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Staff Reports

Flags at half staff for Brevard Deputy Kevin Stanton

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday ordered flags at half-staff to honor Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Stanton.

Stanton, a nearly 11-year veteran of the department, died while on duty Feb. 17.

“His patrol car was struck by a tractor-trailer on I-95,” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

“The tractor-trailer suffered a tire blow-out, causing the driver to lose control and swerve into the left lane where Deputy Stanton was driving,” the site said. “Stanton’s patrol car then struck the rear of the semi.”

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Brevard County Courthouse, City Hall, and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office North Precinct, all in Titusville, from sunrise to sunset on Friday.

“We pray that his family, fellow officers and loved ones find comfort in knowing that Deputy Stanton will be remembered as a decorated officer and hero,” Scott said in a statement.

“While we saw firsthand the bravery of our law enforcement officers during and after the tragic shooting in Parkland this week, we must remember that Florida’s law enforcement officers make the incredible decision to put their lives on the line every day to protect families across our state.

“I ask that all Floridians take the time to thank their law enforcement officers for their service and also pause to honor the sacrifice of every fallen officer who lost their lives as they courageously served our state.”

Personnel note: Sharon Smoley to join Orlando Economic Partnership

Sharon Smoley, Florida Director of Government Affairs for Charter Communications, is taking on a new challenge.

Beginning March 12, she becomes Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy with the Orlando Economic Partnership.

In that role, she’ll be working on local, state and federal issues affecting the Central Florida business community.

Smoley will remain with Charter through the end of the 2018 Legislative Session. She first joined Charter in 2016, soon after Charter Spectrum completed $71 billion in acquisitions of Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable earlier that year. Smoley was in charge of the combined company’s Florida government affairs team, including some personnel who stayed on from Bright House.

She previously was with the government relations team at Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts.

Smoley has been chair of the board of directors for the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce and a board member of BusinessForce and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association’s Political Action Committee.

She is a graduate of the Leadership Orlando, Leadership Osceola, and Leadership West Orange programs.

Smoley graduated with an MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Massachusetts with a major in political science and a minor in Hispanic studies.

George and Amal Clooney donate $500K to march against guns

George Clooney and his wife said on Tuesday they are donating $500,000 to the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington and will walk with students in support of gun control following last week’s shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.

”Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country, and in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we’re donating 500,000 dollars to help pay for this groundbreaking event. Our children’s lives depend on it,” Clooney said in a statement.

The “Ocean’s Eleven” actor and his human rights lawyer wife Amal, who gave birth to twins Ella and Alexander in 2017, are known for donating large amounts of money to political causes. Last year they donated $1 million to the Southern Poverty Law Center following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to counter-protests and the death of a woman.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a 19-year-old former student is accused of going on a rampage with a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle on Feb. 14, are assisting in planning the march.

The “March for Our Lives” event is one of several rallies being organized by students across the country in support of stronger gun laws, challenging politicians they say have failed to protect them. Busloads of Florida students headed to the state capital Tallahassee on Tuesday to call for a ban on assault rifles [nL2N1QA0NH].

Other celebrities have voiced their support for the students’ efforts on social media, including Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Cher.

Baxter Troutman not running for Congress to replace Tom Rooney

Baxter Troutman will not seek U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney‘s seat in the 2018 election.

The news comes after Rooney said Monday he would not run for Congress.

Almost immediately, speculation swirled as to whether another candidate would jump into the race.

The unexpected move opens up Florida’s 17th Congressional District this election year, a traditionally red district in the nation’s largest swing state.

The 17th Congressional District covers all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, as well as parts of Polk, Sarasota and Lee.

The district voted 62-35 in favor of President Donald Trump in 2016 and Rooney’s successor is likely to emerge in a Republican Primary. However, many seemingly plausible candidates are otherwise committed.

As we reported Monday, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is not ruling out the race.

However, others, including Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, both Agriculture Commissioner hopefuls, ruled out a run.

On Tuesday, a third candidate for Agriculture Commissioner — Troutman — joined Caldwell and Grimsley in sitting out a run for Congress.

“For those inquiring, I have no interest in running for Tom Rooney’s congressional seat. I am fully committed to serving the community I grew up in as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture. While I recognize the importance of having Florida’s farmers and ranchers community represented in Washington DC, I believe my background is better suited for the office of the Commissioner,” Troutman said.

