Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 175

Staff Reports

Itchy fingers: New scratch-off Florida Lottery deal likely worth millions

A new contract to provide scratch-off tickets, just announced by the Florida Lottery and possibly worth as much as a quarter-billion dollars, could be decided during the lame-duck period of the Rick Scott administration.

The Lottery earlier this week issued an ‘invitation to negotiate’ for a “new scratch-off gaming vendor contract,” spokeswoman Connie Barnes explained in an email.

“Our current contract is for five years (beginning in 2014) for approximately $50 million annually,” she said.

“Obviously, we won’t have a number for the new contract until we complete the negotiation process,” Barnes added. “But, as always, our goal is to try and reduce that amount if possible through the implementation of new and improved efficiencies.”

The advertisement for “Instant Game Products & Related Commodities and Services” was issued Tuesday and ends Dec. 14 — after Election Day.

Scott, a Naples Republican now running for U.S. Senate, is term-limited as Governor; his last day in office is Jan. 8.

(That assumes he doesn’t win the Senate race. If he does, he may have to leave the Governor’s Office early because Congress as of now is set to begin its 2019 term on Jan. 3.)

Bids will be opened 4 p.m. the last day the advertisement period closes. It covers “tickets or ticket rolls, service and ticket vending machines, ticket dispensing machines (and) printing,” the ad says.

The Lottery and the House of Representatives last year settled a lawsuit over the agency’s $700 million contract for new equipment.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran had sued the Lottery, essentially saying the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the contract last year.

The case was appealed after Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee invalidated the Lottery’s 15-year deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets.

Senate panel receives new Brett Kavanaugh allegations

The Senate Judiciary Committee says it is reviewing new allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Attorney Michael Avenatti provided a statement from his client to the committee.

According to a document Avenatti posted on Twitter, the woman alleges she witnessed Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s.”

The woman also made other accusations in her statement. The AP has not been able to corroborate them, and continues to investigate.

Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct by two other women, putting his nomination for the high court at risk. He and one of the accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, will testify publicly Thursday before the Judiciary Committee.

Avenatti declined to expand on the allegation in an interview Wednesday on ABC’s “The View,” saying he would not add detail beyond what was in the statement. Avenatti also represents Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who alleges she was paid to keep a sexual relationship with President Donald Trump quiet.


11:40 a.m.

Kavanaugh’s lawyers have submitted his calendars from the summer of 1982 to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of their defense against a woman’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her at a party.

The green-and-white calendars show detailed notes of Kavanaugh’s plans that summer, including homework, days that he was “grounded,” parties and “beach week” in all capital letters from June 5 to June 11. On June 12, penciled in is his plan to spend the night in Rehoboth, aDon beach about three hours from Washington.

Also noted are basketball camp and plans to see the movies “Rocky III” and “Poltergeist.”

At the end of August, Kavanaugh plans college interviews, including one for his application to Yale on August 27. He ended up attending that Ivy League School.


9:40 a.m.

President Trump says he would have preferred a faster confirmation process for his Supreme Court nominee.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations Wednesday, Trump says Senate Republicans “could not be nicer” in their treatment of the woman who claims Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school.

Said Trump: “They could have pushed it through two and a half weeks ago and you wouldn’t be talking about it right now, which is frankly what I would have preferred.”

Senate Republicans are bringing in a veteran Arizona prosecutor to handle questioning about the allegations. Asked about the move, Trump said the lawmakers “could not be nicer” and “could not be more respectful.”

Trump said he was “ok with that,” but again defended Kavanaugh as a “gem.”


9 a.m.

An attorney for Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh says there is no dispute that he drank in high school and college.

Lawyer Beth Wilkinson tells CNN Wednesday that whether or not Kavanaugh drank isn’t the issue. Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct by two women; one from high school and one from college. He’s denied those allegations.

Kavanaugh said in an interview earlier this week with Fox News that he went to an all-boys Catholic high school where he focused on academics, and athletics. He said he went to church on Sundays and worked on service projects.

But former classmates have disputed that image, saying he was a partier and heavy drinker at times.

Wilkinson said Wednesday: “If this is going to be the standard for how we judge somebody going into public service, I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to go through something like this.”

Kavanaugh will testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So will his chief accuser, Blasey Ford, who said he sexually assaulted her in high school.


8:05 a.m.

Lawyers for Blasey Ford say they have submitted sworn affidavits to the Senate Judiciary Committee from four people who say she told them that Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh had assaulted her in high school.

