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Sunshine State dominates Maverick PAC’s Future 40

Floridians snagged eight spots in Maverick PAC’s 2018 Future 40 list, more than any other state.

Maverick PAC is the Republican-affiliated political advocacy organization of more than 3,500 young legal, business and civic leaders with 20 chapters nationwide. The group’s goal is to promote candidates and advance conservative issues.

According to the PAC, “The Future 40 is our opportunity to recognize young professionals across the country that best represent the next generation of leadership in the public or private sector. Past winners include Senators, members of Congress, future CEOs, entrepreneurs, small business leaders and not-for-profit visionaries.”

Four of the Sunshine State politicos making the 2018 list should be familiar to the Tallahassee crowd: AT&T Florida Vice President Governmental Affairs and Policy J.C. Flores, Anheuser-Busch Companies Region Vice President for State Affairs Jose Gonzalez, RightNOW Executive Director Bettina Inclan and former Volunteer Florida CEO and current Director of AmeriCorps Chester Spellman.

Also making the list were Nicole Gomez, Chief of Staff to the City of North Miami Beach Mayor and Commission; Alexander Gray, Special Assistant to the President for the Defense Industrial Base at the White House Office of Trade & Manufacturing Policy; Audrey Henson, the founder and CEO of College to Congress; and Roy Milan Schultheis, an entrepreneur who started a financing and real estate company, while simultaneously working as chief strategist and partner at a business consulting firm.

The only state coming close to Florida in representation was Texas, which had six members in the 2018 class. Virginia had five, Washington, D.C. and New York had three apiece, while Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Missouri had two. The remaining states on the list had one class member each.

Maverick PAC’s Future 40 committee said it was “proud” to honor the 2018 class, and “excited to see the impact they have on our communities for years to come.”

Rick Scott orders money for homelessness prevention

Gov. Rick Scott says he has told the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to “file a budget amendment to redirect funding for homelessness prevention services.”

Scott announced the move in a news release Monday.

“The Florida Legislature provided DCF spending authority in the FY 2018-19 budget, but did not provide dollars needed to fund these important services,” the news release said. “DCF has identified $3.1 million in funding that may be redirected to help fill this gap — a process which requires legislative approval through the Legislative Budget Commission.”

“While it’s concerning that that this funding was not provided in this year’s budget, I am proud that DCF will be able to redirect money to combat homelessness,” Scott said in a statement. “I encourage the Legislature to quickly approve this budget amendment that will fund programs that served nearly 13,000 Floridians last year.”

From the news release:

“Challenge Grant” funds are directed to local agencies that coordinate homelessness services to provide housing and support to individuals and families in communities across the state. This grant served approximately 13,000 individuals last fiscal year, primarily through rapid rehousing and prevention, as well as case management.

Other services include emergency shelter and vouchers, housing management information system entry and employment services.

This funding, if approved by the Legislature, would be in addition to $1.7 million in federal Emergency Solutions Grant funding that will carry over and be allocated to the Challenge Grant for homelessness services.

There will also be approximately $5 million in Emergency Services Grant money that will be allocated to Florida from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the beginning of the next federal fiscal year, October 2018.

Jack Latvala prosecution decision will likely come next week

The capital area’s top prosecutor on Monday said a decision whether to press charges in the Jack Latvala investigation won’t come till next week at the earliest.

A spokesperson for State Attorney Jack Campbell said Friday a decision could have come as early as this week.

Campbell called Florida Politics Monday morning to say he was now “getting deeper” into the 90-page report.

“I am off the Fourth and taking off Thursday and Friday, so I can promise I will not offer an opinion before then,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has delivered its findings to Campbell, the chief elected prosecutor for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Tallahassee.

Latvala, a former state senator from Clearwater, was under investigation for months following complaints of sexual misconduct that led to his resignation from office in December.

Campbell previously said he would review the FDLE’s findings and decide whether to press criminal charges against Latvala, who first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. He would have been term-limited this year.

Latvala has said that his “political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” He also admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

A special master’s report released by the Senate found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist. Special Master Ronald V. Swanson recommended the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker be investigated by criminal prosecutors.

Another investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up a witness who bolsters an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, who represents Latvala, declined comment Monday.

Campbell, first elected in 2016 after serving as an assistant prosecutor for years, is a Democrat. Latvala is a Republican.

Fresh polling: Jeff Brandes, Janet Cruz lead in battleground state Senate seats; Ed Hooper, Amanda Murphy deadlocked.

Poll numbers in two battleground state Senate seats have shifted significantly since last month, while a third race remains essentially deadlocked.

In SD 16, the seat previously held by Jack Latvala, Republican Ed Hooper and Democrat Amanda Murphy remain deadlocked, with Hooper at 45 percent and Murphy at 43 percent. The good news here for the GOP is that this race has shifted ever so slightly to Hooper.

