Last Call — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.
In keeping the theme of the ongoing campaign season, abolishing the use of public financing for statewide political campaigns is up for consideration to become part of the state constitution.
The Ethics and Election Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission on Wednesday will take up the proposal, which would also ban the use of any public funds on campaigns for local elections.
The proposed constitutional amendment (P 56) was filed by Commissioner Frank Kruppenbacher, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, who has backed eliminating the state’s public campaign financing system. Scott did not use public money in his past two gubernatorial races.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran has also been a very vocal proponent of ending this type of public financing, which he has called “welfare for politicians.”
Under the system in place, statewide candidates who agree to limit their expenses can get public-funded matching dollars. Only personal contributions of $250 or less from state residents are eligible for matching funds.
According to a staff analysis, the state could save somewhere between $2.7 million and $13.1 million every four years when the Governor and Cabinet are up for election if voters approve this measure.
The proposal has two committee stops. The first one will be Wednesday’s CRC hearing, which will be held at 8 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
“I have done my best as a member of the CRC, but I cannot answer all of your questions” — Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch said as she failed to answer the questions of a Constitutional Revision Commission review panel about her environmental rights proposal.
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Wake Up Early?
The Legislative Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will take up a proposal (P 103) that would require legislative sessions to start in January in even-numbered years. They would start in March in odd-numbered years. That’s at 8 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
The Ethics and Elections Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will take up a series of proposals, including a measure (P 56) that would eliminate the use of public financing for statewide political candidates. That’s at 8 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will present Gov. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis with Florida-grown Christmas trees. That’s at 8:30 a.m., outside of the Executive Office of the Governor Plaza Level, the Capitol.
Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider numerous issues, including a proposed deal that could help protect 1,863 acres of land in St. Johns and Flagler counties. That’s at 9 a.m., Cabinet meeting room, the Capitol.
The Self-Insurance Estimating Conference will analyze issues related to the state employees’ health-insurance program. That’s at 9:30 a.m., 117 Knott Building, the Capitol.
The Central Florida Regional Planning Council will meet in Polk County. That’s at 9:30 a.m., Bartow Public Library, 2150 South Broadway Ave., Bartow.
Sen. Aaron Bean, the Fernandina Beach Republican, will speak to the Southside Business Men’s Club. That’s at noon, San Jose Country Club, 7529 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville.
The Social Services Estimating Conference will discuss caseloads in the KidCare subsidized health-insurance program for children. That’s at 1:30 p.m., 117 Knott Building, the Capitol.
Putnam will address the Rural Economic Development Summit in St. Augustine. The event is hosted by the Florida Rural Economic Development Association. That’s at 5:45 p.m., 500 S. Legacy Trail, St. Augustine.
Heading into the weekend, conventional wisdom seemed to lean toward a Roy Moore victory in Tuesday’s special election for an Alabama Senate seat. Even Democratic pundits were starting to go with “Roy Moore is going to win, but the GOP will be the big loser” line.
Or words to that effect.
President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee seemed to feel safe in endorsing Moore by words (Trump) and campaign aid (RNC).
In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Moore had settled in with a lead of between two to three points. After the initial shock and outrage from the accusations of lurid behavior directed toward Moore settled in, his polling numbers stopped falling.
When prominent members of Congress and the U.S. Senate were also accused of misbehavior, Moore slowly began a comeback. His opponent, Doug Jones, has been irrelevant.
Which brings us to today. As people cast their votes in Alabama, uncertainty has returned. On the eve of the election, two polls revealed wildly different findings.
At the same time, Fox News released a survey showing Jones with a 10-point lead. Who’s right?
Both are consistent. The last two polls from Fox show Jones averaging a 9-point lead. Two of the past three Emerson surveys show double-digit leads for Moore.
Sine the accusations against Moore surfaced, 11 polls show him with leads of various sizes, while 6 show Jones with an advantage.
Heading into the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, conventional wisdom held that Hillary Clinton would cruise to victory. Trumpsupporters said there was a hidden, silent majority out there.
Only one poll, the one commissioned by the Los Angeles Times, consistently showed Trump in the game. In the Senate race, the Fox polls stand alone in showing broad support for Jones.
Who could have imagined Democrats would be rooting for a product put out by Fox News?
In 2016, a Republican won in true blue Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Could a Democrat really win a statewide race in crimson red Alabama?
If Moore wins, those supporting Jones should stay off Twitter if they want to avoid the spectacle of Trump doing a verbal touchdown celebration. If Jones pulls the upset, Fox can reveal how their pollster found the hidden, silent majority.
Then, the conversation turns to what it all means for the next 11 months.
Nelson seeks answers from VA on housing program
After the Veterans Affairs announced it was ending a $460 million housing program benefiting chronically homeless veterans, a large outcry quickly began. The VA said the funds would be shifted to VA hospitals, who would then decide how to use it.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin about the move. Nelson said some “clarification” was in order.
“I find your announcement to move over $460 million in funding for this program to be deeply concerning,” he wrote. “This program assists veterans that are in most need of help.”
Nelson was not the only one complaining. Veterans advocates were leading a charge to reverse the decision.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who partners with the VA on the program, was not consulted, nor were key veterans’ groups. Late last week, Shulkin reversed course.
“There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program,” Shulkin said in a news release on December 6.
Nelson said that was still not enough.
“Further, while I appreciate your statement from December 6 when you announced that ‘there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,’ I believe this does not go far enough and clarification is needed. I look forward to hearing from you or your assigned designee on this critical matter.”
Rubio: Tax bill will determine if GOP is “country club party”
Florida’s junior senator has a warning for his party. What they do with the final version of the tax reform bill was show whether the GOP is a “country club party” or whether they have something to offer lower-income Americans.
As House and Senate negotiators shape the final bill to be brought to both chambers for a vote, Rubio is warning there “are going to be problems” if negotiators only worry about the corporate tax rate at the expense of those who depend on the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
As the Senate was voting on its’ version of the bill on December 2, Rubio and Utah Republican Mike Lee asked for the corporate tax rate be cut from 35 percent to 20.94 percent instead of 20 percent. This would allow lower income Americans to enjoy the full benefits of the CTC according to Rubio.
Their proposal as voted down.
On Friday, he tweetedsome Ronald Reagan from 1977 to make a point. “The new Republican Party is going to have room for the man and woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat,” he said.
GOP leaders still believe they can have a final bill to the president’s desk by year’s end. With Tennessee Republican Bob Corker saying he will not be voting for the Republican bill, they can afford only one more defector.
“The New Republican Party…is going to have room for the man & the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat” 4/6
Sponsored by Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn, the bill earned numerous delegation co-sponsors from both parties. It targets the practice of the Palestinian Authority that rewards terrorists or their families for acts of violence.
The bill is named after Taylor Force, an American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist. It passed the House on a voice vote.
“While the Palestinian Authority continues to incentivize violence and aggression against Israeli and U.S. citizens, the House of Representatives has made it clear it will not tolerate these activities,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. “Israel continues to be the best partner for peace, freedom, and democracy in the Middle East, and I am a proud ally of Israel.”
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch took to the House floor in support.
“We need trusted partners for peace in the Palestinian Authority,” Deutch said. “That starts by ending the subsidy program for acts of terrorism. I’m proud that Congress came together to produce a strong bipartisan bill to finally pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop their ‘pay for slay’ practice.”
Among the delegation co-sponsors in addition to Deutch and Diaz-Balart are Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel. Republicans include Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Dennis Ross, Dan Webster, and Ted Yoho.
A matching Senate bill, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, is under consideration.
Two Floridians hitch ride with Trump to Pensacola rally
President Trump had a boisterous rally in Pensacola on Friday. He arrived at the Naval Air Station with two delegation members along for the ride.
Both Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis flew to the rally aboard Air Force One with the president. DeSantis and Gaetz both offered remarks before Trump’s appearance.
“He cannot wait to say thank you to all of the great folks in Northwest Florida who delivered the Sunshine State to President Donald Trump,” Gaetz told the crowd. “The stock market is up and unemployment is down. We are draining the swamp and rebuilding our military.”
“We haven’t been living up to our potential as a country,” DeSantis said. “We have the best opportunity in my lifetime to do it right now, and that’s thanks to President Donald Trump.”
Trump spoke for nearly 90 minutes about Washington, the media and eventually, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore just four days before Tuesday’s special election.
“We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat (Doug Jones), who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Trump said. “We can’t.”
Lawson welcomes Perdue to Tallahassee
The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee joined Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to Tallahassee for a visit to Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU). They were joined by university President Larry Robinson, who was recently named president of the university.
Lawson tweeted about the visit, saying he “was pleased to have an opportunity to welcome U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue … where we held a roundtable discussion on youth in agriculture.”
Perdue heard from students on ways to increase interest in studying agriculture and the career possibilities it contains. The three men were part of a roundtable of students, representatives from 4-H, National FFA Organization and extension officers.
Perdue told the roundtable he supports a bill in Congress that would more funding for recruitment and scholarships for land-grant universities.
“We believe we have money in USDA to support this,” Perdue said. “We think it will be a great investment in the future of agriculture.”
Bilirakis proposes improvements to airport safety
After a congressional delegation trip to Europe, the Palm Harbor Republican came away with some thoughts on safety measures he would like to see in major U.S. airports. Last week, he introduced the SAFE TECH Act, which would improve screening procedures at those facilities.
Bilirakis points to technical standards for safety and operating procedures at international airports being set by international agreements. The standards set are generally broad; leaving vulnerabilities through inconsistencies with international partners.
He believes this legislation would address those concerns and improve the safety of all passengers.
“I have contended that if we are not safe, then nothing else matters,” he said in a news release.
Specifically, this legislation will provide an avenue for 3rd party testing of innovative technology screening capabilities to enhance airport security. It will also assess the feasibility of linking compatible security technology utilized by the United States and international allies in order to augment screening checkpoints.
“During my recent fact-finding mission, I was startled by lack of consistency in international standards and gaps in technology that support precautionary measures to ensure passenger safety,” he said. “I am convinced this is something that needs to be immediately rectified, and I urge my colleagues’ support of this important bill with expedited passage,” he said.
Diaz-Balart, Crist slated to speak at Florida Defense Expo
Top officials and thought leaders from the U.S. defense and aerospace industries and the Florida companies that serve them will gather this winter when the Florida Defense Contractors Association (FDCA) hosts the sixth annual Florida Defense Expo. Providing attendees with educational sessions, industry networking and business development opportunities, the Expo will take place Feb. 20 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando.
Among the confirmed Expo speakers is Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist. The Expo also will include a trade show representing small and emerging companies as well as global top-100 firms and the organizations that help support them.
“FDCA is uniquely positioned to lead a statewide business network on behalf of Florida defense contractors,” said FDCA Chair Noel McCormick, President of McCormick Stevenson.
The event will kick off at 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 at the Orlando Rosen Plaza Hotel.
Crist, Castor urge health care sign-ups as deadline looms
With just a few days left before Friday’s deadline to sign up for health care through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Tampa Bay area’s two Democrats met Monday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Tampa to get the word outbefore they head back to Washington.
“Time is short,” said Castor, repeating her frustration that the sign-up period for Obamacare this year was cut in half, from 12 weeks to six.
Yet those moves were barely mentioned at Monday’s press event, though Crist did call the reduced sign up period “a shame, and unfortunate.” Instead, the lawmakers concentrated on the positive aspects of getting signed up to the ACA.
“Do not listen to the folks in Washington who say the ACA is dead. It’s not true,” said Castor.
Over 800,000 Floridians have signed up for the program since Nov. 1, again leading the nation in new enrollees.
While attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed in Congress this year, the program is still under threat from the recently passed GOP tax reform plan that is about to go through conference.
The Sarasota Republican has becomethe first member of Congress to call for a federal court to unseal secret testimony from former IRS senior executive Lois Lerner.
Lerner and her immediate subordinate, Holly Paz, emerged as two key figures after it was discovered in 2013 that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to hundreds of conservative groups seeking nonprofit status leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign.
Lerner and Paz filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett last month asking that tapes and transcripts of their depositions be forever kept secret from the public, saying that they feared for their safety.
But an attorney representing Tea Party groups says that any instances of harassment took place nearly four years ago, and is arguing that the courts who’ll deny their request and open the docket for public inspection. The secrecy issues are among those remaining in a class-action lawsuit covering hundreds of Tea Party groups that faced illegal scrutiny in their nonprofit status applications.
“Lois Lerner betrayed the nation’s trust yet managed to avoid accountability and criminal charges,” says Buchanan, who chairs the oversight subcommittee responsible for the IRS. “Now she wants to keep her role in the illegal targeting scheme secret, free from public scrutiny. What is she hiding? The public deserves answers.”
The Justice Department, class action plaintiffs, and multiple news organizations including The Wall Street Journal and Cincinnati Enquirer have all since requested unsealing documents in the case.
According to a three-year investigation by the House Ways and Means committee, Lerner used her position to improperly influence agency action against conservative organizations, denying these groups due process and equal protection rights under the law.
