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TripAdvisor: Florida has 7 of top 10 beaches

Seven of the top 10 beaches ranked as the best in the nation by a travel-ratings website are in Florida.

TripAdvisor said Wednesday in a news release that the sand at Siesta Key outside Sarasota was the best-rated beach in the nation.

Other Gulf Coast beaches weren’t far behind.

St. Pete Beach was number 3, followed by Clearwater Beach and Panama City Beach. Hollywood’s beach in South Florida was ranked sixth, followed by Pensacola Beach and St. Augustine Beach near Jacksonville.

TripAdvisor says the rankings were based on the number and quality of the traveler reviews written on its website.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine talk governor runs, give campaign speeches

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor  Andrew  Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor  Philip Levine both talked about their interest in running for  governor and gave what  were  essentially campaign speeches in Orlando Friday but both stopped short of  declaring anything.

Gillum and Levine were joined by Florida House Speaker  Richard Corcoran in addressing the Central Florida Urban League’s annual  awards  breakfast in Orlando. While no one declared any formal intentions to run for governor, the two Democratic probable rivals said they were  exploring the prospect for 2018.

“I am strongly considering a run for  governor,” Gillum said. “I  will admit at the very beginning of this that my experience, and my upbringing, certainly do not suggest that I should be thinking about a run or dreaming about a run. But yet we’re here.”

Twenty minutes later, during his turn, Levine did not explicitly say he was  considering  running, but talked about it in a matter of “ifs.”

And speaking to FloridaPolitics.com, Levine said he was considering a run, but was not there yet.

To the Urban League, he spoke of  minimum wages, creating a statewide entrepreneurial atmosphere, and making  college affordable for anyone.

“If I decide to run, something that is going to be a key ingredient, a key focus and a mandate,” Levine said. “Because you can’t create entrepreneurialism, you can’t create a solid state unless you have everyone go to college and get an education.”

The Democrats could be looking at a crowded field. former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando lawyer John Morgan both also have said  they are strongly considering runs, and other candidates appear to be positioning themselves.

 

Rick Scott joining with other governors in D.C.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is joining with the nation’s governors who are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Scott is leaving Thursday for Washington D.C. where he will attend events connected to the winter meetings of the National Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association. Reports indicate Scott is the favorite to become Vice Chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to the lead the organization in 2018.

This includes a Friday luncheon with Pence and a visit to the White House on Sunday.

Scott is also scheduled to take part in the “State Solutions Conference” hosted Friday by POLITICO.

The GOP governor, who constantly criticized former President Barack Obama, is friends with Trump and backed his bid for president right after he won Florida’s presidential primary.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Randy Fine: Bill bolsters local businesses, not victimize LGBT community; detractors aren’t buying it

Rep. Randy Fine introduced HB 17 simply as a measure to keep commerce moving on an upward trajectory under the leadership of local governments, flourishing enough to bring prosperity to their respective communities.

“Its intent is to help businesses thrive and grow – that’s its purpose,” Fine told FloridaPolitics.com by telephone on Thursday from Tallahassee. “There are folks that think business should be left up to local government and then there are folks like me who think the nexus of business runs through the state.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Gina Duncan, transgender inclusion director for the Equality Florida Institute, a partnership between advocacy and charity nonprofits that form the largest civil rights group dedicated to the civil rights of Florida’s LGBT community.

“HB 17 basically reverses the work that has been done in the last two decades to provide protection to LGBT people in employment, housing and accommodations,” Duncan said by phone. “HB 17 is basically a watered-down version of the North Carolina House Bill 2. … We find it especially alarming and dangerous because we’ve been unable to get Tallahassee to move off this conservative track they’ve been on.”

Fine refuted the claim by LGBT advocacy groups that his bill was backdoor legislation to legal discrimination of minority groups.

“That’s not what the bill is going to do,” Fine said, at first not understanding a reporter’s question about criticism of what he strictly views as a pro-commerce measure. “There are all kinds of groups that feel their local governments have gone outside state lines.”

And he doesn’t get how it would affect the LGBT community, for example, either.

Barely a full day has passed since President Donald Trump’s administration put directives to public school’s reversing the previous policy outlined in 2015 and 2016, granting transgender students certain rights when it came to the equal use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on what gender they identify.

With the sweeping Trump action, the greater LGBT community as a whole across Florida – and the nation – is worried that it’s a slippery slope to further repeals gained in recent years, like gay marriage and the right for gay couples to adopt children.

Transgender students at the University of South Florida in Tampa were anxious to speak about what was happening in Florida and across the U.S., beginning with President Trump.

