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Poll: Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott 48%-42% in hypothetical 2018 match-up

Sen. Bill Nelson continues to hold an edge over Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2018 match-up.

A new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows the Orlando Democrat leads Scott 48 percent to 42 percent. Nelson leads the Naples Republican 79 percent to 11 percent among Democrats, and 44 percent to 36 percent among independents.

Scott leads Nelson 75 percent to 18 percent among Republicans, according to a polling memo.

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The poll is the latest in a series that showed Nelson leading Scott, who is believed to be seriously considering a run for Senate in 2018. Scott can’t run for re-election because of term-limits.

According to a University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey, Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. Michael Binder, the survey’s director, said even though it’s early in the election cycle the “six-point lead is meaningful.” Meanwhile, a recent Mason-Dixon survey gave Nelson a 46-41 edge over Scott.

The Chamber survey found 50 percent of Floridians approve of the job Scott is doing as governor; while 47 percent of Floridians approve of the job Nelson is doing as U.S. senator.

Puerto Rico governor asks Rick Scott for help addressing health care crisis

The governor of Puerto Rico has asked Gov. Rick Scott for his help in addressing the nation’s healthcare crisis.

In a letter to Scott dated March 17, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said his administration is working hard to stabilize the current fiscal fiscal and economic crisis and to “put the island back on a path of fiscal responsibility and economic growth.” However, he said the so-called Medicaid cliff that will come into effect before the end of 2017 threatens to derail Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic efforts.

“This could lead to a full-blown collapse of our healthcare system,” he wrote. “Moreover, if this issue is not addressed by Congress in the very near future the fallout will be felt not only in Puerto Rico but also in the states, because the already high rate of migration of the U.S. citizens moving from Puerto Rico to the states will likely increase significantly, affecting Florida in particular.”

More than 440,000 residents of Puerto Rico have moved stateside between 2006 and 2015, driven mostly by better economic opportunities. The loss in population, he wrote to Scott, is “devastating because it decreases our tax base, erodes our consumer base, and diminishes our workforce, which all make our economic recovery more difficult.”

Rossello said he developed a fiscal plan approved by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, created under PROMESA, that reduces spending and spurs economic growth. But federal legislators need to address the Medicaid cliff and “ensure the success of these reforms.”

He asked for Scott’s help in “activating Florida’s congressional delegation as a voice of reason in Congress on this avoidable issue.”

“We are willing to do our part to provide greater accountability, increased spending controls, and prosecute any fraud, waste and abuse tied to federal healthcare dollars,” he wrote. “However, Congress must find a way to include Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico at current levels until ACA replacement comes into effect and must also help Puerto Rico obtain more equitable and fiscally sustainable federal healthcare funding going forward.”

Florida AARP official calls GOP health care proposal ‘ageism unleashed’

As the U.S. House prepares to vote this week on a GOP-based health care insurance overhaul, an official with Florida AARP said Monday the bill is “ageism unleashed.”

“Ageism is discrimination against people due to their age, and that’s exactly what this proposal does,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP.

McCray was referring to provisions that will raise insurance rates for people aged between 50-64 compared to those in their twenties.

Older working class Americans with lower incomes would see their rates escalate under the American Health Care Act since the refundable tax credits provided under the GOP bill are not as generous for this demographic as Obamacare subsidies.

Under the ACA, insurers can charge older enrollees only three times more than younger policyholders. The GOP bill would widen that band to five-to-one, which would hike premiums for those in their 50s and early 60s.

But Congresswoman Kathy Castor says she learned at a committee hearing discussing the bill that GOP officials have said that 5:1 ratio increase was just an “aspirational” figure, “and it looks like it could be any price at all.”

Castor added that the average Floridian aged between 50-64 and receiving subsidies under the ACA makes approximately $25,000. “If you start to charge thousands of dollars more for health insurance, you’re simply going to take coverage away, and that has a cascading effect really undermining their financial security, the security of their families and their kids,” she told a group of reporters outside the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa.