Carlo Fassi, Troutman’s campaign manager, noted that “as we crisscross the state, Baxter continues to impress voters with his background and his vision for the Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Last month, our campaign account received more donations than either of our opponents, leaving us with the most cash on hand since Baxter entered the race last year. Voters realize Baxter is the only farmer & rancher in the race. And this race needs a true Ag-friendly candidate.”

Troutman is the current cash-on-hand leader in the crowded GOP race for Ag Commissioner

Troutman, per a source with his campaign, has no interest in going to D.C., except “as a tourist.”

Candidates linked to the race in addition to Benacquisto: Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight.

Developing story…

Material from Florida Politics’ Ana Ceballos and Drew Wilson was used in this post.

Delegation for 2.20.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Gun control debate seems likely to last longer this time

The debate over gun control traditionally comes and goes following a tragedy. Last week’s murder of 14 high school students and three school employees in Parkland has elevated the rhetoric again, but this reaction has a feel that it will not go away as quickly as other times.

“When (an) 18-year-old turns 19 and he walks into a school with an assault weapon, then you have a massacre,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. “We’ve had too much of that in this state alone, not even to speak of the country.”

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, who represents the Parkland area, pointed to the ease of purchasing the AR-15 rifle, the weapon used in the most recent shootings, for sale just days after the Parkland massacre.

Ted Deutch is one of the reasons the gun control debate might last longer this time.

“Just 3 days after Parkland became home to one of the worst mass shootings in our history, a 600-booth gun show in Miami will offer AR-15s for sale to 18-year-olds,” he said. “I’m introducing legislation to make 21 the minimum age for all firearm purchases.”

Two of the worst shootings in history have come in Florida and during the past 6 months, the country has suffered through three tragedies. After initial cries for more gun control, the effort slowly faded each time.

After Stephen Paddock slaughtered 58 people in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, the call for gun control quickly began. Even bipartisan majorities favored a ban on “bump stocks,” which Paddock used to turn his deadly tools into automatic assault weapons.

Despite this, Congress did not act and the proposed ban is “under administrative review.” Some states have taken action to ban them, but they remain unregulated at the federal level.

The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016, is the second-worst in history. Calls for gun control quickly began, but the outcry subsided as the focus shifted to domestic terrorism.

On November 5, 2017, a gunman went into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed 26 worshippers. Calls for gun control were short-lived because the assassin, before taking his own life, was shot by a citizen legally carrying a firearm.

After the murder of first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, an emotional plea for gun control also faded. The shooter, a mentally ill 20-year-old, used one of his mother’s weapons and killed her before driving to the school.

The latest push for gun control has a better chance of lasting longer, if not succeeding. Assuming Congress cannot come to an agreement, a stronger push for state action is in the works.

In an election year, an emotional issue and 30-second commercials filled with hyperbole can be powerful. Former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a candidate for governor, is going after GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely expected to challenge Nelson in November.

According to Graham, Scott’s “legacy will forever be covered in blood” if the state does not take action to stop the sales of rifles like the AR 15.

Will there actually be some kind of gun control passed at either the federal or state level? Soon after the shootings, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News that “there may well be” a reason to take action, but also said to wait for “a couple of days” for all of the facts to emerge.

The revelation that the FBI did not follow up on a tip that could have possibly prevented the shootings will give some cover to those wanting to avoid gun control measures. They might still say there is no law that will make a difference because the bad guys don’t follow the law.

In the end, this call for legislation could wind up like all the rest. But somehow, this one feels different.

Nelson: Feds should pick up entire tab of fixing Hoover Dike

Part of Donald Trump’s 2019 budget request calls for $96 billion to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee and Florida’s senior Senator is not happy about it. Part of the President’s budget request would call for speeding up the project’s completion date to 2022, party by calling for the state to come up with $200 million to accomplish it.

Bill Nelson meets with West Palm Beach community leaders on fully funding the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project.

“That’s absurd,” Nelson said in a statement last week. “Floridians shouldn’t have to pay a dime to finish the dike. Congress just gave the Army Corps all the money it needs to fully fund this project and get it done by 2022.”

Gov. Scott requested $200 million in 2017 to help complete the project by 2022, but indicated the federal government would reimburse the state. The Florida Legislature approved $50 million.