She impeded official investigations by providing misleading statements in response to questions from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and may have disclosed confidential taxpayer information.
After the Justice Department told the House Ways & Means Committee in September they would not prosecute Lerner, Buchanan strongly objected.
Buchanan signs onto bill studying link between painkillers and veteran suicides
Suicide and drug overdoses are two of the biggest killers of veterans in America.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’Office of Suicide Prevention, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. In fact, 18 percent of all American adult suicides that year were committed by veterans, even though veterans made up just 8.5% of the population.
Accidental overdoses, in particular, have hit veterans harder than the broader American populace, as Reuters reports, in part because veterans are more likely to be prescribed painkillers to treat injuries maintained during combat.
New legislation being co-sponsored by Sarasota area Rep.Buchanan would study the link between those two disturbing trends.
“The Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act“ would require the Veterans Affairs Department to review the deaths of all veterans treated by the VA who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years.
“The high rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths in the veteran community are unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, specifically opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths among veterans.”
Introduced by Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, the bill specifically calls for a listing of “any medications that carried a black box warning, were prescribed for off-label use, were psychotropic, or carried warnings that include suicidal ideation.” The new information will be used to better treat veterans suffering from mental and physical injuries sustained as a result of their service.
Taxpayers funded $225,000 settlement to Hastings accuser
With growing numbers of new sexual harassment cases coming out of Washington, an older one resurfaced involving the Democratic Congressman from Delray Beach. In a story broken by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication, taxpayers funded a payoff to a former staffer who had accused him of harassment.
Winsome Packer, a staff member on a commission Hastings’ chaired, filed a complaint in 2011. The ultimate settlement in 2014 included a payout of $225,000 to Packer, which Hastings said was news to him.
“Until (Friday) evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement to the Palm Beach Post. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made. I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needless paid to Ms. Packer.”
Packer had accused Hastings of “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwanted touching.” A judge dismissed the individual claims against Hastings — but not the commission — in 2012. The House ethics committee cleared Hastings in 2014, but said in their report Hastings “admitted to certain conduct that is less than professional.”
Hastings is the co-chairman of the Florida delegation along with Sarasota Republican Buchanan.
Aronberg to testify before Congress
The State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit, Dave Aronberg, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committeeon Tuesday. The Committee is discussing the opioid addiction crisis and the growing fraud in the area of addiction treatment.
“Sadly, recent reports indicate that individuals known as ‘patient brokers’ are treating individuals seeking treatment for their opioid addiction as a commodity, rather than helping them receive legitimate treatment and ultimately achieve recovery,” the committee said in an announcement.
Both Aronberg and Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson will discuss their successful Sober Home Task Force that is aggressively targeting patient brokers.
“Our office has led the fight against fraud and abuse in the drug treatment industry, and I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before Congress on our strategy and recommendations to combat the opioid epidemic on a national level,” Aronberg said in a release.
Paulson’s Politics: Unforeseen factors that could impact the 2018 Florida Congressional elections
There are always several unanticipated factors that influence electoral outcomes. The candidates and parties that anticipate and try to counter these factors are likely to do best.
Among the unanticipated factors are:
Voter Purges: Voter purges have been around for a long time. Some removals are mere attempts to diminish the likely success of certain groups or parties. For example, voter purges were commonly used in the South to weaken the ability of minorities to influence the political process. Once removed, it was often difficult to be restored to the voter lists.
Many states, including Florida, have legislation requiring purges to eliminate voters who have died, voters who have moved and voters who simply do not vote. Most everyone agrees that removing those who have died or moved is justified.
There is less agreement about removing those who have not voted for several elections. Florida law states that registered voters may be removed if they have not voted in two consecutive elections. The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to an Ohio law that allows purges of voters who have not voted, arguing that not voting is just as much a choice as voting.
In Florida, voter purges have hurt Democrats more than Republicans. From Jan. 1 until Aug. 31 of 2017, 114,000 inactive voters were removed. 55,000 more Democrats were removed then Republicans. Hillsborough County had twice as many inactive voters removed than any other county, and two Democrats were removed for every Republican.
Immigration. After the devastation of Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria, Florida has experienced the influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the Orlando area. The Hispanic population of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties has grown by 145,000 since Maria, with another 100,000 expected to arrive. The Hispanic population of the Orlando area has grown from 18 percent in 2000 to one-third of the population today. For every new Republican voter among the Puerto Rican immigrants, there are four new Democratic voters.
As much as Puerto Rican’s have transformed the Orlando area, senior citizens moving into the Villages in the Ocala area have changed politics there as well as statewide. The Villages have been the fastest growing metro area in the United States for four consecutive years. Overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Republican, no statewide Republican can afford to ignore the Villages.
Reappointment and Gerrymandering. The United States Supreme Court just heard the case of Gill v. Whitford, a case directly challenging the legality of partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts. The Court will hand down its decision in spring 2018 and, if they strike down partisan gerrymanders, the decision will require the redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts in over one-third of the state’s, including Florida. Such a decision would transform American politics more than any other decision of the court.
Party Organization. Normally, the Republicans have been advantaged by a stronger party organization structure that resulted in recruiting better candidates, raising more money and doing a better job of turning out the vote.
The defeat of Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate, Leslie Dougher, to lead the party by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia has helped decimate what used to be one of the strongest state party organizations in America. Scott urged supporters to no longer contribute to the party, but to his Let’s Get to Work Political Action Committee. Republican fundraising has slowed down so much that the Democrats have raised more than the Republicans in 2017.
The election of Stephan Bittel in January 2017 as head of the Florida Democrats bolstered the optimism of Democrats. That confidence was short-lived, as Bittel was ousted in November due to multiple charges of sexual harassment.
Gender and Race. We have long known that the parties have a gender bias. Males tend to vote Republican and females vote Democrat. The assumption was that gender differences between the parties canceled each other out. Is this the case?
Not really. While males in Florida vote 52 percent for Republicans, females vote 53 percent for Democrats. However, women make up 55 percent of the Florida electorate, so that slight difference actually amounts to several hundred thousand voters statewide.
A quick look at Florida’s congressional delegation shows the gender impact more clearly. Of the current 16 members of the Republican congressional delegation, only one is held by a female and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring at the end of this current session of Congress. Of the 11 Democrats in the Florida delegation, six are women.
Going into 2018, the Republicans will be without any females in their delegation, while the Democrats will add anywhere between one to three female members. Mary Barzee Flores is favored to pick up the seat of the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Nancy Soderberg in District 6 and Lauren Baer in District 18 could win seats in a wave election.
Finally, there are currently three Hispanics, all Cuban American, in the Republican delegation. One of these will retire. On the Democratic side, in addition to having six women in their 11-member delegation, they have four blacks, one Hispanic and one Vietnamese.
Will race and gender play a role in deciding the makeup of the Florida congressional delegation? Republicans must hope that voters prefer white males. It has worked for them so far.
Politicians are quick to criticize “the media” when they receive less-than-flattering news coverage.
On the other hand, many lawmakers and candidates are embracing media — especially social media — as an efficient way to reach out to voters, offering unfiltered views on critical issues.
Few politicos understand this new political reality better than Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida’s 1st Congressional District.
As of this week, Gaetz has 13.7K followers for @mattgaetz, his personal Twitter account, and 8.6K on @RepMattGaetz, his official account.
Compare that to Gaetz’s declared opponents in North Florida’s CD 1: Republican John Mills has no presence on Twitter, while Democrat Phil Ehr has only 3.8K followers at @PhilEhr.
As of early December, Chris Dosev, another Republican in the race, has more than 18K followers at @crisdosev — a “dubious” list with several likely fake (and probably purchased) followers, as Rick Outzen’s blog suggests.
“Since then,” Outzen writes, “Dosev has been losing about seven thousand followers a day, many of which are faceless with bad handles.”
Including Dosev’s questionable following, none of these other candidates have the social media numbers necessary to mount a serious bid for elected office in today’s interconnected world.
Unlike Dobrev, good social media is more than just a raw number of Twitter followers; Gaetz actively engages his fan base by smartly using the tools of social media to get out his message, more so than any other member of Congress.
For example, after tweeting any one of his frequent appearances on Fox News, Gaetz receives more retweets than any other congressional member. Each television spot only bolsters an already robust online presence among Gaetz’s many followers.
As a result, his Facebook page has grown its audience by nearly 7,000 likes in a year.
That is the mark of someone savvy to the political power of social media.
And Matt is not the only one on Team Gaetz with considerable digital skills. Last year, Matt’s sister Erin launched her own digital content firm, Southpaw Content, specializing in viral videos that use tactics learned as digital content director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid.
Another member of Gaetz’s digital team is Zach Monahan, who leads the Supernova Digital Communications, a full-service digital shop — and a newly launched subsidiary of Enwright Rimes Consulting — that features digital ad campaigns, social media, email marketing and website creation.
Thanks to those Fox appearances, Erin’s creative vision, and a smart social media strategy, Matt Gaetz has enjoyed more than 600,000 video views on Facebook just this year. With that, Gaetz has earned his spot on a growing list of active politicians who have learned how social media can help win elections, as those late in the game will soon find out.
Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
As if there were a question that the business community hates a proposed state constitutional amendment to expand the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits, a letter released Monday erased all doubt.
No less than 28 business groups, including the Florida Retail Federation and Manufacturers Association of Florida, have now signed on to oppose the proposal (P23), pending before the Judicial Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).
Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a CRC appointee of Senate President JoeNegron, filed the language. Both are from Martin County.
It says that “the natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law.”
The last sentence has caused the most exasperation: “Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.” Critics say this will open the floodgates to litigation.
“By granting this broad right to challenge any government entity, business or private citizen — even if they are in full compliance with existing laws or valid permits — CRC Proposal 23 would allow delay or defeat of currently legal activities in our state,” the letter says.
“This amendment … encourages frivolous lawsuits, which would inevitably drive up business costs and threaten future economic development in Florida,” it adds. “(The proposal) is unnecessary and would do nothing more than create prolonged and harmful uncertainty for Florida businesses.”
The proposal will be considered at the committee’s meeting later today, scheduled for 1-5 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building.
Assignment editors — Marsy’s Law for Florida, a crime victims’ group working to amend the state constitution to provide a ‘bill of rights’ for crime victims, will hold a news conference in support of a proposal currently before the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). That’s at 10:30 a.m., 4th-floor Rotunda, the Capitol.
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— L’AFFAIRE LATVALA —
“Senate won’t identify attorney recommended for Jack Latvala probe” via Matt Dixon and Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida – Senate President Joe Negron‘s office provided nearly 50 pages of documents relating to the search process for an outside attorney to lead the investigation of Latvala. It included records for several attorneys, but the identity of one was redacted. Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Negron, said a public records exemption for “personal identifying information” is being claimed, but she would not specify which one. There is no requirement that a public entity cite a specific exemption when redacting information from public records. “We claim the exemptions under [Florida statute] 119 that allow for various redactions, including personal identifying information for certain people who qualify for exemptions,” she said. The records indicate that the exempt person was recommended by Amy Oppenheimer, a California attorney that the Office of Legislative Services used to seek recommendations on whom to lead the Latvala probe. In October, the California Senate hired Oppenheimer’s firm to conduct a sexual harassment investigation. Oppenheimer recommended Jupiter-based attorney Cathleen Scott and a second attorney whose name is redacted.
“Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King wants to reform committee week meetings” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — If King becomes governor, he wants committee weeks to be held throughout the state — and not exclusively at the Capitol … he will champion legislation that would mandate committee weeks be held in “as many regions as possible” across the state to give constituents better access to state government. “The location of our legislative process benefits individuals and organizations with the financial means and time to travel,” King said in a statement. Historically, committee weeks have always been held at the Capitol, making this change a departure from the norm. But King said the “remoteness” of the Legislature is one of the reasons unethical behavior continues to occur in state government.
“Women in politics fear #MeToo moment will backfire — and they’ll be the ones punished” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Female staffers and lobbyists who returned to the Capitol last week for pre-session meetings discovered many male legislators would no longer meet with them privately. Accustomed to Tallahassee’s Southern culture, where men and women casually and routinely greet each other with hugs, legislators are doing an awkward dance to replace a hug with a handshake. And the fear of retaliation — against women who brought forward allegations or those who may in the future — is as raw as the fear that legislators’ political enemies could turn sexual harassment claims into new political weapons. “I had a senator say, ‘I need my aide here in the room because I need a chaperone,’” said Jennifer Green, a veteran lobbyist, after meeting with a senator in his Capitol office to discuss a client’s issue. “I said, ‘Senator, why do you need a chaperone? I don’t feel uncomfortable around you, do you feel uncomfortable around me? ‘Well,’ he said, ‘anyone can say anything with the door shut.’”
— FOR YOUR RADAR —
Keeping a positive relationship with a lawmaker is arguably the highest priority for a lobbyist. But for several female lobbyists in state governments across the U.S., it’s a priority that has kept them silent on sexual harassment.
