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The Delegation for 4.27.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Freshman class reflects on their first 100 days

President Trump’s tumultuous first 100 days conclude this week. For the freshman members of Congress, their 100th day came in mid-April.

How do the first-term Members of Congress feel about their experience or their performance over that span? What are their highlights and disappointments?

Val Demings created a video showcasing her first 100. The Orlando Democrat highlighted her opposition to the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the military response to Syria, and her call for a “commitment from the President to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them in the first place.” The video ends with Demings proclaiming “we’re going to put America first and it starts with putting the American people first.”

Others offered their thoughts exclusively to The Delegation.

“In the first 100 days, I have sponsored and co-sponsored over 25 bills, supported rebuilding our military, led a Congressional delegation to the southern border and responded to over 25,000 constituents,” said Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford. “My number one priority is serving as the voice for Northeast Floridians, and we have only just begun our work on their behalf.”

“In the first 100 days, we opened three district offices, responded to 25,000 constituent concerns and assisted over 300 people who were having Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans claims – returning $350,000 in earned benefits,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.

Crist also touted his four pieces of legislation that dealt with assisting seniors, protecting Social Security and benefits, mental health care for veterans and flood protection for homeowners. He expressed pride in what “our team has accomplished in such a short period of time, and look forward to continuing the fight for the people of Pinellas!”

Naples Republican Francis Rooney expressed disappointment that health care is not yet solved, but was proud that his first bill, which reduced regulations on the private sector, was passed and signed by the President. He has poured much effort into his signature issue of water supply and quality.

Rep. Francis Rooney explains the Everglades to a group of students visiting his office earlier this year. (Photo via Facebook)

“The predominant issue facing Southwest Florida has been fixing our water quality,” he said. “I have been vigorously focused on building support for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration projects.”

Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, talked about the fight to get things done, but is particularly proud of co-sponsoring bills that would impose term limits on Congress and another to authorize building the border wall. He also expressed major disappointment in the failure to replace Obamacare.

“No one said that draining the Washington Swamp was going to be easy,” he said. “Despite the excitement of these first hundred days, and all its challenges and victories, I remain impatient – there’s still much work to do.”

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

State Department removes webpage featuring Mar-a-Lago — The State Department removed an article on its website about the South Florida resort this week after criticism it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, reports George Bennett with the Palm Beach Post.

In an April 4 blog post, the private resort was described as President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, where he has hosted foreign leaders.

According to the Associated Press, the post said that by “visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer.” Bennett reports ShareAmerica, the State Department’s website, “posted pictures of the resort and a description of it and original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s vision of Mar-a-Lago as a presidential retreat.”

Photo credit: AP.

The president has hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago since his inauguration.

The post was removed Monday night, and replaced with a message from the State Department.

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the post reads. “We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

That apology might not be enough, though. On Tuesday, Common Cause, a watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint over the article. The complaint claims the article “constitutes a misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Federal law, the complaint goes on to say, prohibits employees from using public office “for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”

“Common Cause calls on the Department of State and the Office of Government Ethics to conduct an investigation and to take disciplinary action to hold all responsible federal government employees accountable for this misuse and abuse of taxpayer funds,” wrote Karen Hobert Flynn, the group’s president, in the complaint.

Scott to Trump: Argentina committed to ‘pursing closer trade relations’ with U.S. — One day after Gov. Rick Scott met with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the Naples Republican sent a letter to President Trump about his upcoming meeting with Macri.

In his letter, Scott said Macri is “already working hard to create robust economic opportunities for his country and has demonstrated a commitment to pursuing closer trade relations with Florida and the United States.”

“I know that increasing job creation and economic growth across the U.S. continues to be a major goal for your administration,” wrote Scott. “As you prepare for your upcoming meeting with President Macri, I hope that you see Florida as an example of the significant impact of increasing trade with Argentina. We are competing in a global economy, and increasing trade and business opportunities with Argentina is not only good for Florida, but good for our entire nation.”

Florida is one of the top trading partners with Latin America, and about one in four Florida jobs is dependent on international trade. Scott said the Sunshine State is “second among all U.S. states in origin exports to Argentina.” Last year, Florida and Argentina trade exceeded $4.2 billion, and the state is “far and away the most popular U.S. destination for Argentine tourism,” said Scott.

“Maintaining a strong relationship with Argentina is incredibly important to establishing Florida’s position as a global hub for trade and ensuring job creation opportunities for generations to come,” wrote Scott.

Putnam accuses Mexico of unfair trade practices; seeks help from Trump Administration — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is convinced Mexico isn’t playing by free trade rules as defined by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Putnam believes unfair trade practices by the Mexican government is hurting Florida agriculture and he wants the Trump Administration to look into it.

He recently took his concerns to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Palm Beach resident. In a letter to Ross, Putnam extolled the virtues of Florida’s agricultural products and his belief in “free and fair trade.”

“Unfortunately, the current trade environment created under NAFTA is anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers,” he wrote. “I urge you to initiate an investigation into Mexico’s unfair trade practices, which have allowed Mexican producers of specialty crops – in a matter of 20 years – become the dominant supplier of specialty crops into the U.S. market.”

President Trump has often voiced his dislike for NAFTA and hinted he may seek to remove the U.S. from the 23-year-old trade agreement that includes the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Late Wednesday night he publicly stated the U.S. would stay in, but the deal would need to be renegotiated.

Nelson to Tillerson: Open temporary passport office in Miami — The Orlando Democrat sent a letter this week to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to open a temporary passport office in Miami, after the passport agency suddenly closed because of extensive water damage.

“Closure of the Miami Passport Agency — even for a short period of time — is an inconvenience for Florida travelers and others from around the southeastern United States, especially those with urgent or emergency travel plans,” wrote Nelson in his letter.

The office, located in the Omni building on the northern edge of downtown Miami, was unable to take appointments or process passports, reported David Neal with the Miami Herald. According to the State Department, the office suffered serious water damage Sunday.

The Herald reported that customers with appointments at the Miami office were rescheduled at another agency office out of state. Those customers, as well as those scheduled to pick up a passport or in need of expedited passport, should call the National Passport Center at 877-487-2778.

“Until the Agency can be re-opened, I urge you to make every effort to minimize the inconvenience, including issuing clear guidance to affected travelers and opening a temporary location in Miami for emergency passport services as soon as possible,” wrote Nelson. “I also request that the Department provide regular updates detailing the steps taken to re-open the Agency and assist travelers in the meantime.”

– “What to do about passports while the closed Miami passport office dries out” via David Neal of the Miami Herald

Zika bills sponsored by Nelson, Rubio clear key panel — The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a measure this week co-sponsored by Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio that reauthorizes the “Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act” (SMASH Act) of 2004.

The bill would authorize an additional $100 million per year for five years in grant funding to local mosquito-control efforts to eliminate the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. It would also authorize additional funding for public health laboratories so they can better test for the virus, and would require the Government Accountability Office to find ways to improve existing mosquito-control programs.

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of the Zika virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson said in a statement. “As summer approaches, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.”

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved the companion bill, introduced by Rep. Darren Soto.

Rubio meets with renowned Cuban activist — Florida’s Cuban-American Republican Senator expressed his honor to have the opportunity to meet with prominent Cuban human rights activist Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. A longtime opponent of the Castro regime, Biscet spent nearly a decade in a Cuban prison for his outspoken views on freedom.

“Dr. Biscet’s actions and words continue to inspire those living in Cuba under the repressive Castro regime, and others around the world who are beaten and bloodied for expressing their ideas, living out their faith, or disagreeing with their government’s leaders,” said Rubio.

Sen. Marco Rubio meets with Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, a prominent Cuban dissident and human rights activist.

Biscet was released in 2011 after having eight years of his freedom and livelihood taken away. While imprisoned, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007.

He was briefly detained three months ago in Havana, but subsequently released. According to the Miami Herald, Biscet was told he would go back to prison “if he continued.”

“I commend Dr. Biscet for standing strong against a dictatorship that continues to oppress its own people, and I look forward to working with him in the days ahead to bring hope and freedom to the people of Cuba,” said Rubio.

Paulson’s Principles: Will Corrine Brown Lose Again?

After a twelve-term, 24-year Congressional career, African American Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, was defeated by fellow Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee. After losing a Congressional race, Brown now faces losing her personal freedoms when she goes on trial for fraud and tax evasion.

Brown faces a 24 count federal indictment and potentially faces up to 357 years in prison and a $4.8 million fine. Brown is accused of using her position as a member of Congress to extract over $800,000 in contributions for her One Door Education Foundation. Federal prosecutors contend the “one door” must have been to Brown’s bank account, since most of the funds went to Brown. Only two scholarships worth $1,200 were given to students.

The 53-page indictment claims that Brown and her assistants took money out of the Foundation account and put it in their own bank accounts. In addition, Brown is accused of using Foundation money to pay for personal expenses such as $2,643 in car repairs, and a $5,000 magazine cover featuring Brown and the words “Corrine Delivers.” Another $200,000 was used to promote and honor Brown, including luxury boxes at a Beyoncé concert and a Washington Redskins/Jacksonville Jaguars football game.

The indictment contributed to Brown’s loss to Al Lawson, as did the redrawing of Brown’s district. After the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Congressional boundaries drawn by the Republicans, they adopted a map offered by the League of Woman Voters which changed the district from a north-south district to an east-west district stretching to Tallahassee.

A similar east-west map was rejected by both the Florida NAACP and Federal Judge Clyde Atkins in 1992 because they believed it would be more difficult for a minority to effectively compete. The NAACP pointed to the legacy of discrimination in the east-west district, as well as the large number of voting age minorities incarcerated in jails and prisons in that district.

Brown claims the indictment is just one more example of racism. The charge is difficult to sustain given that Barack Obama was the president at the time of the indictment, and Eric Holder was the first black Attorney General. She also maintains that she never had a formal role in One Door and had no authority over finances.

Brown and her attorney have lined up more than 30 defense witnesses to testify on her behalf. Defense witnesses include former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, Brown’s former colleagues and fellow black Congress-members Sheila Jackson Lee and Bennie Thompson, newly elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic and former Florida campaign manager for Donald Trump, Susie Wiles.

I testified as an expert witness in the 1992 federal court case which created Brown’s district and resulted in the election of the first three black members of Congress from Florida in 110 years. As I was on the witness stand, there suddenly arose the voices of hundreds of minorities singing spiritual and black protest songs, many of them bused in by Brown.

Brown always puts on a good show. I expect nothing less in her trial. Jury selection began on April 24th, and the trial is expected to run until mid-May. The federal case against Brown is substantial and other defendants have already pled guilty and agreed to testify against Brown. A second loss for Brown may be unavoidable and far more painful than her Congressional loss.

Gaetz expands Florida lionfish program to feds – Panhandle Congressman Gaetz is expanding to the federal level a Florida program providing incentives to spear fishermen for collecting invasive lionfish.

Gaetz is planning to submit legislation that expands the state’s lionfish program beyond the state controlled 10.3-mile limits in the Gulf of Mexico and 3.4-mile limit limits off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“I’m looking to mirror the success of the program in state waters,” Gaetz, said during a recent visit to Pensacola.

The state program gives rewards to fishermen who collect large numbers of the invasive lionfish, allowing them to collect additional red grouper or cobia beyond the mandated catch limit.

Dunn digs new agriculture executive order — The freshman Republican from the 2nd District is all-in on President Trump’s Executive Order designed to assist the country’s agriculture, ranching and forestry industries. It includes forming a task force, led by the Secretary of Agriculture, that requires government agencies to work together to facilitate growth in those industries.

Representing a largely rural district, Dunn extolled the benefits of the President’s action.

“Farmers and ranchers in the Second District are an integral part of our economy,” said Dunn in a statement. “The task force’s work can’t come soon enough, and I look forward to reviewing any recommendations that require congressional action. I am looking forward to working with President Trump and our new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to ensure that our farmers, ranchers, and foresters are supported.”

Dunn also saluted Lynetta Griner from Levy County, who was one of Trump’s 15 invited guests to an agricultural and timber roundtable held at the White House this week. Griner, who is a highly successful cattle rancher and timber producer, was Florida’s 2013 Woman of the Year in Agriculture and the first female President of the Florida Forestry Association.

“Lynetta is a champion for Florida agriculture, and President Trump will benefit from her wise counsel,” Dunn said

Murphy introduces bills to address North Korea, Asia-Pacific security — Winter Park Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy said this week she plans to introduce legislation to require the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies to address international security concerns with North Korea and the Asian-Pacific theater.

The bills would would require the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies to set up special units to deal with both areas.

One bill — the “North Korea Intelligence Enhancement Act” — would require the director of national intelligence to create a North Korea-focused integration cell, consisting of experts who would streamline, synthesize and synchronize intelligence on North Korea so that U.S. policymakers have the best information possible upon which to base decisions.

“North Korea is a difficult intelligence target. It is a secretive society where dissent is severely punished. This makes the recruitment of human sources inside the country very challenging,” said Murphy, a former U.S. Defense Department national security analyst who now sits on the House Armed Services Committee,” during a floor speech. “Moreover, high-level defectors from North Korea with intelligence about the regime are rare.”

The other — the “Asia-Pacific Defense Commission Act” — would create a commission of U.S. security officials and their counterparts from allies to ensure stability of the Asia-Pacific region, by working on issues ranging from terrorist networks to international intelligence coordination, and from cyber-security to free navigation of international waters.

Bilirakis touts grant funding to fight opioid addiction — The Tarpon Springs Republican took to the House floor to weigh in on the opioid problem that has become a crisis. He told his colleagues that “addiction knows no bounds and does not discriminate based on race, age, income or zip code.”

Part of his message included the announcement of $27 million in new grant funding for Florida to combat the scourge. The grant is part of $485 million in federal grants generated through the landmark 21st Century Cares Act, signed into law in December, 2016.

Bilirakis, a member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was instrumental in obtaining the grants. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor is also a member of the subcommittee.

“The $27 million will go towards increasing access to treatment and recovery services, strengthening public education efforts, and improving pain management practices,” Bilirakis said in his floor remarks. “This critical grant is the first of two rounds of funding to support an all-hands-on-deck approach in Florida to combat opioid abuse and save lives.”

Crist asking feds to require safety belts on all school buses — The St. Petersburg Democrat introduced legislation this week, dubbed the Best to Use Safety (BUS) Belts Act, that would to enhance school bus safety by requiring all new buses be equipped with safety belts. The proposal would also provide grants to upgrade existing buses with seat belts.

“Families across Florida teach their children to buckle up. But for millions of kids across the country their school bus lacks this basic safety feature,” said Crist. “All students deserve access to a safe education – this measure simply extends that principle to children’s transportation to and from school.”

In the past six months, school bus accidents have killed and injured students in Maryland, Tennessee, Massachusetts and on Tuesday, in Omaha, Nebraska. The BUS Belts Act aims to prevent injuries and deaths when school bus accidents occur.

“Children are provided the protection of three-point belts when they ride in a car. The same protection should be offered to them in school buses. This legislation would enable this to happen,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Ross pondering run for House Oversight chair — Rep. Dennis Ross might have his eye on a chairmanship, reports Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan with POLITICO.

Ross told House Speaker Paul Ryan he plans to run for chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as long as U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy doesn’t.

“I think Trey Gowdy would be exceptional for that … but if he chooses not to do that, I would definitely choose to be in the running for that position,” Ross said in an interview with POLITICO. “I think I’ve got as good a shot as anybody if Trey decides not to do it, so I’m going to make a push for it.”

Ross, an attorney who sits on the House Financial Services Committee previously served as the chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and the U.S. Postal Service.

Reserve judgment on Trump., Buchanan says – As the new administration approaches the 100-day mark, the Sarasota Republican urges constituents to withhold judgment of the new president’s achievements.

“I know we like to focus on the 100 days … but the bottom is: Let’s give him the first year, let’s see what he can do,” Buchanan told Sarasota Republicans last week.

Buchanan said the confirmation of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is a “significant achievement” within influence that could last decades.

“He could be there 30 years, the president’s there four to eight,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s campus visit focuses on workforce development — Education and jobs were on the agenda for the Republican from the 16th District as he recently toured the SouthShore Campus of Hillsborough Community College located in Ruskin.

Joined by campus President Dr. Allen Witt, administrators, and student ambassadors, Buchanan received an overview of the campus and degree and certificate programs offered by the school, including workforce development.

“The SouthShore Campus was delighted to welcome Representative Buchanan to Hillsborough Community College to discuss our efforts to raise the educational attainment levels in our community and provide an ongoing pipeline of skilled workers to advance the region’s business and industry,” said Witt.

The visit was Buchanan’s first since the most recent reapportionment placed the area within the 16th District. Nearly 7,000 students study at the Ruskin campus.

“Hillsborough Community College is providing vital educational opportunities for people in our region,” said Buchanan.

Mast calls out Obama Administration’s “interference” in Iranian investigations — The freshman Republican from the 18th District, in conjunction with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, wants to get to the bottom of possible interference with law enforcement investigations. Mast and Royce, a California Republican, are responding to the recent revelations in Politico about the release or non-prosecution – in conjunction with the Iran nuclear deal — of individuals allegedly involved in helping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

The two wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the federal government to re-open closed cases. The request follows Politico’s findings that in addition to releasing some individuals, pending cases against other dangerous Iranians were “hindered” or “unwisely abandoned” under the Obama Administration.

“Needless to say, the Obama Administration appears to have done serious damage to our national security,” they wrote. “To better understand the impact of the prior Administration’s interference in law enforcement investigations….we respectfully request that your agencies brief the Committee on law enforcement investigations delayed by the previous Administration.”

The letter concluded with a pledge to “support the Administration’s efforts to more aggressively investigate, indict, and extradite those involved in supplying Iran’s nuclear, missile, or conventional weapons programs in defiance of U.S. law.”

F.Rooney backs Scott/Senate in Lake O dispute — The Naples Republican has taken sides in a dispute between the Florida Senate and Gov. Rick Scott on one side, and the Florida House on the other. The issue is funding to create a reservoir to handle rising waters in Lake Okeechobee and prevent releases that damage fresh water rivers in the region. Scott and the Senate want the funding while the House does not.

“The single biggest issue impacting our Southwest Florida community is water quality,” said Rooney. “Our economy is forever tied to our ecology, and having clean water flow through our rivers, streams, estuaries and Everglades. I fully support solutions that will solve our water issues in the quickest and most efficient way possible, and I agree with Governor Rick Scott and his priorities for restoring the Everglades.”

Rooney has been a staunch supporter of Everglades restoration both before the election and since his swearing in on Jan. 3. A member of Congress’s Everglades Caucus, he has testified on four occasions on water quality issues. He has also chastised the federal government for “reneging” on their promises made in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

Deutch, Sen. Durbin team up to combat climate change — The Boca Raton Democrat and Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois have teamed up file a bill in both chambers designed to raise funds for communities committed to addressing climate change.

The Climate Change Adapt America Fund Act would empower the Secretary of Commerce to issue up to $200 million annually in “Climate Change Bonds” which could be purchased by those Americans concerned by climate change. Proceeds would go into the “Adapt America Fund” for distribution to states and communities preparing for the effects of climate change.

“With rising tides and sunny-day flooding, my constituents in South Florida are all too aware of the urgent need to respond to climate change,” said Deutch. “There’s no time to waste.”

“Americans are seeing the impact of climate change everywhere — from flooding coastlines and year-round forest fires, to extreme droughts and food shortages,” said Durbin. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with Congressman Deutch, which would give Americans an opportunity to help communities prepare for and deal with the damaging effects of climate change.”

Deutch, Wasserman-Schultz commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day — The South Florida Democrats shared their thoughts with their constituents, especially Holocaust survivors on the day of remembrance. Increased violence and threats against Jews in the present day fit in with the message of the lessons from the past.

“As this last generation of Holocaust survivors pass form this world, our moral responsibility to keep their memories alive becomes more sacred and essential,” said Wasserman-Schultz. “The resurgence of anti-Semitism and bigotry toward religious and ethnic minorities makes that mission more urgent and vital than ever.”

“As we reflect this Yom HaShoah on the horrors of the Holocaust and remember the millions who perished at the hands of blind, coldblooded hatred of Jews, we also recognize the undeniable spike in anti-Semitism across this country and around the world,” Deutch said. “While it is our responsibility to never forget the horrors that befell the Jewish communities in Europe, it is also our responsibility to ‘never again’ allow such atrocities to occur.”

Wilson brings in Capitol Hill veteran to serve as Chief of Staff — The Miami Gardens Democrat has brought back a Capitol Hill veteran to serve as her Chief of Staff. After a 12-year absence, Stephanie Jones has returned to Congress to head Wilson’s congressional office.

Jones previously held a similar position for a former member and was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee before joining the National Urban League and the Department of Transportation. Most recently, she operated her own consulting business.

Jones replaces Kim Bowman, who left in February.

Curbelo taking more heat on health care — The Miami Republican is coming under more fire from a liberal group over the possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A 30-second ad from the Alliance for Healthcare Security targets Curbelo and other Republicans in swing districts around the country with the charge, among others, that care for “pre-existing conditions would no longer be guaranteed.”

