned earlier this year amid scandal, promoting a special election.

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