Recently, Nelson and Rubio wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers calling on them to use part of the $10.4 billion in disaster aid to fund the project.

In their budget overview, the Corps did not describe the state’s commitment as a loan. The language for the Herbert Hoover Dike is found on page 100 of the Trump budget proposal.

Activist group trolls Rubio with rolling billboards

An activist group took a cue from an Oscar-nominated film to troll Florida’s junior senator for not taking an active role in promoting gun control. The group, known as Avaaz, placed three billboards on trucks in a manner similar to the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The billboards traveled through Miami last week. The first said “Slaughtered In School” followed by “And Still No Gun Control?” with the third saying “How Come Marco Rubio?” The movie featured a grieving mother who blasted police for not finding the person who killed her daughter.

Three billboards outside Marco Rubio’s office.

Rubio has drawn criticism for his early comments questioning the effectiveness of gun control. He said those who intend to carry out a mass murder “they will find a way to get the gun to do it.”

The two-term Senator has recently criticized the FBI for failing to follow up on a tip that possibly could have prevented the attack. On Sunday, he indicated he could support “red flag” law if the Florida Legislature would take it up.

These laws enable family members or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily strip gun rights from those with personal issues or behavior similar to that exhibited by the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz. Rubio said Florida should “absolutely” consider enacting such a law.

Currently, only five states have such a law.

Floridians address Porter scandal

One of the issues moving off page one after last week’s tragedy in Parkland was the controversy surrounding former White House senior aide Rob Porter. There can be little doubt that the White House has made a mess of the Porter termination on accusations of domestic violence.

Porter’s background check has been a hot potato in recent days. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted a timeline proposed by the White House for looking into Porter’s recent past.

Florida lawmakers are speaking out on Rob Porter, who recently left the White House after accusations of domestic abuse.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he was only made aware of incomplete security clearances, such as Porters, only recently, but that is coming into question. It brought a response from Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson, who had a highly public spat with Kelly late last year.

Kelly is “a four-star general, retired, who, I suppose, was an honorable man,” Wilson said in an interview published on Real Clear Politics. “And he wakes up every morning, watching TV, as each — he loses each one of those stars. Each one he has lost for lying.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy believes public officials holding only interim security clearances should have limited access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets. Responding to earlier testimony from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Murphy offered a bill limiting that access, which she calls the “Coats Rule.”

“The ‘Coats Rule’ is simple: individuals in the White House and throughout the federal government who receive interim security clearances should have limited access to highly sensitive classified information,” she said in a news release. “As a former national security specialist, I know America’s adversaries won’t hesitate to exploit an employee’s undisclosed vulnerabilities through whatever means necessary, including blackmail.”

Murphy also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and is co-chair of the National Security Task Force for the House Democratic caucus.

Meanwhile, Portergate is ready to continue.

Lawson seeks national landmark for early civil rights activist

The birthplace of one of America’s first civil rights activists should be a national landmark if the Democrat from Florida’s 5th Congressional District has his way. This week, Lawson introduced the James Weldon Johnson Historical Preservation Act — to designate Johnson’s first home in Jacksonville Johnson as a national landmark.

Johnson (1871-1938) was a lawyer, diplomat, poet and a songwriter. He also became a leader within the NAACP.

Author, poet and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson.

He grew up in Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood with his brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson. James Johnson later became the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction.

“I am pleased to introduce a bill designating James Weldon Johnson’s birthplace as a national landmark and memorialize his legacy as a leader for our community,” Lawson said in a news release. “Johnson contributed integrity, knowledge and dedication to our nation through his life’s work. Since his passing in 1938, he has remained an icon and inspiration not only to the city of Jacksonville, but throughout the United States.”

Lawson’s bill immediately garnered 19 co-sponsors, including Democrats Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, Alcee Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Kathy Castor, Murphy, Lois Frankel, Charlie Crist, and Darren Soto. Republicans joining as co-sponsors were John Rutherford, Bill Posey, Carlos Curbelo and Daniel Webster.

Murphy bill picks up two key backers

In March, the first-term Democrat from Winter Park introduced a bill advocating research to help get to the root causes of gun violence. The Gun Violence Research Act would eliminate a ban on the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) getting involved with the research.