The ad appears to be a pre-emptive strike against Curbelo since the American Health Care Act (AHCA) went down in flames on March 24. With the rumors of a possible deal between the House conservative Freedom Caucus and the Republican moderates on a new plan, Curbelo may be called upon to cast the vote that was halted one month ago.

Curbelo, who voted for the AHCA in committee, is cast as being for higher costs on “coverage for maternity care, cancer treatment, (and) substance abuse treatment.” In addition, the ad makes a subtle case that Curbelo and the other targets would be OK with a “massive age tax for people over 50.”

The ad’s claims of the dire ramifications appear to stem only from a direct repeal of the ACA without a replacement. The group’s website features an item headlined “Where will we end up if Congress repeals our healthcare without a replacement plan that protects our care?”

Curbelo, who is also being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has not advocated for repealing the ACA without a replacement.

Ros-Lehtinen hails departure of golf sponsorship targeted by Holocaust survivors — As many paused to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Miami Republican was praising the end of a sponsorship agreement between the PGA Tour and a German-based insurance company. That company, Allianz, has hosted the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, but has a history that has outraged Holocaust survivors for years.

“The end of Allianz’s sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s Boca Raton tournament is welcome, but long overdue news,” said Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. “For the past seven years, I have echoed the concerns of Holocaust survivors who have rightly protested against this sponsorship.”

At the most recent tournament in February, dozens of protestors held up signs saying “Survivors Can’t Wait.” The company reportedly owes survivors more than $2 billion from claims surrounding actions carried out against Jews by the Nazis.

“It’s fitting that the survivors are marking Allianz’s departure on Yom HaShoah, when we honor the six million Jews who were murdered and we re-commit to never forget them or the unparalleled crimes of the German Nazi regime.

Sean Buchan enters CD 9 GOP field — A political newcomer, the Winter Have Republican announced last week he was running for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the 2018 election.

“The time is right,” Buchan stated of his entry into politics.

Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq.

The district includes most of south Orange County, all of Osceola and much of eastern Polk. Last year Soto, a former state senator, defeated Liebnitzky, to replace two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Liebnitzky won in Polk but Soto handily carried the vote in the other two counties.

Buchan said he’s currently reaching out to county Republican executive committees and Young Republican clubs to begin pulling together support and organization.

Heather MacDougall appointed to Trump’s OSHA Review CommissionTrump named employer relations expert MacDougall of Melbourne to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Since January, MacDougall has been acting chair of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama nominated her to the Commission, and she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. MacDougall brings 20 years of experience in labor, employment, occupational safety and health law, most recently with Akerman LLP law firm based in West Palm Beach. In addition, she served as Chief Counsel to OSHRC Chair W. Scott Railton in 2002-2003 under the George W. Bush administration. OSHRC is the independent federal agency as an administrative court deciding contested OSHA citations. MacDougall also served as associate general counsel of a Washington, D.C. trade association standing for human resources executives of Fortune 500 corporations.

Jeff Miller heads to K Street — The former Republican Congressman from District 1 is moving his employment address to Washington’s lobbyist row located on K Street. The Hill reports Miller will serve as a senior legislative advisor with the international advocacy and law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Miller will be the GOP balance to the firm’s other prominent legislative advisor, former Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia. The two will “join forces to provide a bipartisan approach to a vast array of issues” in the area of government affairs.

Both are prohibited from lobbying former colleagues in Congress for one year, but can approach the Trump Administration immediately. Miller’s “knowledge of the Administration will be of great value to clients,” said Steve Ryan, head of McDermott’s Government Strategies practice.

Miller served as Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was an early supporter of President Trump. During transition, he was reportedly under consideration for the role of Secretary of the Veterans Administration.

“I wasn’t quite sure when I left Congress what I wanted to do on a full-time basis, but I knew I wanted to stay involved in policy work and education,” Miller told The Hill. He “felt they were the best fit.”

Ballard Partners quickly making a mark in DC — Florida super lobbyist and President Trump confidante Brian Ballard and his firm are already lining up clients just a few weeks after setting up shop in Washington, DC. USA Today reports Ballard and his firm Ballard Partners have already signed up 20 federal clients (that number has quickly risen to 24), including the governments of Albania and the Dominican Republic, while hauling in $1.1 million over the first three months of 2017.

The focus of the paper’s “investigation” quickly shifts to Ballard in the second paragraph, labeled as one of “more than a dozen” allies of Trump setting up shop for going to work for a DC lobbyist. Not even competitor Corey Lewandowskicould shake Ballard  from top billing.

Fred Wertheimer, President of “watchdog” group Democracy 21, believes what Ballard and others are doing is bad for America and “represents the complete opposite of what candidate Trump claimed he would do something about.” He was referring to Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.”

Ballard made the decision to expand into Washington, adding to a network that includes 7 Florida cities, after some of the firm’s Florida clients asked him to “please open an office in Washington.” Those clients were seeking, according to Ballard, an understanding of “how the administration operates, how it works, what are the thought processes of the people behind it.”

In addition to the founder, Ballard DC has built a team with campaign and advocacy experience. Sylvester Lukis, Managing Partner, has more than 25 years lobbying for Florida entities in Washington. Susie Wiles, is well-known in political circles and most recently served as Florida Senior Strategist for the Trump campaign.

Former Ambassador Otto Reich has more than three decades of foreign policy experience, including his service as Ambassador to Venezuela under President ReaganDan McFaul has run campaigns and served as Chief of Staff for both Jeff Miller and Matt Gaetz.

NYC bar earmarks profits for progressive causes — At Coup in Manhattan, every cocktail is a cocktail for cause, reports Deepti Hajela with the Associated Press.

The bar — a reference to a sudden seizure of power, not the house for chickens — opened this month with protest-themed décor, a distinctly anti-President Donald Trump vibe and a promise by its owners to donate their profits to organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.

As a response to the Trump Administration, the bar in Manhattan’s East Village offers patrons the chance to put their money where their politics are by earmarking where the profits should go from a range of liberal or progressive options like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

When patrons buy a drink, they are given a token to drop in one of a half-dozen jars, each labeled with the name of a nonprofit group. The list of recipients will rotate. Jars on tap this week included the Natural Resources Defense Council and Human Rights Watch. After labor costs, liquor bills and other expenses are paid, the profits are divided among the groups based on the number of tokens they receive.

 

Sunburn for 4.27.17 – Gambling bill negotiations; Gov. is back; Vic Torres OK after crash; John Legg’s new role

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Congratulations to Erin and James Ballas on the birth of their daughter, Dayton Jane, who was, of course, born on Erin’s favorite day of Session – Lilly Pulitzer Day in the Capitol.

WHILE BUDGET NEGOTIATION MOVE AT A SNAIL’S PACE, GAMBLING TALKS ARE MOVING ALONG

Negotiations for a 2017-18 state budget may be mired, but talks to finalize a gambling bill for the year keep zipping along.

The Conference Committee on Gaming sent out a notice Wednesday for a meeting 9 a.m. Thursday, at which the Senate is expected to respond to the House offer.

As of Wednesday night, the best guesses are that the next Senate offer will include:

— Confining licenses for two new slot machine facilities to Miami-Dade County,

— Sticking to their guns on allowing the expansion of slots to those counties that approved them in local referendums, and

— Tweaking the language on designated-player games to make it more favorable to the cardrooms.

Designated-player games are a hybrid between blackjack and poker, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

But regulators have said card rooms were flouting state law by allowing third-party companies to buy their way into the games, using a worker to act as a virtual bank—or “button”—that rarely or never rotated. That amounted to a sham, one judge determined.

“What we want to avoid is a scenario where there really isn’t an open game where everybody can participate,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the vice-chair of the conference committee. “We would like to see that ‘button’ move.”

Otherwise, the card game plays too much like blackjack, which violates the promise of exclusivity to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

That’s what caused a federal judge to rule that the state’s OK of non-tribal card rooms at dog and horse tracks offering designated-player games broke the exclusive rights to blackjack promised to the Seminoles in 2010.

Despite the blackjack provision expiring in 2015, the judge allowed the Tribe to keep its blackjack tables because of the broken promise.

Other gambling concerns puzzle over the first Senate offer’s position on bingo, which would “authorize park and recreational districts created as independent special districts to conduct bingo and instant bingo.”

“I’m surprised no one has keyed in on the bingo language and what that could mean for the state and the compact,” one consultant said.

And still not addressed is the issue of “summer jai alai permits,” which can allow hotels to open cardrooms and possibly slots.

“That will be addressed at some point,” said state Sen. Bill Galvano, the conference committee’s chair. “I may have that in my next offer.”

YESTERDAY’S MOVEMENT – HOUSE TAKES GIANT STEPS IN GAMBLING NEGOTIATION via Florida PoliticsThe House made several major offers Wednesday to get a gambling deal done this session, including authorizing decoupling for dog and horse tracks if county voters OK it in a local referendum. House and Senate negotiators met in the morning in their ongoing effort to agree on an omnibus gambling bill for 2017, including an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. State law requires dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling such as cardrooms. Getting rid of that requirement is known as decoupling.

WHAT JOHN SOWINSKI IS READING: “Opposition mounts in Miami to new plan for casino via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

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FROM ARGENTINA, RICK SCOTT KEEPS UP THE CHATTER FOR ECONOMIC INCENTIVES via Florida Politics –  Gov. Rick Scott, while on a trade mission to Argentina, urged the Florida Legislature Wednesday to include his economic incentives programs when finalizing the next state budget. “Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families by cutting funds for tourism marketing and economic development,” Scott said in a written statement distributed by his office. “I would be absolutely shocked if politicians in the Florida Legislature put their self-interests before the interests of our families and small businesses,” he wrote. … It was the second time in as many days that Scott has spoken up for his economic development programs. Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

SCOTT WARNS OF HIT TO STATE REVENUES via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott has issued another missive urging full financial support for Visit Florida. This one is a memo written to Scott by Christian Weiss, in-house economist to the governor, who warns that cutting the tourism-development program by $50 million — as House and Senate budget negotiators are considering doing — would result in a $210 million decline in state revenues. Two thirds of that would comprise sales tax receipts to the state, Weiss wrote; the rest, in sales tax distributions to local governments and gas, rental car, and other taxes. …  Nearly 113 million tourists visited the state in 2016, Weiss notes — a nearly 6 percent increase over 2015, and the sixth straight record-setting year. They spent $109 billion here.

HAPPENING TODAY – SCOTT MEETS WITH LAWMAKERS — Gov. Scott returns from his trade mission to Argentina today, and has several meetings scheduled with lawmakers scheduled for the afternoon. The Naples Republican will kick off his whirlwind afternoon of meetings at noon with a meeting with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, before meeting Sen. Rene Garcia at 12:15 p.m. At 12:30 p.m., Scott is scheduled to meet with Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, followed by a meeting with Sen. Jack Latvala at 12:45 p.m. and Sen. Rob Bradley at 1 p.m. He’ll then chat with Sen. Anitere Flores at 1:15 p.m., Sen. Bill Galvano at 1:30 p.m., Majority Leader Wilton Simpson at 1:45 p.m., and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto at 2 p.m. He’ll meet with Sen. David Simmons at 2:15 p.m., before meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon, the lone member of the House on his schedule, at 3:30 p.m.

HOUSE SPEAKER SAID HORSE-TRADING YIELDS ‘BAD POLICY.’ NOW, IT’S OK – SOMETIMES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran were asked two months ago if their legislative priorities in higher education and K-12 public schools, respectively, would end up becoming bargaining chips this session, Negron wouldn’t rule it out. But Corcoran offered a definitive response: “No.” And he’s now backing away from that — and making a key distinction — as the two chamber leaders have, indeed, agreed to horse-trade significant education policy in budget talks to ensure they get their priorities into law before the scheduled end of session May 5. “The process always works best when both of them — to the extent that they agree that those are good policies — move forward,” he said.

INTERESTING MOMENT IN THE HOUSE:

VICTOR TORRES, WIFE CARMEN TORRES, RECOVERING AFTER CAR CRASH via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Orlando Democratic State Sen. Torres and his wife were injured in a car crash in Tallahassee but have been released from the hospital. The three-car crash – with the Torres’ in the middle – occurred early Wednesday right in front of the Capitol Building, at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Calhoun Street, said their daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado … “They are OK,” Mercado said. “Obviously, they are going to have a little pain, but they are good.”

LAWMAKERS AGREE TO PAY SURVIVING BARAHONA VICTIM $3.75 MILLION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – … and sent the bill to the governor for his signature. Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, would receive the money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, which admitted negligence after Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old and in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder. “They would tie them up, beat them, smear feces on their face,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz sponsor of the House bill, HB 6523, which was approved 114-2. The Senate had already passed SB 18 in a 37-0 vote. He described the abuse as “the most horrible, atrocious thing you can imagine.” The Florida Department of Children and Families “had many red flags they did not pay attention to,” he said.

LEGISLATURE VOTES TO TEAR DOWN THE ‘LIQUOR WALL’ via Florida PoliticsThe House, on a by-a-nose vote of 58-57, Wednesday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers, at least those who choose to do so, to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. The legislation now heads to Gov. Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items. Beer and wine now can be sold in grocery aisles in Florida. But opponents said their veto campaign has already begun, starting with an argument that the bill will be a “job killer”—a term sure to catch in the jobs governor’s ear.

TIA MITCHELL CATALOGUES THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THIS VOTE here

— Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said she would have voted against the bill but missed the vote after leaving the room to work on an amendment to a separate measure she sponsored that relates to craft distilleries.

— Rep. Barrington Russell voted “yes” at first but later said he meant to vote “no.” Legislative rules allow members to submit or change votes after the fact, but it has no impact on the official tally.

— Reps. Mike Bileca and Cary Pigman also missed Wednesday’s vote and logged “no” votes afterward. Rep. Emily Slosberg also did not cast a vote despite being present on the floor at other times.

HAPPENING LATE WEDNESDAY – MEDICAL MARIJUANA AMENDMENT NARROWS GAP BETWEEN HOUSE, SENATE BILLS – An amendment filed by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues allows for edibles and vaping, and cuts the 90-day requirement of the relationship between patients and doctors before recommending medical marijuana. However, differences remain, including regulations on the number of companies that can obtain licenses and limits on retail outlets. The Senate version allows five more “medical marijuana treatment centers” in the first year, with four more for every 75,000 registered patients. The House does not allow any immediate expansion, increasing the number of treatment centers by five, limiting those to companies that had unsuccessfully bid on a license, and only after the registry reaches 150,000 patients. Five more centers can be opened after 200,000 patients, with three for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

CRAFT DISTILLERY BILL PUT ON HOLD, THEN PASSED via Florida PoliticsA bill to allow craft distillers to sell more product directly to customers was set for a final vote Wednesday, was instead “temporarily postponed,” then finally voted out later in the day. The House eventually passed the measure (HB 141) by a 114-2 vote. … (The) measure would let distillers sell up to six bottles of spirits per customer in a given year. Now, they may sell two bottles.

— “Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE PASSES INCREASED HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION MEASURE via Florida PoliticsVoters next year could decide whether to approve a measure that would amount to a reduction in their property tax. The House on Wednesday passed a measure (HJR 7105) on a 81-35 vote to increase the current $25,000 homestead exemption. The language “increas(es) the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $75,000 and up to $100,000,” it says. Democrats, however, warned that cutting taxes meant less money to fund critical local services like police and fire. It wouldn’t affect taxes to fund local public schools.

HOUSE VOTES TO SHIELD COLLEGE OFFICIAL SEARCHES FROM SUNSHINE via Florida PoliticsJob searches for the top officials of the state’s public universities would be shrouded in secrecy under a bill passed Wednesday by the Florida House. House members OK’d the measure (HB 351) 103-11. But its reception in the Senate is unclear: With less than two weeks left in session, a companion bill (SB 478) has not had a hearing. The legislation would maintain the privacy of candidates who apply for positions of “president, vice president, provost, or dean of a state university or Florida College System institution.”

SENATE VOTES APOLOGY FOR ABUSE AT DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS via Florida Politics – The Senate voted, 35-0, Wednesday to apologize for decades of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee. Addressing 14 middle-aged and elderly survivors viewing from the Senate gallery, Sen. Daryl Rouson said: “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.” The House voted to apologize on April 18. CS/SR 1440 details the history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by school staff from the 1940s through the 1960s. A forensic examination conducted between 2013 and 2016 uncovered at least 55 burial sites at Dozier, 24 more than records indicated.

MORE NICE MOMENTS IN THE SENATE:

HOUSE APPROVES ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM LEGISLATION via Florida Politics – Assignment of benefits reforms ardently sought by the insurance industry and business passed the Florida House Wednesday on a vote of 91-26. A spokeswoman for the Consumer Protection Coalition, a business-oriented lobby aligned with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, immediately praised the action. “The House’s action is a big step toward ending costly AOB abuse and protecting Florida’s homeowners and businesses,” chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement. In debate, Democrat Joe Geller argued against the attorney fee provision. “It’s going to result in more, not less, litigation,” Geller said. “It’s going to be tied up for the next two years.” Co-sponsor James Grant replied that the problem has festered too long and that it was time to act. “Vote up on this good bill, and make sure we do not go home yet again having done nothing with the assignment of benefits problem,” Grant said.

HOUSE VOTES TO IMPOSE WORK REQUIREMENTS ON MEDICAID RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Medicaid recipients who are able to work would have to prove to the state that they are working, actively seeking work or enrolled in a job-training program. It wouldn’t apply to people with disabilities, the elderly and children, groups that make up the majority of Florida’s Medicaid enrollment. Failure to meet the requirement will result in a loss of coverage for a year. The provision, which was tucked into a broader Medicaid bill (HB 7117), passed 81-34. Opponents say kicking people off Medicaid will end up costing the state and federal government money. They say that instead of seeking preventive care, sick people will go to hospital emergency rooms, where taxpayers and those with private insurance foot the bills of the uninsured.

VOTERS MAY VOTE ON NEW PROPERTY TAX BREAK via The Associated Press – Homeowners may get an additional $25,000 homestead exemption if voters go along with the proposal. The House voted 81-35 to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would allow homeowners to shield an additional $25,000 of the value of their home from most property taxes. The additional exemption would not apply to taxes charged by school districts. If 60 percent of voters say yes, the amendment would take effect in 2019.

EPILOGUE: EX-MIAMI REP DIDN’T FILE TAX RETURNS FOR 9 YEARS via Patricia Mazzei and Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – For eight years, Erik Fresen served in the Florida House … leaving office November due to term limits. During all eight of those years, Fresen never filed a federal income tax return. Fresen … pleaded guilty in federal court to failing to file a tax return for 2011, a year in which he received $270,136 in income he didn’t report to Uncle Sam. But in all, Fresen admitted he actually failed to report his income to the Internal Revenue Service from 2007-16, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement. His tax troubles with the IRS arose before his political career, including the year before he was elected as a legislator. In total, Fresen still owes at least $100,000 in back taxes, excluding fines and penalties, federal prosecutor Harold Schimkat said.

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#CATESINEDIE IS HERE — The end of the 2017 Session is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to get your bets in. Yep, it’s time for #CateSineDie. You should know the rules by now, but if not, here’s a refresher: Tweet #CateSineDie along with your prediction for the exact date and time the hanky will drop, ending the 2017 Regular Legislative Session — closest without going over wins. Like last year, the winner will get $500 to their favorite charity. And this year, media guru Kevin Cate upped the ante — adding “something even more silly — a trophy.”All entries must be tweeted by 4 p.m. today

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Conference Committee on Gaming will meet at 9 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The newly formed Legislative Progressive Caucus will hold a press conference to announce its launch and announce key legislative priorities for the final two weeks of session at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor outside the House chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Department of Economic Opportunity will hold a press conference as part of its annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day event at 10:30 a.m. on the 22nd floor of the Capitol. Cissy Proctor, the DEO’s executive director; Clay Tomlison, an education assistant at Challenger Learning Center; and several students are expected to attend. The DEO will host an event on the 22nd floor from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing beginning at 11 a.m. in the Kent Campus Auditorium at Florida State College Jacksonville, 3939 Roosevelt Boulevard.

SUPREME COURT DENIES ARAMIS AYALA’S FIRST WRIT TO WIN BACK CASES RICK SCOTT REASSIGNED via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – In denying Ayala’s emergency, non-routine petition to overturn Scott’s executive orders reassigning the cases to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King, the Supreme Court concluded that the matter “is more properly addressed” through her other legal challenge, a writ of quo warranto, which she later filed. That leaves the matter where most expected it to be left, in her second challenge of Scott’s action, a case that has drawn broad support for both Ayala and Scott from a variety of outside groups who expect the ruling to be pivotal in determining the extent of powers in Florida of both the state attorney and the governor.

TODAY IN #STARCHAMBER: HEARING IN MACHETE-MURDER CASE CAN BE SECRET, MIAMI APPEALS COURT RULES via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald – The decision upends decades of press access to Miami criminal court and bans reporters from covering a bail hearing for two defendants accused in the machete-death of a Homestead student in 2015. The panel of three judges from the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial court that the flood of information available in the modern digital age could potentially sway jurors at a future trial. “The speed of dissemination and the high percentage of likely jurors with access to social media and the internet also support the trial judge’s concern,” Judge Vance Salter wrote in the opinion.

