Influence – Page 7 – Florida Politics
Manny Diaz Jr.

Hialeah mayor endorses Manny Diaz in SD 36 contest

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez is endorsing state Rep. Manny Diaz for the Senate District 36 seat.

Diaz, a Republican, has his eyes on the Florida Senate after serving in the House since 2012. That experience drew the attention of Hernandez and drove him to an endorsement.

“Manny Diaz is a proven leader and will be an outstanding senator,” said Hernandez. “Throughout his time in the Florida House, he has been a solid advocate for our community, and we need his forward-thinking leadership in the Senate. I look forward to continuing our strong working relationship as we work on a range of issues that make a difference in the lives of our constituents.”

Hernandez has served as Hialeah mayor since 2011. Diaz was thankful for the endorsement, saying: “It is truly an honor to have Mayor Hernandez’s support. Throughout his entire career, he has been a model of distinguished public service, and I appreciate his vote of confidence in me. I look forward to continuing to work with him to make our community even stronger.”

SD 36 covers portions of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The seat is currently held by Republican Rene Garcia, who is term-limited.

Kayser Enneking

Kayser Enneking posts best fundraising reports to date

Gainesville Democrat Kayser Enneking reeled in more than $83,000 in April for her Senate District 8 campaign – her best month since filing the battleground Senate district.

Enneking brought in $56,608 through her committee, Florida Knows Excellence, and another $26,867 through her campaign account for a total of $83,475 raised last month.

Combined, the reports outshine her previous high watermark – set in her inaugural report last year – by more than $10,000.

Enneking is running to unseat Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry in the Alachua County-based district. Also running is fellow Democrat Olysha Magruder. Neither Perry nor Magruder have reported their April fundraising numbers.

Enneking’s committee money came in through seven contributions, though by far the largest was a $50,000 check from Miami attorney Robert Rubenstein. Also in the report were Tampa attorney Crystal Whitescarver and Ocala attorney Bruce Kaster, each of whom gave $2,500.

Florida Knows Excellence didn’t report any expenditures for the month, leaving it with about $62,000 in the bank heading into May.

Enneking’s campaign account shows nearly 200 contributions for April, and like her previous report, the vast majority came in from small-dollar donors within the borders of the North Central Florida Senate district.

At the top of the donor roll were 10 checks for $1,000, the maximum allowable contribution for state legislative races.

Those donors included New York City philanthropists Shelly and Donald Rubin, Boston billionaire Vin Ryan, Infinite Energy CEO Darin Cook of Gainesville, and Melrose physician Christoph Seubert.

The campaign’s 10 expenditures totaled just over $7,000, with nearly half heading to Jacksonville-based Street Smartz Consulting for digital advertising. Another $1,632 was handed over to Virginia-based Sage Payment Solutions for merchant services.

The Gainesville physician ended April with nearly $210,000 in her campaign account. She has $271,000 banked, including the committee money and a $10,000 loan to her campaign.

Through March, Perry had about $379,000 in the bank between his campaign account and political committee, Building a Prosperous Florida. Magruder had $7,727 banked off total fundraising of $19,000.

SD 8 covers all of Alachua and Putnam counties as well as the northern half of Marion County and is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections.

SD 8 is a top target for Senate Democrats this cycle and could be key in determining who will be Senate President after the 2022 elections.

Lawmakers fire another warning shot over medical marijuana rules

A legislative panel is again taking the state’s medical marijuana regulators to task, asking whether they are “refusing to modify the rules” governing the drug.

Kenneth Plante, coordinator of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC), fired off a letter Tuesday to Department of Health general counsel Nichole Geary.

In it, he said the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use had failed to address the committee’s prior objections in its proposed rules issued May 1.

“Was this an oversight, or is the Department now taking the position that it is refusing to modify the rules?” Plante wrote.    

Among other things, medicinal cannabis regulators didn’t respond to objections earlier this year over a $60,000 “nonrefundable application fee” to become a marijuana provider, and a provision for “contingent” licenses, saying they weren’t in state law.

“I think it is fair to say that the Department’s failure to address the Committee’s objections … is not indicative of a good faith effort” to work with lawmakers, Plante wrote.

The letter was copied to Sen. Kevin Rader, the Delray Beach Democrat who chairs the committee; Health Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Office of Medical Marijuana Use director Christian Bax.

“The department is reviewing the letter received today,” Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta said Tuesday. “We are committed to pushing forward with the additional licenses and look forward to working with JAPC to finalize these rules as quickly as possible in order to meet our goals.”

The committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, has previously had problems with medical marijuana rulemaking.

Lawmakers have been upset for months, mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent.

