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Bill Nelson’s Brevard County property valuation challenged

A Brevard County taxpayer is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s appraisal of land he owns there, alleging it has been undervalued for years, costing the county “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions” in under-taxation.

It’s not a new issue, and Nelson, in a brief conversation on Friday, dismissed the complaint as something that comes up from political opponents in every election, while he insisted the property’s appraisal is appropriate as the land’s use is for grazing cattle.

The complaint was filed last week by James Peter Fusscas of Malabar with the Brevard County Property Appraiser’s office. It charges that Nelson’s property has been far undervalued, with the office listing the land’s market value at $3,038,750, while assessing its value for tax purposes at only $210,630, when Nelson had once listed the property, and a smaller adjacent parcel, for sale for at nearly $10 million.

That was a reference to a listing from the Allen Morris Company, a real estate agent based in Maitland, which had sought $9.975 million for the 75.7 acres along the coastline and U.S. Highway 1 near Malabar. That listing covered two parcels owned by Nelson, the agricultural area and an adjacent parcel that is zoned for single-family houses but also vacant. The listing included the projection that the two parcels combined could bring $21.5 million if redeveloped for housing.

Fusscas inaccurately contended in his complaint that the property is for sale.

In an email, agent Henry Pineiro told Florida Politics: “This property is not currently for sale and has not been for sale for the last couple of years.”

Nelson’s campaign staff also confirmed that the property is not for sale.

Fusscas’s complaint also refers previous media reports on the land that noted that Nelson leases it at no cost, and also notes that his federal financial disclosures have reported no income from the property for at least the previous seven years.

Fusscas argues that Nelson’s property should not be getting a tax break, and adds, “even if Senator Nelson is somehow entitled to a green belt exemption, his tax burden has nevertheless been much lower than the exemption contemplates.”

Last year Nelson paid $3,687 in taxes on the larger property and $4,309 on the smaller parcel.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Nelson’s re-election campaign.

In a brief conversation Friday, Nelson said he has not seen the complaint but said that Republicans try to make an issue of the agricultural appraisal on his property and the taxes in every election cycle, and said this is no different.

“It is agriculture, cow pasture for 60 years,” Nelson said. “This comes up every election.”

ashley moody

Ashley Moody adds trio of sheriff endorsements

Three more county sheriffs announced their support for Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody Tuesday, piling on to her insurmountable lead in law enforcement endorsements.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter and Jefferson County Sheriff Alfred Kenneth ‘Mac’ McNeill, Jr. joined the three-dozen Republican sheriffs who have already endorsed Moody, a former litigator, federal prosecutor and circuit court judge.

“As our next Attorney General, Ashley Moody will be a strong champion for keeping people safe. As a former federal prosecutor and judge, she’s put criminals behind bars while upholding the rule of law. That’s why I’m proud to endorse her candidacy and I encourage all of my friends here in Columbia County and throughout Florida to do the same,” Hunter said.

McNeill added, “Ashley Moody has the experience, knowledge, and drive to get the job done. She’s the tough conservative we need as our next Attorney General.”

Chronister said Moody, a Hillsborough native, “isn’t just the most qualified and best choice, she’s the only choice.”

Moody thanked the sheriffs for their support, adding that the 39 sheriffs who have lined up behind her statewide campaign make up more than 80 percent of Republican sheriffs in Florida. She also touted a recent primary endorsement she received from the Florida Police Benevolent Association alongside Tampa Rep. Sean Shaw, who is running in the Democratic Primary.

Half of the remaining Republican sheriffs – those in Escambia, Okaloosa, Putnam, Santa Rosa and St. Johns counties – have thrown their support behind Moody’s top rival in the primary race, Pensacola Rep. Frank White.

The third Republican in the race, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant, hasn’t landed any sheriff endorsements, instead touting support from his colleagues in the House and a long list of Republicans who worked as county chairs for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Moody currently leads the three-way race in fundraising with $2.19 million raised to date, though White leads in cash on hand due a substantial amount of self-funding by way of his wife and her family. He had $2 million banked as of April 30, and a source close to his campaign said he threw in another $1.25 million this month.

Fant is at the back of the pack with $839,000 banked, including $750,000 in loans.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Kara Irby: Religious involvement deters marijuana use

Although marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes is at an all-time high in the United States, a team of researchers led by a Florida State University professor has found those who hold strong religious beliefs are choosing to stay away from cannabis.

FSU Associate Professor Amy Burdette and her team found that individuals who regularly attend church and report that religion is very important in their daily decision making are less likely to use marijuana recreationally and medically. The study was recently published in the Journal of Drug Issues.