Last week, Murphy picked up a key ally. Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said he would like to see his department conduct research into the causes of gun violence.

Stephanie Murphy’s gun violence bill picks up the support of Republican Carlos Curbelo.

“Gun violence is one of our nation’s most pressing public health crises,” Murphy said in a news release. “President Trump’s own HHS Secretary — who oversees the health and public welfare of our nation — now agrees that we need evidence-based research into reducing gun violence in America,”

Murphy’s bill picked up another backer when Kendall Republican Curbelo tweeted his support. Murphy and Curbelo made the deal over the weekend.

The “CDC should have never been banned from looking into gun violence as a public issue,” Curbelo said.

The bill has 122 co-sponsors, all Democrats, Those include Val Demings of Orlando, Hastings of Delray Beach, Soto of Orlando, Wasserman Schulz of Weston, Deutch of Boca Raton, Castor of Tampa, Frankel of West Palm Beach and Wilson of Miami Gardens.

T. Rooney adds to growing list of GOP retirements

On Monday, the GOP congressman from Okeechobee rocked the state’s political world by announcing he will not seek re-election to his seat representing Florida’s 17th Congressional District. He said his future would include serving “in a different capacity.”

“After what will be 10 years in the United States Congress representing the good people of Florida’s Heartland, it’s time to ‘hang em up’ as my old football coach used to say,” Rooney said in a statement.

Tom Rooney says ‘Rooney out.’

While Rooney’s announcement was somewhat of a surprise, he was known to be frustrated with the current state of affairs in Washington. Describing the atmosphere on the House Intelligence Committee, on which he serves, Rooney called the atmosphere “poison.”

“The level of trust is just gone,” he said. Rooney also added that because of the climate “certain things definitely suffer.”

After thanking family and friends, Rooney ended his statement succinctly.

“Rooney out.”

Paulson’s Politics:  Democracy, Congress and Trump

Three recent surveys of democracy have reached similar and startling conclusions. Democracy is eroding across the world and the results are particularly disturbing in the United States.

The Bright Line Watch, a survey of 2,000 American voters, found that the public faith in 21 of 27 key democratic principles is declining.

From September 2017 to January 2018, voter assessment of the courts, Congress and the courts to “effectively check executive power dropped by 7-8 percentage points.”

Can American democracy survive three more years of Donald Trump?

Confidence that the elected branches “respect judicial independence fell by 17 percentage points.”

Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World 2018 report and The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Democracy Index reached similar conclusions.

Freedom House concluded that 2017 “brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any time in memory, damaging its international credibility as a champion of good governance and human rights.”

The Economist’s Democracy Index rated the United States as a “flawed democracy” for the second year in a row.

Some books have reached similar conclusions about the demise of American democracy.

Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book, How Democracies Die, argue that democracies have eroded across the world. This was enhanced when political leaders abandoned two critical norms — mutual tolerance and forbearance.

Even in publications that would normally be expected to side with Trump, such as the conservative Weekly Standard, wrote that the president “lacks a moral compass, is blinded by mind-boggling narcissism, has weak spots for despots, and is unfit for his job.”

Law enforcement was one of those areas that were consistently rated highly across the political spectrum, until the Trump administration.

A 1948 Gallup Poll found that 94 percent of Americans rated the FBI as doing an “excellent” or “good” job. No more.

Trump’s attack on law enforcement, and the FBI, in particular, has undercut support for the rule of law. Republicans, traditionally viewed as the law-and-order party, now ranks the FBI much lower than Democrats and independents. Only 38 percent of Republicans approve of the FBI, while 47 percent disapprove. 64 percent of Democrats give the FBI positive evaluations compared to 14 percent who disapprove.

What does this portend for 2018 and beyond?  Trump supporters believe it signifies that the enemies of the president are trying to bring him down. Critics of Trump contend that Trump has caused not only his ratings to fall, but also has led to a decline in support of all political institutions.

The big question is whether Trump can survive the political turmoil associated with his administration?

The bigger question is whether American democracy can survive three more years of Trump.

Ros-Lehtinen: GOP ‘heading into trouble’

Sunday’s Face the Nation program on CBS featured a group of retiring Republican members of Congress, including long-serving Congresswoman from Miami. Also joining the discussion was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Congressmen Ed Royce of California and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

They talked about immigration and whether Chief of Staff John Kelly should step down for his role in the Porter controversy. But a focus was the future of the Republican Party and the role of Trump.