Kavanaugh has denied the accusation.

The four sworn affidavits are among the information the committee is considering on the eve of Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimony Thursday.

All four documents say that Ford revealed the information well before President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the high court in July. They come from Ford’s husband and three family friends, who say Ford mentioned the incident in 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017.

Two affidavits, from Ford’s husband Russell Ford and from the coach of their son’s baseball team, say Ford named Kavanaugh as the alleged assailant. In the other two, Ford did not name Kavanaugh but said she was assaulted by a federal judge.


8 a.m.

The attorney for one of the women accusing Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct says the Senate Judiciary Committee has not invited her to tell her story. John Clune, who is representing Deborah Ramirez, says the committee is “refusing even to talk to us.”

Clune says that Republicans did not participate in a pre-arranged Tuesday night conference call to talk about Ramirez’ allegations. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the “only way to get at the truth of what happened” is to interview his client. He said she’d be willing to testify before the committee if asked, but he wasn’t sure whether she would do it without an FBI investigation first.

There was no immediate response by the committee to the AP’s request for comment.

Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were both students at Yale. She has acknowledged consuming alcohol at the time, which clouded some of her memories.

The Senate panel is scheduled to hear from Kavanaugh’s chief accuser, Blasey Ford, on Thursday. She says he assaulted her at a party in high school in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh denies both allegations.


7:50 a.m.

A lawyer for Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh says the woman who is to testify Thursday about her claim he sexually assaulted her in high school has not turned over key information related to her accusation.

Wilkinson said Wednesday on CBS “This Morning” that the results of Blasey Ford’s polygraph test and her therapist’s notes are not among the materials turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the eve of her testimony.

Wilkinson said: “They announced that there were notes and that there had been a lie detector test” but that those materials were not turned over “even though they were requested.”

Ford is expected to testify Thursday about her allegations that Kavanaugh held her down, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth at a drunken high school party in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh denies the allegations. He and Ford are scheduled to testify on Thursday.


12:26 a.m.

Senate Republicans are beginning to schedule votes aimed at putting Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

GOP leaders set a Senate Judiciary Committee vote for Friday and hoped to confirm Kavanaugh early next week. That’s even as Thursday’s showdown hearing approaches.

Senate Republicans are bringing in a veteran Arizona prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, to handle questioning about allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a fellow teenager in the 1980s.

Mitchell comes from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix. She is the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence.

A handful of undeclared GOP moderates leave Kavanaugh’s fate uncertain because the party runs the Senate with just a 51-49 advantage. There’s no telling how Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will perform at the hearing.

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Nick DiCeglie hosting Clearwater fundraiser tonight

Republican businessman and Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie is holding a fundraiser for his House District 66 campaign this evening in Clearwater.

The event is from 5:30 Alfano’s Restaurant, 1702 Clearwater Largo Road N. Those interested in attending can give a last-minute RSVP with Rick Porter or Ivey Rooney at 407-849-1112 or

DiCeglie is running for the seat currently held by termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern, who is also on the event’s nearly 80-person host committee, joined by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, state Sen. Jeff Brandes and state Reps. Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls and Kathleen Peters, as well as other leading Republicans.

In the Aug. 28 Republican primary, DiCeglie defeated St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques and will face Democrat Alex Hereen Nov. 6.

HD 66 is a safe Republican district. It covers part of western Pinellas County, including Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

The invitation is below.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: Sandra Stovall is no longer staff directory for the Senate Committee on Health Policy.

Off and on: Reynold Meyer, former Deputy Chief of Staff on Policy, replaces Cheri Vancura as Chief of Staff to Senate President Joe Negron.

Off: Bobby Harris is no longer assistant to the House Clerk.

On: Cameron Pennant went from program support to legislative research assistant in the House Office of the Majority Leader.

Off: Samuel Gilot stepped down as a program analyst in the House Minority Leader office.

On and off: Jeff Armstrong replaced Steve Godwin as acting staff director in the office of the House General Counsel.

Off and on: Jason Welty is no longer a budget specialist with the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Sean Smith moved from budget analyst to budget specialist on the committee’s staff.

On and off: Whitney Hall replaced Tracy Sumner as policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Hall previously served as an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.

Off: Matthew MacNamara is no longer an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.

Off: Tracy Sumner has stepped down as policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

On and off: Lisa Larson replaces Erin Juszczyk as the new administrative lead in the House Rules & Policy Committee.