ANDREW GILLUM’S FUNDRAISING PAC TOOK SHAPE IN CITY EMAIL via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee DemocratGillum and his chief of staff used city resources to hash out the framework for a political action committee that would become the cash machine for Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign. In a message from Dustin Daniels via his city account to Gillum at his People for the American Way account March 2, 2016, — a year before Gillum announced his candidacy — Daniels discussed revisions to the mission statement of Forward Florida, Gillum’s leadership PAC. “Adjusted language is below and attached. I can’t seem to edit the document from Word, so the logo may not appear at the top. If that’s true, I will fix it tomorrow,” Daniels wrote in the email. The email once again shines a light on the use of the city’s email accounts to convey political and campaign business unrelated to city activities.

AS A TEEN, GAINESVILLE PIVOTAL TO SHAPING GILLUM’S POLITICAL RISE, AMBITION via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – For the charismatic, 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, a day in Gainesville was an opportunity to campaign for Florida governor … but also a chance to reconnect with a place and some people who he describes as “pivotal.” His family’s move to Gainesville from Miami — to be closer to his paternal grandfather, JT Gillum, who was ill at that time — “felt like moving to a foreign place,” Andrew Gillum said. But the slower pace, compared to Miami — as well as family members and other community connections in Gainesville — were transformative for Gillum. “People took time to ask you, “how you doin’?’” he remembered, adding, “It was pivotal to slowing down my life to a pace where I could start to pay real attention to my education, to my community, to setting goals because I got exposed to a different type of environment,” he said … it was Gillum’s friendship — beginning in high school — with Christopher Moore Chestnut, the son of Charles Chestnut III and Cynthia Moore Chestnut, that drew Gillum into the politically active Chestnut family.

LENNY CURRY’S PENSION SUCCESS FUELS BUZZ ABOUT STATEWIDE OFFICE via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union – How will Curry use that legislative victory? Speculation is rife that Gov. Scott is considering Curry for appointment as the state’s next chief financial officer, which would vault Curry into a high-ranking position in the state Cabinet. Or Curry could continue as mayor of Jacksonville and use the budget relief from pension reform to focus on the unfinished business of turning the tide on the city’s violent crime problem and getting long-delayed construction projects underway. Either way, Curry’s successful push to end pensions as a retirement benefit for new employees will lift his statewide profile, said University of North Florida political science professor Matt Corrigan.

JOHN LEGG JOINS STEP UP FOR STUDENTS BOARD via Travis Pillow with RedefineED — A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major private school choice programs. State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016. … Step Up’s board unanimously elected Legg to the unpaid position this week. He will join another former state lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Al Lawson. “John Legg is an innovative and successful educator, as well as a gifted legislator and a great person,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “John is committed to serving disadvantaged youth, and will be a wonderful addition to our organization.”

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FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY:

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Viva Italia! It’s Thursday at the Governors Club with tomato basil soup, roasted eggplant salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, Caesar salad – hearts of romaine, Parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, Caesar dressing – shrimp Bucatini Pomodoro, roasted garlic chicken, Parmesan garlic risotto, cauliflower, plum tomatoes, eggplant Parmesan.

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PULSE NIGHTCLUB TO BECOME A SANCTUARY OF HOPE via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The memorial will someday house a museum showcasing the artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the Pulse tragedy. Barbara Poma … will reveal plans May 4 on how donations collected since the June 12 tragedy will be used to honor the 49 murdered, the 68 injured victims and the first responders and health care professionals who treated them. The onePulse fund will support the construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for survivors and victims’ families and endowed scholarships for each of the 49 angels.

Pulse owner Barbara Poma intends to create a permanent memorial on the site of the former nightclub as a “a sanctuary of hope” for Orlando’s LGBTQ community. The memorial will eventually house a museum of artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil by a single shooter.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our beloved Papa Ben.

Sunburn for 4.26.17 – Sleepless nights for job creators; Budget contours; Pepi promises big step; ‘Frozen 2’ is coming when?

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

WHILE LAWMAKERS DEBATE NEW BILLS AND THE BUDGET, HERE’S WHAT’S KEEPING JOB CREATORS UP AT NIGHT

The latest Florida Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index Survey is out, and one thing is clear: Small businesses are increasingly concerned about the quality of workforce.

According to the survey, 22 percent of respondents said “workforce quality” was their top issue. Government regulations went from being tied for first place in the last survey — and in first place to a year ago — to second place in the most recent survey, with 16 percent of respondents saying it was their top issue. Healthcare costs grabbed the No. 3 spot, something the Florida Chamber noted is an indication “of the increasing concern for Florida’s small businesses” since healthcare costs weren’t in the Top 5 list during the same period in either 2016 or 2015.

Economic uncertainty and access to capital were tied for fourth in the most recent survey, while lawsuit abuse rounded out the list with 6 percent of respondents indicating that was the top issue facing small businesses.

“Florida’s small businesses continue to face a number of challenges, including increased concerns about workforce quality and healthcare costs,” said Tami Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council, and founder and CEO of Entropy Technology Design. “Florida’s economy is dependent on the small business community, and the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council remains committed to advocating on their behalf.”

The survey was conducted electronically from March 29 through April 14. According to the Chamber, 37 percent of respondents employ less than five employees, while 42 percent employ between five and 49 employees.

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LEGISLATURE ENDS BUDGET BATTLE, SETS STAGE FOR END

It’s April 26. Do you know where your state budget is?

With the clock ticking toward the Legislature’s scheduled May 5 adjournment, House and Senate leaders appeared tantalizingly close Tuesday to agreeing on how much money to let their Appropriations subcommittee spend.

Then came the word — no conference tonight.

It was that kind of day.

Tuesday got off to an ominous start, when the House Appropriations Committee approved a “standard operating budget,” pegged to existing spending levels, that the Senate had already announced it wasn’t buying.

Budget chief Carlos Trujillo denied it was a bargaining tactic, saying he was intent on bringing the budget to the floor.

By 4 p.m., House Speaker Richard Corcoran could announce that the two chambers were “very, very, very close” to agreeing on allotments — pots of money for budget subcommittees to spend.

“And I mean close in the hand grenades sense, not the horseshoe sense,” he said.

Trujillo suggested the first formal House-Senate conference committee meeting of 2017 could begin as soon as 6 p.m.

FOR THE RECORD: It was FloridaPolitics.com, not the cute guy from Wisconsin, which broke the news about the breakthrough on the budget.

– “Contours of a $83 billion budget deal emerge” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

RICK SCOTT ENLISTS STATE BONDS CHIEF IN FIGHT FOR VISIT FLORIDA FUNDING via Florida Politics – Gov. Rick Scott has distributed a letter by Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating. The letter, dated Tuesday, addressed to Jack Latvala in the Senate and Rep. Trujillo in the House, warns that cutting back on tourism promotion has harmed the economies of states that have attempted it, including Colorado and Pennsylvania. “Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins wrote. … “I believe it is important for policymakers to be informed about the important spending decisions and their financial and economic consequences.”

WHAT CHRIS NOCCO IS READING – ‘COLD CASE’ MURDER VICTIMS GET DRAGGED INTO BUDGET CONTROVERSY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – When Speaker Corcoran excoriated “liberal” senators for loading the budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects, the Senate responded in kind. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala noted that Corcoran wants to take home $4.3 million for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, where the speaker does legal work. It’s a first-of-its-kind Florida forensics laboratory in Land O’Lakes, near the Pasco County jail, that would teach law enforcement professionals and students while focusing on 16,000 estimated “cold case” unsolved murders and missing person cases in Florida. “I haven’t criticized the project,” Latvala said. “I’m just saying that it’s ironic: He’s against projects, but the largest single project in the budget is for him … It’s do as I say, not as I do.” “It had nothing to do with me,” Corcoran said. “It’s a project, but it’s not parochial. It’s for the entire state.”

– “Pasco Sheriff  ‘very disappointed’ Latvala is putting political ambitions first” via Florida Politics

– “Jack Latvala, Larry Ahern trade budget jabs on Twitter” via Florida Politics

HOUSE SETS UP $300 MILLION TAX HOLIDAY PACKAGE FOR FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – Legislation extending $300 million in tax holidays and breaks for veterans, college students, farmers, young families, and more moved closer to a final House vote Tuesday, picking up an amendment expanding use of private contractors to collect auto tag fees. The amendment, by Republican Jason Brodeur, would let tax collectors in 64 counties where tax collectors don’t answer to county commissions contract third parties to sell auto tags after hours and on weekends, in exchange for a “convenience” fee on top of the state fees. ”Any county that doesn’t want to do this, they don’t have to. Just do it the way they do it now,” Brodeur said. HB 7109 provides for a range of sales tax breaks and holidays. … Florida’s “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products would be eliminated, as it was between 1977 and 1986, Democrat Katie Edwards said.

SENATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA PLAN READY FOR A FLOOR VOTE via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Senate’s medical marijuana plan easily, with only one senator voting no. The Senate version allows edibles and vaping, while the House does not. And it would result in more treatment center licenses in the state as the number of medical marijuana patients grows. The House and Senate now will have to finish negotiations to come up with a final bill that both sides can agree on, vote out, and get to the governor for signing.

BUSINESS TAX BREAK FOR VETERANS, LOW-INCOME READY FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Government Accountability Committee approved a measure that creates a local business tax exemption for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, unremarried surviving spouses of veterans, and low-income individuals. A change to HB 487 adopted by the committee cuts out language that said local governments could only levy business taxes adopted before 2017. The bill now says any municipality can continue to levy business taxes but “may change, by ordinance, the definition of a merchant, but not the rate of the tax.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL PASSES DIRECT PRIMARY CARE AGREEMENTS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its plan to allow patients to contract with doctors through direct primary care agreements … It now heads to the floor. An amendment to SB 240 also “directs [Medicaid managed care] plans to provide enrollees the opportunity to enter into direct primary care agreements with identified network primary care providers as well as encourages the plans to enter into alternative payment agreements with these direct primary care providers,” sponsor Tom Lee said. That language is not in HB 161 which already passed the House.

HOUSE ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM MOVES CLOSER TO FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – The House cleared its version of assignment of benefits reform for a final vote Tuesday, defeating an amendment that would have frozen property insurance rates and required a premiums rollback next summer. PCS/HB 1421 would tighten requirements for contractors to report claims to insurance companies and establish a graduated scale for determining whether contractors holding AOBs qualify to recover litigation expenses from carriers. …  An amendment by Democrat Evan Jenne would have held property insurance rates at existing levels through July 1, 2018, then rolled rates back by 6.5 percent. And property insurers could no longer file “use and file” rate increases, but rather would have to go through formal, public hearings. “Rep. Jenne, I think you know, is one of my favorite members in this chamber to work with,” Grant said. “But this would actually be, I believe, a counterproductive way to roll back rates.”

HOUSE REVISES MEDICAID BILL TO DROP PROPOSED PREMIUMS – The House scaled back a proposed bill requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to pay monthly premiums. HB 7117 would have directed the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to ask the federal government for permission to charge monthly premiums of either $10 or $15, based on income. However, lawmakers approved an amendment put forth by Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran that drops the plan. The amended bill, sponsored by Orange Park Republican Travis Cummings, chair of the House Health & Human Services Committee, is set for a vote by the full House. The bill also allows the state to seek federal approval to enact a work requirement for Medicaid beneficiaries.

GUN BILL AFFECTING FLORIDA COURTHOUSES PASSES FINAL COMMITTEE, GOES TO SENATE FLOOR via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – A proposed law that would let 1.7 million conceal-carry permit-holders temporarily store their guns with security while visiting Florida’s courthouses is on its way to the Senate floor. SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed its final committee … Members of the Rules Committee endorsed the relatively noncontroversial measure — with at least a couple Democrats opposed — after offering no discussion or debate.

LIQUOR ‘WALL OF SEPARATION’ COULD FALL IN FLORIDA via Florida Politics A bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods is one step closer to passing the Legislature. The House decided to take up the Senate’s version of the “whiskey & Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) out of a “spirit of compromise,” said bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican. After two and a half hours of questions and a string of amendments that were defeated or withdrawn, the House could take a final vote on the bill as early as Wednesday. Its version has been struggling out of committees on one- and two-vote margins. The Senate bill would repeal a Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Speaker Corcoran confronts state Rep. Scott Plakon during questions on the floor as members considered the “whiskey and wheaties” bill.

LOTTERY WARNINGS COULD GO ON ADS, TICKETS via Florida Politics – The House is expected to pass a bill mandating warnings on Florida Lottery tickets and advertisements. The measure (HB 937) would require printing or broadcasting any one of six advisories on a rotating basis, including “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW,” and “WARNING: LOTTERY GAMES ARE A FORM OF GAMBLING.” It would also require retailers that sell lottery tickets to “prominently” display a sign, “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE.” It’s sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican.

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JOSE FELIX DIAZ: HOUSE WILL ‘TAKE GIANT STEP’ IN GAMBLING CONFERENCE via Florida PoliticsThe House will make its offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year, Diaz told reporters. “I expect to make significant progress in the conversation,” he said, without offering many details and saying the House’s offer was still in flux. “The earlier we get it out, the better.” The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. But, Diaz added, “considering that the House took a very conservative approach in its bill, most people who look at our offer will think that we took a giant step forward toward the Senate’s position on certain issues.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The House is expected to make its offer on the 2017 gambling bill when the Conference Committee on Gaming meets at 9:45 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide the breakdown of bills that have been placed on the calendar for a hearing up to this point. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As of Tuesday, April 24th, 1,172 bills have been placed on the calendar in the Florida House. Of those, 884 are sponsored by Republicans, 144 are sponsored by Democrats, and 144 bills have bi-partisan co-sponsors. To put that in a percentage, 75.4% of the bills that have been heard are Republican bills, 12.3% are Democratic, and 12.3% are bipartisan.”

WHERE IS CARY PIGMAN’S DISCIPLINARY ACTION? via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – In a House of Representatives that makes a priority of members behaving ethically, how is it Rep. Pigman gets to come back from a DUI arrest where his dishonor and dishonesty were on full dashcam display — and carry on as if nothing happened? You’d better believe Frank Artiles is wondering the same thing. Pigman in the House? The Avon Park Republican returned to Tallahassee after a boozey drive home, interrupted by a stay March 24 in the St. Lucie County slammer. And what was the worst that befell him? He resigned his chairmanship of the House’s Health Quality Subcommittee. That’ll show him … This is a busy session. I don’t expect anymore to happen now. But if Pigman runs for re-election, I plan to be right here, writing reminders for voters in HD 55 of this low moment in the life of an otherwise honorable House of Representatives.

– “Correction on Nancy Smith’s Cary Pigman column” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News

*** The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

HAPPENING TODAY — PUERTO RICO DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Hosted by the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the event is meant to recognize the contributions of the Puerto Rican community across the state and celebrate the culture. This year, the event will feature panel discussions on the fiscal crisis, migration patterns, and the impact on education, housing, healthcare and criminal justice. The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 22nd floor.

IT’S ALSO LILLY PULITZER DAY AT THE CAPITOL h/t to Erin Daly Ballas.

BIG WIN FOR FLORIDA – JEFF VINIK, WILL WEATHERFORD, PAM IORIO NAMED TO TECO BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Tampa Electric Co. is adding five prominent Florida business and community leaders to its board of directors … TECO parent company Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based energy conglomerate, said the new members are as part of a commitment to keeping the company under Florida oversight. “Emera believes local directors who are community leaders are best-positioned to oversee that our utilities provide the service our customers desire,” the company statement said. In addition to Vinik, Weatherford and Iorio, joining the board, effective May 2, will be Pat Geraghty, chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Florida Blue, and Rhea Law, chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PA law firm and immediate past chair of the Florida Council of 100.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida, 3201 Hull Road in Gainesville.

UF LAW STUDENTS DISCUSS, DEBATE AHEAD OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION COMMISSION MEETING via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – With the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission set to hold a public hearing [in Gainesville] — the fifth of nine hearings scheduled throughout the state … several dozen law students at the University of Florida assembled in an auditorium named in honor of the chairman of the state’s first CRC, Chesterfield Smith, to discuss the constitutional revision process with a member of the 1997-98 Commission, Jon Mills, and a historian of the state constitution, Mary Adkins. One thing the students learned in the hourlong talk is that the CRC that convened this year is the first in Florida history that has not been chaired by a graduate of the UF law school. “Here’s a fun fact,” said Adkins. “From the 1956 group that was created by statute to originally draft this constitution, through to the 1997-98 group, all of them were chaired by a UF law grad.” Referring to the chair of the 2017-2018 CRC, Carlos Beruff — a real estate developer appointed last month by Gov. Scott — Adkins added, “This particular chair is not a college graduate.”

BOB BUCKHORN SAYS PRIMARY FOR GOVERNOR WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUGH via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Bob Buckhorn has already made clear he is not running for governor. But during a brief appearance in Tallahassee, he sounded like he is still struggling with having passed up a chance to run. “I’m built for a good fight,” Buckhorn said. He made clear there were a lot of good reasons to pass on the race, but he said he thinks he would have been a strong candidate. The trouble he said was always going to be how to manage a primary because of his willingness in the mayor’s office to work with Republicans like Gov. Scott on issues. “That’s what governing should be,” Buckhorn said, acknowledging in a primary it would have been used against him. “I would have had more trouble with the primary than a general.”

SEAN BUCHAN OF WINTER HAVEN ENTERS CD 9 REPUBLICAN FIELD via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in 2018. “The time is right,” Buchan stated … Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq. His top concern is the economy which he described as “doing better, but not well enough,” particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, which he said are in need of across-the-board jobs from technical trades to high-tech. He also stressed national security as a critical concern, and expressed a strong desire for tax reform that simplifies the system for tax payers.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Wayne Bertsch, Civility Management: Florida Swimming Pool Association; Swearingen and Associates

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti, Beth Keating, Larry Williams, Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Q Link Wireless LLC

Dean Cannon, David Griffin, Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Disasters, Strategies & Ideas Group, LLC

Al Cardenas, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: IAP Worldwide Services

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies, LLC: Florida Municipal Electric Association; Monroe County Board of County Commissioners

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: The Able Trust

Rob Johnson, The Mayernick Group: Big Brothers Big Sisters Association Of Florida

Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: AMOAF

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Absolute Software, Inc.; salesforce.com, inc

Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yaeger, One Eighty Consulting: salesforce.com, inc

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – The Governors Club greets lawmakers Wednesday with Caribbean fare that includes conch chowder soup, salads, yucca salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, tomato salad, carne asada-beef, chicken à la plancha, BBQ grilled salmon, arroz con gandules and black beans.

BLUE ANGELS, THUNDERBIRDS MEET FOR RARE JOINT TRAINING via The Associated Press – The Thunderbirds landed at “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” The eight Air Force F-16 pilots and more than 50 other officers and support staff from the Nevada-based Thunderbirds will join the six F/A-18 Blue Angels pilots and support staff at Naval Air Station Pensacola … The U.S. military’s two elite fighter-jet demonstration teams are seldom in the same place. Department of Defense guidelines say the teams must perform at the different air shows to cover as much recruiting territory as possible. The two teams haven’t been in Pensacola together for more than 15 years.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds join the Navy’s Blue Angels for a rare joint training session through Wednesday at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

‘STAR WARS,’ ‘FROZEN 2’ AND ‘THE LION KING’: DISNEY UNLEASHES A BARRAGE OF RELEASE DATES via Anita Busch of Deadline Hollywood – Disney just unveiled a bevy of release dates for its upcoming slate, not the least of which is Star Wars: Episode IX (in 3D) which will bow May 24, in 2019. In addition, it removed the mystery around the untitled animation title previously announced Nov. 27 in 2019. It will be the highly-anticipated sequel to Frozen. Also, they have pegged the live-action The Lion King (also in 3D) based on the animated worldwide smash hit to July 19, 2019, … the new Indiana Jones movie has been pushed back by a year … Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 for the Wreck-It Ralph Sequel; it is also moving the film from March 9 of 2018 to the Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 21, 2018. Toy Story 4 is still on schedule for June 21, 2019, as is Marvel’s Captain Marvel for March 8 of the same year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Larry Ahern, Tampa International Airport’s Gina Evans, and the voice of AFP-Florida, Andres Malave.

State budget deal struck? Jack Latvala says, ‘no,’ but…

Updated 2:45 p.m. — The House has sent over an offer and the Senate is reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

After teetering toward a late-session meltdown, the bones of a roughly $83 billion 2017-18 state budget are in place, according to three sources close to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office and several lobbyists familiar with the negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, however, early Tuesday morning said to “not believe the rumors.”

The budget framework, as it stands now, gives legislative leaders Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private economic development organization Scott wants full funding for.

Latvala even told Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom Monday evening that a deal was coming together and Grissom “would not like it.”

Flexing their muscle, future Senate Presidents Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson played pivotal roles in shaping the compromise plan, sources said.

There was bound to be horse-trading: The Senate agreed to fund the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter-school proposal and backed down on increased property taxes, while the House will go along with the Senate’s plan to revitalize Lake Okeechobee.

Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to help Lake O and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams earlier passed the Senate 36-3. The Senate wanted to leave mandatory local property tax levels (“required local effort,” in Capitol parlance) where they are, to capture rising property values for school funding; the House sees that as a tax increase. Negron also gets more money for higher education.