Retiring GOP lawmakers, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, discussing the party’s future.

“I think we would be foolish not to see that we’re heading into trouble,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I think we need to look toward the future, and we have to have the policies that attract millennials, women and minorities. I don’t see that.”

As for Trump, the veteran legislator expressed her frustration.

“On immigration, you look at the President’s position, and what he says on Monday may be different from what he says on Wednesday,” she said. “And that may be different on Friday.”

The lawmakers are among more than 30 Republicans who will retire at the end of the year.

Two former members describe DC gridlock

Two former elected officials, one from each party, have teamed up to launch a political road show to talk about the dysfunction of politics in Washington. Patrick Murphy, a former Democratic Congressman from southeast Florida, and David Jolly, a former Republican Congressman from Pinellas County, stopped by Florida State University last week to discuss “Why Gridlock Rules in Washington.”

David Jolly and Patrick Murphy talk political gridlock.

Jolly told listeners that he arrived in Washington with a plan to tackle problems — only to be encountered with a “reality” where bipartisanship, cooperation and compromise were seen as pitfalls for incumbents seeking reelection. Like Jolly, Murphy said he came to Congress thinking he was going to “change the world.”

Both indicated their party’s leadership was reluctant to act in bipartisan favor in order to prevent the opposite party from achieving success. They also discussed problems that have led to the polarization and gridlock which included problems include gerrymandering, closed primaries, an overemphasis on campaign finance and the mainstream media habit of rewarding polarizing politicians with airtime.

Jolly said the turnout on the college circuit has been great — especially given the subject material being discussed.

“It’s not like we’re talking about really salacious things,” he said. “We’re talking about gerrymandering and open primaries — this isn’t ‘Fire and Fury.’”

Save the date

Chris Hunter, a Democrat running for Florida’s 12th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Gus Bilirakis, is hosting a fundraiser Friday, Feb. 23, at the Tampa Club. Former Florida CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is the special guest.

Hunter is a former FBI agent and Department of Justice prosecutor who recently left DOJ to run for CD 12.  According to his campaign, he is a friend of State Attorney Andrew Warren and brings policy expertise and political savvy.

Event begins 5:30 p.m.; Tampa Club is at 101 E. Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.

On this date in the headlines

February 20, 2003 — Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough from Pensacola made his debut on MSNBC, anchoring “MSNBC Live.” He is in negotiations for a show of his own similar to that of Chris Matthews’ “Hardball.”

February 20, 2008 — Cuban President Fidel Castro has stepped down but turned the reins over to his brother, Raul. “We must remember that Fidel Castro has resigned from a position he was never elected to in the first place,” said GOP Sen. Mel Martinez.

Florida Democrats request emails between ‘NRA sellout’ Adam Putnam and gun lobby

The Florida Democratic Party is requesting copies of any communications between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the gun lobby.

The specific scope of the request, according to a FDP media release is for “any emails, text messages, faxes, and letters, between Putnam or his staff and the National Rifle Association, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, Florida Carry, and Florida Gun Rights” since 2011.

The Democrats also want a copy of meeting records between Putnam and those parties. Additionally, the FDP seeks communications between “Commissioner Putnam, his staff, or the leadership of the division of licensing and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or Attorney General’s office related to the Florida Department of Agriculture’s access to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”

“After another senseless and tragic mass shooting, Floridians aren’t just mourning —they are outraged by the power that the gun lobby has over our politicians,” said FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe. “Adam Putnam has proudly called himself an NRA sellout and Floridians deserve to know what promises he has made to the gun lobby — and whether Floridians’ safety has been compromised in the process.”

Putnam has championed a bill that would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue concealed weapon permits without complete criminal background checks; in the wake of the Parkland massacre, the bill’s consideration has been temporarily postponed.

Florida Carry, one of the groups named in the request, denied any role in crafting the legislation.

The language in question was in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ annual legislative package (HB 553SB 740) that’s now on hold after Wednesday’s mass shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the deadliest school shooting in Florida history.

Putnam asked lawmakers to delay the bill, the Senate version of which was set for hearing this week.

Material from James Rosica was used in this post.