Lawmakers later approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

At a meeting this February, the committee formally approved 17 individual objections, including the ones mentioned, and listed more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance … , thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

The committee had also sent 15 letters to the department since October giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

“Our responses are a collaborative process between leadership, legal and policy,” Bax said at that meeting. “We think it’s appropriate to give these objections the time and consideration they’re due … We’ll respond in good time.”

The Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s brass, including Philip and Bax, until they get a move on in writing new rules.

Citizens Insurance board OK’s $1 billion-plus reinsurance plan

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will transfer $1.42 billion in risk to the reinsurance and capital markets — a move its leadership said would leave it with reserves sufficient to cover a major storm.

The policy, adopted unanimously during a telephone conference call of Citizens’ board of governors, “will allow us to face the upcoming wind season for the fourth consecutive year with no potential assessment risk in a one-in-100-year storm,” chairman Christopher Gardner said.

Notwithstanding $1.8 billion in losses to Hurricane Irma, a “substantial surplus has been accumulated in all accounts to pay for future claims,” according to an executive summary of the plan.

Citizens, Florida’s property insurer of last resort, has been transferring risk during recent years to a variety of third parties, including the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, traditional reinsurance providers, and the capital markets.

The amount includes $480 million in risk capacity left over from 2017.

“This in turn also provides for additional claims paying resources in the event that multiple hurricanes strike Florida. Citizens’ private reinsurance programs are structured to also provide liquidity to Citizens by allowing Citizens to obtain reinsurance recoveries in advance of the payment of claims after a triggering event,” the document says.

“Over the last six years, Citizens executed a total of $3.1 billion of multi-year, collateralized reinsurance placements in the capital markets with Everglades Re. These placements not only provided an overall reduction in the pricing of reinsurance programs but also enabled Citizens to expand the diversity of reinsurance sources and reach new market participants,” it adds.

State law requires Citizens to pass the hat among its policyholders if it is unable to pay losses arising from covered property.

Keiser University Vice Chancellor Belinda Keiser enters race to replace Joe Negron

Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University, has joined the race to replace Joe Negron in Senate District 25. Keiser will be vying for the Republican nod along with state Rep. Gayle Harrell.

On the Democratic side, only Dr. Rob Levy has announced a run.

It’s an interesting choice for Keiser, who lives in Broward County. SD 25 covers St. Lucie and Martin counties, along with a portion of Palm Beach County.

Keiser University is a private, not-for-profit university with about 20,000 students attending campuses throughout Florida and overseas. In her role as vice chancellor, Keiser works on media relations and charitable giving, among other responsibilities. She has also been appointed to several state government commissions during the tenure of Gov. Rick Scott. Keiser also served as the coordinator of a pro bono lawyer program in Broward County.

Her Republican opponent, Harrell, has already earned Negron’s support after he chose to step away from the state Senate early once his term as president ends. Negron’s term was not set to end until 2020, when he would have been term-limited.

Both Levy and Harrell had planned to run to replace Negron in 2020 but moved up their plans once he announced his decision to step down.

If Keiser can overcome Harrell on the Republican side, she will likely be the favorite in November. Republican Negron won his last election in 2016 by nearly 30 percentage points.

Florida Chamber

Florida Chamber announces ‘first round’ of legislative endorsements

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Monday announced 60 endorsements in state legislative races slated for the 2018 ballot.

The chamber said the nods were part of “a larger Florida Chamber effort to help elect pro-jobs, pro-business candidates that support private-sector job creation and economic growth.”

“Electing pro-jobs, free-enterprise focused candidates to office can and does make a difference for Florida’s families and businesses,” said Marian Johnson, Senior Vice President of Political Operations for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Governmental Affairs VP Frank Walker added: “To secure Florida’s future, we need a legislature that focuses on free enterprise principles and job creation. The Florida Chamber’s thorough endorsement process sends a strong signal that Florida families and small businesses can feel confident in supporting these candidates.”

Though the bulk endorsement covers more than half the 105 incumbents running for re-election in 2018, and more than two-fifths of legislative races overall, the Chamber said its endorsements were merely the “first round” and to expect more in the coming weeks.

Future rounds will focus on non-incumbents. The Chamber said it expects to interview more than 100 non-incumbent candidates in order to identify preferred candidates in each of the 140 — or 141 due to Senate President Joe Negron’s recent retirement announcement — legislative races on the 2018 ballot.

All Republican Senators up for another term got the nod except for Thonotosassa Sen. Tom Lee, who has been unclear on whether he will or will not run for re-election to Senate District 20. Additionally, Republican Reps. Ben Albritton, Manny Diaz Jr. and Joe Gruters were endorsed in their respective campaigns to move up to the Senate.