A recent New York Times story shows that state lawmakers across the country have attempted to exploit sexual relationships with lobbyists. While the advances were inappropriate and not welcomed, most female lobbyists feared they’d lose access to legislators if they reported the incident, forcing them to stay quiet.
The story discusses reported incidences of sexual harassment between lobbyists and state legislators in New Mexico, Kansas, Minnesota, Washington, South Dakota and Arizona. While it touches on reported sexual harassment incidents in 20 state congresses, the story does not explicitly discuss allegations against Sen. Latvala.
— “You can have my vote if you have sex with me,” lobbyist VanessaAlarid said in recounting an exchange with New Mexico state Rep. Thomas A. Garcia.
— Sarah Walker showed The Times a text that read, “Would it frighten you if I said that I was just interested in good times good wine good food and good sex?” The text message was from now-resigned Minnesota state Rep. Tony Cornish.
— “There’s no mechanism in the statehouse that I’m aware of for lobbyists to report harassment or assault, other than going to legislative leadership,” said SamanthaSpawn, a pro-choice lobbyist in South Dakota who said she was raped by a statehouse staff member. “But they’re Republican men. No one in South Dakota is going to have sympathy for the NARAL lobbyist.”
— Washington State lobbyist NicoleGrant said she was groped by state Rep. JimJacks. On why she didn’t report the incident immediately: “I’m just really focused on delivering for them. You don’t let anything get in the way. Some guy grabs you, it’s like, eye on the prize.”
— CAPITOL INSIGHT —
“Negron says Senate likely to consider tax amendment” via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the News Service of Florida — Negron said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Scott‘s proposal to amend the state constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones. Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel … In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate. As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees. “It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”
“Diaper tax cut the latest pro-women tax plan by Democrats” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Sen. Lauren Book rallied support for her bill to end sales taxes on diapers Monday at Fort Lauderdale’s Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center. “As a legislature, we provide tax breaks for businesses, we do the sales tax holidays for back to school and hurricane preparedness, all of which are extremely important, but this would be giving families direct help and support when they need it most,” Book said. “I’ve talked to moms who have had to keep their children in [individual] diapers much longer than they care to, causing urinary tract infections and other issues because they simply don’t have the means to purchase more.” The tax cut is the latest targeted at women and families by Democrats. Last year, state Rep. Katie Edwards filed a bill to make tampons and other menstrual products sales-tax free. That tax cut eventually passed as part of a larger tax package. The diaper sales tax exemption has already cleared its first committee in the Senate and faces two more before a vote by the full Senate.
“‘Alternative transportation’ authority proposed” via the News Service of Florida — House and Senate Republicans are proposing the creation of a “Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority” that would oversee developing transportation systems for such things as autonomous vehicles. The authority would be within the state Department of Transportation and would receive $60 million beginning in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, according to the House and Senate proposals. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee last week approved the House version (HB 535), sponsored by Rep. BryanAvila, a Hialeah Republican, and Rep. JamesGrant, a Tampa Republican. Sen. DanaYoung filed the Senate version (SB 1200) on Friday.
“House lobbying and ethics reforms ready for floor” via Lobby Tools— … after being submitted by the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee. HB 7003 would strengthen the financial disclosure requirements of local government officials and would require local government lobbying registration. HB 7005 would create a trust fund to pay for the local lobbying registration system. HB 7007, aimed at preventing public officials from seeking employment from entities they regulate, was also submitted by the committee but has not yet been sent to the floor. But the House says it is part of the ethics reform package. The House also has a six-year lobbying ban (HB 5), a bill to require more fiscal transparency by local governments (HB 7), and a plan to strengthen government auditing provisions (HB 11) already on the floor, having passed one committee of reference respectively.
Bill alert— Rep. Randy Fine says he’s planning on filing what he calls “No Pickup, No Pay; No Service, No Sale” legislation. The consumer protection act will “defend Floridians from having to pay for garbage pickup, telecommunications, and cable service when those services are not actually provided. Under current law, these services can — and are — billed even if service is not provided,” a news release said.
Happening tonight— Fine holds his second annual holiday party beginning 5 p.m. at his Palm Bay Office, 2539 Palm Bay Road NE. Co-hosting the party is Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia, whose office is next door.
“Jeff Brandes — and his mom — head back to college” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The 1999 Carson-Newman University graduate will deliver the winter commencement address at his alma mater, where his mother — Mary Tibbets Brandes — will be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Brandes’ mother is a 1971 graduate of the private Baptist school. She would later become the first teacher hired at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg, eventually becoming the head of the school. “The Brandes family has a long association with our university, and the Carson-Newman family is proud to claim them as our own,” University President J. Randall O’Brien stated in a release … The school notes that Sen. Brandes has “earned a reputation for innovative approaches in education, job creation, and transportation matters.”
“Wedding cake case prompts legislation” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — The dispute arose when Charlie Craig and David Mullins of Denver went to the Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012 and owner Jack Phillips refused to create a wedding cake for them. The Colorado civil rights commission ruled against the baker, and he appealed, saying his religious freedom would be abridged if the government could force him to do something he considers immoral. Florida doesn’t have a law like Colorado’s, but state Rep. Jay Fant wants to make sure no bakers get busted around here. Fant, who’s running for attorney general, introduced the “Free Enterprise Protection Act” — timing it to coincide with Supreme Court arguments in the wedding cake case. House Bill 871 would forbid “discriminatory action” by state or local governments against businesses for their exercise of personal choices. For instance, it would bar any imposition of fines, withholding of permits or other governmental actions because of constitutionally protected actions. “The government simply should not force business owners to create things they do not want to create,” Fant said, in filing his bill. “The more and more regulations that are handed down from government, the less and less freedom we have.”
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“American Bridge launches campaign against Adam Putnam” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics –American Bridge, a progressive super PAC formed by David Brock in 2010, says they intend on informing Floridians over the next year about what they contend has been Putnam’s priorities in public office since first being elected to office more than 20 years ago: “Sweet deals for big business and his own bank accounts, while squarely ignoring the needs and concerns of Florida families” … “Adam Putnam is truly the problem child for Florida Republicans—he’s been cozying up to and making sweet deals on behalf of the lobbyists and donors that keep him in office for decades, all at the expense of Florida families,” American Bridge spokesperson Lizzy Price says. “Putnam is right in line with Republicans in Congress under the leadership of Donald Trump who give handouts to the rich at the expense of the middle class.”
“Poll: Gwen Graham leads Democratic gubernatorial primary” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics – She holds a seven-point lead over second place over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The poll, released by Associated Industries of Florida, a GOP-leaning business lobby, shows Graham with 24 percent, while Gillum is at 17 percent. While the poll points to a Graham-Gillum race at the moment, the money does not favor the Gillum team, which has struggled to raise cash. By the end of October, he had raised $1.6 million total for his campaign. In that same time period, Graham’s raised $4 million and Chris King, a newcomer in Florida politics, pulled in $2.7 million for his campaign. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, though, has raised the most: somewhere in the ballpark of $7 million. King and Levine each have 4 percent of the vote in the four-way race, according to the poll. To keep the momentum, Gillum is betting on the vote of African-Americans, a demographic with which he is leading, according to the new numbers. But as the 38-year-old runs on an “unapologetic progressive” platform, very liberal voters are narrowly favoring Graham (25-23) — not him.
Assignment editors – Gillum will hold a joint meeting with several North Broward County Democratic clubs, including the Coconut Creek Democratic Club, the Margate Democratic Club, and the Deerfield Beach Democratic Club. Meeting begins 7 p.m. at 1100 Lyons Road (Meeting Rooms B & C) in Coconut Creek.
“Disney sinks another $1 million into gambling initiative” via the News Service of Florida – Disney Worldwide Services contributed an additional $1 million in November to a ballot initiative that could make it harder to expand gambling in Florida, according to a newly filed finance report. The Disney money made up almost all of the $1,021,000 in cash collected last month by the political committee known as Voters in Charge. In all, Disney had contributed at least $3.875 million to the committee since April … The ballot proposal would change the Florida Constitution and give voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.” It would require voter approval of casino-style games in the future.
Happening tonight – House District 69 candidate Jennifer Webb invites friends and supporters to a Birthday Campaign Kickoff event beginning 5:30 p.m. at The Peninsula Inn, 2937 Beach Blvd. S. in Gulfport. Light refreshments, cash bar and birthday cake will be served. RSVP via Facebook, or at (727) 320-6275.
“Patrick Soranno goes uncontested for Indian Shores mayor” via Florida Politics – Soranno has been the interim mayor since the death of Mayor Jim Lawrence in January. Before taking over, Soranno was the vice mayor …The lack of a challenger for Soranno means there will be no offices in Indian Shores up for election during the Pinellas County municipal elections set for March 13. According to his Town Council bio, Soranno served six years in the U.S. Air Force, and post-military started a career in business working as a senior vice president at The Travelers Insurance Company and founding business consulting company Paradigm Alliance Group.
— STATEWIDE —
“State plugs shortfall in children’s medical program” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida – Legislative leaders quietly agreed to pump nearly $142 million into a Medicaid managed-care plan that treats some of the state’s sickest children because of higher-than-expected medical costs. The Agency for Health Care Administration Oct. 26 submitted a budget amendment requesting that it be allowed to transfer spending authority and funds to the Department of Health to cover the costs of more than 51,000 medically complex children who were enrolled last year in the Children’s Medical Services Specialty Network plan. The request was approved a month later. Senate President Negron said many budget amendments legislative leaders are asked to approve outside of the traditional process are “routine” but acknowledged the transfer was “for an amount significant enough” that the Senate health care budget panel and the full Appropriations Committee should look at it during the upcoming legislative session.
Despite a push to create a joint budget commission, many budget amendments are submitted — but are never disclosed publicly. The gov office just emails it to legislative leaders to give them notice. But regular folks can’t find this out unless they make a records request
Assignment editors — Attorney General PamBondi will convene the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. A meeting agenda is here. The 15-member council “builds on existing state and local partnerships working to make Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking,” a news release said. That’s at 2 p.m., Cabinet Meeting Room, lower level, the Capitol.
“Ante up: State to workshop new rules for card games” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Gambling regulators plan to “update and clarify existing language” in the state’s rules on card games, according to an administrative notice posted Monday. A “notice of development of rule-making” was published in the Florida Administrative Register. An all-day workshop will be held Jan. 4, at the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s North Broward Regional Service Center in Fort Lauderdale. The division, under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, regulates gambling in Florida. “The preliminary text of the proposed rule development is not available,” the notice said.
“State Attorney fires back at Rick Scott with letter of her own” via David Harris of the Orlando Sentinel — The back-and-forth battle between Orange-Osceola State Attorney AramisAyala and Gov. Scott continued on Monday when she sent a letter accusing him of not doing what he said he was going to do when it came to reassigning death-penalty cases. “I too, stand with the victims of crime,” she wrote. “But I also stand boldly on, not just the Constitution, but all the Amendments to it, including the 14th Amendment.” Her office missed the deadline to file its intent to pursue the death penalty, and Scott wanted to know if Ayala’s intent to seek the punishment was well-intentioned. A spokesman for Scott called her response “completely insufficient… What is especially troubling is her refusal to answer specific questions about her death penalty review panel,” spokesman JohnTubbs said. “…Ayala needs to be more forthcoming with her office’s death penalty process to make it clear that she is going to follow the law and fight for victims.”
First look — AirbnbWATCH, a project of American Family Voices, a progressive 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy group, has released a new video in response to one put out by Airbnb earlier this month. The group says the vacation rental website’s latest ad campaign is “hiding the truth about Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s views on sensible short-term regulations.” To wit: “Florida is a big state, and Republican mayors like Ashton Hayward agree: Any statewide Airbnb fix needs to account for local needs. When will Airbnb stop omitting important facts and work with local lawmakers to rein in its illegal hotel operators?”
Click on the image below to watch the video.
Florida Chamber transportation summit – A Florida Chamber Foundation transportation “summit” in Brevard County will feature speeches by Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew, state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, and Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello . Event 9 a.m. at Port Canaveral Cruise Terminal #1, 9050 Discovery Place in Port Canaveral.
“Ticket-fighting firm hires former Florida Bar president to sue the Bar” via the Tampa Bay Times — Ramon Abadin has joined the legal team of TIKD, a company that expedites the process of fighting traffic tickets in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. TIKD alleges that the Bar and a Miami law firm, The Ticket Clinic, have conspired to put it out of business. The Bar is seeking to disqualify Abadin from representing TIKD, arguing that during his 2015-16 term as president he was privy to attorney-client communications involving the antitrust issues alleged in the lawsuit. This is not Abadin’s first brush with controversy — two years ago he sparked a furor by seeming to back a proposal that would have let out-of-state lawyers practice in Florida without taking the Florida Bar exam.
