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Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for fallen officer

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday ordered flags at half-staff to honor Joshua Albert Sanchez Montaad, an Agricultural Law Enforcement Officer who died in a wreck while on duty.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Montaad—a 25-year-old from Safety Harbor in Pinellas County—was killed in a single car crash this Tuesday on U.S. 19 in Taylor County.

“His patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree during a period of heavy rain,” the site said. His “vehicle caught fire and became engulfed in flames.” Montaad was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff at the county courthouse in Safety Harbor, at Station 2 of the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement in Rock Bluff, and at Safety Harbor City Hall from sunrise to sunset this Saturday.

“Ann and I are saddened to hear of the tragic death of Officer Montaad and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” Scott said in a statement.

“Choosing to serve our state as a law enforcement officer is a heroic and selfless decision, and Joshua will be remembered for his courageous service and commitment to protecting our families and communities,” he said. “We are thankful for the brave law enforcement officers that work each day to keep our state safe and we will continue to pray for their safety.”

Tom Rooney backs Ben Albritton for Florida Senate

Ben Albritton is receiving the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Albritton is seeking the District 26 seat in the Florida Senate, now held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton is a tireless and dedicated servant leader committed to strengthening our communities,” Rooney said in a statement Friday. “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ben on issues important to our region, and I am confident he will continue the tradition of excellent representation Denise Grimsley has provided.”

Rooney was elected to Congress in 2008, and he sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Subcommittee on the National Security Agency. His district includes nine counties, spanning from Florida’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast.

“I am honored to have the support of Congressman Rooney,” said Albritton. “When it comes to defending agriculture, reining in big government, and supporting small businesses, there is no question we have a champion in him. I plan to fight for those same issues in the Florida Senate.”

In 2010, Albritton was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he has been a staunch advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He is also known for his strong conservative record on Second Amendment rights and protection for the unborn. He is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

With Grimsley’s decision to not seek re-election, District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, is an open seat. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Gwen Graham picks up Nan Rich’s endorsement

As Florida Democrats gather for their Leadership Blue conference, gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has grabbed the endorsement of the former Democratic Senate minority leader who for many appeared to be the heart of the party during her failed 2014 run for governor.

Nan Rich, now a Broward County commissioner, has extended her endorsement to Graham, who faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination in 2018.

“Gwen Graham has the integrity and ideas, the leadership qualities and real-life experiences to end the Republicans’ nearly two-decade hold on the governor’s office and put Florida on a progressive path forward,” Rich stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign.

“Gwen is the only Democrat for governor who has run against a Republican and won. Gwen is the only candidate for governor who has worked on the front lines of our public school system. She has been an advocate for women and children — and while in Congress she returned more than $2.5 million to seniors, veterans and families. Gwen is the only candidate for governor with a vision and actual plans to protect our environment and build an economy that works for everyone,” Rich added. “I’m thankful Gwen is carrying on her family’s tradition of public service, and like her parents, she truly cares about Florida and doing the right thing for Floridians.”

Rich served four years in the Florida House and eight years in the state Senate. Her 2014 bid for the Democrats’ nomination never gained traction against former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who had switched parties, yet she hung in through the primary, intent on pushing Democratic policies.

“Nan Rich has spent her career in public service fighting for our shared progressive values and for Florida families,” Graham stated in the release. “I’m honored to have her support, and, as governor, I look forward to working work with Senator Rich to reverse the damage nearly two decades of one-party rule in Tallahassee has done to our state.”

Rick Scott asked to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court has asked Gov. Rick Scott to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

The court on Friday gave Scott till July 5 to file a response, with the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause having a July 17 deadline to reply to Scott’s filing.

The organizations this week filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred LewisBarbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.

The filing says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

The Supreme Court, in a 2006 advisory opinion, said appellate vacancies may be filled by a governor only “upon the expiration of the term of the judge or justice.”

Advisory opinions, however, “do not constitute binding precedent, though they can be persuasive,” wrote former Justice Gerald Kogan and court spokesman Craig Waters in a 1994 law review article. “They are authorized by the (state) constitution to deal with situations in which the Court’s opinion on an abstract question can advance public interests.”

A Scott spokesman previously declined comment on the suit.

“A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations,” the petition says.

The petitioners also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida.

They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida’s unemployment dips to 10-year low of 4.3 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to a nearly 10-year low of 4.3 percent with the addition of 21,900 new private sector jobs in March, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

While visiting the DusoBox plant, a 62-year-old, family-owned company which recently added 20 jobs to its high-tech corrugated box manufacturing and marketing plant in Orlando, Scott said that the May unemployment number is the lowest since August, 2007.

He also touted the state’s annual private-sector job growth rate of 3 percent, which has exceeded the national average for 62 months running.

The Orlando market once again led the state in job growth in May, and reduced its unemployment rate to 3.6 percent.

Scott used the opportunity to promote his newly-funded “Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund,” established and funded last week in the Florida Legislature’s Special Session, after the Legislature had previously sought to gut his previous business incentives money program, through Enterprise Florida.

“I am proud that we were able to establish the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund during the recent special session. This flexible, transparent economic development program will promote public infrastructure and individual job training in order to encourage more businesses to grow and invest in our state,” Scott stated in an accompanying news release.

Scott also credited his past tax policies for DusoBox’s new plant, and for the expansions of other manufacturing facilities.

“One thing we did about four years ago and made permanent last year is we got rid of the sales tax on machinery and equipment so we could get more manufacturing jobs,” Scott said. “This state had not been growing manufacturing jobs when I got elected in 2010, and now we’re one of the leading states for manufacturing jobs in the entire country.”