The news conference was the third media availability held by Castor in Tampa since the GOP unveiled their health care proposal several weeks ago. And once again she brought forward a member of the community to decry the attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I plan on working for a long time, but I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma, ” said Riverview resident Darlene Goodfellow, 57. “It’s very treatable, but I need access for health care. I’m a real estate broker. If I can’t drive, I can’t work.”

Goodfellow says that her concerns about potentially losing her health insurance will have a large impact on their family, causing her to become an activist for the first time in her life “because I’m literally fighting for my livelihood and my life now.” She said that Republican Dennis Ross is now her representative in Congress, but she expressed disappointment that she wasn’t able to address the congressman when she attended a town-hall meeting he held in Clermont.

Among the many different provisions included in the House Republican plan, one that Castor continues to highlight is how it would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” system. That would mean states like Florida would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. That’s different from current Medicaid funding. Right now, the federal government has an open-ended commitment to paying all of a Medicaid enrollee’s bills, regardless of how high they go.

“That is a radical change that will put a huge burden on families,” Castor said, adding that she didn’t hold out much hope that Florida lawmakers would pick up those new costs.

“It is a very coldhearted policy that they’re really trying to slip through,” Castor said of the Trump administration and GOP House members advocating for it.

“They want you to focus on the repeal of the ACA, but the most devastating impact under this house bill is to Medicaid,” she said, “by capping the program and costs continue to rise and our older population continues to increase, the state will have less of an ability to be able to be a partner in Medicaid.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the House Republican health care bill than under the ACA, including 14 million by next year.

“You’re going to see a large number of seniors just walking away from coverage altogether,” predicted the AARP’s McCray.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday.

Settlement reached in Gulf Power’s bid for $106.8 million base rate increase

Gulf Power Co. will settle for nearly $62 million per year in increased rates for its customers in Northwest Florida, rather than the $106.8 million it had planned to seek from the Public Service Commission, the parties announced Monday.

The deal would guarantee the utility a return on investment to Gulf Power’s stockholders averaging 10.25 percent — more than the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the PSC, had argued was justified.

Hearings in the highly technical base-rate case before the PSC had been scheduled to begin Monday afternoon and run for as much as five days. The monthly fixed charge on residential would have climbed from the existing $18 to nearly $50.

According to the company, the average monthly bill will climb from $144 to $151.

Also opposing the rate increase were large customers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Most parties indicated they could at least live with the agreement.

The settlement document bears the signatures of Jeffrey Stone, counsel to Gulf Power, and Public Counsel J.R. Kelly.

PSC Chairwoman Julie Immanuel Brown said the commission would hear arguments on the merits of the agreement on April 4, and could vote on it then. She’d seen the agreement for the first time only an hour before the hearing began, she said.

Charles Rehwhinkel of the public counsel’s office said negotiations had broken down but resumed over the weekend. He and Stone committed the terms to writing only late Sunday night. “It’s better than filing after the meeting,” Rehwinkel said.

“It’s one of the better settlements I’ve been a part of,” Rehwinkel said. “The revenue increase, we felt, was a good compromise that resolved a lot of things in the customers’ favor.”

“The public review process is all about folks coming together and finding out what works best for customers. I think we achieved that today. It is in the hands of the Florida Public Service Commission moving forward,” said Jeff Rogers, a spokesman for Gulf Power.

“We are glad that Gulf Power has agreed to do the right thing,” Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earthjustice, said Monday in a written statement.

“Raising this fixed charge on monthly bills would have unfairly penalized people who use less energy, and that makes no sense,” he said.

The opposition said customers had swarmed public hearings regarding the increase in Panama City and Pensacola, and sent more than 1,000 protest letters to the PSC.

“The voices of the citizens were instrumental in this decision. This shows that people are paying attention, getting educated on issues that affect them and speaking out,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

However, the League did not join the settlement. Neither did the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Those groups cited “other concerns.”

Representatives of the alliance said the base-rate hike was an attempt to shift onto Florida ratepayers costs associated with two coal-burning plants in Georgia, where long-term customer agreements were winding down.

It would have undermined Florida customer’s efforts to control their own costs through adoption of alternative energy sources including roof-top solar, they said.