Off: Lindsey Locke is no longer administrative support for the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee in the House Commerce Committee.

Off: Emily Bland is no longer a communications assistant for the House Majority Office.

Off and on: Kevin Hoeft has moved from administrative support to legislative analyst for the House Education Committee.

Off: West Gregory and Ronni Moore has stepped down as attorneys for the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Off: Joseph Endicott is no longer legislative assistant to Sen. Aaron Bean.

Off and on: Alexis Mansolo has stepped down as a legislative assistant and Joshua Goergen has become the new district secretary for Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Off: Steven Richardson is no longer legislative assistant to Sen. Rob Bradley.

Off: Karina Pereira is no longer secretary to Sen. Gary Farmer.

On: Jerome Maples has returned as Sen. Audrey Gibson‘s district secretary.

On and off: Cameron Bradley is a new district secretary to Sen. Dorothy HukillMichael Strynkowski has stepped down as Hukill’s legislative assistant.

Off and on: Amelia Johnson Smith is no longer district secretary to Sen. Debbie MayfieldAdrienne Cronebaugh is her new legislative assistant.

On: Nazbi Chowdhury is a new legislative assistant to Sen. Bobby Powell.

On: Ashley Cacicedo and Jessica Celona are new legislative assistants for Sen. Kevin Rader.

On: Chelsea Olivera is a new legislative assistant for Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Off: Matthew Alford has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Sen. Linda Stewart.

On and off: Iman Sandifer has replaced Dan Horton as the new legislative assistant for Sen. Annette Taddeo. Crystal Morales has joined her office as district secretary.

On: Alexis Andres is the new district secretary for Rep. Joseph Abruzzo.

Off: Eired Eddy has stepped down as a legislative assistant for Rep. Larry Ahern.

On and off: Cyrus Calhoun replaced Navael Fontus as district secretary for Rep. Ramon Alexander. He previously was a legislative assistant for Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton.

On: James Befanis is has gone from executive secretary to district secretary for Rep. Thad Altman.

On: Katelyn Norman has joined Rep. Loranne Ausley‘s office as district secretary.

Off: Silvia Castellanos has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bryan Avila.

Off: Jack Harrington has stepped down as a legislative assistant for Rep. Michael Bileca.

Off: Sydnie Tiseo has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Jason Brodeur.

On: Daniel Leon is a new legislative assistant in Rep. Danny Burgess‘ office.

Off and on: Sarah Goldman has left Rep. Kathleen Peters’ office to join Rep. Ben Diamond‘s office as district secretary. Mariah McQueen and Amanda McNichols are no longer Diamond’s district secretaries.

Off: Maddie Dawson has stepped down as executive secretary to Rep. Byron Donalds.

Off: Robert Bogle has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bobby DuBose.

Off: Justin Gendler has stepped down as executive secretary to Rep. Katie Edwards.

Off and on: Chesten Goodman has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Jay Fant, becoming a new legislative assistant to Sen. Bean.

On and off: Melissa Thompson replaced Charles Smith as a legislative assistant to Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen.

Off and on: Bryan Vallejo has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Joe Geller. Joel Ramos moved from senior executive secretary to legislative assistant.

Off: Joshua Aman has stepped down as district secretary for Rep. James Grant.

Off: Derick Tabertshofer is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Shawn Harrison.

On: Melissa Thomas is a new district secretary for Rep. Lawrence McClure.

Off: Kassie Satterly has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. George Moraitis.

On: Michelle Grimsley is the new legislative assistant to Rep. Newton.

Off and on: Christina Castillo is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jeanette Nunez. Maria L. Evora moved from executive secretary to legislative assistant. Denise Irvine is the new district secretary.

Off: Samuel Wagoner has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bobby Payne.

Off: Daniel Leon is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Daniel Perez.

Off: Kathy Gilland has stepped down as senior executive secretary to Rep. Scott Plakon.

Off and on: Kristie Johnson has replaced Doniel Wolfe as district secretary for Rep. Mel Ponder.

Off: Taylor Ferguson is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jake Raburn.

Off: Anna DeCerchio has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Paul Renner.

Off: Sarah Johnson is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Emily Slosberg.

Off: Josh Barnhill is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Charlie Stone.

On and off: Sara Lynn Ard is a new legislative assistant and Aline Guy is district secretary for Rep. Jennifer Sullivan. Morgan Hatfield is no longer Sullivan’s executive secretary.