Former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper also made the list — he was the only candidate announced Monday who is not currently a member of the Legislature. He is running for Senate District 16 and is likely to face former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the fall. She announced her candidacy on Friday.

The other endorsements went to 45 of 53 Republicans running for re-election to the Florida House, while St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond was the only Democrat included in the Chamber’s list.

Those 45 Republicans make up all but 14 House Republicans who are eligible for another term. Of those 14, six are leaving the House early: Pensacola Rep. Frank White and Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant are running for Attorney General; Sarasota Rep. Julio Gonzalez, Winter Park Rep. Mike Miller and Dover Rep. Ross Spano are running for Congress; and Treasure Island Rep. Kathleen Peters is running for Pinellas County Commission.

The eight Republicans running for re-election who didn’t make the Chamber list: Indialantic Rep. Thad Altman, Neptune Beach Rep. Cord Byrd, Fort Myers Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Vero Beach Rep. Erin Grall, Port Charlotte Rep. Michael Grant, Tampa Rep. Shawn Harrison, Tequesta Rep. MaryLynn Magar and newly elected Polk City Rep. Josie Tomkow.

The Chamber said Floridians can learn more about each candidate endorsed, key election dates and polling locations by visiting

Richard Corcoran’s political committee raised $52K+ in April

After pulling in nearly $6.9 million over a 10-month period, fundraising appears to have been slow through much of April for a political committee closely tied to House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The committee, known as Watchdog PAC, faces a Thursday deadline for filing an April finance report with the Florida Division of Elections. But a list of contributions on the committee’s website indicates it raised at least $52,662 from April 1 through April 26.

Nearly half that money, $25,000, came in a contribution from the Florida Prosperity Fund, which is linked to the business group Associated Industries of Florida.

Corcoran has been considering a possible run for governor and tweeted that a “big announcement” would come this week.

Watchdog PAC began raising money last June and had brought in about $6.86 million as of March 31, according to the Division of Elections website. It also had spent about $4.6 million.

Report targets AHCA over nursing home verifications

The state Agency for Health Care Administration failed to verify that nursing homes properly corrected deficiencies cited by agency staff in 2015, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office.

Federal officials are recommending that the state improve practices for verifying that deficiencies have been corrected.

The Agency for Health Care Administration did not agree with the Office of Inspector General’s findings and asked that federal officials change the name of the audit titled, “Florida Did Not Always Verify Correction of Deficiencies Identified During Surveys of Nursing Homes Participating in Medicare and Medicaid.”

The inspector general reviewed 100 deficiencies at nursing homes across Florida that were flagged by regulators in 2015 and found that the agency verified the correction of 82 deficiencies.

According to the report, the state agency did not obtain evidence of correction — or sufficient evidence of correction — for the remaining 18 deficiencies. Based on those findings, the Office of Inspector General estimated that the state agency failed to obtain evidence of corrections for 455 of 2,381 deficiencies cited at facilities that participated in Medicare and Medicaid.

Moreover, the report estimated that the state didn’t provide sufficient evidence that corrections had been properly made for another 130 deficiencies.

Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman Mallory McManus downplayed the findings, saying the report involves a small number of “isolated incidents in 2015 at nursing facilities that did not involve patient harm” and said the agency has since changed its operations.

Federal regulations require nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to submit correction plans to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or to the proper state agency. State agencies must verify the correction of deficiencies by obtaining evidence or through onsite reviews.

But according to the report released Friday, a state official told a federal auditor that AHCA’s practice for less-serious deficiencies was to accept the nursing homes’ correction plans as confirmation of substantial compliance. The report noted that an AHCA official cited a section of a federal manual that allowed for the practice.

But the inspector-general report said the cited section of the manual “is not applicable to nursing homes. …  Without verification of evidence of correction, the state agency cannot ensure CMS that nursing homes have complied with federal participation requirements and that residents are adequately protected.”

AHCA Secretary Justin Senior wrote a three-page letter in February on the findings and recommendations. In it, Senior said the “18 deficiencies in question were isolated incidents (not patterns or widespread), and none of them involved patient harm or immediate jeopardy. We are therefore concerned that the title significantly misrepresents the findings for Florida.”

A copy of the report is here.

Doug Tuthill: Education improves with a sense of ownership

Public education will only improve when people buy in, Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill said Thursday at the Florida Chamber of Commerce Summit on Prosperity & Economic Opportunity.

“I’m going to start with the good news: public education today is in the best shape that it’s ever been in,” Tuthill said, citing the teaching quality and a National Assessment of Education Progress “report card,” which showed some progress.

“The bad news is the beneficiaries of progress tend to be people of privilege. It tends to be people with resources who come to school with a lot of social capital, and they’re able to benefit from our public education system.