“Our study confirms previous studies of recreational marijuana use,” Burdette said. “However, I believe ours is the first to examine the association between religiosity and medical marijuana use.”

The study used data from 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a random sample of the U.S. adult population. Although many studies have focused on the association between religion and substance use in adolescence and young adulthood, few studies have focused on marijuana use in adulthood.

“We know various forms of substance use have increased among older adults as well, Burdette said. “So, we need to know what’s going on among people in their 30s, 40s and 50s in terms of their substance use.”

In the study, researchers examined three focal variables — religious salience, religious service attendance and self-rated health.

Levels of religious attendance ranged from never attending services to attending more than once a week. Researchers found with every level of increased attendance the odds of being a recreational marijuana user reduced by 13 percent. The study found the likelihood of recreational marijuana use decreased by 20 percent as religious salience levels increased.

Researchers also examined the association between religious involvement and marijuana use of adults in poor health. They found that religious involvement was less effective in deterring marijuana use among sickly adults whether recreational or medically prescribed.

“You have two big institutions coming against each other when you’re suffering and in poor health,” Burdette said. “You might have your pastor highly stigmatizing its use, saying ‘it’s bad, it’s a drug, you shouldn’t do this,’ while your doctor says, ‘try this, it could help your pain and suffering.’”

With the impact of religion in society starting to decline, Burdette said perhaps more people are deferring to a medical authority.

Researchers said further study could include personality types and the religious affiliation of individuals. They also noted that the data is based on self-reports and people were potentially more likely to avoid reporting socially undesirable behaviors.

Co-authors include FSU doctoral candidate Noah Webb; and associate professors Jason A. Ford, University of Central Florida; Stacy Hoskins Haynes, Mississippi State University; and Terrence D. Hill, University of Arizona.


Kara Irby is a news and copywriting specialist at Florida State University.

Rick Scott vows to back Florida needs over GOP priorities in Senate

As the race for Senate heats up, Gov. Rick Scott is taking incumbent Bill Nelson to task for being a “party line” voter in D.C.

The case, distilled: while Nelson may have been a moderate Democrat while in the U.S. House of Representatives, as a Senator he has been a reliable vote for the Democratic agenda.

Scott, who has made a political career out of branding himself as a truth-telling outsider, has taken actions that bely that presentation. Among them: a lapsed-for-the-moment yoking of himself to Pres. Donald Trump, and out-of-state fundraising junkets aided and abetted by, among others, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Scott, when asked Tuesday in Jacksonville about what some would deem a discrepancy, vigorously refuted the claim, saying that he in fact has been a staunch advocate for Florida priorities above all else during his seven plus years as Governor.

“Everybody can look at my track record over the last eight legislative sessions,” Scott said. “I’ve worked to make sure that this is a state where there is work, a state where you can get a job.”

“If you look at education funding, law enforcement funding, the environment, I’m going to work to represent our state while in Washington,” Scott said. “The same thing I’ve done here.”

“As you know,” Scott continued, “the federal government was looking at doing off-shore drilling, and I worked to make sure that didn’t happen off our coast because we care about our environment and we’re a tourism state and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, and we won.”

Scott’s remarks likely won’t mollify the concerns of his staunchest critics, including and especially Democrats. Even the win on offshore drilling has been riddled with pitfalls, ranging from seeming contradictions of the position of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from Interior Department staff, and allegations that Zinke’s declaration that Florida was “off the table” contravened the Hatch Act,

Worth noting: his answer excised what many would see as his deepest deviation from Republican orthodoxy,  his role in crafting and signing the post-Parkland gun control measures, which include blocking gun sales to adults under the age of 21.

Rick Scott trumpets another record low state crime rate

Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Tuesday morning, with what his office called a “major announcement” regarding “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allow the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers, and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47 year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted a number of officers who have perished since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in non-fatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Ron DeSantis hasn’t always been a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump

If there is one thing fueling Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be Florida governor, it is this: A full-throated endorsement (on Twitter, at least) from President Donald Trump.

But when Congressman Matt Gaetz takes to Breitbart to say “Trump knows he can trust DeSantis to make tough decisions,” it seems as if DeSantis also has the president’s back.

That has not always been the case

For DeSantis tosuggest he has always been a strong Trump supporter involves some revisionist history.

Looking back over the past few years, it’s clear DeSantis began bolstering the president only when it became politically expedient.