Off: Colton Curry is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jackie Toledo.

On and off: Rachel Witbrach is a new district secretary for Rep. Frank White. Charles Withers has stepped down as White’s executive secretary.

On: Sabrina McLaughlin is the new district secretary for Rep. Jayer Williamson.

Delegation for 9.25.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

If Rosenstein leaves, what next? 

It was difficult to imagine that anything could divert the media’s, if not the entire country’s, laser focus on the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Friday’s New York Times bombshell about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offering to wear a wire to gain sufficient material on President Donald Trump to invoke the 25th Amendment did just that.

At least for a little while.

The reaction from Trump was measured, while others in his party publicly urged him not to act hastily in firing Rosenstein. The President laid the fault at the feet of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

If Rod Rosenstein is out, what’s next?

By Monday, reports began circulating that Rosenstein might resign or be fired, a distinction without a difference. That would likely intensify a GOP push to expose what they describe as nefarious activities against Trump within the upper echelons of federal law enforcement. He is set to meet with Trump on Thursday.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said Rosenstein only should be fired if he lied to Trump. Graham then described an even more significant “bureaucratic coup” against Trump playing out within the FBI and Department of Justice.

“They tried to destroy this President,” Graham said. “If Rosenstein is involved, he should be fired. If he is not involved, leave him alone … There’s a bureaucratic coup going on at the Department of Justice and the FBI and somebody needs to look at it.”

Democrats describe Graham’s and other Republicans’ attacks on DOJ and the FBI as a cynical attempt to undermine the investigation of independent counsel Robert Mueller.

Conservative television commentator Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s biggest supporters, implored the President not to fire Rosenstein during his show on Friday night.

“The President needs to know it is all a setup,” Hannity, who had interviewed Trump the night before in Las Vegas, said gravely. “He needs to know that regardless of whether he steps in or not, and I would argue he should definitely not, the deep state tonight is crumbling from within at this very hour.”

No one in the Florida delegation has been more outspoken about Rosenstein than Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach. He, along with former Rep. Ron DeSantis previously urged Rosenstein to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation and said he was a possible candidate for impeachment.

Gaetz described the initial imbroglio surrounding Rosenstein as “gossip” and said no action should be taken against him, “yet.” Gaetz took the opportunity to make that point in a statement on Friday that also listed his complaints, and those of many Capitol Hill Republicans, against the number two man at the Justice Department.

“Though I have many objections to Mr. Rosenstein’s performance as Deputy Attorney General — including ignoring multiple Congressional subpoenas, refusing to confirm information under oath, failure to properly vet FISA warrants that he signed, unnecessarily redacting key documents turned over to Congressional investigators, threatening staff members of the Intelligence Committee with retribution, refusing to turn over the document that outlines the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and eroding the American people’s faith in the Department of Justice — until concrete evidence emerges, these accusations remain salacious and unverified, and should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism,” Gaetz said.

If Rosenstein departs, the next phase will be to turn to a successor who would oversee the Mueller investigation. Rumors point to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

Stay tuned.

Nelson, Scott deadlocked

The race between Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott could not be any closer. In a poll conducted by the University of North Florida and released on Monday, the three-term incumbent and his challenger are deadlocked at 45 percent.

Seventy-seven percent of Democrats support Bill Nelson while 83 percent of Republicans back Scott. Independents support Nelson by a 52-35 percent margin.

“Nelson and Scott are currently tied, but one bit of hope for Nelson is that more Democrats are unsure who they will vote for and partisans will come home in November,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF. Fourteen percent of Democrats were undecided.

“With polling numbers this close, the candidates that are most successful getting their voters to the polls are the ones who are going to win. Historically, Florida has had very close statewide elections, and this year is shaping up to be no different,” Binder added.

Nelson is the latest Democratic candidate that appears to benefit from the support of a majority of independent voters.

Rubio wants DOJ, Sessions to investigate Kerry

Another story not getting much attention involves accusations that former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in discussions with representatives of other countries, including Iran, concerning the nuclear deal he helped arrange, but Trump eventually scuttled. Kerry has admitted meeting with the Iranians and was accused of urging allies to “wait out” Trump in the hopes of reviving the deal when he leaves the White House.

The President described them as “illegal meetings,” while current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history.” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also finds Kerry’s actions troubling.