“Unfortunately, this system isn’t capable of really addressing this issue of generational poverty the way that it needs to be — and that’s our challenge. It’s not a people problem; it’s a systemic problem.”

Tuthill said the root of that problem is the undermining of a sense of “ownership” for a majority of people — be they teachers, parents or students — in public education.

“We’ve all heard the phrase ‘nobody ever washes a rental car before they return it,’” he said. “Because they don’t own the rental car. You don’t take care of things that you don’t own. And what we’re seeing is our public education system, too often, has way too many renters in the system.”

Creating a sense of ownership among those who lack it is key to improving education, he said.

“Public education is our primary human development institution,” he said. “That’s the institution that really has to be able to develop the kids who need it most. And, frankly, that’s our greatest failure.”

Tuthill said the typical student receiving a scholarship through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which his organization administers, lives in extreme poverty — the average family of four in the program makes about $25,000 a year. The program also attracts some of the lowest-performing students in the state.

Yet when they get the scholarship and enroll in a private school, many quickly develop upward momentum in academics. That turnaround comes despite many of these private schools being unable to compete with public schools in teacher wages, teaching quality, technology or facilities.

The scholarships also only pay private schools about 60 cents on the dollar compared to the cost of education in a public school.

The difference maker, Tuthill reiterated, is ownership. And recreating that sense of ownership for public schools is the challenge, with the primary obstacle in the way of accomplishing that feat being politics.

“We created basically an assembly line, one-size-fits-all education system in order to be effective and efficient,” he said. “But kids don’t fit into that model.”

According to Tuthill, the factory style roots of public schools led to teacher unions that share a lot of similarities with factory worker unions. As with any union, one of their main functions is keeping the current system in place, he said, causing them to stand in the way of creating an education system built for the 21st Century.

Mel Martinez: Corporate responsibility is the way forward

Former HUD secretary and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez said the business community needs to play a much more active role if Florida is to confront and overcome challenges faced in the modern economy.

Martinez, now J.P. Morgan’s chairman of the Southeast U.S. and Latin America, spoke on the state of homelessness, employment, and wages during the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Summit on Prosperity & Economic Opportunity, held Thursday in Orlando.

Echoing many of the speakers at the event, he identified affordable housing as the most pressing need in the Sunshine State, saying that Florida’s rapid growth will only make the situation worse unless we take action — and quickly.

“What has been happening for many years is only going to accelerate as a result of the recent changes in the tax law and the non-deductability of the income taxes they’re paying in other states,” Martinez said.

“So more and more people will continue to come to this state, and as we continue to see that growth we continue to see Florida gain in prosperity as we gain in residents, but the problems won’t go away.”

Martinez said his “heart breaks” for the Floridians who are homeless and those who are living in substandard housing, such as those who rent motel rooms on a night-to-night basis.

“In recent years, following the economic downturn, hurricanes Irma and Maria, we’ve seen an alarming increase in people experiencing homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing.”

The lack of affordable housing wasn’t the only challenge he said business leaders need to meet head-on.

Martinez said the shrinking middle-class and their shrinking wages aren’t the only ones in need of solutions. Low-income workers have seen their wages drop 9 percent since 2000, compared to 4 percent for middle-class workers.

“Households up and down the economic ladder have experienced tremendous income volatility, and that volatility is on the rise,” he said, citing stagnant wages for middle-class Americans and falling incomes for the working poor, who have seen their wages drop 9 percent since 2000.

Martinez also said the plight of young people entering the workforce also needs to be addressed. The ones that do find jobs can end up trapped in low-wage, low-skill positions, while the ones who don’t add to the ranks of a growing number of young adults who are neither working nor in school.

At the same time, Florida’s small business owners are having problems finding workers with the skills they need, he said.

“These problems aren’t new, but they require new solutions,” he said. “They require collaborative leadership, they require us to think long-term and to help people prepare for the opportunities and the challenges of the economy. They require us to think beyond our traditional roles.

“Government cannot solve these problems, certainly not on its own. We’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked. And we can’t just leave the burden to the not-for-profit sector. The business community has to play a much more active role.”

The former Senator later concluded that the state’s “societal challenges must be seen as business challenges, and business needs to leverage what it makes — what makes them successful — to help their communities thrive.”

J.P. Morgan hopes to lead the way solving these problems by embracing “corporate responsibility” which he said has become a “strategic imperative.”

The company’s actions include raising wages its lowest earners, such as bank tellers, to between $15 and $18 an hour — an average increase of 10 percent. The company also committed to spending $320 million a year on training and development for its employees so they can keep their skills sharp and be upwardly mobile.

On the Florida front, the company is making investments in solutions to the affordable housing crisis, including investment in the Florida Community Loan Fund to aid in the development of multifamily apartment complexes.

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