As of May, Florida’s unemployment rate dropped 6.4 percentage points since December 2010, while the national rate declined by only 5 percentage points in the same time period, officials reported.

“This is all happening while our labor force continues to grow faster than the nation’s. Currently we’re growing at nearly five times the national rate,” said Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “We’re also seeing the impacts of the focus we’ve had on diversifying our economy to create manufacturing jobs.  In ten of the last 12 months Florida has led the nation in manufacturing jobs.”

According to the report issued by Proctor’s Department of Economic Opportunity, the top growth areas for jobs in the past 12 months are professional and business services, adding 52,900 new jobs; leisure and hospitality, adding 34,900; education and health services, 34,400, construction, 31,000, and trade, transportation and utilities, 30,900.

Florida job postings showed 255,858 openings in May 2017., while Florida’s 24 regional workforce boards reported 28,671 Floridians, including 1,551 veterans, were placed in jobs.

Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.

 

Personnel note: Karl Rasmussen leaving Governor’s Office

Karl Rasmussen, Gov. Rick Scott‘s deputy chief of staff, is departing the Governor’s Office for a lobbying job at the Meenan Law Firm, name partner Tim Meenan confirmed Friday.

“Watching him from afar, I noticed he is one of the stars in the Capitol,” Meenan said in a phone interview. “He’s quiet, diligent and effective—the first thing you notice about him is his calm demeanor.”

Rasmussen (Source: LinkedIn)

Rasmussen, a deputy chief of staff since late 2014, will focus his lobbying efforts in some of the same subject areas he now covers for the governor, including environment and health care, Meenan said.

Rasmussen was previously the Director of Cabinet Affairs for Scott, according to his resume. Before that, he served as Assistant Director of State Lands, Director of Cabinet Affairs and Cabinet Affairs Liaison at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

He’ll be subject to the state’s 2-year lobbying ban on former employees, Meenan said, meaning Rasmussen can’t immediately lobby former colleagues at the Executive Office of the Governor.

“What clients look for are effective solutions to their problems,” Meenan said. “I think Karl bolsters our ability to really reach into a large number of state agencies and the Legislature.”

He begins as a government consultant for the firm on June 28.

Pam Bondi’s net worth rises to $1.7 million, report shows

Attorney General Pam Bondi has reported her latest net worth at nearly $1.7 million, according to her 2016 financial disclosure filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her net worth now has risen from the $1.4 million reported in 2015 and from the almost $781,000 she reported for 2012, the earliest disclosure still publicly available on the commission’s website.

Her net worth jumped significantly in 2013 after she inherited from the estate of her father, 

Among assets, her disclosure for 2016 shows roughly $540,000 in “household goods and personal effects” and her “personal residence” now valued at $1.06 million. Her home’s value rose from $825,000 in 2015—a 28.5 percent increase.

She also lists a one-third share in a condominium worth $342,000.

Her liabilities consist of two loans from Tampa’s Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union totaling almost $255,000.

Bondi also lists her yearly attorney general’s salary from the state—$128,871.

The latest financial disclosures for Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner and GOP candidate for governor Adam Putnam, and departing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not yet filed, according to the website. Atwater is stepping down June 30 to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 

Report: Tim Canova will once again challenge Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Tim Canova is giving it another try.

The Miami Herald reported that Canova has announced he plans to seek a rematch against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2018. Canova, according to the Miami Herald, made the announcement during a Broward Democratic progressive caucus meeting in Plantation on Thursday.

“Our fight to restore our Democracy from the corrupt special interests must go on” he said in a Facebook post Thursday. “Important issues like Medicare For All will be a reality if we keep fighting on and support those that represent the people! I look forward to having your support going forward.”

The news of a rematch isn’t entirely surprising. In December, Canova said he was “seriously considering” challenging Wasserman Schultz, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, again in 2018.

“I’m seriously considering it. An awful lot of folks are putting that bug in my ear and urging me to do so,” he said at the time.

Canova tapped into Bernie Sanders’ donor pool and raised about $3.8 million in his 2016 congressional bid. A Nova Southeastern University law professor, Canova was considered more liberal than Wasserman Schultz and took shots at her for taking money from corporate donors.

Wasserman Schultz, however, was able to tap into support big name Democrats, like then-President Barack Obama. She won the August 2016 primary by 14 percentage points, and easily defeated her Republican opponent.

Canova hasn’t dropped totally out of the limelight since his defeat.

After he lost to Wasserman Schultz, he created a political and community action group called “Progress For All,” which he said would help harness the power of the movement. In October, he announced the group would be working on a series of five different referendums to attempt to get on the November 2018 ballot, some of which other activists in the state have been working for years on.

 

State, feds agree to extension for red snapper fishing

Most anglers thought the red snapper season for fishing in federal waters came and went almost two weeks ago. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S Department of Commerce and the State of Florida, recreational anglers now have 39 additional days to go after the prized catch.

The previous season lasted only three days, from June 1 until June 4, leaving fishing enthusiasts and members of Congress highly frustrated. The new arrangement calls for rolling back available red snapper days in state waters while extending the opportunities in federal waters.

“We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida.”

The 39-day additional season begins Friday and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day, September 4. Also included is Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4.

“Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Ft. Walton Beach Republican from the First Congressional District. “I’m glad the Trump administration has agreed to extend the federal red snapper season.

The federal government establishes quotas for red snapper fishing. Based on whether that quota was exceeded or under-fished in federal waters, the season is adjusted accordingly.

“We pressed Washington for an expanded season and Washington listened,” said Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican from the Second Congressional District. “This decision provides relief this season while we work to fix what’s broken in recreational management of the red snapper fishery. I’m glad the Commerce Department is letting common sense prevail for Florida anglers.”

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