But the deal also sets up a showdown with the Governor’s Office: Funding for Enterprise Florida, which gets far more public than private dollars, would be zeroed-out.

And VISIT FLORIDA‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency also would be put in place, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

The sticking point in all of this may be the torpedoing of EFI, explaining Latvala’s resistance to saying there is a deal. He’s carried Scott’s water in the Senate, but at this point he may willing to go along with a deal if, as those close to the negotiations suggest, the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that his committee has shepherded get funded.

Unable to reach a deal over the weekend, the House offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept state funding intact at current levels in many places.

That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate rejected this idea. Negron, in a memo to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget,” adding he had “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

Despite Senate opposition, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would freeze most spending and allow for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Sunburn for 4.25.17 – Budget stalemate; an Uber signing; 50 Day rule in effect; Jeff Miller back to D.C.; Florida Channel gets angry

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

LEGISLATURE AT STALEMATE OVER NEW BUDGET via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

For more than a week, the House and the Senate privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice,” he added.

Despite Senate opposition, however, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would keep most spending at its current levels while allowing for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

BUDGET TICK-TOCK

7:20 a.m.Joe Negron tells the Tampa Bay Times that budget talks have stalled. On the House’s continuation budget, Negron says: That’s not an offer. That’s the equivalent of packing your suitcase and moving out. It’s a reflexive and lazy response to our responsibility for budgeting.”

8:15 a.m.Jack Latvala doubles-down on Senate criticism of the House’s gamesmanship. Latvala says he thinks “we are witnessing Johnnie Byrd 2.0.

9:42 a.m.In a memo to other Senators, Negron says he “had never encountered” the term “continuation budget” in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations. Says he has “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

10:04 a.m. – @SteveBousquet: @richardcorcoran’s idea of a ‘continuation budget’ isn’t new. @FLGovScott floated the same idea two years ago

11:12 a.m. – @MaryEllenKlas: Clarifying @MyFLHouse use of ‘continuation budget,’ @RepCTrujillo says it’s ‘continuing government at this year’s levels responsibly’

12:49 p.m. – Florida House asks that “continuation budget” now be referred to as “standard operating budget.”

2:14 p.m. – @MichaelAuslen: Dem Leader @RepJanetCruz jumps into the budget fray, calling leadership’s impasse “pathetic and it’s below the level of competence.” More from Cruz: “Republican leadership in the House and Senate is failing the people of Florida. While House Democrats have been focused on and have filed legislation dealing with the real priorities of Floridians, Republican leadership in both chambers have spent their time this session on useless posturing and messaging towards higher office instead of addressing the pressing issues facing our state.

3:55 p.m. – Manny Diaz, House pre-K-12 education budget chairman, tells the Times/Herald: “Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that’s what we have to do and walk away, then that’s what we have to do.”

4:15 p.m. – Matt Dixon breaks the news on the House’s plan, via Twitter: “cmte will be voting on new budget tomorrow. It’s basically going to be current year budget – non-recurring member projects + LIP … This plan would fund nonrecurring member projects in House’s proposed budget. That plus LIP would make it not exact current year budget.”

4:55 p.m. – In a memo to House members, Speaker Corcoran writes that “we remain optimistic that we will reach budget consensus with the Senate. However, by considering this standard operating budget as a contingency, we would prevent an unnecessary government shutdown, protect the state’s future, and still enable us to fund new priorities in the future.”

5:25 p.m. – The House releases the text of PCB APC 17-06 – General Appropriations Act.

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RICK SCOTT SAYS HE WILL SIGN ‘UBER BILL’ via Florida PoliticsGov. Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. “I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott. The governor is in Argentina on a trade mission. Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

CONFIRMATION OF 4 AGENCY HEADS GOING TO SENATE FLOOR via The Associated Press –The Ethics and Elections Committee voted in support of the confirmations of Jeffrey Bragg as Secretary of Elderly Affairs, Dr. Celeste Philip as Surgeon General, Justin Senior as Secretary of Health Care Administration and Glenn Sutphin as Director of Department of Veterans Affairs. All four are expected to be approved by the full Senate.

GAMBLING DEAL MAY COME DOWN TO SLOTS QUESTION via Florida PoliticsSeeing it as the “lesser of various evils” to pass a gambling bill this year, the House may give in to the Senate’s position to legislatively approve new slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them, according to those familiar with the negotiations … What’s becoming clearer as the 2017 Legislative Session’s May 5th end looms is House leadership’s distress at recent court decisions, the practical effect of which is opening up more gambling opportunities without legislative say … “I think the House is fed up with it,” said (an) industry consultant, referring to gambling-related court decisions. “The only way they can get a handle on (gambling expansion) is to get a bill done, and if that means throwing in the towel on slots in referendum counties, that’s the lesser of the various evils.”

SENATE BUDGES LITTLE IN INITIAL GAMBLING NEGOTIATION via Florida PoliticsSaying he wanted to “start taking small steps,” state Sen. Bill Galvano on Monday tendered the first offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year. The initial tender, though it largely maintains what’s in the Senate’s bill, also would classify contentious “pre-reveal” games as slot machines, and would limit two new slots facilities to either Broward or Miami-Dade counties … The Senate offer also would give the state more time, up to two years, to address any future violation of blackjack exclusivity brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida with a legislative fix. That also was addressed to court rulings that create such “violations.”

‘RESTRICTIVE’ MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROPOSAL HEADED TO HOUSE FLOOR via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The House Committee on Health and Human Services passed the proposal, HB 1397, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues by a vote of 14-4. Pro-medical marijuana activists see the measure as a big step in the wrong direction for regulating medical cannabis in the Sunshine State and have routinely criticized the House proposal to regulate the state’s booming medical marijuana industry. The bill would create many limitations on medical pot in Florida and has been criticized by patients and advocates for being far too rigid to provide relief to so many suffering Floridians. Not only would smokable cannabis be banned, but patients would also be barred from buying more than a 90-day supply of marijuana, edibles would be off-limits and “vaping” would only be allowed for terminal patients.

AFP-FL URGES SENATE TO KEEP INCENTIVES OUT OF TRIMUPH GULF COAST BILL via SaintPetersBlog — A Northwest Florida Republican plans to amend the Senate’s version of a bill to send millions of dollars to the Panhandle communities impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill to allow money to be spent on economic incentives. The Panama City News Herald reported this weekend that Sen. George Gainer said he plans to file an amendment to the bill (SB 364) so that it allows funds to be spent on economic incentives for companies in the region that provide high paying jobs. In a statement Monday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida state director Chris Hudson said the Senate would be wrong to “direct disaster relief money towards incentives.”“That money should be used to help ensure the Panhandle’s affected natural resources, beautiful beaches, and critical infrastructure needs are addressed. Handing that money over to a few select private companies is another form of corporate welfare and is wrong,” said Hudson. “We call on Senator Gainer to not file his amendment and vote on the house bill as it stands. He should put the Gulf Coast ahead of politics and not kill this bill over corporate welfare.”

HOUSE BILL ON TESTING BECOMES LATEST EDUCATION TRAIN via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Like its counterpart in the Senate, the Florida House bill on state testing — once 8 pages long — has become its chamber’s vehicle to push forward a patchwork of education policy initiatives found in a variety of other measures working their way through the legislative process. HB 773 … would balloon to 76 pages with a strike-all amendment filed over the weekend by sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz. If adopted, the proposal would include much of the original language, plus provisions added into HB 549 last week. Those included the elimination of the Algebra II end-of-course exam, a return to paper-based testing for third through sixth grades, a move of the state testing window, and the publication of certain state tests, among other items. The items in the House bill do not match the Senate bill, which includes such ideas as mandatory daily elementary school recess, the elimination of more end-of-course exams and deletion of the VAM requirement on teacher evaluations.

HOUSE COMMERCE COMMITTEE OK’S BILL TO HELP 5G COME TO FLORIDA — The committee voted 25-2 for the bill (HB 687), sponsored by Rep. Mike LaRosa, which establishes statewide rates, terms and conditions under which wireless providers can install wireless infrastructure to bring 5G capability to Florida. “By deploying uniform small cell technology across the Sunshine State, our local communities will be able to be a part of the smart cities revolution, advancing not only our wireless network speeds but the ability to attract innovative, technologically advanced companies to Florida,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, in a statement. “HB 687, which is now ready to be taken up by the full House, is the answer to autonomous vehicles, instantaneous wireless speeds and smart cities becoming a reality for Floridians.” The bill now heads to the floor. A similar Senate bill (SB 596) by Sen. Travis Hutson could be taken up by the full Senate in the coming days.

BEER ADVERTISING BILL CLEARED FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Florida Politics A House bill that would have allowed “advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks morphed into a measure that allows “brand naming agreements.” What “brand naming agreements” are, however, isn’t defined in the bill (HB 423). “I’ll bet you your definition and my definition are two different things,” sponsor Rep. La Rosa told the Commerce Committee, which cleared the bill for the full House on a 17-9 vote after no debate.

FLORIDA FOREVER BILL COULD AFFECT EVERGLADES RESERVOIR PLAN via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – A bill that looks to “un-muddy” the mission of Florida’s main environmental land acquisition program could potentially affect the plan for an Everglades reservoir. A House bill brought by Rep. Matt Caldwell … was passed unanimously by a House panel. Caldwell wants to alter what projects are eligible for money under the Florida Forever Program and put more money into land conservation. But the measure would also remove funding allocations for acquisitions on water management districts’ priority lists. This could hinder Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan to build a $1.2 billion reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee … Senate Bill 10 would direct the South Florida Management District to find land for the reservoir system. Caldwell’s bill could prevent the South Florida Management District from using bonding for the reservoir project. House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports the Florida Forever bill.

HOUSE FORMS FIRST-EVER LEGISLATIVE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith elected as its first chair … state Rep. Amy Mercado vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo as clerk. Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio, Lori Berman, Daisy Baez, John Cortes, Nicholas Duran, Joseph Gellar, Evan Jenne, Barrington Russell, Sean Shaw, Emily Slosberg, Richard Stark and Clovis Watson.

TAMPA BAY AREA BUSINESS LEADERS LOBBY ON CONTENTIOUS TRANSIT BILL via Richard Danielson and Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times – More than a dozen top business local executives went to Tallahassee with an appeal in the days following last week’s political showdown between three GOP senators from Tampa Bay over a regional transit bill. But the delegation arrived just a day after Sen. Jack Latvala watched in frustration as fellow Republican senators Jeff Brandes and Tom Lee amended his bill to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) during a tense meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee. As approved April 17 by the committee, which Lee chairs, the amendment would require legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and would prohibit the authority from spending money to push for light rail in a voter referendum. The changes are seen as a serious blow to the independence of the authority. “The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” [nonprofit Tampa Bay] partnership president Rick Homans said. The group’s original agenda was to support a four-part policy agenda, which included Latvala’s transit bill as well as ride-sharing legislation, the creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization and money for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion project. The group still covered all four topics, but put special emphasis on the TBARTA bill … several members of the business delegation said they hoped the session would end with some form of the transit bill.

MIAMI-DADE AIRPORT DEVELOPMENT FIGHT TUCKED IN SENATE’S $85B BUDGET via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The money was requested by former state Sen. Frank Artiles … to help build a pump station as part of a much larger development being spearheaded by AA Acquisitions at the Miami-Opa-Locka Executive Airport, which is owned by the county. The company is developing a business aviation park on county-owned property. The $1 million is a small slice of a larger privately-financed development, but has been at the center of an argument between the Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade County, which has not responded to recent requests for updates from FDOT as lawmakers work to finalize the budget. The project is part of a boom in construction at the airport spurred by increased traffic from wealthy jet owners, according to the Miami Herald. “In part, the airport’s growing popularity is due to the increasing number of celebrities, hedge-fund investors and wealthy international visitors,” the newspaper reported in 2014.

*** The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

DAY 50 RULE CHANGES —Under Senate rules, after the 50th day, which is Tuesday, notices shall be provided four hours in advance of a meeting. However, Senate rules also states that unless approved by the President, no committee shall meet after the 50th day of the regular session, except the Rules Committee. The House doesn’t have a similar rule, but traditionally holding committee meetings then as well. After the 45th day, which was April 20, the House meeting notices shall be provided no later than 4:30 p.m. on the day before the committee or subcommittee meeting. That includes Saturdays, Sundays, and official state holidays.

HAPPENING TODAY — DIVE-IN-DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Take a break and enjoy the sea. No, really: It’s Dive-in-Day at the Florida Capitol. The event, hosted by the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association in partnership with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, is meant to promote scuba diving. This year the event will feature an interactive mobile aquarium featuring lionfish, vendors and dive shops, educational opportunities, and free giveaways. Hungry? They will be serving fresh samples of Florida-caught lionfish at noon.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up a massive agenda when it meets at 9 a.m. in 412 Knott. On the agenda: A bill (SB 512) to prohibit the injection of anabolic steroids in racing greyhounds; a bill (SB 808) to tweak the voter-approved maximum class-size amendment; and several claims bills (SB 38 and SB 50).The committee will also discuss a bill (SB 406) dealing with the implementation of the state’s 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, the last stop before the bill heads to the Senate floor. The Senate Rules Committee will take up dozens of bills — including one dealing with the apology to victims of the Dozier School for Boys — when it meets at 2 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The House Appropriations Committee will meet to discuss its so-called “standard operating budget” at 8 a.m. in 212 Knott.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: House Democrats will hold a caucus meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the House Democratic Office, Room 316 in the Capitol.

GIVE CAPUTO MY REGARDS: POLITICO Florida will host a meet-and-greet with bureau chief Matt Dixon, Florida Playbook author Marc Caputo, and reporters Jessica Bakeman, Christine Sexton, Bruce Ritchie, and Daniel Ducassi at 5 p.m. at Township Tallahassee, 619 Woodward Avenue in Tallahassee.

***Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are hired by Florida employers, unions, and public programs to negotiate rebates and discounts from drug companies. This is one way PBMs help keep the growth in actual prescription drug spending in the low single digits despite massive price hikes by some drug manufacturers. In Florida, PBMs will save $43.4 billion over the next ten years. Learn more at DrugBenefitSolutions.com.***

CLIMATE CHANGE POSES ‘NIGHTMARE SCENARIO’ FOR FLORIDA COAST, BLOOMBERG WARNS via Joe Romm of ThinkProgress.org – “Pessimists selling to optimists.” That’s how one former Florida coastal property owner describes the current state of the market in a must-read Bloomberg story. Right now, science and politics don’t favor the optimists. The disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is speeding up, providing increasing evidence we are headed for the worst-case scenario of sea level rise — three to 6 feet (or more) by 2100. The impacts are already visible in South Florida. “Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock,” explains Bloomberg. “Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply.” Faster sea level rise and less adaptation means the day of reckoning is nigh. Dan Kipnis, chair of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority — who has failed to find a buyer for his Miami Beach home for nearly a year — told Bloomberg, “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is.”

SFWMD TO FACEBOOK LIVE WEIGH-IN OF 50th PYTHON ELIMINATED via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – SFWMD will broadcast the weigh-in … through the District’s new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sfwmd at 11 a.m. … The weigh-in “event” is actually taking place at the SFWMD Homestead Field Station located at 2195 NE 8th St. in Homestead … Python Hunter Dustin Crum of Myakka City captured a 14-foot python for the 50th snake eliminated. Hunter Patrick Campbell of St. Johns County holds the record for the largest snake caught through the Python Elimination Program at 15 feet 10 inches. Hunter Michael Valcare of Miami has captured the most snakes so far, eight, netting $1,375 in bounties. Jamison Meyerof Cutler Bay has captured seven snakes and pocketed $1,200 in bounties. The pilot program began March 25 and will run until June 1.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FORMER REP. JEFF MILLER JOINS LOBBYING FIRM IN WASHINGTON via Ledyard King of the Pensacola News-Journal – The former Republican chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represented Northwest Florida for nearly 16 years, is joining McDermott Will & Emery as a “senior legislative adviser” in the firm’s Government Strategies group. Aside from health care issues focused on veterans, Miller said he’ll also be working in other areas he was involved in during his time on Capitol Hill including defense and agriculture. “And there are numerous people that the company already represents that I will aid in policy work as well,” he said in an interview. The firm, a large law practice with offices across the country and abroad, earned more than $3.4 million in lobbying income last year … Its list of clients in 2016 included Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Diabetes Access to Care Coalition, Mayo Clinic and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

PERSONNEL NOTE: SARAH REVELL JOINS FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF STATE via Florida PoliticsRevell’s first day as the department’s new communications director was Monday. She was formerly the Media and Marketing Manager for the Florida Department of Health. Before that, Revell was an account manager at Tallahassee’s CoreMessage PR firm and was Chief of Staff to First Lady Ann Scott. She got her undergraduate degree in public relations from Florida State University.

SPOTTED: Team Jax – Lenny and Molly Curry, Brian Hughes and Rachel Perrin RogersTim and Jessica Baker – as well as Andrew Wiggins and Laura Lenhart at the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, celebrating the passage of Curry’s historic pension reform plan for Jacksonville.

SPOTTED: At the wedding of Tom Alte and Meagan Salisbury Saturday – attorney Johnny Bardine; State Rep. Ben & Christina Diamond (who now works for Sen. Bill Nelson); pollster Tom Eldon; Cesar Fernandez of Uber; John Fox of the Florida Justice Association; Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman; St. Pete Council Chair Darden Rice; media consultant John Rowley and State Rep. Sean Shaw.

STOP STEALING OUR VIDEO, FLORIDA CHANNEL SAYS via Florida PoliticsThe Florida Channel wants you … to stop stealing its videos. A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!” It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.” Florida Channel executive director Beth Switzer on Monday explained the “terms of use” reminder was sparked by the “increasing number of people stealing (videos) for advocacy purposes.”

FOR SERIES ON RISING GUN ACCIDENTS AMONG FLORIDA KIDS, FAMILIES’ STORIES BRING DATA TO LIFE via USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism – On average, a child in Florida was shot every 17 hours. We combed the data for trends. … The data alone told an important story. We were the only ones who had it. The state Department of Law Enforcement doesn’t know how many gun incidents involve children. And the Florida Department of Health doesn’t publish detailed statistics on the issue. But in order to truly explain the toll, we needed people who had experienced it firsthand. Finding sources wasn’t easy. We started by combing through news clips from across the state. We identified children who had been shot in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, and reached out to their parents. In some cases, the parents were willing to talk me. But for every one parent that invited me over, another four rejected me or didn’t return my calls. The takeaway: While it was important to quantify how many kids in Florida were hurt and killed by firearms annually — and to help readers understand why it was happening — it was just as important to show what the trend has meant for real people.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, a recap of Miami GOP Sen. Frank Artiles use of racial slurs and other controversies leading to his resignation. Jacksonville Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell was first to probe and shine a spotlight on the private conversation at the members-only Governors Club. Gomes and Mitchell chronicle the bipartisan outrage following Artiles’ use of the N-word and other derogatory terms. Plus, Philip Singleton, also known as the Hip Hop Lobbyist explains why the harshest racial slur in American English is a mainstay in pop culture.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. David Richardson, consultant Tom Alte, Kristin Lamb, and progressive activist Susan Smith.

Sunburn for 4.24.17 – Drinking from a firehose

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

DRINKING FROM A FIREHOUSE 

From wildfires burning throughout the state to the smoldering embers of Frank Artiles‘ political career and from the soon to ignite race to be Florida’s governor to the white hot last two weeks (maybe) of the 2017 Legislative Session, attempting to keep up with all that is going on in Florida politics is like, well, drinking from a firehose.

As dangerous as wildfires are — just ask our reporter, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster who lives in one of the areas recommended for evacuation — it’s probably L’affaire Artiles which will have the most immediate effect on state affairs. Not because Artiles’ resignation has any real-world or real-time impact on the government, but because the distraction it caused/is causing knocked the Legislature way off schedule.

Right now, with the Session ending on May 5, the House and Senate do not seem at all on track to pass a budget on time and Sine Die. The conferencing needed to reconcile the budget and other legislation has yet to take place (the prospect of passing a gambling bill, while some key lobbyists says is still possible, seems to be one of the primary victims of the lost time). The conventional wisdom setting into place in Tallahassee is that Session will conclude next week, but with writing a budget tabled for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, almost all of the major policy issues and food fights remain up in the air. From whether to fund Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida to how to implement Amendment 2, it’s unclear which way these issues will move.

This begs the questions, if a budget is not passed before May 5 and the Legislature comes back in mid-May to early June to write one, but it’s then vetoed by Governor Rick Scott because it zeroes out EFI and/or VF, can you imagine the pressure cooker it will be by mid-June as the House and Senate scramble to override the governor’s veto or write a second budget?

Speaking of the governor…

GOV. SCOTT DELAYS TRIP TO ARGENTINA DUE TO WILDFIRES via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Scott was scheduled to leave late Saturday for a five-day trip to Buenos Aires. A final decision has not yet been made on whether to cancel the trip completely. The governor has been monitoring the wildfires and visited one site in southwest Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott tours wildfire damage in Lehigh Acres.

— “Local investment in public safety communications infrastructure pay off during Florida disasters” via Florida Politics

BREAKING LAST SUNDAY NIGHT: Scott left for Argentina, per Fineout.