Kerry responded to Trump by saying the President has the maturity of an 8-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl.”

Marco Rubio calls for an investigation of former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Florida’s junior Senator sent a letter to Sessions last week calling on the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the matter. Specifically, Rubio seeks a determination whether Kerry broke the law.

“I write to encourage the Department of Justice to make a determination on whether former Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s actions since leaving office related to the Iran nuclear deal … potentially violate the Logan Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act” (FARA),” Rubio wrote.

Possible violations of the Logan Act are what brought scrutiny to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn’s meeting with the Russian foreign minister began a path that ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation and a plea on charges he lied to Mueller’s Russia investigators.

Violations of FARA were among the charges to which Paul Manafort pleaded guilty recently. They involve registering as a foreign agent when trying to influence the U.S. government on behalf of that foreign government.

“The American people deserve to know that U.S. laws are enforced regardless of any individual’s past position,” Rubio said.

Nelson donates remaining funds from Franken PAC

With the swirling controversy over Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh driving daily news cycles, the activities of current candidates, or campaign contributions can often come under scrutiny. Democratic Sen. Nelson is the latest.

CNN aired a story about Nelson accepting $20,000 from a PAC aligned with former Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who resigned after multiple accusations of sexual impropriety. Franken apologized for some of the behavior, but denied other charges.

Al Franken’s money is no good with the Bill Nelson campaign.

After Franken’s resignation, Nelson donated $10,000 received from the PAC for the 2018 cycle to the “5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a Miami-based program helping “at risk” boys. CNN reported the $10,000 received from the 2012 cycle was not returned.

After the story aired, Nelson said he would donate the other $10,000 as well. According to Nelson campaign spokesman Ryan Brown, the Senator “made clear to his campaign today that any money received from former Sen. Al Franken was to be donated to charity, not just for the 2018 race, but also any contribution from the 2012 race as well.”

Other Senators receiving donations from the Franken PAC donated the funds as well.

Democrats continue to push for delays on Kavanaugh vote

Even before a second woman came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct more than three decades ago, a group of Florida Democrats signed onto a letter calling for delays in hearings conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. More than 100 House Democrats wrote to Senate leadership, as well as the committee leadership, calling for the delay.

The letter, signed by 109 Democrats, was organized by Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach. Frankel is the chairwoman of the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG).

Democratic strategy for Brent Kavanaugh vote: Delay, delay, delay.

“We urge you to delay Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court until a thorough investigation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations has taken place,” Frankel and the other House Democrats wrote. “To hold a vote now would be an insult to women and girls, sending a powerful message that they don’t matter and will not be believed. Let’s instead set an example for our children that sexual violence should be taken seriously and emphatically denounced.”

Delegation members signing the letter included Kathy Castor of Tampa, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Darren Soto of Orlando, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

No official investigation was ordered, but the nomination was indeed halted until an agreement for an appearance by Ford, could be negotiated. The emergence of another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, prompted committee ranking member Diane Feinstein of California, to call for further delays.

Lawson proposes to help student-athletes, repeal controversial rule

A delegation member (and former college athlete) is proposing legislation to help current and former college sports participants as well as NCAA member schools. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee has introduced the National Collegiate Athletics Advancement Act of 2018 to enhance benefits for NCAA student-athletes.

“As a former college basketball player, I understand firsthand the sacrifices and struggles student-athletes face,” Lawson said. “My goal with this bill is to provide NCAA athletes the support they need to be successful long after their college playing days are over.”

Former college baller Al Lawson seeks to eliminate the NCAA ‘one-and-done’ rule. (Image via Roll Call)

Lawson’s proposal would create a returning student scholarship program for athletes who did not graduate while students, make it easier for student-athletes who need work opportunities in the summer and provide full health insurance coverage for sports-related injuries. Currently, athletes are only guaranteed sports-related injury coverage for amounts above the “catastrophic threshold” set by the NCAA.

Probably the most popular provision of the bill in the minds of college basketball fans would be the elimination of the “one-and-done” rule. The rule requires American athletes to be 19-years of age and at least one year out of high school before moving to the professional arena.

Lawson said the rule is a burden on many NCAA programs who commit millions to recruit a high school basketball star, only to have that athlete play one year before turning pro.

“Eliminating this rule would allow college programs to further invest in student-athletes who are truly interested in gaining a college education,” Lawson said.

Lawson was a basketball star at Florida A&M University in the late 1960s and the arena where the team plays its home games today is named after him.