“Seeing him promise ‘protection’ for the LGBT community during his inauguration speech didn’t really convince me, so I’m not really surprised he would do this kind of thing,” said Max Morinelli, who serves as the president of the campus organization USF Trans+ Student Union and as historian of USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance. “I still can’t believe an issue like bathroom is so controversial – still beyond me really. I know, in the end – but who knows how long that will be – some equal rights bill will be passed protecting our rights.”

Though it might seem like everyone was ganging up on Fine, the wave of voices coming from the LGBT community was overwhelming, something Duncan also noted.

When asked why she thought Fine didn’t understand their point of view on the bill, she answered curtly.

“This façade of ignorance is wrapped around a smokescreen of religion,” she said. “And it’s usually veiled in the dialogue of running their businesses as they see fit when they actually don’t but into what they view as the LGBT agenda.”

Dismayed, DCF head Mike Carroll explains fragments of Facebook Live suicide case

Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009.

Since April alone, she had been in 10 foster homes alone that included a hotel and a child welfare office building, according to one report by the Miami Herald, citing the girl’s attorney.

But Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature.

“Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.”

Committee members wanted to know more, but aspects of child deaths while in state custody are often kept confidential, Carroll said, until a judge authorized the release of any information. The investigation is still open and, typically, DCF has 30 days to close out a child death investigation.

But Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

“I think it’s important we get that as soon as possible,” Harrell said. “It is essential to what we do to try and make improvements. … We would like to get as much information as possible – what went wrong?”

McGhee asked a second time, as if to reiterate the seriousness of the report following a wave of negative public relations continuing since the holiday season, involving the deaths of several children in the custody of the state and DCF child protection workers fired and arrested for crimes involving drugs and lying in investigations.

“My question to you is, sir, can we expect the report?” McGhee pressed the agency chief.

Carroll was forced to give vague snippets of peripheral facts surrounding the Naika case:  she and her mother had been through lots of assessments, several rounds of therapists, batterers’ courses, but nothing seemed to work.

He also noted that, historically, fully one-third of cases involving child deaths have involved DCF with that child and family in the previous five years. Another interesting statistic he cited in the agency’s defense was the fact more children were reported through Florida’s hotline than in any other state.

Naika fit into all the red-flag categories, he said, saying the agency was reviewing everything related to her case, but he was as distraught as anyone else with the teen’s death.

“This is a case where there were lots of services … but all of that wasn’t effective,” Carroll capitulated.

 

Jeff Sessions: U.S. to continue use of privately run prisons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled Thursday his strong support for the federal government’s continued use of private prisons, reversing an Obama administration directive to phase out their use. Stocks of major private prison companies rose at the news.

Sessions issued a memo replacing one issued last August by Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general at the time. That memo directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin reducing and ultimately end its reliance on privately run prisons.

It followed a Justice Department audit that said private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones. Yates, in her announcement, said they were less necessary given declines in the overall federal prison population.

But Sessions, in his memo, said Yates’ directive went against longstanding Justice Department policy and practice and “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” He said he was directing the BOP to “return to its previous approach.”

The federal prison population — now just under 190,000 — has been dropping due in part to changes in federal sentencing policies over the past three years. Private prisons hold about 22,100 of these inmates, or 12 percent of the total population, the Justice Department has said.

The federal government started to rely on private prisons in the late 1990s because of overcrowding. Many of the federal prison inmates in private facilities are foreign nationals who are being held on immigration offenses. The Yates policy did not extend to prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold tens of thousands of immigrants awaiting deportation.

Immigration and human rights advocates have long complained about conditions in privately run prisons. An inspector general audit from last August said problems at private prisons in recent years included property damage, injuries and the death of a corrections officer.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Bring on the orange juice: Denise Grimsley schedules breakfast fundraiser for March 7

It’s never too early in the day to start fundraising.

Sen. Denise Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee.

The reception, according to a copy of the invitation, is hosted by Sens. Aaron Bean, Dennis Baxley, Rob Bradley, Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson, Kelli Stargel, and Greg Steube.

The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

A Sebring Republican, Grimsley was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, and has served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

Grimsley filed to for the statewide office earlier this month, and has already lined up the backing of former state Sen. JD Alexander. And several Central Florida agriculture industry leaders appear to be lining up behind her, with many listed on an invitation for a fundraiser at Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales next week.

She isn’t the only member of the Legislature eyeing the agriculture post. Last week, Rep. Matt Caldwell told FloridaPolitics.com he intends to file to run for the seat later this summer.

Christian Ulvert named as one of the best political campaign professionals in the country under 40 years old

Miami based political consultant Christian Ulvert has been named by the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) as one of the 40 best and brightest campaign professionals under 40 years old.