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— EPILOGUE TO L’AFFAIRE ARTILES — 

HOOTERS ‘CALENDAR GIRL’ AND PLAYBOY ‘MISS SOCIAL’ WERE ARTILES’ PAID CONSULTANTS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The long list of expenditures filed with the Florida Division of Elections by Artiles’ political committee, Veterans for Conservative Principles, also raised some questions. Why did the committee hire a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants?” Were the payments related to a trip to the Kentucky Derby or a fishing tournament in Key West? What was the more than $51,000 in reimbursements to Artiles for? Heather Thomas, a former Hooters calendar girl and waitress at 101, a restaurant and bar in Tallahassee, was paid $2,000 between March and June of last year. The expense report lists the purpose as “consultant.” Her friend, Brittney Singletary, is a waitress at Stetsons on the Moon in Tallahassee. She was paid $1,500 with three checks covering three of the same dates and listing the same purpose.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE, contra the narrative some in the media, like Michael Van Sickler suggest, that Artiles could have survived sans the Klas story. That’s not true. Senate leadership had and has more on Artiles than what Klas reported and some of what they had was shared with Artiles, which is part of the reason why he really resigned — not because Klas was working on this story.

AS ARTILES LOST SUPPORT IN STATE SENATE, BILL GALVANO HELPED BROKER RESIGNATION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – (I)t was Galvano who was tasked with dealing with the backlash that ultimately led to Artiles to issue a statement announcing his resignation Friday morning. “I did meet with him last night [Thursday],” Galvano (said). “What was said between the two of us was personal.”

THIS IS ALL ADAM SMITH COULD COME UP WITH WHEN WRITING ABOUT ARTILES? (Plus Franco Ripple wrote the exact same thing earlier) Here’s Smith’s Loser of the Week note.

DWIGHT BULLARD CONSIDERING RUNNING FOR ARTILES’ SEAT via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – … “I’d be lying if I said interest wasn’t there, but I still need time to process it all and make a final decision,” said Bullard, a Miami public school teacher who lost in the Democratic-leaning district last fall. He said it’s ironic that the Republican has now stepped down under pressure from his black Senate colleagues, who were upset about his use of a slang version of the “N-word” to refer to white members of the GOP conference in the presence of two black senators. “That same community that he chose to ignore are the ones who led to his demise,” Bullard said. “That should resonate with anyone thinking about running for the seat, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

— “Replacing Artiles: Who’s in and who’s out” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

SUNBURN FACT OF LIFE: There could be no bigger mistake in the SD 40 special election than for the Florida Democrats to go back to Dwight Bullard. What does it say about Bullard that he lost to someone like Artiles in the first place?

TWEET, TWEET: @SLRoss528: The concerns regarding his (Bullard’s) association with terrorists have not gone away

MORE TROUBLES FOR THE SOUTH FLORIDA CREW – ERIK FRESEN TO PLEAD GUILTY FOR FAILING TO FILE TAX RETURN ON $270K via Jay Weaver of the Miami HeraldFresen, a former Republican state representative from Miami-Dade, plans to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return on income of $270,136 in 2011 while he was serving in the Legislature and working as a land-use consultant. Fresen, 40, who was term-limited in 2016 after serving eight years as a legislator in a district stretching from West Miami to Cutler Bay, was charged in Miami federal court this week. That paved the way for his planned guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. Fresen could face from probation up to one year in prison.

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 3; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 11; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 11; MLB All-Star Game – 77 FSU vs. Alabama football game – 130; Election Day 2017 – 196; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 234; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 258.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

— THE LATEST ON LEGISLATIVE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS —

THE HOUSE’S SIDE OF THE STORY via @SaintPetersBlog on Twitter: Negotiators for @MyFLHouse say they were willing to meet @FLSenate halfway; up from appx. $81.2 bil to $83.179 bil. … Obviously, that’s almost $2 billion more than @MyFLHouse originally wanted to spend. …. Another concern of House is Senate’s willingness to play fast with out-year budgets. … House insiders point out that when he was Aprops Chair, @JoeNegronFL was very worried about out-year deficits, now not so much.

THE SENATE’S SIDE OF THE STORY via Fineout on Twitter: After a week of negotiations @JackLatvala says there is still no deal. Lack of deal led House to propose continuation budget … says Senate isn’t quite sure how a “continuation” budget would work. Calls it a DC term … says the House & Senate did trade a couple of offers, inc a comprehensive 1 from House last week … says there is still opportunity to reach a budget deal this session. Need to reach deal on allocations by Tuesday … Irony of @MyFLHouse @ @richardcorcoran proposing continuation budget is that it would keep some funding for @EnterpriseFL & @VISITFLORIDA

PROBABLY BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY but it’s behind a paywall: “House, Senate make no progress over weekend on bridging $4 billion gap via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

KEY BUDGET QUOTES:

Richard Corcoran: “There’s no end to the Senate’s liberalism.” Jack Latvala: “We put things on sheets of paper, side-by-side, and it was I’d say for the most part roughly 2-to-1 in their favor.”

COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Education Committee will discuss a bill (HB 773) that would tweak the state’s standardized-testing requirements when it meets at 2 p.m. in Reed Hall. The House Health & Human Services Committee will discuss its version of the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment implementing bill (HB 1397) when it meets at 2 p.m. in Morris Hall. The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets at 3 p.m. to discuss a bill (HB 7007) to revamp the health insurance plan for state employees. The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee will hold several confirmation hearings, including Surgeon General Celeste Philip, when it meets at 5 p.m. in 412 Knott.

— “Proposed House committee bill would reset land-buying funding formula as chairman makes push” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

GAMBLING CONFERENCE COULD MEET THIS WEEK via Florida Politics – A notice last Thursday said: “The Conference Committee on Gaming … will not meet before Monday, April 24.” A Supreme Court decision approving the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot threw a wrench into the works, vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said last week. He said conference chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano wanted to make sure the amendment, which would give voters power to OK or veto new casino gambling, “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer,” Diaz said. The House and Senate are a gulf apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games, including approving slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them.

TWEET, TWEET: @Aglorios: Florida Legislature’s gambling conference meets on Monday at 1:30 pm.

EDITORIAL: LAWMAKERS IN HOUSE SHOULDN’T SQUANDER BEST CHANCE YET TO HELP THE EVERGLADES via the Miami Herald – The Florida Senate gets it. As a result, Senate lawmakers have passed one of the most carefully crafted bills yet to ensure the health of the Everglades. As environmentalists, water-dependent businesses, economists and tourists know, so much depends upon the health of the River of Grass, including South Floridians’ access to clean water, the state’s economic vitality, indeed, the well-being of the state itself … Florida desperately needs a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. For too long, the state has blithely allowed water released from the lake to flow to the coasts, and out to sea, an unconscionable waste of this precious resource … pollutants in that water have created massive algae blooms that, literally, have raised a stink in estuaries and along beaches, threatening to ruin the entire ecosystem around Lake O and the Everglades. The reservoir will serve two vital purposes. First, it will store the billions of gallons of water currently being sent to the coasts. Second, it will feed needed water to the Everglades to keep them hydrated.

BUSINESS RENT TAX CUTS STILL IN PLAY IN HOUSE, SENATE FOR 2017 via Florida Politics – Florida’s business rent tax is one of the outstanding issues at play as lawmakers crawl toward sine die of the 2017 Legislative Session. Included in the House’s tax package is HB 7109, a reduction of the business rent tax – lowering it from 6 percent to 4.5 percent for two years. If approved, the tax cut would begin January 1, 2018, and then supporting a permanent tax rate reduction from 6 percent to 5.5 percent beginning January 1, 2020. HB 7109 is on the House’s Special Order Calendar. While the Senate has not yet put together a package, there are two bills in the upper chamber that seeks to give businesses a break … SB 704 seeks to provide tenants with relief from the Florida’s “double taxation” – a “tax on tax” that occurs when tenants pay property taxes for property owners. SB 484 … would reduce the state sales tax rate that is charged on commercial leases from 6 percent to 5 percent.

HOME RULE OR LOCK DOWN? That is the question hanging over the rapidly moving, not moving, moving again vacation rental bills (HB 425/SB 188) that are up in their final committees this week: House Commerce and Senate Rules. So what will it be? Behind Door A, we have a watered down vacation rental bill that pretty much does nothing, allowing local governments to keep some local control if they had rules in place pre-2011 – aka home rule prevails. And behind Door B, we have a very aggressive preemption bill, similar to the old Greg Steube bill, that has picked up speed and is moving through the process that would put a lock on local governments’ control of vacation rentals. It will be interesting to see which vacation rental bill will be the last one standing, if any at all…are lawmakers so far apart on this with the recent amendment actions by Sen. Jeff Brandes that this issue will end up seeing the light of another session?

— “When Airbnb goes wrong: A Miami story” via David Smiley of the Associated Press

IS THIS ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ LAST HURRAH FOR 2017? via Florida Politics – A measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week. The House will consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81) on Tuesday, records show, after postponing it twice in recent weeks … The latest holdup came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said it would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where hard booze is sold.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – SITE SELECTORS ISSUE WARNING TO STATE ECONOMY IF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IS CUT via Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times – A pair of site selection experts hired by Pinellas County this year to give an unvarnished look at the high-density county’s challenging prospects for economic development and better wages offered up the good, the bad — and a warning. If Florida or the Tampa Bay region’s economic development organizations fail to provide traditional marketing or support to corporate projects recruited to this market, there will be a painful price in lost jobs and investment paid by the area economy. That includes Pinellas County, warned Josh Bays, a principal with the Dallas economic development consulting firm Site Selection Group. “It scares me to death,” Bays said of the potential loss of backing by Enterprise Florida at the state level and the Tampa Bay Partnership at the regional level.

FCTA CAPITAL DATELINE TALKS FINAL WEEKS OF 2017 LEGISLATIVE SESSION — FCTA President Brad Swason talks with EEM President Peter Schorsch, The Capitolist Publisher Brian Burgess, POLITICO Florida Bureau Chief Matt Dixon, and Rotunda host Trimmel Gomes about their inside perspectives on the state of affairs in the Florida Capitol as the 2017 legislative session nears its finish. What are the must-wins for the Speaker, Senate President and Governor? What bills are on life support? Who are the biggest winners and losers this year? These insiders tackle all the latest in this episode of The Pundits: Digital Media Edition on Capital Dateline.

YOU HAVE TO LOVE THIS QUOTE ABOUT JOE GRUTERS FROM JOE GRUTERS: “People may say Joe’s doing what’s in the best interest of Joe. Of course I am because I’m trying to get the best deal for our community.” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

*** The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

ETHICS COMMISSION BUCKS LEGISLATIVE LEADERS’ ASSERTION OF AUTHORITY via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The panel agreed to back Chairman Matthew Carlucci in rejecting a “delegation of authority” issued March 21 by Speaker Corcoran and PresidentNegron. Carlucci was sure the leaders’ intentions were “noble,” and that “these are good people,” he said. Still, “as long as the Legislature stays involved with any kind of delegation or perception of a delegation that they can deliver to us, there will always, in my opinion, be a conflict of interest inherently. And particularly on our investigators and their support teams,” Carlucci said. “Because when we have to occasionally investigate members of the House or the Senate, and there’s a perception that they have some control, that is a conflict of interest.”

WEXFORD RESPONDS TO DOC’S CANCELLATION OF HEALTH CARE CONTRACT via Florida Politics – In a lengthy press release, the Pittsburgh-based private health care provider took issue with the department’s criticism of its performance: “Wexford Health Sources disagrees with the assessment of the Correctional Medical Authority regarding the treatment provided to a small number of inmates at the South Florida Reception Center. More significantly, we take strong exception to the idea that this limited number of cases—involving patients who were already experiencing significant psychiatric challenges before they ever entered our care—should serve as the basis for termination of our contract with the State of Florida … there was nothing in the treatment of these inmates that should, or could, justify contract termination.” Wexford Health President CEO Dan Conn summed up the situation: “Wexford Health’s culture is one of transparency. We have always been open and direct with the Department about our performance. In fact, the Department has consistently complemented us on our performance and partnership.”

***From negotiating rebates and discounts from drug companies and drugstores to reducing waste and offering services like home delivery of medicines, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) use a number of tools to reduce drug costs and improve quality. In Florida, PBMs will save $43.4 billion over 10 years.***

TWO DEMOCRATS STAND OUT IN GOVERNOR RACE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – Four of the five top contenders for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination spoke to voters in Tampa Bay … Two stood out: Andrew Gillum … and John Morgan … Democrats need a nominee who will take a progressive agenda to every corner of the Sunshine State, [Gillum] said, including the conservative Panhandle, where Floridian families struggle to make ends meet and vent over high-stakes testing in schools just like elsewhere in Florida. Morgan … “Write down one thing that Tallahassee has ever done to make your life better.” Priorities: Raise the minimum wage, reform Florida drug laws, rein in public education money flowing to privately operated charter schools. Delivery: A. He is funny and smart, a non-politician with a clear, simple, gutsy agenda. The big question: Will Morgan run? He sounded like it Friday.

DEJA VU: “Gwen Graham close to announcing she’s running for Governor” via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

JOHN MORGAN: I WAS NOT DRUNK THAT NIGHT AT BOOTS N BUCKLES via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – … “First of all, I was not drunk when I was on that video,” said Morgan, laughing off the question and explaining that he had had two drinks at Outback before that video was filed. “I guess if I use the f-word, f-bombs, people think I’m drunk. If that’s the case, I’m drunk every damn day of my life. … When I got on my bus to go back to my beach house, I got drunk. And when I got to my beach house, I got drunker. But I was not drunk at Boots N Buckles. But I do love Boots N Buckles it will be in my heart forever.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win.” — Charlie Crist, recounting a conversation he had with Morgan to Jim DeFede on “Facing South Florida.”

ANDREW GILLUM’S ‘GRAY AREA’: EMAILS REVEAL A MAYOR’S OFFICE ENTANGLED IN PROFESSIONAL AND POLITICAL WORK via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat– Weeks before Tallahassee Mayor Gillum announced he was running for Governor, he sent Neera Tanden an email thanking her for her work on the Hillary Clinton campaign. But something else was on his mind … that he wanted to discuss with Tanden, former policy director for President Barack Obama and the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy research center. From his campaign account <andrew@andrewgillum.com> Gillum wrote: “I was hoping that you and I could find the time to connect by phone or in person soon. I saw that you may have waded into the Florida Gubernatorial Primary in support of Gwen Graham, and I wanted the opportunity to discuss that race with you before too much time passes.” Using another email address, andrewgillum2012@gmail.com, Gillum cc’d subsequent emails from Tanden to his assistant at City Hall, Angie Whitaker (angela.whitaker@talgov.com). Whitaker asked what “the preferred number that Mayor Gillum should call to connect with Ms. Tanden Tuesday, February 14 @ 12:30pm?  Thank you.”

PAT NEAL: EASY TO SEE WHY HE COULD BE FLORIDA’S NEXT CFO via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – It took me less than five minutes with Neal over a cup of coffee at the Doubletree in Tallahassee to see why he and Gov. Scott are such good friends. And it isn’t because Neal, 68, has been a champion fundraiser for the governor, though he’s certainly been all that. Scott and the Bradenton homebuilder are cut from the same cloth. They speak the same language. No wonder political insiders — not all of them but some of them — float Neal’s name as the leading candidate for chief financial officer when Jeff Atwater leaves the post. “Providing jobs for Floridians … what higher a calling could there be for a leader in Florida?” Neal asked. Does that sound like anybody else we know?

CORRINE BROWN’S TRIAL FEATURES BIG-NAME WITNESSES TO TEST CHARGES via Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-UnionBrown will stand alone and defiant this week when she faces fraud and tax charges that could put her in prison, effectively for the rest of her life. The aide who watched her back for a quarter-century will be a witness for the prosecution that accuses the flamboyant Democratic power broker of cashing in on donations she steered to a bogus charity, One Door for Education … witness lists that both sides go a long way to … give people an idea of whom to watch as the case unfolds. Still, it’s easy to lose track. Between them, the lists include three members of Congress, about a dozen business executives, plus college presidents, local politicians, assorted Jacksonville movers and shakers, and the son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. The prosecution’s witness list includes Tandy Bondi, the granddaughter of former Gov. Lawton Chiles and sister-in-law of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

— “In Corrine Brown’s trial, a chapter of Jacksonville history will be written” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

A.G. GANCARSKI WILL BE LIVE-BLOGGING BROWN’S TRIAL; once it starts, you can follow along by clicking here.

TWINE NOOSE LOWLIGHTS HATE BEING SENT ARAMIS AYALA’S WAY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A twine noose taped to a postcard and nasty comments sent in the mail and via social media are showing racist hatred Orlando’s State Attorney Ayala is receiving as she battles in court with Gov. Scott over whether she has the power to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions. The twine noose was discovered attached to a card inside an envelope mailed to her office, one of two racist-material and potentially threatening mailings that her office has reported to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office recently.

BALLARD, INC. via Fredreka Schouten and Maureen Groppe of USA TODAY – Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to Trump and Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration … Brian Ballard … appears to lead the pack, signing up 20 federal clients since opening his Washington lobbying operation this year. His company, Ballard Partners, has earned more than $1.1 million in a three-month period, new lobbying reports show. Ballard is one of more than a dozen White House allies launching new firms, taking new jobs in lobbying firms or signing up new clients this year as companies and other interests look for ways to shape policy in the Trump administration …

— “Ballard Partners’ latest federal signing: The ruling party of Albania” via Florida Politics

TWEET, TWEET:

SPOTTED at the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists FAPL-tini reception – Alex Alvarado; Rep. Daisy Baez; Rivers H. Buford, Director of Government Relations, American Heart Association; Candice Ericks, President, TSE Consulting; Dawn Faherty (from Rep. Don Hahnfeldt‘s office); Edgar Fernandez, Partner, Anfield Consulting; Susan Goldstein, President, Susan Goldstein Consulting; Suzanne Goss, Jacksonville Electric Authority; Mike Hightower, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Jacksonville Electric Authority; Lauren Jackson, Principal, Ericks Consultants; Mark Landreth; Dave Mica, Executive Director, Florida Petroleum Council; Samantha Saxton; Brad Swanson; Doug Wheeler, President & CEO, Florida Ports Council; Larry Williams; Victoria Zepp, President Clarity1st Consulting.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: IAP Worldwide Services

Melanie Brown, Johnson & Blanton: Seaworld Parks and Entertainment

Joseph Sazverg, GrayRobinson: Petainer Manufacturing USA Inc

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Informatica Corporation

Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yeager, One Eighty Consulting: Centrify

FOR #MONDAYMOTIVATION, SEE VOLUNTEER FLORIDA’S #30UNDER30 – Make sure to check out Volunteer Florida’s  #30Under30 initiative, which recognizes an under-30 volunteer every day throughout the month of April.  #30Under30 features emerging student leaders and accomplished volunteers like PIFF’s Samantha Sexton and the Florida Justice Association’s G.C. Murray. Click here to see all of the #30Under30 volunteers to date!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Sen. Randolph BracyBrian Hughes‘ better half, the wonderful Rachel Perrin Rogers, as well as our friend in Alabama, Apryl Marie Fogel, the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Janelle Irwin, Moffitt Cancer Center’s Laura Lenhart, Mary Ellen Upton, Mr. Florida Ports Doug Wheeler and our own Andrew Wilson. Celebrating today is HD 66 candidate Berny Jacques, our friend St. Pete City Councilman Ed Montanari, and Amanda Stewart.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Richard Corcoran’s ‘sea of troubles’

Richard Corcoran says he loves Gov. Rick Scott “to death,” but is getting weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s taken from him over the last couple of months.  

It’s the continuing battle over VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, which the House speaker still believes needs to be reined in and starved of money.

His proposed spending plan reduces the state portion of its budget to $25 million for next year. Scott wants $100 million.

“I’ve been told I hate beaches, I hate visitors, I hate hotels, I hate tourists, because I’m not adequately funding VISIT FLORIDA,” he told reporters this week, smiling.

“I think the Governor ought to go through (its expenses), like we have, and (you should) ask him, ‘Was Pitbull a good expenditure?’ And if it wasn’t, let’s take it off the ledger,” he said.

Speaker Corcoran told reporters this week he loves the governor to death, but has grown weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s thrown at him over Visit Florida spending this year

Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“OK, so there’s a million off the ledger from last year,” Corcoran said. Next, he questioned whether another promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million was worthy.

“And if it wasn’t, let’s take that $12 million off. And then you get to a number that at least everyone can recognize and say was a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

As to the budget negotiations overall with the Senate, “I still hold out that it’s going to go well.” So keep hope alive for a Cinco de Mayo Sine Die.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Shame, shame, shame — Sen. Frank Artiles found himself in hot water this week and then resigned after he used a racial slur during a private after-hours conversation with Sens. Perry Thurston and Audrey Gibson Monday night. The Miami-area Republican took to the floor to issue a three-minute formal apology at the direction of Senate President Joe Negron, who stripped him of his committee chairmanship. Several groups called on Artiles to resign, and Thurston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, filed a complaint to remove Artiles from the Senate, now moot. But Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto found the complaint had merit, and appointed Dawn Roberts, the chamber’s top lawyer, to investigate it. What she found we’ll never know; it’s “work product” and not public.