Bilirakis secures funding to combat opioid crisis

Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis secured $285,000 for substance abuse and mental health treatment at the Premier Community Health Center in Pasco County. Of that, $110,000 will be used to hire additional personnel and $175,000 to renovate facilities at the Zephyrhills treatment center.

Bilirakis secured the funding as part of the 2018 omnibus spending bill. He also supported a $4 billion spending authorization for money to combat the opioid epidemic and expand access to treatment nationwide. Of that, Florida is receiving $49 million to fight addiction.

Gus Bilirakis brings home the bacon for substance abuse, mental health treatment in Pasco County.

The veteran legislator from Palm Harbor also helped secure $54 million for opioid treatment last year and earlier this year secured $125,000 for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention to coordinate Pasco County’s response to addiction.

“As we examine where the gaps in combating addiction exist within our community during this national Recovery Month, access to treatment continues to be a primary and persistent problem,” Bilirakis said.

Bilirakis met with state and local leaders Monday to discuss how the funding aligns with the community’s targeted approach to solving the opioid epidemic.

“Community health centers, which offer high-quality primary, mental health, and dental services to patients on a sliding scale basis, are a natural fit to help augment the work of existing providers,” Bilirakis said.

Buchanan constituents really don’t want Sessions fired

One of Trump’s favorite targets within his own administration is Sessions. He often blasts the Attorney General for his role in creating the Mueller investigation, which Trump describes as a “witch hunt.”

Most recently, the President reacted to the controversy surrounding Rosenstein (see above) by blaming Sessions for hiring his number two. Republicans have urged Trump not to fire Rosenstein and call for caution on any action toward Sessions, but how do regular people think?

They like him; they really like him.

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key decided to ask his constituents in a nonscientific online poll. District 16 is a Republican-leaning district.

The question asked was “Should U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resign, be fired or remain in office in light of President Trump’s criticism of his job performance?”

As of Monday, 57 percent responded by saying Sessions should stay, while 34 percent believe he should resign. Only 9 percent said the Attorney General should be fired.

Will the mood be the same after the midterms?

Frankel leading group seeking to elect more women

The 1992 elections were dubbed the “Year of the Woman” with several prominent women candidates winning election to the Senate and House. Among those were current Senators Feinstein, Washington Democrat Patty Murray and Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski.

A group of Democrats led by Frankel is looking to make 2018 as the next Year of the Woman. Frankel is serving as the chair of Elect Democratic Woman, a group that will help raise money and campaign for candidates included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program.

Lois Frankel is looking to make 2018 the next ‘Year of the Woman.’

“Diversity is a cornerstone of our democracy, and right now, only 20 percent of Congress is female,” Frankel said. “We need our elected officials to better reflect our country and we can do that by electing more women who will bring different perspectives and experiences, thus making better decisions for American families.”

Florida female candidates included in “Red to Blue” are Nancy Soderberg in District 6, Kristen Carlson in District 15, Lauren Baer in District 18, Mary Barzee Flores in District 25, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in District 26.

Democrats believe they have an opportunity to have similar success to that which they enjoyed in 1992. Those elections came not long after the controversy regarding the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This year, a similar political firestorm is playing out with Kavanaugh with barely one month remaining before Election Day.

Baer labels Mast as ‘toxic,’ gains Kerry endorsement

Congressional District 18, currently represented by first-term Republican Brian Mast, is made up of residents who have shown their sensitivity to environmental issues. Algal blooms victimized the district, brought on by the release of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

Mast has expressed pride in his effort on this and other environmental issues, but his opponent, Democrat Lauren Baer, believes he has something to hide. She has launched a new website to tell the other side.

The site, called “Brian Mast Is Toxic,” launched on Saturday. Baer’s campaign says each day it will list a new “anti-environmental” vote cast by Mast during his time in Congress.

So says Lauren Baer.

“Florida 18 can’t afford an election-year environmentalist who panders to the big polluters who line his campaign coffers and only pays attention when his poll numbers are down,” said Baer. “Our environment is on life support, and our water has gotten worse on Mast’s watch. It’s time to elect a representative who doesn’t only fight for our water when there’s something personal to gain.”

The first issue cited by Baer was Mast’s support of last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Along with tax cuts and a revamp of the tax code, the bill signed by Trump in December also contained a provision allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

While Mast is still slightly favored to win re-election the most recent survey by Public Policy Polling puts Baer within three points of the incumbent.