“We are pleased that the element we thought most egregious is going away,” Stephen Smith, the alliance’s executive director, said in a telephone interview.

It would have set “an extremely bad precedent,” he said. “It would have damaged people’s ability to manage their costs from their side of the system.”

“We are glad that the fixed charge increase has been removed from Gulf Power’s rate restructuring,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice and Florida Director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

“This removal is a common-sense decision, meaning customers will now retain their freedom to manage their own power use regardless of whether that means being smart with their electricity use every month or investing in rooftop solar,” Perfetti said. “Consumer choice is a staple of Florida’s economy, and this fixed charge hike would have been a step in the wrong direction.”

A dozen senior citizens wearing red and white AARP T-shirts attended the PSC meeting. One of their number, Mattie Gammon, said the group was well pleased.

“It would have, would I decide whether I get my prescriptions filled this month or do I get a loaf of bread,” she said.

Donald Trump tweets video clip of James Comey testimony

The Latest on a congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (all times local):

2:25 p.m. — The White House is distancing itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump‘s team, amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump “associates” and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday referred to Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a “volunteer of the campaign.” And he said Paul Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign leading up to the Republican National Convention, “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Flynn resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia’s top diplomat to the U.S.

Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign last summer following allegations of contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

1:35 p.m. — Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi says an independent investigative commission should be created to look into possible links and coordination between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials seeking to undermine Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.

Pelosi’s comments came after FBI Director James Comey confirmed in congressional testimony that the agency has been investigating the matter since last July. He also told the panel that he has no evidence that former President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.

California Democrat Pelosi said that “the American people deserve answers.”

She said that the possibility of Trump officials and Russian officials conspiring to influence the election “represents a grave threat to our national security and our democracy.”

Pelosi says Trump should apologize over his extraordinary wiretapping claim.

1 p.m. — President Donald Trump is highlighting FBI Director James’ Comey‘s refusal to say whether he briefed President Barack Obama on a Trump adviser’s contacts with Russia.

Trump tweeted a video clip of Comey being asked if he informed Obama about calls made by Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser. Comey says he won’t discuss that case or any other discussions he had with Obama.

The tweet appears to suggest that the Obama administration was behind leaks about Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn was fired after news reports revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his discussions with the envoy.

11:25 a.m. —  Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, is denying that the British intelligence community was ever asked to conduct electronic surveillance on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to unsubstantiated allegations made by a Fox News analyst that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. The British intelligence agency flatly denied it happened.

The ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, asked Rogers if he thought it was “utterly ridiculous” that anyone in the U.S. would ask British spies to do surveillance on a presidential candidate. Rogers said it was and added that he had seen nothing at the NSA that would indicate that happened.

11:25 a.m. — The Senate’s top Democrat says that President Donald Trump “severely damaged his credibility” with Twitter postings claiming that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of him.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer issued the statement after FBI Director James Comey told a House panel that there was no information that supports Trump’s allegation.

Schumer said Trump “needs to retract his claim immediately.”

He added that Trump “should admit he was wrong, stop the outlandish tweets.”

11:10 a.m. —FBI Director James Comey says the FBI and Justice Department have no information to substantiate President Donald Trump‘s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him before the election.

Comey says no individual can order surveillance of an American. He says courts grant this permission after a rigorous application process.

Comey was testifying before the House intelligence committee. Comey said the Justice Department also asked him to share with the committee that the answer also applies to the Justice Department and its various components. The Justice Department oversees the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

10:48 a.m. —FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, say they have no evidence or intelligence that Russian cyber actors changed vote tallies in key states during last year’s presidential election.

Testifying at a highly politically charged congressional hearing in the House, both said they had no evidence that any vote tallies were changed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina or Ohio.

The House intelligence committee is holding a hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

10:45 a.m. — National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers says the intelligence community stands behind its January assessment that it is highly confident Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of electing Donald Trump.

In a Monday morning tweet, Trump blamed Democrats for the investigation into his contacts and said the House intelligence committee should be focus on investigating leaks.

Rogers said that his agency is working to provide Congress the material it needs to investigate the intelligence agencies’ findings.