“School board may seek renewal of 1 mill school property tax” via Joe Callahan of the Ocala Star-Banner — The Marion County School Board signaled it would be seeking a renewal of the 1 mill school property tax, which generates $16 million annually to help maintain many of its programs. Board Chairwoman Beth McCall said they needed “to start moving” on laying the groundwork to get the measure put on the 2018 ballot. The current four-year tax expires June 30, 2019. Marion voters passed a 1-mill school tax in August 2014. The referendum stated that the money must be used to restore music, art and library programs, as well as help provide more vocational programs. The money also was to be used for reducing class sizes. The board will vote as to whether they will notify the county commission of their intent to put a 1 mill tax on the 2018 ballot. McCall said much groundwork needs to take place to ensure the tax gets passed again.
“Orlando commits to goal of zero pedestrian deaths by 2040” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel –In a resolution, city leaders committed to create a “Vision Zero” action plan with the aim of reducing deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians to zero in the coming decades. It’s part of a nationwide push by the Vision Zero Network, a nonprofit that pushes for safer streets. The Orlando metropolitan area, which also includes Kissimmee and Sanford, was ranked the third-most-dangerous metro area in the United States for pedestrians in the 2016 edition of “Dangerous by Design,” an annual report by Smart Growth America. According to city staff, Orlando averaged about 121.4 crashes involving pedestrians and 121 involving bicycles per year between 2012 and 2016. On average, 6.6 walkers and 1.6 bicyclists died each year during that span.
***Nursing home care is better in states with a Certificate of Need process, because it ensures seniors have access to the right type of care where in the areas they need it most. The best way to ensure a high-quality, long-term care sector that balances the need for nursing home care and home and community-based services is to preserve Florida’s Certificate of Need process. That’s why everyone who cares about Florida’s elders should reject the Constitution Revision Commission proposal to eliminate Certificate of Need in Florida.***
— D.C. MATTERS —
Assignment editors – At 10:15 a.m., State Attorney Dave Aronberg will testify before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on the opioid crisis. Hearing will be in Room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C.
— OPINIONS —
“Chelsea Murphy: right on crime; conservative on justice”via Florida Politics – During the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session, Right on Crime will serve as a resource to lawmakers on the importance of criminal justice reform, breaking down long-held, but unsupported, policy prescriptions. For example, the assumption that to decrease crime, all drug offenders should be subjected to the same mandatory minimum sentences has led to burdensome prison costs with little return for public safety. As an alternative, Right on Crime will introduce and promote public safety reform measures that have seen results in other states that most Floridians want to see enacted.There are steps Florida can take to cut crime and spending within the criminal justice landscape that have proven to save taxpayer dollars, reduce recidivism and protect public safety.The bottom line is a judicial safety valve is more effective and less expensive than mandatory minimum sentencing, and does not put public safety at risk. In addition to judicial safety valve, Florida is well behind other states in reforming its laws governing the property theft threshold, which has not been changed since 1986. The state is once again using an outdated, one-size-fits-all model to criminal justice. The case for smart criminal justice reform is clearer today than at any time in our past, and with smart solutions already being widely discussed by Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Right on Crime is hopeful that the 2018 session will usher in laws that truly work to reduce crime, deliver justice to victims and safeguard taxpayers money.
— MOVEMENTS —
“President Trump picks Bush ally Frank Brogan to be assistant secretary of education” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Brogan, 64, a former Martin County fifth grade teacher and schools superintendent who served as Bush’s lieutenant governor from 1998 to 2002, will be in charge of K-12 policy at the agency that is being reworked by Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He joins another Bush acolyte, Carlos Muñiz, in the Trump Education Department. Muñiz served as Bush’s deputy general counsel uand has been nominated as Education Department general counsel.
“Governor’s office weighs how to replace PSC appointee” via the News Service of Florida – Gov. Scott‘s staff has not determined how to fill a Public Service Commission seat after the withdrawal of an appointee who was accused by an influential senator of sexually inappropriate behavior. Scott said it remains unclear if the Public Service Commission Nominating Council will have to restart the search process or if a name can be selected from among other finalists proposed by the council in August. Ritch Workman, a former state House member who was supposed to join the Public Service Commission Jan. 2, walked away this month from the appointment, which would have required Senate confirmation. His decision came after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto said she would not put Workman’s appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior to her last year. Workman, a Melbourne Republican, had been selected by Scott in September to replace Commissioner Ronald Brise on the five-member commission.
Appointed – Gerard Joseph “Joe” Curley Jr. and James “Jim” Nutt to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.
— FIRST LOOK: COREMESSAGE’S HOLIDAY CARD —
The CoreMessage team, headed by Cory Tilley, riffs off the year’s news for the intro to its 2017 Christmas card.
— ALOE —
Facebook status of the day:
“As holidays draw near, gas prices continue to drop in Florida” via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — AAA released a study which showed gas prices stood, on average, at $2.41 per gallon Sunday in Florida, a drop of three cents from the previous week. While prices have dropped, on average, 12 cents a gallon in Florida over the past month, they remain 19 cents higher than where they were this time last year. Florida is below the national average which stood at $2.47 per gallon Sunday after dropping a penny over the past week. West Palm Beach had the most expensive gas in the Sunshine State with an average of $2.54 per gallon followed by Miami at $2.52 and Naples at $2.50. The least expensive gas in Florida could be found in three different markets with an average of $2.34 per gallon in Jacksonville, Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater market.
“Pasco politicians announce Farm Share this week” via Florida Politics — The 23rd annual Farm Share Holiday Food Giveaway will be held 9-11 a.m. Friday, at Faith Baptist Church located at 9230 Ridge Road in New Port Richey. The announcement was made Monday by Tax Collector MikeFasano, House Speaker RichardCorcoran, Sheriff ChrisNocco, Supervisor of Elections BrianCorley and Property Appraiser GaryJoiner, all of Pasco County. The giveaway includes fresh food donated by Florida’s farmers as well as meat and other items needed to make a complete holiday meal. All needy families are welcome.
“’Up’-themed show coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom” via Ashley Carter of Bay News 9 — It will be located in the Caravan Theater in the park’s Anadapur village, replacing Flights of Wonder. The last day for Flights of Wonder will be Dec. 31. In the as-yet-unnamed show, senior Wilderness Explorer Russell and his furry friend Dug will discover species of birds from around the world. The new experience will offer guests a chance to experience various winged creatures up-close.
“We can’t take any more of 2017, so we’ve turned to the Hallmark Channel in desperation” via Monica Hesse of The Washington Post – Hallmark, which often seemed to exist just so you had something to fold laundry to, is now deep into its biggest annual event — “Countdown to Christmas,” a series of several dozen fresh-from-the-oven, seasonal, made-for-TV movies. And it is an event. We would typically be the first person to mock the idea of the Hallmark Channel, but there is something specific about this December: It’s crap. The news stinks, current events stink — turning on the television, in general, stinks. Another beloved icon revealed to be a sexual predator? Nope — let’s watch Hallmark. Another North Korean missile, now deemed capable of hitting the United States? Nope — Hallmark. The president is retweeting fake video clips of — NOPE, LA LA LA LA. HALLMARK. HALLMARK. HALLMARK.
“I’m getting the feeling that we’re going back 20 years as female professionals,” — Jennifer Green, a veteran lobbyist, speaking to the Miami Herald, said about the backlash women working in the Capitol are facing in the wake of the Sen. Jack Latvala sexual harassment investigation.
Bill Day’s Latest
Wake Up Early?
The Finance and Taxation Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will consider a proposal that would require two-thirds votes of the House and Senate before state taxes or fees could be increased. That’s at 8 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
The Declaration of Rights Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will receive a presentation on grandparent visitation rights and will take up a proposal dealing with the issue. That’s at 8 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
Department of Transportation Secretary MikeDew, state Rep. BobCortes, and Space Florida President and CEO FrankDiBello are expected to be among the speakers during a Florida Chamber Foundation transportation “summit” in Brevard County. That’s at 9 a.m., Port Canaveral, Cruise Terminal #1, 9050 Discovery Place, Port Canaveral.
The Public Service Commission will consider a series of issues involving electric utilities, including a dispute about whether customers should pay costs related to contamination from cooling canals at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point complex in Miami-Dade County. That’s at 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.
Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group working to amend the state constitution to provide a ‘bill of rights’ for crime victims, will hold a news conference in support of a proposal currently before the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). That’s at 10:30 a.m., 4th-floor rotunda, the Capitol.
The Broward County legislative delegation is slated to hold workshops with the Broward County School Board, the Broward County Commission and the Broward League of Cities, at 10 a.m. 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., at the Broward County Governmental Center, 115 South Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
The Judicial Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will take up a controversial proposal that would give Floridians more legal standing when environmental problems occur. That’s at 1 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
Committees of the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors will hold a series of meetings in advance of a full board meeting Wednesday. Meetings start at 1 p.m., Sheraton Orlando North, 600 North Lake Destiny Dr., Maitland.
The Rules and Administration Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will discuss scheduling at 5:15 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
Rep. RandyFine, a Brevard County Republican, will host a holiday party at his district office. That’s at 5 p.m., 2539 Palm Bay Road N.E., Palm Bay.
That’s right, I am asking you to read a post that takes a direct shot at me and our website. Why? Because it’s funny. Because it’s both insider-y and snarky. And because it was (we hope) written in good spirits.
That’s what this blogging, new media thing should be about.
It should be about bustin’ chops, but not in so harsh of a way that it ruins friendships.
It should make you laugh the same way you would at a roast, because the joke is so close to the truth that even the person being roasted has to smile.
It should be about agreeing to disagree.
Somewhere along the way, the conflict between old and new media (which was occurring at a time when traditional media was suffering tremendous economic losses) turned into a bloodsport. This is especially true here in the Florida media.
Instead of traditional reporters and new media mavens grudgingly respecting each other, the legacy reporters all but ignore the good work of bloggers and other newcomers, which, in turn, forces the new media operators to set their hair on fire to get attention.
I admit I’ve been a big part of this vicious cycle. And I probably won’t be doing anything any time soon to break it.
But if I had to do it all over again, I’d welcome more of what Brian Burgess wrote this morning on his website. Because if you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t be in the kitchen.
Now, I just have to cook up something to get back at him 🙂
Please allow me to explain what prompted my broadside.
Up until about a month ago, Hughes and I worked closely together on a variety of campaigns and political issues. Although he has a tendency to be antagonistic, if not combative — even with his allies — Hughes can be a very capable operator. I even featured Hughes in INFLUENCE Magazine as one of the top communicators in Florida politics.
I don’t recall what the issue was, but a few months back Hughes had reached out to me (or vice versa) to tout one of his clients for inclusion in our weekly “Capitol Directions” feature that is included in the “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email.
Inexplicably, I copied Brian on an email to Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Speaker Richard Corcoran, who moonlighted for me as a graphic designer. Piccolo was responsible for building out the graphics for “Capitol Directions,” so I needed to make sure he could update that week’s edition with whatever it is Hughes was asking for.
In tennis, this is what’s known as an unforced error.
That Piccolo did graphic design for me was not a secret, but neither was it well-known. When he took the position in the Speaker’s Office, I casually reminded him that he would need to fill out some form or another about doing outside work. After that, I never thought twice about any conflict of interest Piccolo’s working for me might raise.
Hughes, however, took great umbrage with the arrangement once he learned about. However, for a reason I’ll explain later, Hughes agreed to let the matter drop.
Fast-forward to L’ Affaire Latvala.
If you are a reader of this website, you are likely acutely aware of the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against Sen. JackLatvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. RachelPerrinRogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, the aforementioned Brian Hughes.
Throughout this entire scandal, the staff at Florida Politics has remained impartial, reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of that ugly has included stories about sworn testimony given as part of the investigation. That sworn testimony has, for the most part, portrayed Perrin Rogers in an unfavorable light. This is unfortunate because, as Sen. Lauren Book so ably reminded us all, it is not ever OK to publicly attack or shame possible victims with character assassination. But these are court documents and sworn testimonies and have to be reported about whether we’re comfortable with that.
For the record, I never ‘outed’ Perrin Rogers AND resisted any attempt by external forces to do so via Florida Politics. I would have deleted this website before I would allow Perrin Rogers’ name to be made public before she was ready. Keep in mind, the first inkling of Perrin Rogers’ charges against Latvala was in comments she left on a Facebook version of my op-ed, “The Harvey Weinsteins of Florida politics are hiding in plain sight.”
Also for the record, I’ve not once judged the merits of Perrin Rogers’ accusations against Sen. Latvala. I haven’t commented on her at all, in fact. Meanwhile, I have been, on several occasions, very hard on Sen. Latvala, although I have never said he should resign.
Admittedly, it’s a difficult, complicated spot, as it is for many people involved in the process. All I can do is what I have done, which is do what I think is best and fair as each new development arises. For example, if a second accuser came to me today and said they wanted to go on the record against Sen. Latvala, I would not hesitate for a moment to share their story.
None of this has been good enough for Hughes, who, although he is in an impossibly difficult situation (what good husband would not forcefully defend their wife?) has moved from friend and strategic partner to a blood enemy.