Over the weekend, Baer received the endorsement of former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Baer previously served as an adviser in the State Department during the presidency of Barack Obama.

“Lauren provided trusted counsel on a range of critical national security issues,” Kerry said, “and I witnessed firsthand her fierce advocacy for our values on the world stage.

EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood supporting  Mucarsel-Powell

Earlier this year, Mucarsel-Powell received the backing of EMILY’s List in her campaign to defeat two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign has also been bolstered, by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

That support is beginning to show off in the mailboxes of voters.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is enjoying support from both EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood.

According to Axios, Planned Parenthood will invest $4 million in 24 house races, with Florida’s 26th Congressional District the only in Florida. The nonprofit organization has long been in the crosshairs of conservatives because it offers, among various other services, abortion services. According to Open Secrets, Mucarsel-Powell has received $3,000 in donations from Planned Parenthood.

An extensive direct mail campaign began earlier this month with one mailer touting her commitment to health care for Floridians. The issue is polling at or near the top of voter concerns across the country.

The mail piece proclaims her commitment to “improving the lives of our community’s most valuable residents, including expanding access to health care for thousands of Floridians.”

EMILY’s List has also pledged to conduct a negative campaign against Curbelo in the coming days. The incumbent is slightly favored in the Democratic-leaning district but a recent poll showed Mucarsel-Powell with a one-point lead.

As reported by Florida Politics, a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by pro-healthcare Protect Our Care has her leading by a point.

Planned Parenthood has endorsed all U.S. Congressional members from Florida, as well as candidates Soderberg and Barzee Flores.

(Updated. An earlier version omitted Donna Shalala from the Planned Parenthood endorsement list.)

On this day in the headlines

September 25, 1957 — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, addressed the nation explaining why he ordered federal troops to Little Rock to enforce an order to integrate Central High School. “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts,” the President said.

Less than two months before, Eisenhower had said he could “not imagine any set of circumstances that would ever induce me to send federal troops … to enforce the orders of a federal court …” Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins said Eisenhower’s action might drive some moderates “to the extreme” on the issue of civil rights, but it “also may have the effect of bringing home the futility” of fighting the changing views on segregation.

September 25, 2015 — Pope Francis used a historic address to a joint session of Congress to implore lawmakers to show compassion toward immigrants and seize the moment to address climate change, stepping firmly into contentious political issues even as he urged a “renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity” for the common good.

While he challenged Republicans on those issues, he also strongly advocated the pro-life position championed by the GOP. “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” prompting previously silent Republicans to stand and cheer.

CD 17 nominee dies suddenly

Democratic U.S. House candidate April Freeman died unexpectedly Sunday night, according to her family. She was running in Florida’s 17th Congressional District against Republican nominee Greg Steube to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Tom Rooney.

“It’s with great sadness that I feel I must inform all of you that my beloved wife April passed away suddenly last night,” husband Jack Freeman wrote on Facebook. “To all of her family and friends here on Facebook, my heart aches with you.”

Our condolences to the family of Democratic congressional candidate April Freeman, who died suddenly this week.

Freeman previously worked in TV production, including on HBO’s “Hemingway and Gelhorn,” and she ran her own political consulting firm, Freeman & Associates. She ran against Rooney in 2016 and sought Florida’s 19th Congressional District seat in 2014 after the resignation of Republican Rep. Trey Radel.

Steube has canceled all campaign appearances for one week out of respect. He tweeted a message of condolence.

“My thoughts & prayers are with April Freeman’s family in the wake of her tragic passing,” Steube said. “I respect her service to our community and admire her commitment to the causes she cared about.”

Decisions on a replacement candidate will be made in the coming days.

GOP says: Andrew Gillum soft on crime—even former top aide thinks so


The subhead chaser: “Dustin Daniels is Campaigning Against Andrew Gillum’s Failure to Support Law Enforcement & Prevent Violent Crime.”

Daniels will be in a runoff this November against John Dailey, a three-term Leon County Commissioner who enjoys “the backing of a large swath of Tallahassee’s establishment,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

He came in second to Dailey, garnering 25 percent to his 40 percent, this August for the position of City Mayor, now held by Gillum.

“Even his own former chief of staff is campaigning against Gillum’s failure to support law enforcement and prevent violent crime,” the state GOP’s email says.