Gulf Power to pass tax savings to customers

Joining the other three major private electric utilities in Florida, Gulf Power Co. plans to pass along about $103 million in federal tax savings to customers.

Gulf, which serves 460,000 customers in the Panhandle, filed documents this week at the Florida Public Service Commission that detail plans to reduce customers’ bills because of the federal tax overhaul approved in December.

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. recently detailed similar plans, with the tax law expected to save customers of the utilities roughly $2 billion.

While Gulf’s plan still needs approval by the Public Service Commission, the Pensacola-based utility said average residential customers would save about $14 a month.

“This is very good news for customers,” Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president and CEO, said in a prepared statement on the utility’s website. “Reduced tax costs create an opportunity for Gulf Power customers to benefit from decreases in their energy prices.”

Gulf’s move to pass along savings had been anticipated, but the announcement and regulatory filing this week provided details.

Gulf, Duke, Tampa Electric and a smaller utility, Florida Public Utilities Co., entered into rate settlements last year at the Public Service Commission that included provisions about passing through tax savings to customers. But those agreements were negotiated before Congress and President Donald Trump approved the tax-cut package, which included reducing the corporate income-tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

FPL did not have such a provision in its current rate agreement. But it announced in January that it would use tax savings to cover about $1.3 billion in Hurricane Irma-related costs that otherwise likely would have been passed on to customers.

Similarly, the Public Service Commission signed off last week on Duke’s plan to shield customers from getting hit with $513 million in storm costs. Also, Tampa Electric customers are expected to save an estimated $102.5 million that they would have been required to pay primarily to cover Irma costs and to replenish a storm reserve, according to filings in late January.

Gulf was largely spared damage from Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in September in Monroe and Collier counties and traveled up the state but did not veer into the Panhandle.

Gulf negotiated the savings plan with the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which represents large commercial customers, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

If the plan is approved, the savings would take effect in April – and would come after record electricity use in January because of cold weather, the company said.

Material from the News Service of Florida and PR Wire was used in this post.

The Delegation for 2.16.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

United with victims, divided on solutions

After the unspeakable tragedy that occurred Wednesday in Parkland, nothing else comes close to the significance of the event. It is not appropriate — not yet anyway — to talk about bills, sponsors, co-sponsors, filibusters, border walls, shutdowns and DREAMers.

The latter is particularly poignant because many of the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were only beginning to dream of where they wanted to be years from now, and what they might accomplish when they got there. Their parents and loved ones had hopes for them as well.

Heroic adults, who tried to save some of those young lives, also gave theirs in that effort.

The scandal involving the fired White House aide Rob Porter, who is accused of domestic violence, will have to wait. Portergate will still be there next week.

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a shooting killed 17 people. (Photo courtesy Getty Images.)

Arguments on the size and scope of President Donald Trump’s budget proposals must simmer on the back burner. While the outcome is important to Florida, any further talk on offshore drilling must remain offshore.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress on Tuesday, but on Friday we are most interested in his agency’s plans to address this senseless slaughter and offer some ideas on how to finally help prevent yet another one.

The Florida delegation is made up of partisan and moderate politicians representing both parties. All of them, however, are Floridians first and are good at coming together when fellow Floridians are suffering.

Their concerted action to get relief for their constituents harmed by Hurricane Irma is a good example.

Along with both senators, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch must console the families of those involved. Parkland is part of his 22nd Congressional District.

Despite the unity on behalf of the victims and their loved ones, a dose of politics will creep into this, especially from outside our state’s boundaries. Some hold sincere beliefs that further gun restrictions can prevent another Parkland.

Others feel that arming teachers and administrators offers a chance for success. We can only hope that at some point, one side can respect the other’s point of view.

In a perfect world, both sides would agree that this shooter, with obvious mental issues, should not be able to buy a rifle such as the one used to kill our fellow Floridians. It also makes some sense that if a potential shooter does not know who might be carrying in a school, they could think twice.

Hopefully, both sides could agree with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who literally begged for the authority to act when a threat like this shooter is identified and before he can ruin so many lives.

This publication deals with the relatively well-known names of our members of Congress. While today’s issue will provide some of their reactions to the tragedy, the most important names are those of the known victims, who will be remembered at the end of this issue.

Despite the violent manner in which they perished, may they all somehow rest in peace?