At last check-in, Murphy led by less than a point. Murphy’s May lead and Hooper’s late June one fall well within St. Pete Polls’ margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Like the previous poll, one in eight voters in the northern Pinellas and southwest Pasco district remains undecided. The shift over the past month came from Republican and Democratic voters coalescing around their party’s candidate — Hooper received 72 percent support from Republicans and 15 percent support from Democrats; Murphy received 74 percent support from Democrats and 15 percent support from Republicans.

Unaffiliated and third-party voters, who make up 30 percent of the SD 16 electorate, went plus-7 for Murphy with 14 percent undecided. White voters also favored Hooper, 47-42 percent, while Murphy carried minority voters by a substantial margin, though non-white, non-Hispanic voters only make up about 15 percent of the SD 16 electorate according to the district’s demographic profile.

Hooper holds a 5-point lead among men, while he and Murphy are tied among women. Voters aged 18 to 29 prefer Murphy by 4 points; the 30 to 49 years old bracket went for Hooper by 8 points; those aged 50 to 69 swung back toward Murphy, 45-43 percent; and voters over 70 went plus-6 for Hooper.

In SD 18, incumbent Republican Dana Young now trails Democrat Janet Cruz by a point after entering the candidate qualifying period with a nine-point lead. Of significance, since we last polled, Cruz clarified how her name will appear on the ballot, dropping her second last name, “Rifkin.”

The bounce back was expected for Cruz, who pulled just 62 percent support from Democratic voters in the May poll. The new results show an 8-point bump from her base, while Young saw her support among likely GOP voters dip from 75 percent to 72 percent.

Voters who are not a member of one of the major parties supported Cruz by a hefty 15-point margin. A month ago, those same voters gave Young a slim advantage. The poll also shows Young with a 2-point advantage among men, while Cruz holds a 3-point lead among women.

White voters still preferred Young, though the 46-43 percent split is a massive improvement for Cruz, who trailed by 15 points in the May poll. Cruz holds a near 50-point advantage among black voters, though she trails by 10 points among Hispanic voters, who make up 30 percent of SD 18’s electorate.

Cruz leads among younger voters 49-41 percent; Gen Xers favor Young 46-42 percent; the 50- to 69-year-old bracket went plus-4 for Cruz, 46-42 percent; and those 70 and up slightly favor Young, 43-41 percent.

Over in SD 24, incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes is still ahead of trial lawyer Carrie Pilon46 percent to 41 percent, which is down from the nine-point lead he held at the end of May, but still outside the margin of error.

Much like the poll SD 18, much of the change came from Pilon’s increased support among Democratic voters. She pulls 69 percent support from Democrats in the new poll, compared to 65 percent a month ago. Brandes, like Young, also saw a slight dip in GOP support.

The St. Pete Republican leads by 6 points among white voters, down from 12 points last month. He also saw his leads slip in three age groups, most notably among voters under 30, who prefer him 46-42 compared to the 59-26 margin he enjoyed in the previous poll. Voters aged 50 to 69 flipped from plus-2 Brandes to plus-3 Pilon, while older voters went from plus-22 Brandes to plus-6 Brandes.

His lead among 30- to 49-year-old voters, however, expanded to 52-35.

All three robopolls were conducted over this past weekend and only include responses from those voters who said they intend to vote in the November elections.

The races for Senate Districts 16, 18, and 24 will likely decide the course, if not control, of the Florida Senate as the Democrats have identified the three seats as a package of five to six they are targeting in the 2018 election cycle, the others being Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in the Florida Senate, with SD 16 currently vacant.

New budget, dozens of laws take effect July 1

More than 100 bills that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law from the 2018 Legislative Session will take effect Sunday, including a new state budget that tops $88 billion.

Lawmakers sent 195 bills to Scott from the Session that ended in March. The Governor vetoed two, while signing the rest.

Of the signed measures, 105 will hit the books Sunday.

Of the remainder, 54 went into effect upon Scott’s signature, with the rest effective in October or 2019.

Among the measures slated to take effect Sunday:

State budget

— HB 5001: Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The spending plan increases public-school funding by $101.50 per student, though Democrats and many education officials have argued that a far lower amount will be available for basic school expenses.

Among other things, the budget will provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Lawmakers also included $3.3 billion in reserves and put money into such issues as Everglades restoration, beach restoration, “pre-eminent” universities and helping universities attract “world-class” faculty.

Tax package

— HB 7087. A roughly $170 million tax-cut package provides relief for farmers and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma, provides a sales-tax “holiday” in August for back-to-school shoppers and retroactively covers a disaster-preparedness tax “holiday” in early June that coincided with the start of hurricane season. The package also includes reducing a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent, though that cut will begin Jan. 1.