“Dustin Daniels, Gillum’s former chief of staff and a Tallahassee mayoral candidate, says in a new direct mail piece that Tallahassee ‘must do better’ and admits ‘Tallahassee had the highest number of murders in history last year and we top the state for the highest crime rate.’ ”

“Even Andrew Gillum’s former chief of staff is admitting his boss’s failure to keep people safe,” said Meredith Beatrice, Communications Director for the RPOF.

The release also noted this weekend’s multiple vehicle burglaries and shootings in Killearn, an upscale area in the city’s northeast.

“How can Gillum expect to keep Florida safe when he has allowed Tallahassee to become one of the most crime-ridden cities in Florida?” Beatrice added.

We’ll post a response from the Daniels camp when we get it.

Another done (marijuana) deal: Trulieve finishes merger with Canadian concern

Trulieve, a Florida medical marijuana provider, and a Canadian mining company on Friday said they had completed their merger and will start trading stock publicly in Canada.

Trulieve will begin trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) under the symbol “TRUL” on Tuesday, according to a press release. Toronto-based Schyan Exploration Inc. combined with Trulieve to become Trulieve Cannabis Corp. 

The new company’s CEO and board chairman is Kim Rivers, the head of the former Trulieve Inc., who now holds 159,867 of what are termed “Super Voting Shares” in the new company, or 18.75 percent, a company statement said.

Thad Beshears, co-owner and chief operating officer of Jefferson County’s Simpson Nurseries, holds 150,000 Super Voting Shares, or 17.6 percent. He’s a brother of state Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican. Simpson Nurseries is the Beshears family business. 

The closing is the latest big deal in the state’s medicinal cannabis market, which has been seen as a potential multibillion-dollar industry by investors.

Trulieve has one of 14 “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC) licenses in the state, according to the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana. 

A legal challenge against the state is still pending. It’s over how many retail stores Trulieve can open, and where, under state law. Its website last listed 17 retail locations and a call center.

Personnel note: James Blair named to Enterprise Florida board

James Blair, a close advisor to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is the next member of the board overseeing Enterprise Florida. 

Corcoran appointed Blair, who’s long served as his political right-hand man, to the board of directors for Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s economic development organization.

The appointment, effective Oct. 1, “is a great honor,” Blair said in a statement to Florida Politics.

“Florida’s economy is on a roll, having added over 1.5 million jobs since 2010 and reaching $1 trillion (in gross domestic product) this year,” he said.

“I look forward to working with the many elected and business leaders engaged with EFI who work so hard to make sure Florida is the premier destination to do business and create jobs.”

Corcoran has long been critical of the group, beginning in full last year.

He derided the organization as little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” (Though a public-private partnership, it doled out mostly public dollars.)

As a result of Corcoran’s bulldogging, the organization is now subject to heightened oversight. Corcoran, who is term-limited, leaves the House this year.

Blair’s appointment ensures that Corcoran’s corrective influence over the organization will last for years to come.

Brett Kavanaugh denies 2nd claim of sexual misconduct

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is denying a second allegation of sexual misconduct.

The White House released a statement from the nominee Sunday after the allegations in a New Yorker article in which a woman, Deborah Rodriguez, a former Yale classmate, alleged he exposed himself and thrust his penis in her face during a drunken dormitory party.

Kavanaugh says the event “did not happen” and that the allegation is “a smear, plain and simple.”

A White House spokeswoman adds in a second statement that the allegation is “designed to tear down a good man.”

Kavanaugh is slated to testify Thursday about the first allegation of sexual assault, dating back from a high school party more than 35 years ago. His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is also set to testify.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

ZooTampa’s newest addition: A baby white rhino

ZooTampa has a new addition.

A rare southern white rhinoceros was born Sept. 12, officials at the former Lowry Park Zoo announced last week.

As first reported by WFLA, Mother Alake gave birth to a calf; it was the sixth successful southern white rhino birth and ninth rhino in the zoo’s history.

After the calf bonds with its mother, zookeepers will introduce the baby rhino to the rest of the herd.

The southern white rhino lives in just four countries in Africa.

Poachers have killed a record number of rhinos due to a high demand for keratin, a protein found in rhino horn that many people believe is medicinal.

“ZooTampa is deeply committed to the species’ continued survival, both at home and beyond. Every birth brings hope to the continued conservation of this incredible species,” ZooTampa general curator Chris Massaro told WFLA.

Image via ZooTampa.


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