At the same time, God help us all.

Can Trump follow predecessors and uplift the nation after tragedy?

Presidents are often called upon to be emotional healers when tragedy strikes. On Thursday, Trump offered detailed remarks of condolences to those affected by the tragedy in Parkland.

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said in a seven-minute address from the White House. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”

While Trump’s speech stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, The Associated Press noted that his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, a major source of federal funding for the treatment of mental health problems, as well as cut school safety programs by more than a third.

Just after taking office last year, Trump also signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

History provides excellent examples of chief executives uplifting the country when acts of violence or war slaughter their fellow countrymen. The most famous is Franklin D. Roosevelt telling a joint session of Congress, and the American people, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” on December 8, 1941.

Donald Trump addressed the nation and spoke for seven minutes on the Parkland tragedy.

“You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything,” President Bill Clinton told the people of Oklahoma City on April 23, 1995, after car bombing of a federal building. “And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.”

Following 9/11, President George W. Bush said “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.”

At a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona on January 12, 2011, President Barack Obama honored one of the survivors, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and those who perished at the hands of a mass murderer.

“The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better,” he said. “To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and co-workers and parents.”

On Thursday, Trump issued a proclamation honoring the victims of Parkland and ordering flags fly at half-staff.

“Our Nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones in the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,” the proclamation read.

He also sent out a tweet Thursday saying “In times of tragedy, the bonds that sustain us are those of family, faith, community and country.”

Nelson all-in on gun control; Rubio leaves door cracked to prevent massacres

Florida’s senators offered competing messages following Wednesday’s tragedy at in Parkland. No one would be surprised with either response.

Three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is singularly focused on what is needed to help eliminate gun violence in this country. On Thursday he took to the Senate floor to demand action on banning certain weapons.

Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson offer competing messages on gun control after the Parkland massacre.

Many Republicans will often say that the immediate aftermath of a shooting is not the time to talk about gun control. They will call for figuring out what happened before deciding upon a course of action.

 “To those who say now that it’s not the time to talk about gun violence because it’s too soon, we don’t want to politicize right after a tragedy, that’s what is said over and over,” Nelson said. “Then I would ask when the time is?”

Nelson was specific about what he wants to ban. The shooter used an AR 15, semi-automatic rifle.

“Let’s talk about that 19-year-old carrying an AR-15,” Nelson said, referring to the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz. “Let’s do what needs to be done and let’s get these assault weapons off our streets.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also took to the Senate floor. He said that it is very difficult to stop someone “who decides that they’re going to take it upon themselves to kill people,”

Rubio also discussed “red flags” left by Cruz via social media. Included was a YouTube video where he revealed his desire to be “a professional school shooter.”

While recommitting to the Second Amendment, Rubio also reminded that the preamble to the Constitution calls for ensuring domestic tranquility and general welfare.

“I’m not saying don’t focus on the gun part,” Rubio said. “But we also have to focus on the violence part.”

Lawson proposes enhanced security to prevent gun violence

The Democrat from Tallahassee released a sympathetic statement regarding the school shooting in Parkland. He is urging heightened security measures to improve the safety of schools nationwide.

“Our children go to school to learn, but are now faced with this reoccurring epidemic,” he said in a statement released on Wednesday night. “It is unfortunate we are at this place again, and these senseless tragedies are happening far too often.

Lawson admonished his colleagues to do more to ensure schools are better protected.

“Gun violence should not be tolerated, and our government has to do its part by providing resources and proper security measures to ensure the safety of our children,” he said.

Orlando delegation members share grief with South Florida colleagues

Orlando Democrats Darren Soto and Val Demings both released statements regarding the school shooting in Parkland. Both know something about mass murders as they represented constituents killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016.

Soto offered a subdued statement saying “It never gets easier to bear the news of a school shooting in America. It devastates me, along with our community, that children faced such horror in their school today.”

Darren Soto and Val Demings share the grief with their South Florida colleagues.

He thanked law enforcement for their efforts and chose not to get into the gun control debate for the moment.

Demings, the former Chief of Police for Orlando, did not hold back.

“My heart goes out to the families of the children and school staff who lost their lives. I am heartbroken about this tragedy,” she said. “And I am outraged that Congress has done nothing to keep children and families safe. Members of Congress lack the courage to act, and think more about their next election than the right of our children to go to school in safety,” she said.