Rogers was testifying before the House intelligence committee alongside FBI Director James Comey.

10:35 a.m. — FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia’s government.

Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he’s authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.

Comey says the probe is part of the FBI’s counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia’s efforts and the campaign.

Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can’t provide details about the investigation.

10:25 a.m — The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee says he hopes FBI Director James Comey will put questions about whether Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Barack Obama “permanently to rest.”

Rep. Adam Schiff is speaking at the start of the committee’s hearing on Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Comey is testifying at the hearing, along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.

Schiff says Democrats on the committee will be focused in part on whether Americans helped Russia with its hacking of Democratic groups and individuals.

Trump has said he has no knowledge of his associates coordinating with Russia during the election. He’s refused to back down from his assertion that Obama wiretapped his New York City skyscraper during the campaign, despite there being no evidence.

10:10 a.m. — The chairman of the House intelligence committee says there was no physical wiretap on Trump Tower, but it’s possible that “other surveillance activities” were used against President Donald Trump and his associates.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is speaking at the opening of the committee’s first public hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He says the committee has seen no evidence to date that officials from any campaign conspired with Russian agents, but will continue to investigate that question.

He also says the committee will investigate who has been leaking classified information about investigations into Russia’s interference.

Nunes says he hopes the committee’s hearings will result in a “definitive report” on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Poll: Most voters down on expanding gambling

The vast majority of Florida voters — 84 percent“want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a news release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group.

The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

“Tallahassee politicians need to get the message that only 8 percent of Florida voters want gambling expanded, and 84 percent want it left alone or reduced,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos. “It’s time to stop listening to gambling lobbyists and listen to the people.”

In addition, he said most “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to expand gambling, because they know that more gambling hurts the quality of life for them and their families.”

The poll was conducted from Feb. 24-28. It had a sample of 625 registered Florida voters, and the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

 

 

 

House to take up red-light camera repeal

The House on Wednesday is expected to take up a bill that would ban red-light cameras in the state.

The bill (HB 6007), which has easily passed House committees and is slated for a Wednesday floor session, would repeal a law that allows cities and counties to install and use red-light cameras. The ban would take effect July 1, 2020.

Some House Republican leaders have long been critical of red-light cameras, which they argue have become a revenue source for local governments.

But the issue has stalled this year in the Senate. A repeal bill (SB 178) failed to get approval last month from the Senate Transportation Committee, which deadlocked 2-2 on the heavily lobbied issue.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The social gospel of Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to make good on his promise to campaign in and compete for all 67 Florida counties during his campaign for governor.

Following up a well-received speech in Tampa, where he cautioned against a “Democrat lite” approach, Gillum hit Jacksonville on Sunday.

Jacksonville’s major challenge for Democrats: bridging the divide between various intraparty groups, including younger people inspired by Bernie Sanders and the older establishment types who reflexively backed Hillary Clinton a year ago in the presidential primary.

Finding a way to excite Democrats down-ballot locally has been tough for statewide candidates of late, despite a Democratic edge in party registration.

With that trend in mind, Gillum is smart to get going early.

Putting in the work in Jacksonville, including engaging young grassroots supporters, is key. And in Jacksonville, he found himself evangelizing for a brand of social justice absent from local politics and politicians.

It is a message activists have yearned to hear for a while now. And in Gillum, they have a ready exponent.

But the trouble comes in getting people to hear it. During a day in Jacksonville, Gillum made three stops and worked a national TV hit in. But he didn’t draw much local media interest.

For them, 2018 is remote. However, for Gillum – who regularly talks about his “18-month strategy,” – the time to launch and to get attention is now.

With that in mind, Gillum made many stops: the first at a popular Jacksonville church.

“I don’t know if we’re in a bad reality show or another season of 24,” Rudolph McKissick, Jr., the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church said about this “strange political season,” by way of introducing Gillum at the 7:45 a.m. service.

The pastor referenced VP Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott being in town Saturday, saying “the only thing that changes anything is a vote … seems like anytime we have the chance to shift things in the right direction, we don’t vote.”