“We are honored to recognize young achievers and visionaries such as Christian Ulvert who have already proven their immense talent in the political arena and beyond,” said AAPC President Mark Mellman. “With so much potential, we cannot wait to see what these winners accomplish next, and we are so proud to feature them in the 2017 class of award winners.”

There are 18 Republicans, 18 Democrats and 4 nonpartisan operatives making the list. AAPC Vice President Tom Shepard said that his organization’s bipartisan team of judges reviewed the materials of over 200 highly qualified individuals in making their picks.

 “I am honored to receive this great honor by my peers in the AAPC,” the 35-year-old Ulvert told FloridaPolitics.. “I am more committed than ever to work with strong candidates who are eager to change the political discourse and be agents of good for their communities.”

Currently, Ulvert is working with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is acting more and more everyday like a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor next year.

Prior to his launch as a political and media consultant, Christian served the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus as communications director and policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber during his two-year leadership term. He also worked with Gelber during his ill-fated run against Pam Bondi for Attorney General in 2010.

Ulvert also served as political director for the Florida Democratic Party from 2013 until last fall, and is the founder and president of EDGE Communications, a political consulting firm.

 

 

Florida to legislate free speech on college campuses?

The issue of free speech on college campuses reached its nadir earlier this month when protests regarding the appearance of far-right writer and speaker Milo Yiannopoulos caused more than $100,000 damage to the University of Berkeley campus.

Yiannapoulos speech was ultimately canceled, just as it was two weeks after protests erupted before his appearance at the University of California at Davis.

The day after the Berkeley cancellation, President Trump threatened to pull federal funds from the university for canceling the event.

On Thursday, the Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education heard from conservative academic Stanley Kurtz Thursday about the Campus Free Speech Act, a piece of proposed legislation that he says would defend free speech in Florida universities.

“When protesters disrupt speakers or break in on meetings and take them over to list demands, administrators tend to look the other way,” Kurtz told committee members as he began his 16-minute address. “Students have come to take it for granted that they will face no discipline for such disruptions, administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow and highly regulated so-called free speech zones. University boards and trustees rarely act to curb these administrative abuses.”

The remedy to address these issues on college campuses is what Kurtz calls the Campus Free Speech Act, a proposal he calls “the most comprehensive legislative proposal ever offered to restore and protect campus free speech.”

Kurtz, who is with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, co-wrote the report with James Manley and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute last month. It calls to:

– Create an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.

– It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.

– It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.

– It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.

– It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.

– It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.

– It authorizes a special subcommittee of the University board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.

Kurtz received pushback from Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who said he was concerned about activists who are using hate speech and calling it free speech. Referring to an incident on the University of Central Florida where groups posted anti-Semitic stickers and fliers around dormitories, Smith asked Kurtz if that was speech was protected under his legislation?

Kurtz said it was.

“I would condemn swastikas, and I would hope that others would openly condemn that, but I would not take away their right to do it, because that’s what actually takes us down a dangerous path to civil strife and potential authoritarianism,” Kurtz replied, adding that he lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Smith said the unintended consequences of Kurtz’ free speech proposal would be “increased hostilities toward minority students and minority faiths.” He asked him if there was any part of his plan that would promote “cultural awareness” for students to counteract those unintended consequences?

“Freedom of speech are the greatest way to increase tolerance,” Kurtz responded.

John K. Wilson, who writes a blog for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has criticized the proposal.

“The Goldwater Institute proposal should be rejected and opposed in every state legislature,” he wrote earlier this month. “It includes some worthy ideas for colleges to adopt to protect free expression on campus, but they are outweighed by the flawed provisions and the use of legislative repression to achieve these goals.

In the three weeks since the proposal was published, lawmakers in Illinois and Virginia have filed bills in their respective state houses, and a third bill may soon be filed in North Carolina.

In his proposed budget released last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker included a proposed law to require University of Wisconsin officials to protect offensive speech.

In his 2017-2019 executive budget, Walker recommends “codifying the state’s commitment to academic freedom,” and providing $10,000 in funding for the UW System to review and revise “policies related to academic freedom.”

Philip Levine launches political committee, hires Matthew Van Name

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid, launching a political committee earlier this month and hiring staffers to help coordinate a statewide tour.

Levine launched All About Florida earlier this month. State records show the Miami Beach political committee filed its statement of organization on Feb. 10.

Levine has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union.

The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is scheduled to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future.

Often mentioned as a 2018 contender, the rumor mill picked up in January when he announced he would not seek another term as Miami Beach mayor. In video, the Democrat said he looked forward to figuring out ways to “best to serve my community and my state; how to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Around the same time, Christian Ulvert, one of Levine’s advisers, said the mayor would begin traveling the state to “listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves.”

He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

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