Über victory — It took four years, but a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft is heading to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration. The Senate voted 36-1 (only Jack Latvala opposed it) this week to approve the measure, two weeks after the House voted unanimously to support the bill. The proposal — which was backed by Uber and Lyft — creates minimum insurance standards, requires third-party background checks, and preempts local governments from regulating transportation network companies. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs.

Team Uber celebrates after the vote.

Water love — A plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb discharges gained a big-name backer this week. While Gov. Scott said he supported Senate President Negron’s proposal to build a reservoir on up to 31,000 acres of state land, he stopped short of saying whether he supported the current version of the bill. Scott also he wanted lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget to help the federal government finish strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022. On Wednesday, Scott met with President Donald Trump and said the president committed his administration would help provide the resources to fix the dike. “President Trump is clearly focused on protecting Florida’s environment and investing in our infrastructure,” said Scott in a statement. “I want to thank him for partnering with us to solve the water issues around Lake Okeechobee by fixing the dike.”

Not giving up — Speaking of the governor, the Naples Republican isn’t giving up hope that the Florida Legislature will pour money into Visit Florida. The governor held a press conference this week to call on state lawmakers to bump up spending funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency to $100 million for 2017-18. The governor’s call for more cash for came for a week after the federal government said it would send the state $1.5 billion for hospitals. But Scott’s request may fall on deaf ears, since the House and Senate have already passed their respective budgets that spend significantly less on Visit Florida. The Senate proposal sets aside $76 million, while the House wants to spend just $25 million on tourism marketing.

Show me the money — This late in session, it’s time to ask House and Senate budget subcommittee chairs: Do you know where your allocation is? That’s the pot of money each subcommittee gets to spend in conference committee. And they hadn’t been settled on going into the weekend. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded time was growing short: “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” he said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.” House budget chief Carlos Trujillo agreed. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” he told reporters. The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die (on) May 5.”

The Florida National Guard has been called in to assist with evacuations, emergency management and firefighting in Collier County.

Gov. Scott announced this week he had deployed the Florida National Guard after a briefing with local fire officials, law enforcement, the Florida Forestry Service, and local emergency management officials. The governor also directed the Florida National Guard to deploy five Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the fires.

Collier officials evacuated more than 2,000 homes, as brush fires consumed more than 3,100 acres of land as of Friday afternoon.

“These wildfires are dangerous and if you’re within the evacuation area, do not stay in your home. Be sure to follow the evacuation orders from local officials,” said Scott in a statement. “If you know of any individuals within the evacuation zone, please reach out to them and make sure they are safe. It is important for everyone in Collier County to remain alert to local news and law enforcement announcements.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, there were 104 total Florida Forest Service active wildfires as of Friday morning. That number included the two new fires in Collier County, and the Cowbell fire, a nearly 22,000-acre fire in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“The State of Florida will devote all necessary and available resources to fight these fires and keep communities in Collier County safe,” said Scott. “We are praying for the safety of all the brave men and women fighting these dangerous fires and will provide further updates as the situation progresses.”

Floor debate on a bill to establish a memory disorder clinic grew deeply personal for House members, including co-sponsor Scott Plakon.

His wife, Susie Plakon, well known inside the Capitol, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014.

“I can tell you, members, I had no idea of the impact that this disease has. It was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped into the middle of our family — affecting not only our immediate family, but extended family and friends,” Plakon told the House.

Treatment involves a bewildering array of specialists. Centers like the one planned offer “one-stop shopping” with a single “quarterback coordinating care,” he said.

The state had better prepare, Plakon warned — 520,000 Floridians suffer from Alzheimer’s, and the number will increase by more than 200,000 by 2025.

“There was a recent news article that referred to this as a tsunami coming to our country. The question is, here in Florida, as policymakers, are we going to be prepared when it hits our shore.”

Debate over a bill reducing registration fees for boats equipped with position-locating devices grew personal, too. A similar device save the lives of Rep. Colleen Burton’s son, Tim, and a friend on a duck-hunting expedition.

She’s mounted the device on a plaque in her office, Burton told House members.

“It’s rare that we see a bill come across our desk that has personal impact,” she said.

“This is something we truly can do that does save lives. Take it from me — it saved the life of someone I hold very dear.”

Burton had some advice:

“I recommend that each and every one of you who owns a boat, who has boaters in your family, who knows a boater, who hikes, who does anything where you might be somewhere where somebody needs to come find you, put an EPIRB” — or emergency position-indicating radio beacon — “on your big boats or buy a personal locator beacon.”

This was the week Speaker Corcoran was determined to end debate during the question-and-answer period — and it involved peanut butter.

With three days on the floor scheduled this week, Corcoran decided to give members a lesson in what was — and wasn’t — a question. But rather than pulling out the dictionary, the Land O’Lakes Republican decided to have some fun from the rostrum, giving a twisty-turny example of what he said should not be considered a question.

“A question is not: There’s two types of peanut better. There’s Jiff and there’s Peter Pan. Peter Pan, as we all know, has molasses in it, so it tastes better,” he began, after informing members Tuesday that they had more than 70 bills on the Special Order calendar.

Speaker Cocoran tried to put an end to debate disguised as questions this week, telling members if a question takes more than 5 seconds to ask then “you’re probably in debate.”

“It doesn’t mean Jiff’s bad, but for me, growing up, I ate a lot of Peter Pan and it helped me, really, with a lot of things in my life,” he continued, chuckling. “I’m not saying Jiff is bad, but I’m concerned that we have Jiff and Peter Pan in the budget. Why is Peter Pan — which has the molasses, which we all know is good for you and which we all know is a value to many societies and has done a lot for kid. My question, I guess, is why is there more money for Peter Pan, not for Jiff?”

Corcoran encouraged members to stick to this rule of thumb: If a question is “more than five seconds, you’re probably in debate.”

After explaining the difference, Corcoran handed the gavel over to Rep. Jeanette Nunez to conduct the day’s business. Nunez quickly dispensed of the first bill, which did elicit one question.

“Jiff or Peter Pan,” asked Rep. Jared Moskowitz.

The question didn’t get a response — and members didn’t get get through the Special Order calendar Tuesday, having to take up many items on Wednesday before voting on them later in the week.

A proposal to change the way nursing homes are paid could be bad news, according to some nursing home officials.

Nursing home officials said this week that 39 of the 69 nursing homes in Pinellas County could lose money under a prospective payment system outlined in the proposed Senate budget. Officials estimate Pinellas homes could lose more than $13 million under the plan.

“I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System, in a statement.

Corriveau said his facility would lose $1.7 million under the current Senate proposal. Menorah Manor officials said it would lose nearly $1 million; while Mease Manor officials said the facility could lose $250,000 a year.

The state currently operates on a cost-based system to pay nursing homes. Under the proposed prospective payment system, a formula-based daily-rate is established, which is then used by all providers.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, said while it doesn’t oppose the prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out details of a plan that works for everyone.

Welcome to the board, Steven Wellins!

Gov. Scott announced this week that he had appointed Wellins to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Wellins, a 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, is the senior vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors. He received his bachelors’ of business administration from the University of Miami and a masters’ degree in economics from Florida State University. He fills a vacant seat and serves a term ending June 29, 2017.

Call it a big win for the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill setting aside $20 million a year for projects dedicated to the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, authorizes the money be used for land management and acquisition, and increasing recreational opportunities associated with and improving access to the river and the region.

A lifelong Clay County resident, Sen. Bradley said he was proud the Senate recognized the value of the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes.

“The St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes define the character of the northeast region of our state,” said Bradley, a lifelong resident of Clay County. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, these natural resources attract visitors from across the state and nation. I am proud that the Florida Senate recognizes the value of these resources to those of us who reside in northeast Florida and the state.”

The bill now heads to the House.

The black bear has a friend in Sen. Linda Stewart.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted 4-1 this week to approve a bill (SB 1304) that forbids people from hunting lactating mother bears.

“This is a great success for everybody who has been championing the preservation of Florida’s only native bear species,” said Stewart, the bill’s sponsor. “I am committed to continuing the progress we’ve made on this issue.”

The proposal also outlaws the harvest of saw-palmetto berries on public lands identified by wildlife officials as a Florida black bear habitat. It also prevents controlled burns from happening on lands identified as habitats during February, when denning occurs.

“At a time when Florida’s native black bears are facing increased pressure on their habitat (and) food sources, it is our obligation to ensure the preservation of this iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods,” she said.

A similar bill (HB 491) in the House, sponsored by Rep. Amy Mercado, has not yet received a hearing.

It was a good week to be a Florida black bear.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week they won’t hold another bear hunt until at least 2019. The commission voted 7-0 to direct staff to revamp the bear management plan and report back in two years. A motion to hold a bear hunt this year was voted down 4-3.

“We have a long-standing, proactive approach to bear management and will continue to build on that existing foundation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski, in a statement.We will continue implementing our comprehensive approach to bear management.”

In 2015, hunters killed 304 bears in the state’s first hunt in more than 20 years. The hunt was supposed to take place over a week but ended after two days when. Wildlife officials said there are about 4,050 black bears across the state, a 53 percent increase over 15 years.

“We are thankful that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did the right thing today by voting against a 2017 trophy hunt of Florida’s unique and rare black bears,” said Kate MacFall, the Florida State director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “Floridians are strongly opposed to hunting our bears, and want to see them protected – not gunned down for trophies.”

The state is continuing its efforts to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits, processing nearly 3,000 kits in nine months.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week the state has processed 2,963 kits in nine months, producing 681 matches in the combined DNA index system. The state is on pace to meet its goal of testing all 8,600 unprocessed kits by June 2019.

“The trauma of sexual assault can haunt a victim their entire life, especially if the predator is never caught,” said Bondi. “Testing these kits has produced hundreds of matches in DNA databases that can be used by law enforcement to track down suspects and hopefully solve crimes.”

Bondi’s announcement coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Shoes were on display at the Capitol this week, urging Floridians to “Walk In My Shoes.”

Hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the display featured about 1,000 shoes worn, decorated and submitted by sexual assault survivors from across the state. The shoes, which were accompanied by survivors’ stories, commemorated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We’ve got shoes and stories from young children, grandparents, and people from all walks of life in between,” said Sen. Lauren Book, one of the display’s supporters and the founder of Lauren’s Kids. ““We’ve even got shoes submitted by family members of survivors who ended their lives due to drugs, eating disorders or suicide, unable to overcome the trauma of their assault. It doesn’t have to be that way. With education and awareness, we can prevent 95 percent of sexual abuse – and with guidance and support, we can help survivors heal.”

Sen. Book looks at the display in the Capitol Rotunda this week. (Photo via Lauren’s Kids)

Last year more than 10,000 victims reported sexual assault to service providers in Florida, with most choosing not to report their abuse to law enforcement. Experts have said the decision not to report stems from shame, guilt, embarrassment and the fact 90 percent of victims know their assailant.

If left unresolved, survivors of sexual abuse face lifelong consequences, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I wanted to open people’s eyes to the fact that sexual violence happens much more frequently than any of us care to recognize – and that it happens to men, women and children in all kinds of communities, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, who said she was inspired by the sexual assault program at the Nancy J. Cotterman Center in her district. “We need to educate, and to help shatter the stigma surrounding sexual assault so that victims can be connected with services and help become thriving survivors.”

Speaker Corcoran caused some head-scratching during a floor session this week when he gave a caution to members.

He reminded them of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

Huh?

At a media availability later in the day, Corcoran was asked: Why the warning?

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said, “but over the last five of six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it).

“…Some of them, it was positive; someone was doing a video or pictures during the reading of the Dozier memorial,” Corcoran said, referring to the state’s apology to survivors of abuse at the now-defunct boys’ reform school in Marianna.

“But until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate,” he added.

“It wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats, but that can spiral out of hand quickly and then you can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Proceedings of the House, however, are broadcast by The Florida Channel and other outlets, and news photographers are regularly permitted on the floor to take pictures of members during debate.

To be sure, the House has been mindful of propriety lately.

Last month, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the T-shirts off or turn them inside out. The reason: They violated House decorum.

Florida is tweaking its rules when it comes to the bald eagle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week it is updating its bald eagle management efforts and conservation actions. Staff recommended eliminating the redundancy of obtaining both state and federal permits for activities with the potential to disturb bald eagles or their nests. Under those recommendations, a state permit will not be needed as conservation will be ensured by the recently established federal permitting process.

The state’s bald eagle plan got a facelift this week. (Photo via FWC)

“The FWC remains committed to the conservation of this magnificent bird,” said Brad Gruver, leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section. “We will continue our efforts to educate the public about bald eagles, provide law enforcement protections and monitor the status of the eagle population to ensure it remains stable or increasing.”

The bald eagle was removed from the state listing in 2008, and since then the number of nests has increased. Gruver said Florida has more “nesting eagles than any other state except Alaska and Minnesota.”

Give Sen. Anitere Flores a round of applause next time you see her.

The Florida Credit Union Association presented the Miami Republican with its 2016 Lawmaker of the Year Award during a reception last month in Tallahassee. Flores was honored for her longtime support of credit union initiatives.

“Senator Flores has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, the president and CEO of the LSCU. “She is supportive of current efforts to pass public deposits legislation and is always accessible and helpful to credit unions and the LSCU. Sen. Flores understands the critical role that credit unions play in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

In 2016, Flores backed legislation aimed at protecting consumer data at gas pumps.

When it comes to thinking green, Florida is No. 16.

According to WalletHub, Florida is the 16th greenest state in the nation. The rankings — determined based on a 20 metrics that look at everything from the total municipal solid waste per capita to the carbon-dioxide emissions per capita — come as the nation prepares to celebrate Earth Day.

The Sunshine State came in 10th in air quality, 18th for soil quality, and 25th for water quality. Florida, according to the rankings, was ranked 10th in the percentage of recycled municipal solid waste.

Florida has the fifth highest energy consumption per capita, but was ranked 29th in the percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources.

That ranking could be on the rise in the coming years, though. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes that would implement the $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes that were approved by Florida voters through Amendment 4 in August. The House Commerce Committee also unanimously approved its version of the bill this week.

The Sunshine State is looking for ways to add more sun power.

The Florida Alliance for Accelerating Solar and Storage Technology Readiness has been awarded a $1.75 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot initiative to increase the growth of solar energy by developing new way to use it in combination with energy storage and other resources.

The alliance — which is made up of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, Nhu Energy and the Florida Energy Office — will lead a three-year protect that includes detailed solar energy and power system studies and analysis, and development of strategies that will expand solar, energy storage and other distributed energy resources.

“Solar will be an important part of our energy portfolio going forward and we’re excited to be a part of a project that will aid in the successful expansion of solar energy in Florida. And, we’re hopeful that what we learn over the course of the next three years can guide other states and communities in their efforts to harness the power of the sun,” said Amy Zubaly, the interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, in a statement. “Taking part in this project provides FMEA and Florida’s municipal utilities with a unique opportunity to build on an exceptional history of customer service, leadership and innovation that will help shape Florida’s energy future.”

Rep. Loranne Ausley is being hailed as “pro-growth progressive.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was one of 14 leaders selected to join the NewDEAL, a national network of state and local leaders working to enact pro-growth progressive solutions in a diverse array of communities.

“More than ever, we need to support outstanding state and local leaders who have innovative ideas that address the most important issues facing Americans in our new economy,” said Sen. Mark Warner and former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the honorary co-chairs of NewDEAL, in a joint statement. “We are committed to highlighting their work, while giving them the chance to learn from each other and replicate solutions that make government work better.”

Rep. Ausley is one of more than a dozen leaders selected to join the national organization, NewDEAL officials announced this week. (Photo via the Florida House)

The group aims to bring together leaders focused on expanding opportunities by develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly-earned and sustainable. According to the organization, NewDEAL leaders have found broad support for their work, with 98 percent winning their elections last November.

Ausley served on the board of NewDEAL from 2012 through 2016.

“NewDEAL’s impressive national network includes a cross-section of public servants dedicated to expanding opportunity for everyone in the new economy, while making government work more effectively,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to discover policies and share best practices with my colleagues in state and local government from across the country.”

Florida is an economic power house, at least according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to the organization’s annual report, the Sunshine State is ranked 6th in the nation in economic outlook. That’s an improvement from last year, when the group ranked from 8th in the nation.

“State governments are constantly competing for Americans and jobs, and in this fast-moving environment, standing still is enough to get left behind,” said Jonathan Williams, the chief economist and vice president of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. “States that have adopted pro-growth policies have enjoyed robust economic expansion, with greater wage growth and more opportunities for citizens. The facts remain clear that pro-growth policies are working and there is a clear trend in favor of market-oriented reforms.”

According to the report, Utah has the best economic outlook in 2017, followed by Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee. The worst state in the nation is New York.

Give David Melnick a high five next time you see him.

The food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary School in Pinellas County was named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Every single day he goes above and beyond for the students of Lake St. George Elementary School, and he is a great example of the tremendous impact that school support staff have on the entire community,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons and Commissioner Pam Stewart present David Melkin with his 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year award.

Melnick, school officials said, has changed the culture at the Pinellas County school with his leadership and concern for students. He works tirelessly to contribute to the health, well-being and overall education of the students.

“At Lake St. George Elementary, he established a Food Patrol Program which engages students in learning outside of the classroom while reinforcing healthy habits and responsibility,” said Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego. “We are fortunate to have him as a Pinellas County Schools employee and congratulate him on being named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year.”

Come on, get healthy!

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that 50 more Florida schools earned HealthierUS School Challenge designation during March, bringing the total number of HealthierUS School Challenge schools to 280.

The challenge is a joint effort of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The voluntary initiative recognizes schools’ efforts to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education and promote physical activity.

“Nutritious meals are the key to academic success, and I applaud these schools for providing students with the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle,” said Putnam.

Florida is continuing its fight on drugs.

The Florida House unanimously approved a bill (HB 477) this week that puts fentanyl and other synthetic drugs at the same level with heroin in the state’s drug trafficking statute.

“Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than morphine that is being cut with other drugs and sold as heroin,” said Attorney General Bondi in a statement. “Taking Fentanyl just one time can kill–and that is why I want to thank each member of the Florida House for voting to give prosecutors the tools to seek stronger sentences against traffickers selling Fentanyl and other deadly drugs in our state. We must continue to work together, and this legislation will help our continued efforts to combat this deadly crisis.”

Under the House proposal, possession of 10 grams or more of certain synthetic drugs is a felony. The bill also includes first-degree murder charges for drug dealers in cases where the buyer dies from an overdose.

Rep. Jim Boyd, show in this Jan. 2016 photo, said the House wanted to send a “clear message to drug dealers in Florida.” (Photo via the Florida House)

“We want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida, and that is that the Florida House is standing strong and we will not tolerate the way you prey on the weak,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, the bill’s primary sponsor.

The House earlier this session passed a bill to fight opioid addiction by placing new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers. The Legislature is also considering proposals that create a certification program for sober homes.

Looking for some new windows? Gov. Scott might have a suggestion for you.

Scott attended the groundbreaking of NewSouth Window Solutions new manufacturing and distribution facility in Tampa this week. The new 238,000 square-foot will allow the company to add 65 new jobs in Florida.

“It’s great to see that our commitment to economic development, cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations are helping small businesses create job opportunities for families,” said Scott in a statement. “We have worked hard to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation and will continue to fight every day to grow our economy.”

The company is one of the leading providers of factory-direct home windows in Central Florida. CEO Dan Ochstein and President Earl Rahn opened the company’s first location in Tampa in 2010. The company now employs 165 people in Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. It plans to expand into Fort Lauderdale later this year.

“NewSouth Window is proud to call Florida home. I’d like to thank Governor Scott for his work to help businesses like mine grow and succeed in the state,” said Oschstein. “In just six years, we’ve gone from zero to 40 million and we look forward to expanding and creating even more job opportunities for Floridians.”

Steroid use among racing greyhounds is one step closer to being banned in the state of Florida.

The House voted 84-32 to approve a bill by Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Alex Miller that would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

Sponsored by Reps. Smith and Alex Miller, the bill would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” said Smith in a statement. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

Female racing greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to stop the dog from going into heat and prevent the loss of race days. The steroids can push greyhounds beyond their natural limits and can have a negative impact on the dogs heart function.

This was Smith’s first bill to pass the House.

Kudos, Connie Smith.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced this week that Smith will serve as the chairwoman of the Florida Education Foundation, the direct support organization of the Florida Department of Education. Smith succeeds Stacy Carlson, who served as board chair since 2015.

“I am confident Connie will be a valuable leader in the next era of the Foundation’s growth,” said Stewart in a statement. “As the Foundation has brought its direction into focus, the coming years will be vital to the development, as they are a valued partner to the Department of Education. I look forward to the work we can do together to continue Florida’s unparalleled progress in student achievement.”

Smith serves as the program manager for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital. The program distributes $75 million in capital to Community Development Financial Institutions that serve diverse small businesses. A 21-year veteran with Wells Fargo, Smith is active in her community. She’s the past chair of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida and a member of Class XXXIIII of Leadership Florida.

“I am honored that Commissioner Stewart appointed me to serve as chair of the Florida Education Foundation,” said Smith. “Serving on the board since 2013 has been a tremendous experience, and I look forward to our continued work investing in high achievement for every student in our state.”