“Anything I can do to get him elected the next governor of Florida, I will do,” the pastor said, noting Gillum’s family ties locally.

After a spot on MSNBC, Gillum’s next public stop was at the New Town Urban Farm near Edward Waters College.

The Urban Farm took an unused plot of land and turned it into a community garden – a real need in a food desert.

The land, founder Diallo-Sekou told us, was a vacant lot that had rubble in it previously.

The neighborhood is still transitional: an interesting backdrop to the speech was a pickup truck blaring Barry White as it trolled the block, with a sign on the side soliciting donations of clothes for military veterans.

But the Urban Farm is an oasis in the middle of an area always on the news for the wrong reasons, and it was an appropriate venue for Gillum talking about subjects at the heart of his appeal: finding ways to ensure that people have the leg up they need so they don’t end up a statistic.

“There’s a budget director in Washington, D.C. who said that there is no evidence that after school food assistance programs did anything to change the outcomes for kids,” Gillum said.

“That’s what I want as an educator: a hungry kid – attempting to get them to learn a lesson, understand, comprehend … if I’m that kid, and all of us have been there, if your stomach is growling, you can’t think of anything but the sound,” Gillum said.

His thirty-minute Q&A wasn’t one with applause lines or rah-rah moments: it was Obamaesque in its relating policy to real life for those in this state trapped by poverty and its myriad incapacitations and indignities.

Gillum spoke of a farm in his own youth, on his grandparents’ property in South Dade, where collards, squash, tomatoes, and fruit grew in a residential area.

“We lived off the land. Literally. In a place as urban as this, Miami-Dade, Florida. Here, you’ve got land and opportunity,” Gillum said, to do the same thing.

In much of Jacksonville, the physical hunger is palpable. But so too is the hunger for civil rights. Gillum addressed an issue close to his heart: the re-enfranchisement of the state’s 1.5 million who have lost their rights to vote.

“They paid their debt to society. Yet they come back into communities, and they still lack the ability to participate fully in our democracy. The majority of these individuals have committed crimes that are nonviolent – largely, drug-related crimes,” Gillum said.

“We cannot be tried twice for the same crime,” Gillum says. “Yet it seems you can be punished forever for having made a mistake.”

In addition to the vote, re-entry, such as through Ban the Box, is a Gillum priority.

And it’s personal.

“I’ve got brothers who have lost their rights. They’ve committed wrongs, and they have to pay the penalty for that. When they got back out and started trying to reintegrate into society, it was very difficult for them to find a job,” Gillum said.

“I’ve got some real entrepreneurial brothers. But actually, it’s survival. If they had a choice, they’d probably be working somewhere with somebody making a decent, honorable wage to take care of themselves and their families. But because door after door after door got shut to them, they had to create a way for themselves,” Gillum said.

“And that meant, for my brother Chuck who lives here in town, opening up a carwash. And going around with his mobile detailing unit and power-washing businesses and cars and sidewalks, and hiring other former felons,” Gillum said, emotion driving his voice.

Then he dialed it back.

“I think it’s a no-brainer … felon re-enfranchisement … to democratize those brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

Leaving the Urban Farm behind, Gillum’s next stop was a fundraiser/meet-and-greet at a downtown art gallery 3 miles away.

A different venue and largely a different crowd.

Gillum smiled and posed for selfies, looking relaxed, as people like Sen. Tony Hill and other local political types mixed and mingled.

There was no charity truck blasting slow jams inside the gallery space. However, wine was available.

The key to Gillum’s viability is going to be bridging environments like the Urban Farm with the fundraising circuit, succeeding in both spheres – especially while he’s the most prominent Democrat in the race.

And, before it’s too late, ensuring that local market media in the state is paying attention to his message.

State drops charges in case that shook Florida politics

Florida is dropping charges against an attorney once accused of being at the center of a $300 million gambling ring that led to the 2013 resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis was convicted of 103 counts of racketeering, possessing slot machines and other charges and sentenced to six years in prison. But an appeals court last year ruled that Mathis deserved a new trial because his attorneys were not allowed to call witnesses that could have bolstered his defense against the charges. The Florida Supreme Court in February declined to take up the case.