In addition to some so subtle trolling of my family (here and here), Hughes has attempted to inflict damage on my business by actively contacting advertisers and strategic partners with a message of, “Him or me.”
My response to this has been to let Hughes punch himself out. So many of those he has contacted have described his communications as “bizarre,” that he really is doing more damage to himself than he could ever do to me. To date, not a single advertiser has asked for their ads to be pulled. In fact, two politicians who had been working with Hughes before he took the job as Lenny Curry’s chief of staff reached out to me this weekend to make sure I knew that they were independent of Hughes and did not want to be associated with his efforts.
Hughes has been peddling a four-part tale about me that asserts that a) I accepted a payment from a prominent reporter so as to not out them during the Ashley Madison scandal; b) my business is secretly funded by a major lobbying firm; c) the usual charges about being pay-to-play; and d) I pay Fred Piccolo to be my graphic designer so that I can have heightened access to the Speaker’s Office.
Last week, Hughes narced Piccolo doing design work for me to Gary Fineout of The Associated Press, which prompted this story.
Undoubtedly, Piccolo should have submitted the right paperwork.
But what kind of nickel-dick man tattle tales to a reporter about someone making a few extra dollars designing invitations to a children’s party?
That AP story doesn’t hurt me — Hughes’ supposed target — one iota.
But it does hurt Fred Piccolo. And here’s why this really sucks.
The main reason I’ve kept Fred on is that he battling a horrible degenerative disease, the details of which are not mine to share beyond that disclosure. But Fred has told me that the graphic design work he does is therapeutic. So that’s why he sends me — sometimes unsolicited — Photoshopped images of Rick Baker and Rick Scott or whoever is in the news and our website needs art to accompany those stories. That’s the extent of Fred’s work for us.
Oh, and what was Fred earning that money for? So that he and his wife could pay for an adoption.
Yes, it was Fred’s fault for not doing the right paperwork.
But the more I thought about it — with the image of Fred’s slightly shaking hands foremost in my mind — I grew incensed at the collateral damage caused by Brian Hughes.
Hughes knew full well about Piccolo’s health issues and he still dropped a dime to a reporter.
If he wants to come at me by intimidating my advertisers or leaking to POLITICO, that’s one thing; I’ve been down the road of controversy before. But when you rat out a guy just working hard for his family, you’re a coward.
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— FROM THE WEEKEND: TERRIE RIZZO WINS FLA. DEM. CHAIR RACE —
“Terrie Rizzo elected Florida Democratic Party chairman, replacing Stephen Bittel” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Rizzo, 70, who chairs the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, was the favorite headed into the vote, a position bolstered by Sen. Bill Nelson‘s endorsement … Because he’s the Democrat’s only statewide elected official and has a tough 2018 re-election fight, he was seen as having a tremendous amount of influence over the results. Despite the slight drama, though, Rizzo ended up beating [Stacey] Patel 830-291, a margin that grew during the vote in Orlando after Alma Gonzalez, a chair candidate and Hillsborough County State Committeewoman, dropped out of the race and threw her support behind Rizzo. “Florida Democrats are organized, energized and taking on Donald Trump, Rick Scott and the GOP,” said FDP spokeswoman Johanna Cervone in a statement.
“Behind the scenes, Bill Nelson team pressured FDP chair candidate out of race”via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Monica Russo, president of the SEIU Florida, said she was contacted by Pete Mitchell, a longtime Nelson operative, and pressured to leave the race. Mitchell has worked as chief-of-staff in Nelson’s Senate office and has helped lead the senior senator’s political team. “He called, and it was a somewhat aggressive tone,” Russo [said]. “I’ve known Pete for a long time. So, it kind of caught me off guard.” Mitchell denies that the call was used to dissuade Russo from getting out of the race. He said he was trying to explain to her the difficulties of running because, though she is a longtime Democratic activist, she is not an elected party leader, which is a requirement for running. “The only think I was trying to communicate to her in the experience I have had, when you have not met that eligibility requirement it can get pretty messy,” Mitchell said. “I wanted her to just be aware.” As part of her campaign, said Russo, she wanted to change party rules to make candidates like her eligible to receive votes. That effort failed, so she withdrew from the race.
Scoop — “Johanna Cervone to leave Florida Democratic Party for University of Miami” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — The state party’s communications director is leaving her post to work at the University of Miami, where she will be the executive director of communications at the Office of President Julio Frenk. Cervone was hired in March to expand the state party’s press outreach, soon after ousted Chair Stephen Bittel was elected to lead the party.
— L’ AFFAIRE LATVALA —
“Senate President: Sexual misconduct inquiry not slowing down process” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Joe Negron stuck closely to comments he’s already made about the investigation and the charges, which have rocked the Capitol and caused what one Republican senator called “paralysis” in the upper chamber. Negron, headed into his second and final legislative session as the man with the gavel in the Senate, disagreed that the drama has eclipsed all other business in the Senate. “That’s not what I see. I’m visiting with senators constantly and talking about projects. There are bills being referenced,” he said. “A lot of bills have been filed. Committee meetings are moving forward. Some bills have been voted down. Some bills have been voted up. So, I think that the people’s business is being done. And we’re going to let the process that’s set forth in our rules move forward and then there will be a resolution.” Negron reiterated that he wants individuals who’ve been the victim of sexual harassment to come forward.
“Matt Gaetz won’t be witness in state Senate’s ‘sham’ sex-harassment investigation“via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Gaetz has refused to speak with an independent investigator examining sexual harassment complaints against a fellow Republican, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, because he doesn’t believe it’s being conducted in good faith. “The Florida Senate’s ‘investigation’ into Senator Latvala is a sham. I will not validate it by participating,” Gaetz wrote in a Nov. 30 letter, obtained by POLITICO, to Gail Holtzman, the independent investigator hired by Sen. Joe Negron. “The Florida Senate isn’t serious about investigating Senator Latvala or protecting those he has harmed,” Gaetz said. “Accusers know it. Senators I’ve spoken with know it. And so do I. Sad!” A spokeswoman for Negron, who launched the investigation, did not respond to questions for comment.
“Latvala accuser sued by former colleague for defamation” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — A witness for Sen. Latvala in a sexual harassment case against him sued his accuser for defamation Friday. Lily Tysinger, a 22-year-old Senate staffer, claims Perrin Rogers spread lies about her having sex with colleagues and that she was mentally ill, which Tysinger says damaged her reputation. Perrin Rogers’ lawyer called the claims against her client a “complete lie.”
“Latvala’s star witness in sex-harassment case is a campaign supporter”via Alexandra Glorioso and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — … who attended one of his gubernatorial campaign kickoff events in potential violation, his accuser’s attorney says, of Senate employment policy. Latvala denied that his supporter, Tysinger, was a campaign volunteer and said she didn’t break Senate rules that limit an employee from attending campaign functions because his Aug. 16 Panama City kickoff event occurred after regular work hours. Tysinger’s attorney also denied wrongdoing.
“Andrew Gillum questions Senate Democrats’ silence on Latvala” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — Gillum says that may be because of the institutional structure and the nature of relationships in the Senate, but he says that Latvala’s “attack dog” tactics are why he should resign. “What you have in the Florida Senate is a lot of close relationships, a lot of folks who know each other, and a real unwillingness to enter into the divisive fray of having a colleague step down,” said the Tallahassee mayor, following an appearance at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange. “These are uncomfortable positions all the way around for everybody, but it does require leadership … I’ve been most disheartened by what appears to have been a full-on intimidation and attack dog approach when it comes to the victim.”
“Joe Negron backs aid for agriculture industry” via the News Service of Florida — Without putting a price tag on the state’s contribution, Senate President Negron appeared to favor tax cuts and mitigation measures rather than loans. He pointed to major damage sustained by citrus growers but also said assistance should go to other parts of the agriculture industry. “I do think the effect of the hurricane was so catastrophic to the citrus industry that it merits the government, the state government, partnering with the industry to make sure that they can continue to thrive,” Negron said during an interview. Negron said Sen. Bill Galvano, who is slated to become the next Senate president, and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, are expected to work on the issue.
“Legislators continue to battle with state colleges over local control” via Ali Schmitz of TCPalm.com — “State” colleges could become “community” colleges once again, and only 20 percent of their students could pursue four-year bachelor’s degrees, under a 2018 session bill. The bill (SB 540) also would shift oversight to a new 13-member, governor-appointed panel that could lessen local control. The proposed enrollment cap is even more restrictive than a bill that failed in the 2017 session, which would have imposed a 15 percent limit on baccalaureate students. Gov. Scott sided with state colleges when he vetoed that bill earlier this year. He said he thought it would “impede” progress at state colleges. President Negron supports the new bill as part of his plan to make Florida universities a “destination” for high-performing students across the country. It isn’t an attack on state colleges. The goal is to make sure state colleges aren’t straying too far from their core mission of providing vocational education and associate degrees, Negron said, noting state colleges don’t have the same resources as universities.
“Obscure Florida law prompts need for fantasy sports legislation” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Fantasy sports advocates have said their hobby is a game of skill and shouldn’t be considered gambling. There’s one sticking point with that position in Florida: A state law prohibits betting on games of skill, making it a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. But a state senator backing a bill to exempt fantasy sports from state gambling regulation says “the ambiguity and breadth of that statute is the whole reason we need a bill in the first place.” Three fantasy sports bills so far have been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.
“Bill would punish car theft victims” via Lisa Gartner and Zachary Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — State Rep. Wengay Newton filed House Bill 927, which would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave your car unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and taking the key from the car. Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. filed matching Senate Bill 1112. Under Florida statute, a second-degree misdemeanor is punishable with a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. “Juveniles are crashing into people, killing themselves,” said Newton. “I look back at the beginning and say, but for the keys being left in the vehicle and this crime of opportunity prevailing itself, we wouldn’t have stolen cars and these crashes.” Newton said his proposal would go beyond running cars to include unlocked cars with the keys left inside, something the current statute doesn’t cover. “What I’m trying to do is close this floodgate of a crime of opportunity that is permitting these juveniles to get access to cars,” Newton said. He said he did not include adult thieves as part of the bill because more thefts are committed by teens — a belief that is true locally, but not necessarily elsewhere in the state. But Newton’s proposal was not received well by local law enforcement. “No,” was St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway’s reaction to the text of the bill. “They’re already a victim, and we’re going to charge you now? People won’t report it, or they’ll lie to us.”
“House bill says train conductors, passengers cannot be auto accident witnesses” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A new Florida House bill says that train conductors and passengers are not, for the purposes of crash reports, auto accident witnesses. While that may seem obvious, current statute leaves that concept open for interpretation. HB 959, filed by Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, revises current law to make explicit that people on trains are not considered passengers for purpose of making crash reports. To that end, a conductor of a train is not a driver of a motor vehicle. A passenger of a train is not a passenger of a motor vehicle. And a train is not a motor vehicle.
Assignment editors — Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, will hold a news conference on SB 56, a bill to make diapers and adult incontinence products exempt from state and local sales tax. “The average child uses around 2,800 diapers in their first year, costing nearly $1,000,” according to a news release. “Exempting diapers from sales tax will save the average parent $50-$70 per year. Twelve other states have enacted similar legislation.” The event is at 10 a.m., Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center, Multipurpose Room, 1401 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“Richard Corcoran steps into sanctuary city ‘dust up’ ” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — House Speaker Richard Corcoran elbowed into a social media “spat” between Adam Putnam and Andrew Gillum about immigration, saying they’re both on the wrong side of the amnesty debate. “Ironic to see a dust up between these two on immigration, since they’ve both supported #amnesty for illegal immigrants. Call it amnesty or sanctuary cities, both defy our rule of law and make the nation (and Florida) less safe. #TwoSidesOfTheSameCoin,” Corcoran tweeted last week. Corcoran is widely expected to jump into the governor’s race after the 2018 Legislative Session.
Tweet shot and chaser:
First in Sunburn — Ashley Moody announces statewide finance team — Moody’s campaign for Attorney General released its finance committee consisting of nearly three dozen leaders from throughout the state. “It’s humbling to have the support of so many business, civic and legal leaders from around Florida. Each and every individual on our finance team is not just accomplished professionally, but well-respected in their community,” Moody said. On the team: Carlos Alfonso, Brian Ballard, Rodney Barreto, Bennett Barrow, Glen Blauch, Dean Cannon, Doug Cone, Mike Corcoran, Bill Edwards, Elizabeth Marie Fago, Blake Fletcher, George Gainer, Robert Gidel, David Heekin, Jim Holton, Bill Horne, Jim Horne, Justin Kaplan, Cody Khan, Frank Kruppenbacher, Ron LaFace, Rhea Law, George LeMieux, Roberto Martinez, Randall McElheney, Paul Mitchell, Paul Perez, Ed Pozzuoli, Wayne Rosen, Domingo Sanchez, William Merrill Stainton, Trey Traviesa, Dr. Peter A. Wish, Jordan Zimmerman.