Education

— HB 7055: The law expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools. The so-called “hope scholarships” will be funded by motorists who voluntarily agree to contribute sales taxes they would normally pay on vehicle transactions to fund the scholarships. Among other things, the bill also boosts the Gardiner scholarship program, which pays for services and private-school scholarships for students with disabilities.

Child marriage

 SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. In the past, minors ages 16 and 17 have been able to get marriage licenses with parental consent, and judges have had discretion to issue licenses to younger minors if they have children or if pregnancies are involved.

Under the change, marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.

Opioids

— HB 21: With Florida facing an opioid epidemic, the measure is aimed at preventing patients from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and then turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

The bill, in part, will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, though they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.” Cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma would be exempt from the limits. The bill also requires physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances.

Bethune statue

— SB 472: Lawmakers approved placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The statue of Bethune will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who has long been one of Florida’s two representatives in the hall at the U.S. Capitol. The state’s other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

Slavery memorial

— HB 67: The measure will lead to building a memorial on the Capitol grounds to honor the untold number of slaves in Florida history. The bill requires the Department of Management Services to develop a plan and costs for the memorial, with the plan then submitted to the governor and legislative leaders.

Daylight saving time

— SB 1013: The measure seeks to place Florida on year-round daylight-saving time. The change, promoted as a way to help Florida tourism, still needs congressional approval.

Veterans

— HB 29: Named the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act” after a House Republican who died in December, the measure expands a 2014 law by further reducing professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans and their spouses. This bill also designates March 25 each year as “Medal of Honor Day.”

Foreign affairs

— HB 545 and HB 359: One measure (HB 545) will prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. The other (HB 359) bars state agencies from investing in companies doing business with the government of Venezuela, a step intended to put pressure on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Lawmakers demand answers on questionable civics test results

On the heels of a Duval County School Board member claiming that his district is “gaming the system” with artificially inflated civics test scores at a struggling school, six Republican lawmakers demanded answers Thursday from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Reps. Jason FischerMichael BilecaJames GrantBob Rommel, and Jennifer Sullivan, along with Sen. Dennis Baxley, raised concerns about “Duval, Manatee and Polk County school districts potentially undermining the integrity of our state’s public school accountability system through employing questionable testing practices on the state end-of-course exam in civics.”

This threatens, per the lawmakers, the “integrity” of the process, and the school grade system itself.

“As parents of public school students and taxpayers, we share skepticism of the three counties’ testing practices with the public, and now we want to know more,” the six assert.

The questions boil down to ones of who was prevented from taking the test, how test takers were determined as eligible, who made the decisions, and how Stewart’s department will address this “manipulation of the system and avoidance of accountability.”

The full letter is here: manipulation of the system and avoidance of accountability. The lawmakers promise corrective legislation to ensure said manipulation of the system doesn’t happen again.

In a statement offered this week, the Department of Education said it had no record of a request for an investigation. Clearly, that’s not the case now.

The group’s letter is below:

Melissa Howard HD 73

Melissa Howard earns backing of Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Sarasota Republican Melissa Howard announced Thursday that she had earned the backing of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera in her campaign to succeed Rep. Joe Gruters in House District 73.

“Melissa Howard is the business owner, community leader, and conservative champion that will best serve her constituents in District 73. I am pleased to endorse Melissa’s campaign to continue the pro-growth policies that have led to historic economic growth and prosperity in Florida,” Lopez-Cantera said.

Lopez-Cantera is Howard’s biggest endorsement yet. He joins Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who was briefly a candidate for HD 73, in endorsing Howard. Gruters has not issued a formal endorsement yet, though he is serving as treasurer for the Howard campaign.

“I am honored to have the support of Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera,” Howard said. “I will continue working hard to ensure Manatee County residents and business owners have their voices and concerns heard in Tallahassee.”

Howard faces fellow Republican Tommy Gregory in the primary race for HD 73. The seat is open due to Gruters’ run for SD 23, which opened in the wake of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s announcement he would not run for re-election in 2018.

As of May 31, Gregory led the money race with nearly $180,000 raised and $162,775 banked between his campaign and political committee, Friends Of Tommy Gregory. Howard started June with more than $130,000 at the ready, including $100,000 in loans she used to kick-start her campaign in April.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary will face Democrat Liv Coleman in the Nov. 6 general election.

HD 73 is a Republican stronghold covering parts of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Rebekah Bydlak earns NRA endorsement over former lawmaker Mike Hill

Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak announced Thursday that she had picked up the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in her bid to succeed term-limited Rep. Clay Ingam in House District 1.

The NRA said it picked Bydlak out of the three Republicans in the primary race due to her “strong support of the Second Amendment, self-defense, and anti-crime issues.”

The endorsement comes in a day after Bydlak got the nod from the Florida Medical Association. She has also been endorsed by Ingram, who has held the seat since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections.