Millennials now have a voice in the Legislature.

Several members of the Florida Legislature are banding together to create the Florida Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators 40 years old and under.

The group — started by Reps. Holly Raschein and Sean Shaw, and Sens. Book and Flores — join the Millennial Action Project’s national movement of young elected officials “breaking through partisan gridlock to reestablish political cooperation and create meaningful programs through government institutions,” according to a news release this week.

The group will formally launch the Florida Future Caucus at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is cheering a measure that would help combat fraud.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 671) that would give the DEO access to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ photo identification database. The proposal is meant to help the jobs agency fight fraud in the state’s reemployment assistance program.

“DEO is working every day to stop criminals from fraudulently stealing Reemployment Assistance benefits from Florida job seekers who need help getting back to work,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “Thanks to the leadership of Sen. (Kelli) Stargel and Rep. (Mike) LaRosa, and the support of the Florida Senate and House this session, DEO will have access to more tools that are critical to prevent and fight public benefits fraud.”

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his signature.

There’s new rules in Collier County when it comes to manatees.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a new rule this week that would add protections to some Collier County waterways where FWC data indicates the risk manatee and boat interactions are high. But the rule also reduces regulations in other waterways throughout the county where data indicates the risk to the beloved sea cow is low, according to the state wildlife agency.

FWC officials adopted new manatee protection zones in Collier County this week (Photo courtesy of FWC)

“We are committed to continuing strong conservation measures for manatees,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s section leader for Imperiled Species Management, in a statement. “These revisions to the Collier County rule are mostly tweaks that add protection or adjust protection levels consistent with review of newer data.”

The revised rule impacts less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways.

Allez cuisine!

Five student chefs will compete in the final “Fresh from Florida” Student Chef Cook-Off in Orlando this weekend, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The student chefs will compete for a chance to have their original recipes served in school cafeterias. Dishes will be scored on taste, appearance, creativity, school food service appropriateness, best and most use of local ingredients, and execution.

So what’s on the menu? According to the Department of Agriculture, Gianna Rivera from Bloomingdale High School will be making citrus chicken tacos with watermelon salad; Katelynn Denny from Franklin County Schools will be making Tex-Mex chicken and vegetable quinoa salad; Sheldon Riley from Fort Pierce Westwood High School will be making Southwestern chicken and orzo salad; and Wesley Hill from Eastside High School is making sautéed chicken with citrus bell pepper salsa.

Judges are Justin Timineri, the executive chef for the Department of Agriculture; Lakeisha Hood, the director of the agency’s Divison of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, and Leslie Bell, the food services director for Santa Rosa County Schools.

The season is set.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week approved the 2017 recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico state waters.

“We are once again able to provide and maintain fishing opportunities for Gulf recreational anglers and provide stakeholders with spring, summer and fall fishing options for this economically important species,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The 78-day season will be open Saturdays and Sundays starting May 6. On May 27, the season will be open continuously through July 9. After that it will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day.

“In contrast to federal fisheries management, which has resulted in limited-to-zero recreational red snapper fishing days in Florida’s federal waters, the FWC has done outstanding work balancing fishing access with sustainability,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing. “We are thankful for the Commission’s dedication to maintaining recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper in state waters.”

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is looking for a few good women.

Putnam announced this week his office is now accepting nominations for the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Since 1985, the award has recognized women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture. The 2016 recipient was Judi Whitson.

The application deadline in June 1. More information can be found on the Woman of the Year in Agriculture webpage.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

The Delegation for 4.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

More “scared jackrabbits” running for re-election

This week another Democrat made a strong run at claiming a traditional GOP seat in Congress. After a near-miss in a deep-red district in Nebraska, Jon Ossoff nearly gained a majority against 17 other candidates in Georgia’s 6th District, where Republican candidates always win by double digits.

Ossoff will still be a slight underdog in the runoff against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in the June runoff, but he will have the support of the Democratic establishment combined with a political ATM.

More than $8 million poured into his campaign from all over the country. This race is a must-watch over the next nine weeks.

What does that mean for Florida? For Bill Nelson and members of the Florida delegation representing swing districts, it means aggressive fundraising because tons of money will be raining down on them in the not-too-distant future. While in Tallahassee this week, Nelson was quoted as saying he is running for his fourth term in the Senate like “a scared jackrabbit.” Coming just after Easter, rabbit references are always welcome.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across the nation, on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.
Sen. Bill Nelson says he assumes nothing when it comes to an election. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

The recent release of first quarter campaign finance reports reveals other anxious jackrabbits. Nelson raised over $2 million and now has $3.64 million cash on hand. He knows he will need a lot more than that to compete with likely opponent Gov. Rick Scott over the airwaves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting South Florida Republicans Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo and Mast were the top two GOP fundraisers with Curbelo leading the way with $615,000. Mast had $428,000 while Ros-Lehtinen hauled in $341,000 and Diaz-Balart $126,500.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will be going after freshmen Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. Crist pulled in a delegation-best $720,000; Murphy raised $286,000.

Former Rep. David Jolly went on “60 Minutes” in 2016 to lament the time members devoted to “dialing for dollars.” Before he decides whether to run again in 2018, he should know the situation is not getting any better.

The jackrabbits are multiplying.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Trump has spent more than 424 hours in Palm Beach since his inauguration — The president has spent one out of every five minutes of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf club, reports Philip Bump with the Washington Post.

The Post tallied the amount of time the part-time Florida man has spent in Palm Beach, rounded to the half-hour, since he was inaugurated through Monday. According to Bump, Trump has spent about 424.5 hours at the so-called “winter White House” and 1,663.5 hours everywhere else, “including Air Force One headed to Mar-a-Lago.”

“(T)here’s a real sense in which Trump is splitting his time between his two jobs: service as president of the United States and acting as owner/host of Mar-a-Lago. In some cases, those roles overlap, such as when he introduced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a couple having their wedding at the resort,” writes Bump.

He went on to say while it wasn’t clear whether Trump planned to travel back to Palm Beach this weekend, if “the existing pattern holds, he’ll go on any two of the next four days.”

Scott joins Trump for veterans bill signing — Gov. Rick Scott joined Trump at the White House on Wednesday for the formal signing of the Veteran’s Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act. Scott joined several other officials in the Roosevelt Room for the signing, including Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Glenn Sutphin.

As one way of addressing the backlog for care facing veterans, the bill allows for veterans to seek care from non-VA providers. Trump stated at the ceremony that it was now “it’s time that we now take care of them properly.”

“My father served in WWII, and I proudly served in the United States Navy, and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and veterans,” Scott said in a release. “I was proud to join him today as he signed this important bill for veterans.”

Scott later met with U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Tweet, tweet:

Rubio targets HUD oversight —The Miami Republican took a shot at lax oversight at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. In an op-ed for the Florida Times-Union, Rubio wrote of his tour of the Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“Crumbling staircases, dangerous gas leaks, exposed electrical wires” and other deficiencies are conditions that have “existed for too long” at Eureka Garden and other places around the country.

“In some cases, property owners like those who owned Eureka Garden pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars instead of putting them toward needed repairs,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, properties have been given passing HUD inspection scores despite terrible conditions.”

Rubio and Carson are pledging a more diligent HUD that will be in tune to the needs of residents and make property owners accountable for the conditions in which people live.

“These would be meaningful first steps toward fulfilling one of HUD’s core functions,” said Rubio.

Nelson presses Tom Price on Florida’s opioid crisis — In a letter to HHS Secretary Price, the Orlando Democrat declared the heroin and opioid crisis is “devastating Florida” encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”

Paulson’s Principles: Reapportionment Roulette

Reapportionment is like the family portrait. The only thing you care about is how you came out; the hell with everyone else.

Democrats and Republicans have held a variety of positions on reapportionment, depending on whether they were the majority or minority party. Democrats completely dominated Florida politics for 120 years, from the end of Reconstruction to the 1990’s. When Florida and other southern states started trending Republican after World War II, Democrats used gerrymandering and reapportionment to solidify their strength.

In the early 1990’s, Republicans proposed to change the process of drawing District lines. Their proposal would be similar to the Fair District plan offered by Democrats in 2014. Democrats quickly rejected the Republican plan, believing it was simply a device to help the Republicans.

Even though Democrats controlled both houses of the Florida legislature by a 60-40% margin in 1992 and drew the state legislative lines, the Republicans won control of the state senate in 1994 and the house in 1996.

The Democrats were not able to agree on drawing the congressional district lines in 1992. Blacks, who made up about 18 percent of Florida’s population but accounted for a third of the Democratic vote, wanted Democrats to create three majority-minority districts. The Democrats refused, arguing that in doing so the surrounding districts would become whiter and more Republican.

Unable to draw the congressional districts, the task was left to federal court judge Clyde Atkins and a special master. I was hired by both the Florida and national NAACP as an expert witness to discuss the history of black voter discrimination in Florida.

In the case of Florida NAACP, et al. v. Lawton Chiles, et al., my testimony helped to influence the court to create two majority-minority districts and one minority-influence district (at least 40% minority).

After 120 years with no black member of Congress, Florida elected three African-Americans to the congressional delegation. Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings were elected in the Miami area, and Corrine Brown was elected in Jacksonville.

I would not have voted for any of the three blacks who were elected to Congress with the possible exception of Meek, but that was not important. What was important was that the black electorate can vote for the candidates of their choice.

As the size of Florida’s congressional delegation grew due to its population growth, so did the Republican domination of the delegation. After the 2010 census, the Florida delegation grew from 25 to 27 members, and Republicans controlled 17 of the seats. Democrats were in full panic mode.

A bipartisan coalition made up of mostly Democrats and a few token Republicans, joined forces with the League of Women Voters (LWV) which has become increasingly dominated by the political left. The result was (in the spirit of Easter) the resurrection of the Republican reapportionment plan of the early 1990’s.

The Fair District Amendment was sold to eliminate politics from the reapportionment process. I always love it when reformers want to eliminate politics in the political process. It can’t be done. You simply replace one power broker with another.

The voters embraced the Fair District Amendment, and it passed. The Republicans had to redraw District lines, which the Florida courts threw out. On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Republican districts and substituted the plan of the LWV’s.

Twenty-four of the 27 districts were redrawn, and eight were substantially altered. The Democrats gained only one seat in the Florida delegation in the 2016 election, but the roulette process has only begun.

Open Gaetz Day starts early, ends late — Before leaving Washington for the nearly three-week Easter recess, the Republican from the First District did not believe Congress should adjourn before taking care of health care. That failure, according to Gaetz, meant he and his colleagues “don’t deserve recess” until they address health care.

But since the members are home in their districts, Gaetz feels they should spend quality time with constituents. He is having another Open Gaetz Day on Thursday. His schedule is a literal sunrise-to-sunset agenda.

He began the day at 6:30 a.m. with a “beach town hall” broadcast on live radio, followed by a beach cleanup.

As part of his #OpenGaetz Day, Rep. Gaetz took part in a beach clean-up. (Photo via Facebook)

The rest of the day included an education briefing, a military round table, a legislative update on live radio, two environmental cleanup public interactions, and a community legislative update.

The final event began at 6:30 p.m. when he joined a Constituent Info Booth at the Blue Wahoos baseball stadium.

Gaetz questions Navy’s lifting of training flight pause — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Navy instituted an operational pause on training flights for the T-45 aircraft at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Navy has lifted that pause much to the concern of the Republican from the First District. The issue was — and continues to be — the safety of the aircraft’s oxygen systems.

“I remain concerned with the decision to lift the operational pause for the T-45C absent sufficient data from the examination of On-board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS),” Gaetz wrote to Vice-Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander of the Naval Air Forces.

Gaetz expressed concern that the pause was lifted before “the root cause” of the problem was fully identified. He asked pointed questions of Admiral Shoemaker including whether the Navy can provide “more transparency” to their on-going process.

In addition to representing the district housing Pensacola Naval Air Station, Gaetz is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Gaetz puts Navarre Pass reopening on hold, temporarily – The first-year Republican congressman from Fort Walton Beach is pushing legislation to allow private ownership of land on Pensacola and Navarre Beaches.

But Gaetz told leaders in Navarre that it will not include reopening Navarre Pass, reports the Pensacola News-Journal. The pass, which allows boating between Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, has been closed since 1965 after Hurricane Betsy clogged the waterway with debris.

Gaetz, who said reopening the Pass would bring up to $1 billion in economic impact through tourism and fishing, believes the two issues should not be linked. That is why he dropped the issue from his proposed bill, which has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rutherford, Tom Rooney herald new VA transparency — The Jacksonville freshman Republican was enthused with a new tool to promote transparency at the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA’s new Access and Quality system allow veterans to access information on wait times and the quality of care provided by the hospitals compared to private facilities.

Rutherford, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was “proud of the work we’ve done.” Quoted in the Sunshine State News, Rutherford gave kudos to the VA “for increasing the transparency by making patient wait times and care data available online.”

“No other health care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin in a news release. “This allows veterans to see how the VA is performing.”

Also weighing in was 17th District Republican Rooney, who praised Shulkin’s leadership in making the new system a reality, adding that it indicates a “new era of transparency.”

“Veterans across the nation are justifiably tired of inexcusable wait times and their lack of trust in the government to provide the basic services we promised in exchange for their service is unacceptable,” he said.

Dunn files legislation to protect rights of seated airline passengers — The Panama City freshman is filing legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the United Airlines fiasco, where a properly seated passenger was forcibly removed from his seat. Dunn has introduced the Secure Equity in Airline Transportation (SEAT) Act, which would prohibit airlines from removing a seated passenger on over-booked flights.

“Passengers should have the peace of mind to know they will not be dragged off a plane once they’re in their seat,” said Dunn in a release. “The SEAT Act will require airlines to sort out overbooking before allowing passengers to board the airplane.”

Dunn’s bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to revise rules making it clear that not even airline employees have priority over a seated passenger. According to Dunn, the legislation makes an exception for a seated passenger who “is a threat to the safety of others.”

Lawson meets constituents with during Tallahassee town hall — About 60 people attended the freshman Democrat’s town hall meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee.

While there were some complaints — constituents complained about not being able to get through to his office, something Lawson apologized for — there was none was none of the acrimonies that has greeted Republican members of Congress from constituents angry about the GOP plan to scuttle the Affordable Care Act and federal spending. Instead, Lawson told the crowd he went to Washington to improve the Affordable Care Act, not to repeal or replace it.

Lawson said he believes in working with Republican colleagues when possible. He has to, within the Florida delegation — as he noted, he’s the only Democratic congressman between Pensacola and Orlando. His District 5 comprises eight counties between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

“I have no choice, ladies and gentlemen. I’m like the Lone Ranger on some of those issues,” he said. “When you talk about North Florida, who you talking about? I stand alone out there, waving a flag.”

He continued: “I work with a lot of my Republican colleagues because nothing was done by one particular party. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was a joint effort. To do things in America, it’s always going to be a joint effort. We have to get over the campaign and do what’s best for you, the citizens in this country.”

Buchanan seeks funds to fight red tide — Noting the dangerous threat toxic algae poses to humans, marine life and the economy, the six-term congressman announced he is requesting increased federal funding to combat red tide.

Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis algae, has lingered along Suncoast shores on and off for several months now, killing thousands of fish and discouraging potential visitors from taking in some of the country’s best beaches. Karenia brevis algae produce a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. In fact, the toxins from red tide blooms killed nearly 300 Florida manatees in 2013.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote to the leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

Spotted: Rep. Vern Buchanan writing about the bipartisan approach to animal protection issues in USA Today.

Buchanan to Interior: Restore manatee protections — The Sarasota Republican and several colleagues wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking for restoration of protective status for Florida’s manatees. Buchanan is leading the effort three weeks after blasting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for downgrading manatee protections.

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” the letter said. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

Buchanan had statistics to back up his claims. While the rule was under consideration, “nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support.”

“As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction,” the letter said. “We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.”

Also signing the letter: Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. Republican Daniel Webster also signed.

Pro-Trump group airing ads backing Mast advocating repeal, replace Obamacare — An advocacy group formed by six of Trump‘s top campaign aides launched a $3 million advertising campaign to praise Congress members working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The list of 12 select members from America First Policies includes Republican Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Obamacare is collapsing and bringing our health care system down with it, harming millions of American families,” said Nick Ayers, Chairman of the Board of America First Policies. “The time is now to repeal and replace this terrible law, but we need citizens to engage.”

The issue advocacy campaign will be on broadcast or cable, the internet and through phone calls in twelve districts, including CD 18, which stretches from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach in Southeast Florida.

Mast was lobbied personally by Trump to support the GOP’s health care bill that never came up for a vote last month, and he reportedly called on his colleagues to unite behind the bill in an emotionally charged address, according to The Washington Post.

Mast flipped the seat from blue to red last November when he defeated Democrat Randy Perkins. The seat had been held for the previous four years by Patrick Murphy, who opted to run for U.S. Senate last year.

Frankel returns from trip to Korea, Japan — The Palm Beach Democrat picked the right time to go on an Asian-Pacific fact-finding trip. She and some of her colleagues made stops in South Korea and Japan just as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began raising tensions in the region.

The focus was the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and their effects on the entire region. She visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and American military facilities in Japan. On the itinerary were meetings with South Korean Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The trip wrapped up with a meeting between the lawmakers and a North Korean defector.

“A strong, unwavering relationship between the U.S. and its allies Japan and South Korea is necessary for the national and economic security of all three countries,” she said in a statement. “In this regard, the United States, in consultation with Japan and South Korea, must explore all reasonable economic, diplomatic, and defensive actions such as cyber that would prevent North Korea from developing such a (nuclear) capability.”

Right on cue, some are saying the U.S. indeed may have played a role in the failed North Korean missile launch earlier this week. Frankel serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Deutch, Curbelo urge Trump Administration to stay in Paris climate change accord — The two Floridians, co-chairs and co-founders of the bipartisan House Climate Change Caucus, are jointly urging the Trump Administration to remain in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With the administration rumored to be ready to pull out of the accord, Deutch and Curbelo argued strongly against the move.

“It is imperative that we maintain our seat at the table in global discussions on how to address the threats posed by climate change,” they said in a joint statement. “It is our hope the administration will take a responsible approach on this issue.”

The agreement, which was completed in 2016, calls for signees to undertake “ambitious efforts to combat climate change,” Of the 197 nations attending the conference, 143 countries have signed on.

In March, Curbelo, a Miami Republican, and Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, signed a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

“Stepping away from the agreement would mean stepping away from the immense opportunities that these international investments afford American businesses and research institutions,” they wrote.

Diaz-Balart delivers keynote at affordable housing dedication ceremony — The Miami Republican was on hand Monday as Collier County official dedicated Hatchers Preserve, an 18-unit, single-family rental community in Immokalee.

The community was built by Rural Neighborhoods in partnership with the Big Cypress Housing Corp. and was funded, in part, through by the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

“This new community will provide a safe roof over the heads of 18 deserving families,” said Diaz-Balart, who serves as the chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement Monday. “(This) dedication ceremony is a prime example of the federal government and local leaders coming together to advance solutions. I especially want to commend the great work of Rural Neighborhoods, including Steve Kirk, for their vision and determination to see this project to its completion. I look forward to continue working with the Southwest Florida community to protect and preserve affordable housing.”

The homes will be rented for $650 a month to families earning 50 percent of the area median income, and $725 a month to families earning 80 percent AMI.

Now serving his eighth term in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has become a powerful voice in Florida’s congressional delegation. As chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Diaz-Balart will play a fundamental role during budget discussions and any negotiations about infrastructure improvements. And he’s spent years pushing lawmakers to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something he says is still working on. We caught up with Diaz-Balart during his visit to Immokalee, located in the western part of his sprawling district, to talk about housing, transportation and 2018.

AP Photo

FP: You were in Miami last week with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, tell me about the trip, what you learned and what he learned about affordable housing and the needs in South Florida.

MDB: I’m very grateful that he’s actually traveling and he’s trying to figure out what’s out there, what’s working and what’s not working, which is wonderful to see. Here’s a man who is doing it for the right reason, and he’s trying to learn. These are very complicated areas. It’s a huge agency, and it’s an agency that has major problems, fiscal accountability problems. … I think it was very helpful for him to see just different things that are working and not working that well, and why. I’ve met with him, I had the opportunity to meet with him again, and had the opportunity to ride in the car with him, which was a really good time. I feel really, really optimistic about the fact that he’s a person who wants to do the right thing. And I am really looking forward to working with him in a very, very close way to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent, and that also some of the key programs are working continue to receive help.

FP: This Immokalee project was a partnership — federal, state and local. When you talk about housing, especially affordable workforce housing, in Florida and beyond how important is that local, state and federal role?

MDB: I think it’s crucial. One of the ways you get more accountability is by having a local community be part of it. There’s so many instances where the federal government, HUD and others decide this is what you’re going to do; this is where you’re going to do it. And frankly, that doesn’t work too well. This is one of the best examples. Rural Neighborhoods is this group that builds; they rehabilitate, they manage, they do incredible work. They receive funding from different sources; they leverage public funding with private funding. This is not one of the traditional things (people think of when) they think of HUD — these high rise buildings … This is a local community, having a need and going to them and saying “what can we do here?” And what you’re going to see, if you come here in five years, is these homes in pristine shape, because that’s the kind of work (Rural Neighborhoods does) around the state.