With a recent history of gun violence in their communities, both will be heard from in the debate to come shortly.

Wasserman Schultz, Graham emotionally react like moms to Parkland massacre

The Parkland mass shooting brings out emotions in people who are not directly involved but can relate to affected families. Current and former legislators are parents, too.

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews not long after the police arrested a suspect. She gave an emotional response to a Matthews question.

To view the video, click the image below:

“I’m a mom tonight,” she said. “I’m someone who lives and works and spends time with the people who have lived through this. It’s just absolutely heartbreaking.”

“My best friend is a countywide school board member and is my youngest daughter’s godmother,” she said, tearing up. “This hits home hard.”

Matthews then predicted another shooting would occur “in a couple of months,” before any action is taken on gun control.

Wasserman Schultz said “it’s absolutely not too soon to yet again say that something has to be done about access to guns in this country … We have to address the inability for us to, once and for all, get guns and keep them from the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, a Democratic candidate for governor, also reacted like a parent, before addressing the overriding issue. Her initial statement did not specifically advocate for gun control, but emotionally talked about making schools safer.

“As a mother, I am crushed. And as a Floridian, I am incensed,” she said. “We must act to prevent these tragedies. We must turn our anguish into the will to protect our children, teachers and families.

Deutch grieves with constituents

The Democrat who represents Parkland and the surrounding area shared the grief and heartbreak felt by his constituents Wednesday. He also announced resources to those in need of assistance.

“Today was a horrible day for Parkland, South Florida, and our nation,” he said in a statement. “We are grateful for our first responders, local, state and federal law enforcement, and especially the teachers and staff who heroically fought to protect their students. We mourn the lives taken, and we will be here as a community for the families and for one another.”

Video with Deutch can be viewed by clicking the image below:

Deutch also provided information for those in need of counseling and ways to donate blood.

The FBI will continue to investigate the crime in the coming days. Deutch gave out information for the Bureau’s tipline and website for constituents to provide any useful information.

Two weeks ago, Deutch and Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford introduced the STOP School Violence Act of 2018. The legislation provides a grant program to enhance school security.

In Memoriam

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14

Scott Beigel, 35

Martin Duque, 14

Nicholas Dworet, 17

Aaron Feis, 37

Jaime Guttenberg, 14

Chris Hixon, 49

Luke Hoyer, 15

Cara Loughran, 14

Gina Montalto, 14

Joaquin Oliver, 17

Alaina Petty, 14

Meadow Pollack, 18

Helena Ramsey, 17

Alex Schacter, 14

Carmen Schentrup, 16

Peter Wang, 15


Image result for white house flags at half staff
Donald Trump orders flags at half-staff Thursday to honor Parkland massacre victims.

Florida students quit class to protest shootings

A group of high schoolers has walked out of classes to protest gun violence after a mass shooting killed 17 people at a neighboring school.

The South Broward High School students began their protest along U.S. 1 in Hollywood as school started on Friday morning. Students told news outlets they were protesting gun violence, the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump. One sign also took aim at Sen. Marco Rubio, showing him with $$ for eyes and accusing him of taking $3 million in NRA blood money.

They’ve added their voices to a groundswell among students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who have been speaking out against gun violence since the shooting on Wednesday.

Former student Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following. The 19-year-old man was arrested about two miles from the school a short time after the shooting.

South Broward High School is some 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Parkland.

Material from the Associated Press and CBS Miami was used in this post.

Law enforcement says no known ties between Parkland shooter, white supremacist group

A law enforcement official says he knows of “no known ties” between the suspect who confessed to a deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school and a white supremacist group.

Lt. Grady Jordan is a spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee, where the white nationalist militia known as the Republic of Florida is based. Jordan said Thursday that his office has arrested militia leader Jordan Jereb at least four times since January 2014 and has been monitoring the group’s membership.

He says his office has “very solid” information on the group and “there’s no known ties that we have that we can connect” 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz with the group.

Jereb told The Associated Press earlier Thursday that Cruz was a member and participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee.

Jereb said he didn’t know Cruz personally and that “he acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he’s solely responsible for what he just did.”

Material from The Associated Press, The Daily Beast, and WTXL ABC 27 was used in this post.

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