“Did Democrat for Congress split with campaign manager over #MAGA posts or strategy?” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Democratic congressional candidate and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez says she and her Republican campaign manager quietly parted ways after he trolled liberals on social media and continued working for a man whom she accused of unwanted sexual advances. Citing philosophical differences, Rosen Gonzalez, who is running for the 27th Congressional District seat held by retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, says Pedro Diaz resigned last month from her campaign. She said they split “because he would not step down” from the Miami Beach Commission campaign of Rafael Velasquez, though Diaz said their dispute was over campaign strategy. “The only reason we parted ways was really strategic differences. I don’t think it had anything to do with Rafael or anything else,” Diaz said. Rosen Gonzalez accused Velasquez in late October of exposing his penis to her, and said Diaz resigned about a week later, just before Velasquez lost his election.
First in Sunburn — A key endorsement in HD 66 primary — Republican Nick DiCeglie will announce today that City of Seminole Mayor and former Speaker Pro- Tempore of the Florida House of Representatives, Leslie Waters has endorsed his campaign for state Representative.
Wait, what? — “Blogger challenging Nick Duran wants her online handle on the ballot” via Florida Politics — Duran is facing a primary challenger, Nancy Lee, in his re-election bid for House District 112, but that name is merely a front for her true identity: “GENIUS OF DESPAIR.” In a letter sent to the Florida Division of Elections late last month Lee, who also ran for HD 112 in 2016, requested that her blogging handle be added as her official nickname in the state’s database of candidates. And consistent with all true geniuses, especially those on the internet, Lee made sure her request was in all caps. “I HAVE BEEN USING THE NAME GENIUSOFDESPAIR ON MY BLOG EYEONMIAMI.BLOGSPOT.COM FOR AT LEAST 11 YEARS. 16,215 PEOPLE HAVE VIEWED BY PROFILE AND SEVEN AND ONE-HALF PEOPLE HAVE LOOKED AT OUR BLOG WITH MY NAME BEING GENIUSOFDESPAIR/NANCY LEE. SO, I REQUEST THAT “GENIUS OF DESPAIR” BE INCLUDED AS MY NICKNAME WHEN RUNNING FOR STATE REP. DISTRICT 112,” Lee wrote. Notable by its absence, however, was any evidence showing seven and one-half people had looked at “GENIUSOFDESPAIR/NANCY LEE.” It remains unclear how Lee would know a half person had viewed the webpage.
Deadline for campaign finance reports — Financial reports for state political candidates and committees through Nov. 30 are due today.
— STATEWIDE —
“Three months after Irma, counties and cities pick up the last of the storm’s debris” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Monday marks three months since Hurricane Irma blew into Central Florida on Sept. 11 with gusty winds that toppled trees and shook loose several million cubic yards of branches and limbs. The taxpayer-funded cleanup, hampered initially by a shortage of emergency debris-removal crews, is nearly done, area officials say. Once hopeful of finishing the job by Thanksgiving, “we’re now shooting for Dec. 15,” said Frank Yokiel, project manager for Orange County Public Works. The city hopes to be reimbursed for most of its pick up and disposal expenses by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which announced in September it would repay 90 percent of eligible expenses. But most county governments in Central Florida, all of which have spent millions more than Orlando, worry it could take years for FEMA to repay them.
“Ex-rep. Dwayne Taylor sentenced to 13 months prison, 18 months supervision” via Frank Fernandez of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Saying he had dishonored the state and fueled skeptics who doubted the honesty of politicians, a judge sentenced former Florida representative and ex-Daytona Beach city Commissioner Taylor to 13 months in federal prison, followed by 18 months supervised release for using campaign money for personal expenses. Because of its location, the judge suggested that Taylor do his time at Coleman, a low security prison in Sumterville … U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza also ordered Taylor to begin paying $62,834 in $300 monthly installments once he is released from prison. Mendoza said the evidence was overwhelming against Taylor and even included videos, including video showing Taylor withdrawing money from ATMs with his campaign debit card and depositing it into a personal account with a personal debit card. The judge also said that Taylor took “extraordinary steps” to try to conceal his crime in actions that could have formed the basis for additional charges. “This is a sad day for all of Florida and certainly for those who believed in you,” Mendoza told Taylor.
“Nonpartisan elections rejected for Orange County officials” via the News Service of Florida — Ruling that such issues are governed by state law, an appeals court rejected a voter-approved change that called for Orange County constitutional officers to be chosen in nonpartisan elections. Voters in 2014 supported revamping the Orange County charter to include nonpartisan elections for the clerk of circuit court, comptroller, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of elections and tax collector. Constitutional officers filed a lawsuit, and a circuit judge rejected the change, concluding that the issue was “pre-empted” to the Legislature. A three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal said the circuit judge correctly struck down the change to nonpartisan elections.
“Mysterious ‘white plague’ threatens South Florida coral reefs”via The Associated Press — Called white plague, white blotch and other names, depending on the pattern of damaged or destroyed tissue, the disease has infected more than 20 South Florida coral species from the Middle Keys through Palm Beach County, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection … On the reefs running from mid-Miami-Dade County through Martin County, scientists have observed a 35 percent loss of reef-building coral. “The reef is in a state of emergency,” said Jennifer Stein, South Florida marine conservation coordinator for the Nature Conservancy. “It needs a lot of attention, a lot of research, a lot of focus, especially with this disease.” The disease arose during a worldwide, three-year coral catastrophe called bleaching, in which unusually warm ocean water led many corals to expel the piece of algae that provided them with color and gave them a source of nutrition through photosynthesis. Although coral can recover from bleaching, the ordeal weakens them and makes them vulnerable to disease.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Arrests of undocumented immigrants rise in Florida amid Donald Trump crackdown” via Aric Chokey of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After declining for years, arrests of undocumented immigrants have nearly doubled in a region overseen by federal immigration officials in South Florida. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Miami office reported taking 6,192 people into custody this year across Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s up from 3,524 last year, according to agency figures … Deportations also swelled by 20 percent. According to the data, the Miami office reported 7,100 removals this year compared with 5,600 last year. The Miami office’s Acting Field Director Michael Meade pointed to a Jan. 25 order from Trump as the driving force behind the uptick. The order rolled back the Obamaadministration’s directives that said ICE should prioritize apprehending undocumented immigrants with criminal histories and those who came to the U.S. after January 2014.
“No surprise Bill Nelson not among early stampede calling for Al Franken to leave Senate” via Ledyard King of USA TODAY — The three-term senator from Florida has always been proud of the deliberative nature of the Senate and the sense of camaraderie, even between members of rival parties. And he respected Franken enough to have him as the headliner for a November fundraiser at the Tampa-area home of former gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink to bolster Nelson‘s 2018 re-election bid. Franken’s appearance at the fundraiser was promptly canceled when the sexual misconduct allegations against him began surfacing. The two also had teamed up on various bills in past years, including measures aimed at expanding agricultural aid, improving veterans’ benefits and, last year, speeding up the development of vaccines and treatments against the Zika virus, a key issue for Florida.
“Taxpayers paid $220K to settle case involving Alcee Hastings” via Stephanie Akin of Roll Call — Winsome Packer, a former staff member of a congressional commission that promotes international human rights, said in documents that the congressman touched her, made unwanted sexual advances, and threatened her job. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where Packer worked. Hastings has called Packer’s charges “ludicrous” and in documents said he never sexually harassed her. The 2014 payment to settle the case involving Hastings was not apparently included in a breakdown of payouts to settle discrimination complaints against House lawmakers from the past five years released last month by the Office of Compliance, which approves the payouts. That total included only one payment to resolve a sexual harassment claim — $84,000 paid to settle a complaint against Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold.
Assignment editors — Congressman Matt Gaetz will deliver remarks at the grand opening of the new Sunterra Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Pensacola. Event begins 10 a.m. at Sunterra’s Pensacola Wellness Center, 5046 Bayou Boulevard, Unit A, in Pensacola.
Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Kathy Castor will hold a media availability at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa to remind constituents the open enrollment period for healthcare.gov ends Friday, Dec. 15. Event begins 10 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Hospital (BayCare Health System), Medical Arts Building Auditorium (Room 3), 3001 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tampa.
— OPINIONS —
“A ‘Fight Club’ grand jury is right call” via the Miami Herald editorial board — A grand jury is being asked to investigate conditions and practices in the state’s juvenile lockups. That’s a welcome action from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. In the past, grand juries have shed light on horrible injustices in our community and across the state. Let’s hope this sets the course for a similar resolution. The decision comes two months after the Herald published its six-part series, Fight Club, which documented abuses within Department of Juvenile Justice detention centers and residential programs. This probe should end the careers of abusive employees — unwittingly financed by taxpayers — who are supposed to be caretakers but turn into state-paid abusers. The Miami Herald series will give them plenty of fodder. Let’s hope it translate to substantive changes in the state’s juvenile justice system.
“Nursing home bill of rights deserves support” via Sun-Sentinel editorial doard — This time the battleground is at the Constitution Revision Commission … Proposal 88, by Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, belongs on the November 2018 ballot. It guarantees the right of nursing home and assisted living residents “to be treated courteously, fairly and with the fullest measure of dignity.” It mandates “a safe clean, comfortable and homelike environment that protects residents from harm and takes into account this state’s challenges with respect to climate and natural disasters.” It guarantees “the right to access courts and a jury system that allow for a speedy trial and relief and remedies, without limitations.” It also forbids facilities from asking patients, or others acting on their behalf, to waive those rights. Proposition 88 is meritorious. It’s open to question — a proper issue before the Revision Commission — whether there should be reasonable limits on lawsuit recoveries from nursing homes. But there’s nothing to be said for allowing the industry to continue to try to close the courthouse doors.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Ethics panel approves settlement in Doug Holder case” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The Florida Commission on Ethics has approved a settlement with former state Rep. Holder to resolve an ethics complaint that he filed “inaccurate” financial disclosures in 2010-14. A spokeswoman said the panel OK’d the agreement unanimously at its Friday meeting. Holder, a Sarasota County Republican, will pay $6,500 in civil penalties. The 50-year-old Holder, now a lobbyist, served in the House 2006-14. He ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to succeed GOP state Sen. Nancy Detert, losing to fellow Republican Greg Steube. Holder had admitted to filing inaccurate financial disclosures and later filed corrected disclosures, according to documents filed with the commission.
Strategic Digital Services is hiring — After a new rebranding, adding staff and moving to a 3,000 square-foot office in 2017, Strategic Digital Services (SDS) — the Tallahassee-based political data modeling and analytics shop run by co-founders Joe Clements and Matt Farrar — is launching a nationwide search for a new graphic designer. The company offers a competitive salary, a great company culture and the ability to work on some “really cool” projects. According to the call for applications: “The trust and confidence of our colleagues and clients is the secret sauce of our business, and we are grateful for your support.” To apply, visit strategicdigital.services/graphic-designer.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Joshua Aubuchon, Mark Delegal, Andrew Marcus, Holland & Knight: Applied Underwriters
Paul Bradshaw, Southern Strategy Group: M H Corbi
Ron Pierce, Edward Briggs, Natalie King, RSA Consulting Group: Barnes&Noble Education, National Association of College Store
Dean Cannon, Mary Kim McDougal, Chris Spencer, Todd Steibly, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Pasco County Schools, School Board of Levy County
Christopher Carmody, GrayRobinson: Lake Monroe Waterfront Downtown Sanford CRA
Sharon Jean Merchant, Michelle Damone, The Merchant Strategy: Palm Beach Point Property Owners Association
Spotted: Tanya and Gus Corbella at the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg. They were in town for the Florida Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Gala celebration, which featured a performance by Sting.
— FIRST LOOK: THE SSG XMAS CARD —
Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the highly awaited holiday greetings from Southern Strategy Group.Every year, the SSG Christmas card offers a fun take on the year’s biggest political stories, something always guaranteed to bring a buzz — not to mention a few snickers — throughout Florida’s Capitol.
This year’s card is as subtle as it is funny:
— ALOE —
Congrats to Brooke and Drew Heffley on their gorgeous wedding at Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia.
More congratulations to Cory Guzzo and Libby Whitley on their nuptials.
Happy birthday belatedly to our great friend, Richard Reeves, as well as Garrett Blanton, Justin Hollis, Nicole Krassner, and Beth Lerner. Celebrating today are Houston Barnes and our man in Compass Lake, Sven Davis.
A coalition of progressive and open government organizations is again taking the state’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to task, this time for “glaring examples of rule violations” and calling the panel’s conduct “a travesty.”
Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Florida First Amendment Foundation, the League of Women Voters Florida and others wrote a letter to CRC Chairman Carlos Beruff, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, this week.
“Commissioners seem to be working to advance proposals that impact their own interests or those of paying clients,” it said. “Also, open meeting rules are simply being ignored. And basic meeting procedures established by the CRC have been violated.”
For example, the letter says “one commissioner who is a paid lobbyist for a law firm has filed a proposal that — while highly beneficial for the people of Florida — could create an economic benefit for that law firm.”