The legal setback meant Florida either had to start over with a new trial or drop the charges.

Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox – who works directly for Attorney General Pam Bondi – said in a statement released Wednesday that it was time for state authorities to direct their attention elsewhere.

Cox said that the state’s “current priorities are fighting synthetic drugs, illegal opioids, human trafficking and gang violence. I feel that we should focus our resources on these priorities for the best interest in the state of Florida.” Cox also noted the company targeted by authorities is no longer in business.

Mathis, who was first charged in 2013, told media outlets in Jacksonville on Thursday that he had always vowed to fight the charges to the end.

“I didn’t think that it would take four years to do so,” Mathis said. He said it can be hard to stand for what one believes. “The road is more challenging than you anticipate. But with strength, you continue to go on. You continue to take each step. And I vowed to prove my innocence and establish that I had not done anything wrong. I’m pleased now with the outcome.”

Four years ago Bondi stood alongside law-enforcement officials who contended that Mathis was at deeply involved with an organization called Allied Veterans of the World that ran what were known as internet cafes or parlors.

The cafes, which operated in a legal gray area in Florida’s gambling law, had computerized slot machine-style games. Investigators said the charity was a fraud and executives gave precious little to veterans while lavishing millions on themselves, spending it on boats, beachfront condos and Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches.

Bondi at the time called the alleged scam “callous” and “despicable” and said it “insults every American who ever wore a military uniform.”

The fallout from the case was immediate and led Gov. Rick Scott to force Carroll to resign. Carroll, who had been seen as a rising star for Republicans, was never charged, but she did eventually admit to violating state ethics law and paying a $1,000 fine. Carroll acknowledged she did not properly disclose on required financial disclosure forms all the money paid to her by Allied when she was a state legislator.

The Florida Legislature in 2013 also passed a law banning internet cafes.

Mathis’ defense team wanted to make the case at trial that, in his capacity as Allied’s attorney, Mathis actually thought the cafes were legal under Florida law. He didn’t game the system, the defense theory goes, but advised his clients in his belief that the cafes were legal at the time.

The trial judge said Mathis was not being charged as a lawyer, however, but as a member of the organization, and barred the jury from hearing that line of defense.

Republicans lead fight to ban fracking in Florida

Citing unresolved health concerns, Florida lawmakers are weighing the fate of a measure that would ban fracking across the state.

Legislators are pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, which is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Floridians and a major player in the state’s economy, from agriculture to tourism.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking — a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say chemicals used in the process can leak into underground water sources. Because Florida sits atop porous, spongelike sedimentary limestone, environmentalists believe it is at a higher risk of chemical leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

Those opposing the measure argue the fracking ban could cost the state, litigation-wise, because it would result in taking away property rights and the ability to extract oil.

“The bill does nothing to foreclose the traditional oil and gas operations that we currently have here in the state of Florida, and we currently — at least to our knowledge — are not fracking the state,” Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor, said at a news conference.

The legislation comes at a time when the anti-fracking movement has ballooned across the state. According to a Floridians Against Fracking report, 90 communities have introduced measures seeking to ban the practice in one way or another. Young joined the momentum not too long ago. Last year, she helped advance a bill in the House that would have created a pathway to legalizing the practice, but the measure died in the Senate.

Young said her stance changed after meeting with stakeholders and “exhausting hours of research and soul-searching.”

On day one of the 60-day legislative session, Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee members advanced this year’s bill. It now has two more stops before heading to the full Senate. While Senate President Joe Negron has vowed to make the environment one of his priorities, he has not taken a firm stance on the ban.Joe Negron has vowed to make the environment one of his priorities, he has not taken a firm stance on the ban.

A similar bill moving to prohibit fracking has been introduced in the House. While it has received support from Democrats, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Miller, is the only Republican backing it.

“I would hope that Florida is a leader in this regard, and considering we are a diverse state and a swing state, purple through and through, we hope and expect the country will be looking at us,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

State legislators in Maryland and Nevada are also considering a ban on fracking this year. Vermont and New York are currently the only states with an outright ban on the practice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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