Bydlak’s main challenger in the primary race is former Rep. Mike Hill, who served three years in the House before giving up his seat in 2016 to challenge now-Sen. Doug Broxson in the Republican primary for Senate District 1. Milton Republican Lisa Doss joined Bydlak and Hill in the GOP contest earlier this month.

Pensacola Democrats Vikki Garrett and Franscine Mathis are also vying for the Panhandle district, though the winner of the Democratic nomination will face an uphill battle in the general election — HD 1 has one of the strongest Republican advantages among Florida’s 120 state House seats.

As of May 31, Bydlak had more than $112,000 on hand in her campaign account, putting her far out in front of Hill, who had about $19,000 at the ready on June 1. Garrett has raised $14,270 and has $6,860 banked, while Mathis reported no fundraising during the handful of days she was a candidate in May and Doss has not been a candidate long enough to report any contributions.

HD 1 covers the bulk of Escambia County, including the communities of Century, Molino, Gonzalez, Ensley, Ferry Pass, Belleview and Brent. Ingram has held the seat since it was redrawn in 2012. Before that, he held the old HD 2.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Poll: Gay voters are concerned about guns

A new national poll by the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence finds an overwhelming percentage of LGBTQ voters support what the fund is campaigning on: gun control.

Released Thursday, the survey used a cross-section of voters who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, finding gun law reforms is their top issue, identified as such by 19 percent; followed by health care, 16 percent; and the economy, 13 percent.

Of those surveyed 79 percent said the sale guns should be more strict, and 75 percent said that a political candidate’s position on gun reform is likely to impact their vote.

The survey was conducted of 880 self-identified LGBTQ adults by Whitman Insight Strategies in association with Pride Fund, from May 24 through June 2. Whitman Insight Strategies reported the margin of error is 3.3 percent.

The Pride Fund is a national political action committee organized in response to the June 12, 2016 massacre at the popular Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, during which 49 people were murdered and 53 others wounded. The group, which endorses candidates and supports them with contributions and organizing, has two agenda platforms: gay rights, and gun control.

“Gun reform is on the ballot this November and is the most important issue for LGBTQ Americans heading into the 2018 midterm elections,” Jason Lindsay, Pride Fund’s executive director and a gay Iraq War veteran, stated in a news release. “Republicans who refuse to act on gun reform and instead take NRA blood money should take note that the politically-active LGBTQ population is motivated on this issue and ready to vote you out.”

Among other findings:

— 89 percent support expanded background checks to cover all gun sales.

— 88 percent support preventing individuals convicted of hate crimes from purchasing guns.

— 80 percent support banning assault weapons.

— 78 percent support banning large-capacity magazines.

“The LGBTQ community is often the victim of hate crimes, so it’s not surprising that there’s overwhelming support for gun reform,” Lindsey added.

Rebekah Bydlak

Florida Medical Association backs Rebekah Bydlak for HD 1

A political committee tied to the Florida Medical Association gave Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak its seal of approval in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Clay Ingram in Escambia-based House District 1.

“As a lifelong member of her community, Rebekah Bydlak will be a great representative to her constituents in House District 1 and the FMA PAC looks forward to working with her on the health care issues important to the citizens of Florida,” said Dr. Mike Patete, president of FMA PAC.

Patete’s pratique is the latest for Bydlak, who entered the state House race last year after contending in the 2016 Republican primary for Florida’s 1st Congressional District. Her most recent nod came from Ingram, who has also helped her out in the money race by hosting a fundraiser that drew in a dozen influential Republican pols, including former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and former Senate President Don Gaetz.

“I’m honored to have the support of the largest voice for medical providers in my home state, and I’m excited to support the free-market policies that will continue to preserve the doctor-patient relationship and provide care for those who need it,” Bydlak said.

Bydlak’s main challenger is fellow Republican Mike Hill, who served three years in the House before leaving to mount a failed campaign for Senate District 1 in the 2016 cycle. Milton Republican Lisa Doss made it a three-way primary race when she filed two weeks ago.

Also running for the seat are Pensacola Democrats Vikki Garrett and Franscine Mathis, however, the winner of the Republican primary will immediately become the odds-on favorite to succeed Ingram in the deep-red district.

As of May 31, Bydlak had raised $137,485 for her campaign and had more than $112,000 banked. Through the same date, Hill had raised $38,770 and had about $19,000 at the ready. Garrett has raised $14,270 and has $6,860 banked, while Mathis reported no fundraising during the handful of days she was a candidate in May.

HD 1 covers the bulk of Escambia County, including the communities of Century, Molino, Gonzalez, Ensley, Ferry Pass, Belleview and Brent. Ingram has held the seat since it was redrawn in 2012. Before that, he held the old HD 2.

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