Commissioner BrechtHeuchan has lobbied for Wilkes & McHugh, “a law firm that makes its living suing nursing homes,” as the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing-home advocacy group, put it. Heuchan filed a proposed amendment creating a “bill of rights” for nursing home and assisted living facility residents.
The groups also took issue with apparent wheeling and dealing to save a proposal in the commission’s Education Committee, saying “discussions behind the scenes … outside of public view” violated the commission’s openness rules.
“The message the CRC is sending to the citizens of Florida is coming through loud and clear,” the letter says. “If rules of procedures and codes of conduct get in the way of proposals that are part of a preordained outcome of this commission — they will be ignored.
“Floridians deserve better,” it added. The full letter is here.
“Commissioners are hard at work holding open and transparent public meetings to consider proposals, the majority of which represent ideas submitted by the public,” said CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice in an email. “Commissioners hold themselves to a high standard and are following the same rules as the previous commission in 1997-1998.”
The commission will meet again in committees next week in the Capitol.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Democrats in the red — Ahead of what is expected to be a busy 2018 election year, the account Florida Democrats use to fund federal campaigns is out of money, according to Federal Elections Commission records. At the beginning of the year, the Florida Democratic Party’s federal account had $383,439 in the bank. By late October, it was more than $18,490 in the red. The federal account started hemorrhaging money during the brief tenure of now ousted Stephen Bittel, a millionaire Democratic donor selected under the promise of boosting the Party’s fundraising efforts and finances.
Down goes Ritch Workman — After Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto publicly accused Ritch Workman, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee to the Public Service Commission, of making vulgar and inappropriate comments to her at a charity event last year, he said he is no longer pursuing the post. “I found his conduct to be abhorrent. As such, I will not agenda his appointment to the Public Service Commission for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Rules,” Benacquisto said. Workman told POLITICO he does not remember the incident, but offered his resignation and an apology to Scott. The governor said he supports his decision to resign, adding that “any misconduct cannot be tolerated.”
Book files Latvala complaint — Lauren Book, a Democratic state senator and child sexual abuse survivor who founded “Lauren’s Kids,” filed a formal complaint against Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican facing a sexual harassment probe in the Senate. She alleged that Latvala violated Senate rules by aggressively going after one of his accuser who went public, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. She has accused Latvala of groping her and using degrading language to describe her body over a four-year period.
Florida top ‘judicial hellhole’ — Florida takes the top spot among the states in more than a few lists, but it earned a “distinction” from the American Tort Reform Association which said the Sunshine State was the No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” in the country. Florida was one of eight states or judicial districts getting a write up in 2017-2018 Judicial Hellholes, earning the top spot in the ring of dishonor alongside courts in California, St. Louis, New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana.
Holiday display season starts — An “educational display of the astronomy causing the winter solstice” is the first holiday display to gain approval this year for the Florida Capitol rotunda. A poster sponsored by the First Coast Freethought Society of Jacksonville, is approved for display Dec. 15-22. Nina Ashley, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager, said it was the only request for a display received thus far for the 2017 holiday season. Every year, groups have sought to place various exhibits in the plaza-level rotunda of the Capitol during the holiday season.
House Democrats keeping track
The House Democratic Caucus gave a rundown of bills making committee agendas during the committee weeks ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session and found, unsurprisingly, Republican-sponsored bills have been booked more often than bipartisan or Democrat-sponsored bills.
The data, complete with an infogram-made doughnut chart, shows that of the 85 bills placed on House committee agendas by Dec. 4, 58 were sponsored by Republicans, 14 have bipartisan co-sponsors and 13 were sponsored by Democrats.
The committee week starting Nov. 6 was the least successful for Dems, with just 2 bills making committee agendas. The second and fourth committee weeks were the minority party’s most successful, with 4 measures making schedules each week.
House Democrats kept count last year and said they will continue updating the data as more bills are heard — or not heard — during the 60-day session, which starts Jan. 9.
Joe Abruzzo, Kevin Rader want drug czar
Boca Raton Sen. Rader and Boynton Beach Rep. Abruzzo filed bills this week — SB 1068 and HB 865 — to re-establish the Jeb Bush-era Office of Drug Control under the governor as a way to curb substance abuse and combat the opioid crisis.
“We’ve made strides in the fight, but with nearly 6,000 Floridians losing their lives last year due to opioid overdoses, it is clear that more must be done,” Abruzzo said. “If this epidemic is going to end, we must continue to take strong and decisive action to battle the harmful effects these drugs are having on neighborhoods throughout our state.”
Rader added that “opioid abuse is crippling Florida’s communities. Reinstating a Drug czar to lead the charge in creating better drug oversight is a step toward what our state needs to battle this ongoing epidemic.”
Before it got the ax due to budget cuts in 2011, ODC cost the state about $500,000 a year. The office was responsible for setting drug control policies, compiling and reporting statistics and providing the public with information on substance abuse and services.
Florida Department of Transportation construction projects can wreak havoc on small businesses, and Miami Democratic Rep. Duran filed a bill that would help them get on the road to recovery.
“While upgrading our state’s infrastructure and roadways would have a positive economical long-term impact, these construction projects can take months and years, and can dramatically hurt businesses who see access blocked, reduced parking, increased car traffic, reduced foot traffic and generally negative aesthetic impacts,” Duran said.
“Ensuring our small businesses are not negatively impacted by the work of their state government is common-sense and a sound way to continue to grow Florida’s economy in the future.”
Duran’s bill, HB 561, would set up the “Small Business Roadway Construction Mitigation Grant Program” under FDOT which would, on a case-by-case basis, give businesses a cash infusion to help with construction-related losses. The bill also would require the FDOT to study best practices to reduce damages to businesses’ bottom lines.
Kathleen Peters, water groups demand fracking ban
Treasure Island Republican Rep. Peters is crossing into Tampa Saturday to join a gathering of clean water groups pushing for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to prioritize bans on fracking and offshore drilling.
The meeting at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park will mark the “largest group of clean water organizations to date” meeting up to support a ban on the controversial drilling practices. Among the expected crowd of 100 will be representatives of Floridians Against Fracking, National Nurses United, the Sierra Club and others.
“Fracking is a dangerous practice that threatens public health on a massive scale and would be an environmental catastrophe for Florida,” Food and Water Watch said in an email. “The practice is a particularly severe threat to Florida, where karst geology, paired with risky drilling practices, would put water at an even greater risk of contamination, leaving over 10 million people without access to water.”
The group poked at Corcoran by equating fracking to corporate welfare.
“Big Oil and Gas has benefited from subsidies paid for by tax paying citizens for decades. It’s time for Speaker Corcoran to truly end corporate welfare by joining Peters in supporting a fracking ban,” the email said.
Bob Rommel praised for bill to squash free speech zones
Republican Rep. Bob Rommel got some praise this week from right-leaning group Generation Opportunity over a bill that would put an end to “free speech zones” on Florida’s public college and university campuses.
The group pointed to a report that found a sixth of American universities relegate demonstrations and protests to specific zones of campus and another report contending one out of five said using violence against a speaker known for making offensive statements was acceptable.
“So-called free speech zones actually harm free speech and free expression on college campuses by restricting where students can exercise their First Amendment rights. Instead of limiting free speech, colleges and universities should be encouraging students to speak freely, exchange different ideas and learn from each other,” said Generation Opportunity Director Carrie Sheffield. “We applaud Rep. Rommel for introducing this important legislation and urge his colleagues to follow in support.”
The group is pointing college students to a website where they can fill out an email form to thank Rommell for filing the bill and derides public campuses that “restrict the free speech rights of students in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘diversity’” — a practice it equates to censorship.
Carlos Guillermo Smith nabs Victory Institute award
Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith won an award this week named after Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin to recognize “an up-and-coming LGBTQ elected official who is driving equality forward.”
Smith beat out five other nominees in online voting to win the inaugural Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award, which he accepted in Washington D.C. before getting a one-on-one meeting with Baldwin, the first openly LGBTQ member of the United States Senate.
“I am incredibly grateful to the Victory Institute for recognizing my work to advance equality for all Floridians. Senator Baldwin is an incredible inspiration to LGBTQ leaders and activists around the world, and I am humbled to have been able to receive this award named after her,” Smith said.
Smith dedicated his award to the Pulse nightclub shooting survivors and first responders, explicitly naming Eatonville Police Corporal Omar Delgado, who is set to be dismissed effective Dec. 31 due to Pulse-related PTSD.
Smith and other state lawmakers, many from the Orlando area, are pushing bills in the 2018 Legislative Session that would expand workers’ compensation benefits to cover first responder PTSD cases.
The week in appointments
Sutton promoted at FWC — Eric Sutton, assistant executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), moved up to executive director of the agency, effective Friday.
Nick Wiley, the current executive director, retires later this month. Sutton has been an assistant executive director since May 2013.
He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in zoology from the University of South Florida. The emphasis of his work was on endangered species population biology.
His appointment will now go to the Florida Senate for confirmation.
FWC chooses new leadership — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Thursday selected BoRivard, of Panama City, to serve as its chairman, effective immediately. He replaces Chairman Brian Yablonski of Tallahassee. The term is one year.
Rivard, who has served on the Commission since March 2013, is a partner with Harrison, Rivard, Duncan & Buzzett in Panama City.
RobertSpottswood of Key West was elected vice chair. Spottswood, who has served on the Commission since 2015, is chief executive officer of Spottswood Companies. He takes over for Aliese P. “Liesa” Priddy of Immokalee.
Contractors on skilled worker shortage
Florida construction firms have a grim outlook on filling open jobs, and Associated Builders and Contractors said it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
According to the third quarter Construction Confidence Index, produced by ABC, nearly 69 percent of contractors expect to make new hires over the next six months to be either “slightly more difficult” or “significantly more difficult,” and about 75 percent of companies added that they are pumping more money into workforce development now than they did a year ago.
“Given the onset of rebuilding after summer storms, skilled labor shortages are likely to become even more dramatic in late 2017 and into early 2018,” ABC said in the report.
Still, nearly three-quarters of companies polled say they’ll have more employees six months from now than they do today, while 24 percent expect no change and 2 percent expect a slight staffing cut.
The index wasn’t all bad news, however, as nearly four-fifths of firms believe sales will jump over the next six months, including about a quarter of companies which said they expected a better than 5 percent boost in gross revenue. Only one in 10 firms polled expected sales to drop in the near term.
UnitedHealthcare ‘stepping up’ for students
Health insurer UnitedHealthcare kicked off the giving season with a record-setting $15 million contribution to Step Up For Students, one of two nonprofit that administer the needs-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
“Step Up provides hope for Florida’s children to access a quality education that best fits their needs, and we are glad to support such a worthy initiative,” said Nicholas Zaffiris, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of South Florida.
Step Up celebrated its partnership with UnitedHealthcare by helping disadvantaged students receive the education they deserve. Since 2009, the Minnetonka, MN-based company has chipped in more than $88 million for Step Up, providing the nonprofit with the resources to support scholarships for nearly 17,000 Sunshine State students so they can attend a private school or secure transportation to attend an out-of-district public school.
“None of this would be possible without the support of the community and contributions of organizations like UnitedHealthcare,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill.
The typical pupil served by Step Up comes from a single-parent household where the average income is $25,353. A recent study shows that Step Up scholarship recipients are 40 percent more likely to attend college than their public-school counterparts, and 29 percent more likely to earn an associate degree.
Seat filled on Tallahassee ethics panel
Tallahassee city commissioners appointed BillHollimon to fill an opening on the city’s Independent Ethics Board.
He’s the husband of state Rep. LoranneAusley, a Tallahassee Democrat elected to the House last year and who previously served 2000-08.
Hollimon’s 3-year term in Seat 1, the only position filled by the City Commission, begins Jan. 1.
The mission of the Independent Ethics Board “is to promote the actual and perceived integrity of City government and to prevent unethical conduct before it occurs,” a city news release says.
“Hollimon has been a practicing lawyer for more than 20 years, focusing on patent, trademark, and copyright prosecution and litigation; mediation of complex litigation; strategic planning and guidance for technology-related businesses,” it adds.
He joins Ethics Board members CecilDavis, the State Attorney appointee; RichardHerring, the Florida State University appointee; BryanSmith, the Florida A&M University appointee; BruceD. Grant, the board’s own appointee; and ReneeMcNeill, another board appointee.
The next meeting is 4 p.m. Dec. 19 in the City Commission Chambers, City Hall, 300 S. Adams St., Tallahassee.
Latest statistics show crime is down
Tallahassee Police Chief MichaelDeLeo this week told city commissioners that crime continues to go down, according to the latest statistics.
In October, Tallahassee experienced an 8.6 percent decrease in violent crime and a 6.7 percent decrease in property crime. Year to date, overall crime in Tallahassee/Leon County is down by 13 percent over last year.
To further support the efforts of TPD, the Commission voted to approve more than $315,000 for equipment upgrades and enhanced technology, including purchasing safety cameras. A list of camera locations can be found at Talgov.com/TPD.