FP: President Trump, when he was on the campaign trail, talked so much about infrastructure improvements to transportation. What, if any, impact do you think the inability to get health care reform through Congress is going to have on getting those massive infrastructure improvements through?

MDB: I think the potential is for it to have a serious impact. … If we can’t — controlling the House, Senate and the White House — get together and pass legislation and do what we’ve been saying forever, which is repeal Obamacare and replace it with more a patient-centered centered system of accountability and choice, if we can’t even do that, then it begs the question of can we do the even more complicated issues like tax reform.

Why do I mention tax reform, even though you mentioned infrastructure, which is key to my heart? If you can’t do health care, it’s going to be very difficult to do tax reform. If you can’t do tax reform, then the question is, where are the funds coming from to do infrastructure? I wish I could tell you I’m not concerned, but I don’t know how you do things that are more complicated if we can’t even do health care.

FP: You’ve been a huge proponent of immigration reform for many, many years. What’s the status right now?

MDB: I’m not giving up on it. I think we have a greater opportunity, a greater chance. I think it’s obviously a problem and it’s not going to fix itself, you’ve heard me say that a million times. I’m still working, and I think we have a better shot than if Hillary (Clinton) had gotten elected. I wish I could tell you right now things are great; they’re not. But I’m optimistic. We’re still working, we’re still talking, and I think it may be one of those things that surprises folks. I think this is a president who wants to solve problems, and I think once … they all see this is broken from A-to-Z, I don’t think this president is going to sit back and let it stay broken. So, I’m optimistic.

FP: As you start looking toward 2018, are you concerned at all about re-election?

MDB: I’m a firm believe you do good things, and good things happen. I don’t worry about that. I just work, and good things happen.

Ros-Lehtinen draws another Democratic opponent for 2018 – First term Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez filed to challenge the longtime Republican incumbent in the redrawn Florida 27th Congressional District, which now leans Democrat.

“We deserve a member of Congress who will hold President Trump accountable,” Rosen Gonzalez, a single mother of three, told the Miami Herald. “Instead of the president’s lapdog, I’ll be a watchdog who stands up for science against climate change deniers, stands up for immigrants against persecution, and fights back against partisan attacks on women’s health care.”

Others looking to enter the CD 27 race include Scott Fuhrman, a Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, and University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn. Rosen Gonzalez would have one more year on the commission in the 2018 election cycle, but does not have to resign to run.

Crenshaw shines light on ‘scary’ disease affecting daughter – The former Jacksonville congressman is looking to raise public awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and help raise money for research. The Florida Times-Union reports that Crenshaw’s daughter, Alex, is one of the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease, with no known cure, affects the digestive system.

The Crenshaw family — wife Kitty, another daughter, and two grandchildren – have become advocates for the Crohn’s &Colitis Foundation, and raised about $100,000 since 2009. They regularly take part in the organization’s annual Take Steps fundraising marches. Crenshaw sits on the foundation’s national board. On April 22, the Central and Northeast Florida Chapter in Jacksonville Beach will name him an honorary chair and feature Alex as an “honored hero.”

“It’s kind of a family affair,” Crenshaw told the Times-Union.

Ballard Partners adds another foreign client to D.C. rosterThe Florida-based firm has been retained by the Socialist Party of Albania to “provide consulting and advocacy services in a bid to improve U.S.-Albanian bilateral relations” at a rate of $20,000 a month.

Ballard Partners work for the Socialist Party of Albania will include advising, counseling and assisting the party in its communications with the U.S. government, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents filed in April.

The year-long deal continues until the end of March 2018 and fetches the agency $20,000 per month. Earlier this month, the firm, led by Brian Ballard, signed a similar year-long contract to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

The Socialist Party of Albania rose to power following its majority win in Albania’s 2013 parliamentary elections. Leading the left-leaning political party is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who’s up for re-election in Albania’s upcoming June elections.

The Democratic Party of Albania last year hired Podesta Group in a similar bid to advance U.S. relations. That political group, which was formerly Albania’s leading political party, hired Podesta for counsel on relevant U.S. policies and Congressional activities, as well as to arrange meetings with U.S. executive branch officials and members of Congress.

In January, a third Albanian political group fighting for seats in the June elections, the Socialist Movement for Integration, retained The McKeon Group to facilitate a dialogue between members of that party and the Trump administration.

Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joins TechNet as VP — TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Before working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

Personnel Note: The National Association of Counties (NACo) added a bit more of a Florida flavor recently with the hire of Kevan Stone as Associate Legislative Director for Transportation and Infrastructure. Stone was previously a policy advisor for former Rep. John Mica. Stone holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida.

NACo’s current president is Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. The Tallahassee native’s term runs through 2017. The organization advocates on Capitol Hill for 3,069 county governments.

Sunburn for 4.21.17 – Artiles, Artiles, Artiles, bills are dying, Artiles

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

IN NON-FRANK ARTILES NEWS …

Yes, scientists feel they’re under attack by politics too, and like minority groups, women, gun advocates, gun opponents, social activists, and others, they’re taking it to the streets.

Twenty-one “Marches for Science” are set to take place in Florida Saturday, Earth Day, all declared as satellite marches to the main one that will take place in Washington D.C. Organizers say they’ll have more than 400 such marches worldwide this weekend.

March for Science organizers are declaring their mission as to champion “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

Organized through scientists and supporters discussing the prospect through social media, on their website they declare that, yes, their effort “is explicitly a political movement, aimed at holding leaders in politics and science accountable. When institutions of any affiliation skew, ignore, misuse or interfere with science, we have to speak out.”

In Florida marches are planned Saturday for Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Hudson, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Naples, New Smyrna Beach, Orlando, Palm Beach County, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Titusville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.

The dozens of partners sponsoring the event range from environmental groups such as the Earth Day Coalition and The Nature Conservancy, to science specialty groups as the American Society for Cell Biology and the Planetary Society, to broad groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as several universities.

They’re maintaining the marches are non-partisan.

“Science is nonpartisan,” said Blake Williams, spokesman for For Our Future spokesman, which is co-organizing the Florida marches. “Advocating for evidence-based policies and solutions serves everyone’s best interests, and Saturday’s march is about speaking out in support of science together.”

OTHER NON-ARTILES NEWSSUPREME COURT OKS GAMBLING CONTROL, FELON VOTING RIGHTS AMENDMENTS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The state’s highest court gave its approval for proposed state constitutional amendments on voter approval of new gambling and restoring voting rights to ex-cons. But there’s a big ‘if’ before either can be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot—both amendments still need hundreds of thousands of signatures. Moreover, Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissented on the gambling amendment, saying “the ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by countywide (referendums).” The Florida Supreme Court does not pass judgment on subject matter, but reviews proposed amendments only to make sure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 6; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 14; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 14; MLB All-Star Game – 80; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 133; Election Day 2017 – 199; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 237; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 261.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce March job numbers at 10 a.m. at Pelican Wire, 3650 Shaw Blvd. in Naples.

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#FRANKGATE

LAWYER: FRANK ARTILES RACIAL SLURS OFFENSIVE, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FREE SPEECH via The Associated Press – A lawyer representing [Artiles] who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities says he’ll present evidence that other senators have used similar language. Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case and said the complaint shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles’ statements — as offensive as they were — are protected under his constitutional rights to free speech. He also said the Senate lawyer, Dawn Roberts, shouldn’t handle the case because she’s also represented Artiles and witnesses who would be called to testify.

A FOUR-NAME BYLINE STORY HERE: “Artiles controversy engulfs Florida Senate with two weeks left of Session” by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald

PAM BONDI: ARTILES SHOULD CONSIDER RESIGNING OVER RACIAL SLUR via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Bondi became the first state Republican leader to suggest Artiles should leave office for using a slang version of the N-word and other derogatory language during a heated discussion with colleagues. “There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi [said]. “I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues.” Bondi stopped short of definitively calling for Artiles’ expulsion from the Florida Senate.

LEGISLATIVE JEWISH CAUCUS URGES SENATE TO EXPEL ARTILES via Florida Politics – The Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus “denounced” Artiles Thursday, urging his Senate colleagues to toss him out of the Legislature. “(We) denounce Senator Frank Artiles for his racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory comments directed at some of his Senate colleagues,” they said in a statement. The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, chair, and Reps. Lori BermanBen DiamondJoe Geller and Emily Slosberg, and Sen. Kevin Rader. All are Democrats.

FLORIDA’S NAACP JOINS THOSE CALLING FOR ARTILES’ RESIGNATION via Florida Politics – The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Artiles to step down. The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People … “A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

OSCAR BRAYNON, FOUR OTHER DEMOCRATS, SET TO FILE IN SUPPORT OF ARAMIS AYALA via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Five Democratic lawmakers led by Senate Minority Leader Braynon are preparing to file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Orlando’s State Attorney Ayala in her effort to challenge Gov. Scott‘s power to take cases away from her. Braynon, state Sens. Jeff Clemens, Perry Thurston and Gary Farmer and state Rep. Sean Shaw all filed a request with the Supreme Court to enter an amicus brief supporting Ayala and opposing Scott. The court quickly approved it. They explicitly stated in their friend-of-the-court brief would “provide an alternative perspective to that of amici Florida House of Representatives.”

BUDGET CHIEFS SOUND HOPEFUL AS CLOCK TICKS ON STATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS via Florida Politics – With two weeks and change remaining in the 2017 Legislative Session, House and Senate budget leaders are professing optimism that they can resolve their differences and adjourn on time May 5. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo — and Jack Latvala, his Senate counterpart — both said Thursday they hope to begin formal budget conference negotiations soon. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” Trujillo told reporters.  The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die May 5,” he said. …  “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” Latvala said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

— “How the Legislature could $1.5 billion in extra Medicaid money for something other than hospitals” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE SPEAKER: THERE’S TIME TO ADDRESS SCHOOL RECESS, BUT NO PROMISES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran said: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.” The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change. Senators, meanwhile, are trying another route to force the House to consider the proposal they passed, which would require elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, separate from physical education classes.

GAMBLING CONFERENCE WON’T MEET TILL NEXT WEEK via Florida Politics – Conference members had planned to meet Thursday, then a notice went out: “The Conference Committee on Gaming will NOT meet today and will not meet before Monday, April 24.” Blame it on the Supreme Court’s decision that same day to approve the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot, vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said. Chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano wanted to make sure over the weekend that the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer,” Diaz said in a phone interview. Galvano didn’t respond to a phone message. Also, committee members Jared Moskowitz and Joe Geller had personal matters requiring their attention in South Florida and had to leave Tallahassee, Diaz added. 

TWEET, TWEET: @MearKat00: If you put a legislative calendar up to your ear and listen very closely you can hear the sound of bills dying.

BILLS ARE DYING, BUT CHILDREN ARE DYING: “Foster care agency leaders quit amid teen suicides, other turmoil” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org.***

‘EYEBALL WARS’ BILL, SLATED FOR HOUSE COMMITTEE, GOES UNHEARD via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – A bill seeking to expand what optometrists could do — namely, performing surgery and prescribing opiates — was an agenda item in the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee … However, the bill at the center of Florida’s Eyeball Wars went unheard. HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, barely cleared Health and Human Services Health Quality Subcommittee last month, on an 8-7 vote … A similar controversy was expected in the full committee, but it didn’t manifest.

HOUSE MOVES CLOSER TO SENATE ON CHANGES TO STATE TESTING SYSTEM via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Rep. Manny Diaz, sponsor of the “Fewer Better Tests Act,” tied several of the ideas from that bill into a separate effort to allow parents and others to see certain state tests after students take them. The Diaz amendment would, among other things … Eliminate the state Algebra II end-of-course exam … Require paper-based state language arts and math tests for third- through sixth-grade … Move the state testing window to later in the spring, and shrink it to a shorter time frame … Change the value-added model of evaluating teachers.

FLORIDA MAY MAKE IT EASIER TO GET RID OF SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS via The Associated Press – The House voted 94-25 for a bill that would allow parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer. A similar bill is also moving in the Florida Senate. Critics of the bill contend that it could lead to schools removing books that discuss topics such as climate change or evolution. But Rep. Byron Donalds, sponsoring the bill, maintains that the legislation is about giving people an opportunity to raise questions about textbooks. He noted that local school districts would still have the final say on whether the materials should still be used.

HOUSE ADVANCES JUVENILE JUSTICE BILL, ADDING ADULT DIVERSION PROGRAM via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The House version (HB 205), sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, changed again in the House Judiciary Committee … would expunge the arrests of juveniles for certain first-time misdemeanor crimes. That differs significantly from its Senate companion. Miami Republican Anitere Flores‘ bill (SB 196) would mandate civil citations to juveniles for a number of first-time misdemeanors. Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s amendment to HB 205 would allow adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program. That insertion upset Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez, who for more than a year had been working on the legislation to address juveniles. He said a number of issues regarding the juvenile component of the bill remain unresolved. Those issues were now “tainted” by the discussion over adults, Gonzalez argued.

LAWMAKERS APPROVE ATTORNEY FEE TWEAK TO PUBLIC RECORD LAW via Florida Politics – Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Scott. The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote. The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit. Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

— “House financial literacy bill passes final committee” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE VOTE SENDS SOLAR TAX BREAK BILL TO THE SENATE FLOOR via Florida Politics – Senate implementing legislation for last year’s solar energy referendum passed its final committee test … when the Appropriations Committee voted its unanimous approval. The bill by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes would implement $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes, approved by Florida voters via Amendment 4 in August. SB 90, supported by environmental groups and solar panel installers, lacks the same safety standards and disclosure requirements found in the House version, HB 1351. Brandes said the House is moving toward the Senate’s position. “We’re going to continue to work with them. The landing site in in sight on this bill,” Brandes said.

WELFARE CHANGES IN FLORIDA INCLUDE TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Welfare recipients in Florida would face tougher penalties for failing to meet work requirements and some food stamp recipients could become ineligible if lawmakers in the Florida House have their way. The chamber passed a set of changes to Florida’s welfare laws by an 82-38 vote with three Democrats joining Republicans in support. It’s a move supporters say is supposed to help people who receive cash assistance from the state to find good jobs and discourage reliance on government. “We’re trying to help individuals, we’re trying to curb fraud and abuse and get rid of this system of dependency,” said Rep. Dane Eagle the bill sponsor. “We don’t want people to be dependent on the state. We want them to be gainfully employed.” But opponents say Eagle’s legislation (HB 23) — also a priority of House Speaker Corcoran — is an attack on the poor.

BILL BANNING STEROID USE ON GREYHOUNDS PASSES HOUSE via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – HB 743 would prohibit the use of anabolic steroids at any point in the Greyhounds career. Any licensees caught in violation of the law could lose their license and be subject to a fine of up to $10,000. While the bill had broad bipartisan support and Republican Alex Miller as a co-sponsor, there was still some debate opposing the legislation “My concern is that we’re making an emotional argument and not a factual one” said Rick Roth, a Republican from Palm Beach, citing an underlying motive to ban dog racing altogether. “My concern is that we’re jumping off the cliff too fast.” Other opponents argue that steroids are given to female dogs in heat to simply keep male greyhounds away. In closing, Smith thanked the House Speaker for letting the facts drive the discussion on the legislation instead of partisan politics. The bill passed with 84 votes in favor and 32 votes in opposition.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – NEWEST DRAFT RULES GOVERNING 2022 SPEAKERS RACE: MEMBERS NOT ELIGIBLE FOR NOMINATION IF THEY VIOLATE GOP CONFERENCE RULES via Florida Politics — An updated draft of rules governing the election of the Republican’s freshman caucus leader — and eventual Speaker of the House — moves up the organizational meeting and stipulates a member found in violation of Republican conference rules would be ineligible for consideration. Reps. Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant have been tasked with writing draft rules to help guide the freshman class’s decision-making process. While new rules approved by members this year banned any active speaker’s races until June 30, the draft election rules are meant to spell out how the freshman class would ultimately pick its leader. But, perhaps the most notable change is the provision that outlines exactly who is eligible to become leader. When it came to nominations, the earlier draft of rules only noted that nominations “shall be from the floor and must receive a first and a second to be a valid nomination. Members may be the first or second for their own nomination.” New draft rules, however, go a step further. According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules.

HOUSE APPROVES SIX-YEAR LOBBYING BAN FOR FORMER LAWMAKERS, ELECTED OFFICIALS via Florida Politics – The House approved tough new ethics legislation Thursday barring members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues for six years after leaving office. The measure also would prevent officials from leveraging their authority to seek jobs from or going into business with lobbyists. CS/SB 7083 passed on a vote of 118-0, even though Speaker Corcoran has conceded the Senate has little interest in boosting ethics laws this year, and with the scheduled end of session a little more than two weeks away. … Existing law restricts lobbying by former lawmakers and elected officials for two years.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Gregory BlackJames DaughtonWarren HusbandAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: American Association of Payers, Administrators and Networks

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting: AMOAF

Mike Haridopolos: I.O. Inc

Marc Reichelderfer, Landmarc Strategies: Bombardier Transportation

TAMELA PERDUE WILL JOIN VOLUNTEER FLORIDA FOUNDATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Perdue was unanimously approved by the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board of Directors and the Volunteer Florida Commission. Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman said, “We are thrilled to have Tammy join the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board. She brings an extraordinary amount of executive leadership and private-sector insight to the Board and we look forward to serving with her.” Perdue serves as Senior Vice President of Legislative and Government Affairs for Sunshine Health, one of Florida’s largest health plans.

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Cruise Missiles over Syria. Bombs over Afghanistan, Aircraft Carriers off the Korean Peninsula, Russian Nuclear Bombers flying 36 miles off the coast of Alaska – are we headed for war? Dr. James discusses the recent shows of force with political analyst Dr. Lawrence Miller.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: The Sunday morning show will kick off with a segment on what everyone in Tallahassee is talking about: Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles’ slur-filled rant at the Governor’s Club. The PolitiFact Trump-O-Meter rates the current status of the president’s campaign promise to dramatically scale back the EPA. On the Common Grounds segment, guests Kevin Doyle of the Consumer Energy Alliance and former Rep. Dick Batchelor look at the EPA regulations rollback and discuss how it could affect the environmental climate and the business climate moving forward.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Congressmen John Rutherford and Ron DeSantis will make an appearance, while the panel will consist of Carlton Robinson of the Jax Chamber, Ellen Sullivan of BairFind, Jeannie Fredrick of Women Business Owners of NE Florida, and Iris Simmons of The Genesi Group.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Steve VancoreGary Yordon and Sean Pittman will be joined by none other than some guy named Peter Schorsch.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lloyd DunkelbergerAndrew Hall, and a true Florida gentleman who doesn’t even read Sunburn, Erik Suskey.

Still waiting: Senators get non-answer from FDFC on All Aboard Florida bonding

Still waiting.

A pair of Republican lawmakers have yet to receive an adequate explanation from the Florida Development Finance Corporation about its approval of a $600 million private equity bond application for All Aboard Florida.

The rail project is seeking to offer passenger service from Miami to West Palm Beach with the possibility of future service to Orlando. In 2015, the FDFC approved the issuance of $1.75 billion in bonds for All Aboard Florida, a move that led Martin and Indian River counties to sue, alleging the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Questions arose after the first request for $1.75 billion in bonds was withdrawn, replaced by a new application for $600 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In February, Miami Sen. Anitere Flores sent a letter to FDFC Director William Spivey to clarify the FDFC’s role in the approval of the new bond. Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne reaffirmed the request with a separate letter March 30, asking Spivey for elucidation on the process by April 10.

An April 6 letter to Flores from Donna Blanton of the Tallahassee-based Radey law firm – who serves as outside counsel for the FDFC — was less than enlightening.

“As I am sure you realize,” she writes, “the FDFC is a collegial body that is governed by a board of directors.”

Blanton added that Spivey cannot provide “the position” of the FDFC, since the board makes its positions known “through formal action of its board of directors” by way of public meetings.

“Moreover, an application for Private Activity Bond allocation is a separate and distinct process from an application for financing requiring consideration by the board of directors.”

All Aboard Florida, the attorney writes, has “not submitted any request or proposal for consideration by FDFC since FDFC approved its original Resolution relating to Private Activity Bonds on Aug. 5, 2015.”

Blanton concludes that “it would be improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond.”

Not much of an answer.

Similarly, a letter to Mayfield dated April 14 echoed the explanation given to Flores.

The gist of the letters – which, in essence, say nothing – suggest that instead of acting as a public instrument, FDFC insists on conducting work in the dark.

After two ranking lawmakers questioned the process, instead of answers, lawyers respond with a veritable word salad. How better to describe such verbal gymnastics like “it would improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of the FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond?”

AAF publicly stated in November 2016, before a final ruling on the legality of the USDOT $1.75 billion bond allocation, that both the DOT and AAF filed motions announcing the withdrawal of the allocation, first granted December 2014.

Then, AAF applied — and DOT had approved — a “new” $600 million bond allocation financing only Phase I of the project (the part running from Miami to West Palm Beach).

So again, Flores and Mayfield have (rightfully) asked the FDFC to explain. Both senators seek a better understanding of the process, and ensure AAF and the FDFC are following all best practices in the re-issuance of $600 million in bonds.

And both are still waiting.

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