For example, as Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith noted in Sept. 2015, DeSantis sounded as if he favored Marco Rubio over Trump: “DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach tells The Buzz he is staying out of it, but in a recent 20-minute conversation he mentioned Rubio at least three times. When we suggested that he sounded like a Rubio guy, DeSantis acknowledged he likes the idea of Rubio facing Hillary Clinton: ‘He would be a good contrast, There’s no doubt about it.’”

A few months later, DeSantis was again hesitant to weigh in on Trump.

“No response so far to multiple requests for comment,” Smith wrote about asking DeSantis his feelings on then-candidate Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

And during the Republican presidential primaries, DeSantis was still not a fan, telling “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” Feb. 25, 2016, that he was NOT endorsing Trump.

“Sir, you haven’t endorsed anyone?” host Van Susteren asked. “No.”

DeSantis campaign spokesman Brad Herold later clarified to the Times: “DeSantis has long decided to remain neutral in the presidential primary and is focused on building a broad coalition for his Senate campaign.’”

In other words, he was not a Trump devotee at the time.

Soon afterward (March 14), the National Journal reported on DeSantis’ response to being asked point-blank if he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said: “I don’t think I could.” DeSantis, on the other hand, “refused to answer the question altogether, saying, ‘I just don’t want to. … You can either run your own race, or you can make comments about other races.’”

By May, instead of full-fledged support, DeSantis only offered a tepid approval, mainly because Trump was “the Republican nominee.”

Again, the Miami Herald noted the congressman’s long-standing reluctance: “… DeSantis plans to vote for Trump. ‘The congressman has been clear that he will support the Republican nominee,’ campaign manager Brad Herold said. As recently as March, DeSantis would not endorse.”

While an actual endorsement wasn’t forthcoming, DeSantis’ real intent was a little clearer.

On May 6, Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote: “…While the GOP is not rallying in full support of Trump-for-president, it’s more unified in a sentiment stuck to [suntan lotion magnate Ron] Rice’s door: STOP HILLARY. That’s how a statement from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis reads. ‘Electing Hillary Clinton will continue America’s journey down the wrong track.’”

At that point, DeSantis’ only mention of Trump was anything but a ringing endorsement. In fact, it seemed more like resignation: “It is now clear that Donald Trump will accumulate the delegates necessary to be nominated by the Republican Party. If we want to defeat Hillary Clinton and have a chance to change the trajectory of our country, we need to unite behind the Republican ticket this November.”

Making matters worse for DeSantis comes by way of new reporting from POLITICO Florida.

On Monday, Matt Dixon noted the largest donation to DeSantis’ political committee in April came from Andy Khawaja, a major Democratic donor. Khawaja, a California payment processing executive and founder of Allied Wallet, gave the committee $100,000. His affiliated company, E-Payment Solutions, Inc., gave another $100,000 to DeSantis’ committee in February.

“This election cycle, he and his company have already given $1 million to Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, including Sen. Bill Nelson,” Dixon writes. “The super PAC is funding $2 million in ads supporting Nelson, calling him ‘one of America’s most independent Senators.’”

In 2016, Khawaja and his company gave nearly $6.5 million to Democrats, including more than $1 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Revisionist history – and $200K Democratic backing – is not a good look for DeSantis, a candidate who claims to proudly carry the conservative banner, as well as Trump’s support.

Denise Grimsley

Four more lawmen back Denise Grimsley for Ag Commissioner

Another four county sheriffs have lined up behind Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley’s bid to take over for termed-out Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Joining the 10 sheriffs who have already announced their support for Grimsley are Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels, Gulf Sheriff Mike Harrison, Levy Sheriff Bobby McCallum and Vollusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood.

“I am honored to gain the endorsement of these four highly respected sheriffs, who have dedicated themselves and their careers to protecting and serving their communities,” Grimsley said. “I look forward to continuing to meet with the law enforcement community on the campaign trail and earning their significant support.

“With consumer protection at the forefront of what the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services does, I will work closely with law enforcement to eliminate threats from fraudsters and scammers, including defending Floridians from skimmers at gas stations to ending predatory robocalls. I’ve spent my time on the campaign trail talking to Florida’s sheriffs about these important issues, so I will be ready on Day One to protect Florida consumers from threats.”

Grimsley, a nurse by trade, built her agribusiness credentials running her family’s citrus and cattle operations. She was elected to the Senate in 2012 after four terms in the House and served as the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee during the 2018 Legislative Session.

She faces Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican Primary for the statewide post.

As of April 30, she and Caldwell were neck-and-neck in the money race, each with about $1.9 million in total fundraising. Caldwell leads Grimsley in cash on hand by about $100,000. Troutman campaign account is technically the flushest, though that’s only thanks to $3 million in self-funding. McCallister has raised just $2 so far.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Nursing home attorneys no-show at contempt hearing

Attorneys for a Broward County nursing home didn’t show up for a hearing into its contempt motion against the Agency for Health Care Administration over alleged public records violations.

Scheduling error, said Geoffrey Smith, of the Smith & Associates law firm in Tallahassee, because of a “misunderstanding related to the scheduling of hearings in several ongoing related matters.”

”We continue to look forward to the production of the public record information on the deaths that occurred in Florida during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma,” he said.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he likely couldn’t have resolved the case within the hour allotted anyway, because he’d realized the parties would need to present evidence rather than merely argue points of law.

He asked Michael Williams, an assistant general counsel to the agency, who did attend the scheduled hearing, to get in touch with the other side to reschedule.

“It seems like there’s really a factual dispute,” Lewis said.

“I would suggest to the plaintiffs, if they were here, that they go ahead and pay whatever fee and let you get going,” he added. “And I’ll reserve jurisdiction on whether that’s a reasonable time and that’s a reasonable fee.

“If you’ll relay that, we’ll just let them reset this hearing for a little longer.”

Williams declined to comment following the hearing.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was the site of patient deaths as Hurricane Irma knocked out its power supply, and with it, the air conditioning. Twelve patients died, and the state later went after the facility’s license.

In the subsequent court battle, the nursing home filed a public records request for death certificates filed with the state between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16, during Irma and shortly afterward.

In part, the facility objects to the state’s demand for nearly $6,000 before it produces the data.

Rick Scott names four to circuit, county benches

Gov. Rick Scott announced several judicial appointments late Monday.

Stephen Pitre to the 1st Judicial Circuit

Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his law degree from Loyola College School of Law.

Pitre fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.

Angela Mason to the Okaloosa County Court

Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and her law degree from the University of Tennessee.

Mason fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.

Ramiro Christen Areces and Elijah A. Levitt to the Miami-Dade County Court

Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, is a solo practitioner, and previously practiced with Jorden Burt, LLP.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami. Areces fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz.

Levitt, 39, of Miami, is also a solo practitioner. He previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and as an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Levitt fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

Felon rights restoration on horizon for Poor People’s Campaign

A group of activists converged on Tallahassee on Monday to share far-reaching ideals including but not limited to abolishing capitalism, dismantling U.S. and Israeli intervention in Palestine, and giving southwest U.S. land to Mexico.

The rally cries came on the first floor of the state Capitol, and while most seemed unrealistic — at least in terms of immediacy — the group also called for restoring rights to felons, a proposed change to the state Constitution primed for a November vote. It will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4.

The small group of speakers belonged to the Poor People’s Campaign, a nationwide movement first started by Martin Luther King, Jr., and revitalized earlier in 2018 in Florida. The group’s website contains a short manifesto charging prevalence of systemic racism, among other things.

Topics discussed at the rally were wide-ranging; one spoke of the harms of Islamophobia, one criticized western ideologies for preventing national liberation, and a few likened capitalism to white supremacy. Each rallier had signs with scattered messages, too. One read, “Starving a child is violence,” and two followed a different theme: “Systemic poverty is immoral” and “Systemic racism is immoral.”

While each party varied in their woes, all seemed to agree that there is intersectionality in the oppressions they charge — that’s why so many issues were voiced in one sitting.

Even so, through all the noise was very apparent support for the restoration of felon voting rights. Behind the podium was a cardboard jailhouse display with the words “New Jim Crow Jailhouse” on it and costumed inmates — all minorities — linked together with tinfoil chains.

Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Lincolnville, delivered a passionate closing at the rally. He mostly spoke on the need to restore voting rights to felons.

“Political leaders in the state of Florida are using cruel, deceptive tactics in an immoral, misguided attempt to suppress voters from having full strength to choose who will represent them at legislative levels,” Rawls said. “We have to fight back against policymakers by voting yes on Amendment 4.”

Rawls cited the federal government’s hardline response to the crack/cocaine epidemic, which he suggested led to the mass incarceration of minorities. He drew a strong contrast between that and the nation’s newest drug issue.

“Now that opioids are destroying communities, treatment is the designed term and phrase and approach to drug addiction. This approach is actually a good approach — but once again the system finds a way to dehumanize certain groups of people.”

If Amendment 4 receives 60 percent voter approval from Floridians in November, a change to the Constitution will automatically restore voting rights to felons, the exceptions being sexual offenders and murders.

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