Currently, TPD is reviewing citizen complaint data and crime statistics to determine where 10 additional cameras may prove beneficial and will continue discussions related to potential locations with neighborhood residents.
A new “dockless” bike share service called Pace has come to the capital.
“Tallahassee is the first in a wave of cities to embrace smarter, dockless bike sharing,” a city news release said. “Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rochester, New York, Knoxville, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama are also committed to join Pace, with each launch scheduled before April 1, 2018.”
With its inaugural launch, Pace will make 300 shared bikes available in Tallahassee. Riders can rent and return bikes from any of Pace’s 50 dedicated bike parking racks, or from any of the hundreds of public bike racks available throughout the city.
“We are very proud that the City of Tallahassee has become a true multi-modal community, including being named one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said. “The new bike share service is another step toward ensuring that all of our residents have easy access to bicycles for commuting, exercising and touring our great city.”
Riders download a free Pace Bike Share app, available in the Apple App Store or Google Play. Available bikes and parking locations are in the app, and users can unlock bikes at the touch of a button to get rolling in seconds. There is no membership fee to join Pace, and rides start at just $1 per half-hour.
Fire safety tips for the holiday season
It’s just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and many Florida families already went through the process of dragging their holiday décor from the attic and trekking down to the local tree lot in search of the perfect Fraser Fir.
Still, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the men and women of the Florida Forest Service want to make sure Floridians get a refresher on the dos and don’ts of when it comes to holiday fire safety.
First and foremost, keep that tree away from the fireplace and the space heater. Christmas trees, especially water-starved ones, would love nothing more than to be a 6-foot fire starter.
5 tips for picking out the perfect Christmas Tree. Keep your tree water in order to reduce your fire risk. Also – keep you tree away from your fireplace and heat vents – heat will dry out your tree. pic.twitter.com/LjRkgDaoch
Also be sure to take a look at those holiday lights to make sure they were tested at facilities, such as UL or ETL. If they were, they’d bear the mark given lab-tested electronics. While you look under a microscope for the safety mark, make sure to double-check for frayed wires, cracked sockets or crushed bulbs. It’s easier to do it before you staple them to your house or drape them over the shrubbery anyway.
If you’re getting out in the yard or on the roof to get those lights up, it’s a perfect time to check for debris. According to the Florida Forest Service, even a small amount dried up yard waste on a roof could be the catalyst for a wildfire turning into a home fire.
Putnam and Co.’s final tip is one that’s good year-round: Blow out the candles and turn off the string lights before you go to bed. A good balsam and cedar candle can put anyone in the holiday spirit, but there are few things worse than waking up to a burning home.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:
President’s big announcement trumps all other news of the week
We are now 46 weeks into the Trump administration and 48 weeks into the 115th Congress. Each week it seems there are constant breathless reports, leaks, fake news, real news, or just enough fodder to keep the talking heads talking.
This week, however, may have been the most momentous five days of all. On Wednesday, the House took an actual vote on a call for impeachment proceedings (see below), but that wasn’t even in the top two of the week’s happenings.
The rising voices of women wronged by sexual harassment grew louder with the resignations of the longest-serving member of the House (Michigan Democrat John Conyers), Trent Franks of Arizona, and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken. In announcing his resignation, which would come in the “coming weeks,” Franken wondered aloud about Tuesday’s election in Alabama involving GOP candidate Roy Moore as well as President Donald Trump, who has also been accused of impropriety.
A once-in-a-generation tax cut is now being brokered by House and Senate negotiators. The House is on the verge of seeking a contempt citation against the FBI Director and the Deputy Attorney General (see Two Florida Republicans).
But in a week of big news, the biggest came from President Donald Trump with a move that will have long-lasting ramifications. Wednesday’s announcement of the U.S. intention to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem brought nearly universal condemnation around the world, but a good measure of bipartisan support at home.
Republicans and Democrats alike hailed the move.
Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross said the U.S. needed to “send a clear message to the world that we support Israel and recognize Jerusalem as its eternal capital. Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis, who pointedly criticized Trump for putting off the move a few months ago, tweeted “With President Trump’s announcement, the U.S. is finally following through with what Congress enacted in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.”
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a joint statement. Ros-Lehtinen is the chair and Deutch is the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing Middle East affairs.
“The President’s decision today is a recognition of existing U.S. law that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. Embassy should be located in the capital,” the statement said. “There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection.”
West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said Trump’s decision “is consistent with current U.S. law and reaffirms what we already know: Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz fully agreed with Trump’s move while adding Jerusalem “should remain accessible to people of all faiths.”
Not everyone in Congress agrees, fearing terror attacks or hurting the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. But when the actions of a U.S. President become the story of the week just by following the letter of a law passed 22 years ago, then we know it’s a big deal.
Government funding issue comes down to the wire
With the government set to run out of funding on Friday, word of a two-week extension rattled through the halls of Congress earlier in the week. Achieving that seemingly simple goal was turning out to be more difficult than expected for Republicans.
Speaker Paul Ryan believes he will have the votes to pass the two-week continuing resolution, but as of late Thursday afternoon, nothing was certain. All the GOP would say was “we will get this done, with or without the Democrats.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would pass a two-week extension “if and when the House acts.”
Meanwhile, Trump was meeting with leaders of both parties trying to work out a two-year budget deal. Trump does not want to tie the fix to the younger undocumented immigrants to the budget deal.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was positive about progress being made on a budget deal in the Congress, but is setting the stage to blame Trump if a shutdown occurs.
“Unfortunately, the progress here in Congress is in stark contrast to the rhetoric coming from the White House,” said Schumer. “President Trump again suggested yesterday that ‘a shutdown could happen.’ If a shutdown happens, as the president seemed to be rooting for in a tweet earlier this year, it will fall on his shoulders. His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency.”
Florida’s senior senator is trying to solve a riddle. Why does the Sunshine State rank below 11 other states in terms of using solar energy?
That is something he is trying to rectify through legislation he launched this week. If enacted, Bill Nelson’s bill would allow banks to hold 20 percent ownership in non-banking industries, such as renewable energy companies.
Current Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulations allow only 5 percent ownership. Nelson’s legislation would also allow banks to provide more financing to individuals seeking to make the change to solar.
“Florida is the nation’s Sunshine State but ranks twelfth when it comes to solar production,” Nelson said in a release. “That needs to change. This bill will make it easier for homeowners to invest in their own solar installations while, at the same time, making it easier for larger renewable energy companies to access the capital they need to expand and create more jobs in Florida.”
Jobs are also a target of the bill. With nearly 500,000 people employed in the solar industry nationwide, only 15,000 work in Florida.
Rubio sees four bills move to Senate floor
The two-term GOP Senator had a productive week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Marco Rubio, the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing transnational crime, human rights and democracy, saw four bills he sponsored or co-sponsored advance through the full committee at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I applaud committee passage of these important bipartisan bills and resolutions, and urge my colleagues to support them on the Senate floor,” Rubio said in a statement. “From advancing human rights to protecting religious freedom, and promoting press freedom to facilitating the return of stolen Holocaust-era property to their rightful owners, the United States should continue to lead on these issues.”
Trump in Pensacola on Friday
While Trump often spends time in South Florida at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach County, North Florida has not been on the agenda. That changes on Friday when he stops in Pensacola for a rally.
The rally will take place at Pensacola Bay Center at 7 p.m. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the GOP Congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District, will travel on Air Force One with Trump and speak at the event.
Pensacola is close enough to Alabama for some to speculate Trump chose the location to not only talk to Panhandle residents, but for those considering their vote in the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate. Trump has endorsed the Republican candidate, Judge Roy Moore, who has been accused of improprieties involving teenage girls nearly 40 years ago.
“I think they’ll be able to hear us in Alabama from the Bay Center,” Gaetz told the Pensacola News-Journal. “In the other three Trump rallies we’ve had in Pensacola, thousands of people from Alabama have attended, and this likely will be no different.”
The Alabama election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is Tuesday.
Three Florida Democrats vote to pursue Trump impeachment
Despite pleas from House Democratic leadership not to pursue impeachment against President Trump at this time, 58 members voted to do just that. With 364 voting to table the measure, the effort died.
Three Florida Democrats, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, voted to pursue impeachment proceedings. Frankel explained her vote.
“(Wednesday), I voted against a motion to table, or in other words stop, a resolution calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump,” she said on Facebook. It is my opinion that many of the actions of Mr. Trump during his presidency, including many of his numerous tweets, reflect unfitness for office and violation of the United States Constitution. I believe that it is in the best interest of the American people that the matter be taken up by the appropriate committees with an opportunity for full debate by the entire Congress.”
Texas Democrat Al Green’s articles of impeachment did not allege Trump has specifically committed a crime. Instead, Green argued that Trump has “brought disrepute, contempt, ridicule and disgrace on the presidency” and “sown discord among the people of the United States.”
Among several stated reasons for impeachment was the disparate treatment of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, as opposed to Florida and Texas; Trump’s response to the NFL kneeling protests and “personal attacks” against Wilson.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland both voted to table Green’s effort, saying the time is not right. They said ongoing investigations by Congressional committees and the Russia investigation led by special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller needs to play out.
House passes concealed carry bill largely along party lines
This week the House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that will allow those with concealed carry weapons permit to do likewise in other states. The vote was 231-198.
The passage of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 earned high praise among Congressional Republicans, including Neal Dunn of Panama City. In his remarks supporting the measure, Dunn brought up the case of a Pennsylvania woman, who was licensed to carry in her state, but spent 40 days in a New Jersey jail for having a concealed weapon in her vehicle.
“This bill ensures valid concealed carry permits in one state are valid in all states that permit residents to do so,” Dunn said. “This bill creates legal protections for law abiding gun owners against states that violate this statute.”
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford praised the bill on the House floor saying that as a former sheriff “I want good people carrying firearms.”
On the other side, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schulz said: “This NRA-backed lunacy threatens the safety of our communities, our families, and our friends.”
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson claimed the bill “will surely exacerbate already tense situations and create major challenges for law enforcement officers. Why is giving the NRA a win more important to (Republicans) than the potential loss of life — and lives already lost — to gun violence? Shame on them!”
All Florida Democrats voted against the bill, joined by Republicans Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. Every other Florida Republican, except Palm City’s Brian Mast, was among the bill’s 213 co-sponsors.
Two North Florida Republicans frequent critics of FBI leadership
The leadership of the FBI is taking on an increased amount of incoming fire from Republicans who believe the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and possible collusion with Russia involving President Trump and associates are unbalanced. Two Floridians have become familiar faces in that and additional scrutiny of the country’s top law enforcement agency.
Rep.Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach has been a national leader in changing the narrative toward Democrats. He has called for special counsel Robert Mueller to recuse himself over conflicts and, demanded a special counsel to investigate the circumstances that led to the Uranium One deal, and called for an investigation to look into what he describes are two unbalanced investigations.
Gaetz stood with several Republicans Wednesday calling for increased scrutiny on the way the FBI conducted the Clinton email probe and the Trump investigation. Recent revelations that a lead investigator on both matters was demoted for anti-Trump bias prompted the pushback.
“We are here today calling for an investigation into FBI systems and procedures that have allowed special treatment and bias to run rampant,” Gaetz said at the Capitol Hill news conference. “The law demands equal treatment for all, not ‘special’ treatment for some. There is a clear and consistent pattern of treating the Clinton investigation differently than other investigations.”
Gaetz joined his GOP colleague, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, to lament the “special treatment” of Clinton in an op-ed posted on FoxNews.com.
Rep.DeSantis of Ponte Vedra has also become a familiar face on television as well as print and online media. This week he made news by revealing what he claims was more evidence of political bias at the FBI.
Both DeSantis and Gaetz are members of the House Judiciary Committee, who heard from new FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday. They had several questions of their own concerning an outside investigation into the reports of bias at the agency.
Next week, the committee will have some questions for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has come under fire from Republicans for not being responsive to requests for documents. Both Wray and Rosenstein are under threat of contempt of Congress for the slow response.
Gaetz on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity, with U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, to discuss their call for an investigation into the FBI’s “special” treatment of former Secretary of State Clinton.
Democrats lining up behind Murphy’s CHIP extension bill
The stature of the first-term Democrat from Winter Park is rising in her party as she plays a leading role on a high priority issue. With the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health programs expiring, Murphy has introduced a reauthorization bill that is becoming the Democrats’ favored vehicle facing Republican alternative measures.
On Tuesday Murphy introduced House Resolution 4541, which would reauthorize CHIP, community health centers funding, and other critical public health initiatives like the Special Diabetes program, the National Health Service Corps, and Family-to-Family Health Information Centers.
Congress has missed a September 30 deadline to reauthorize these programs.
The bill offsets its costs by tweaking the timing, not the amount, of Medicare Advantage and prescription drug benefits payments. It also addresses issues confronting Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.
“A healthy nation is a strong and resilient nation,” Murphy said in a release. “My fiscally-responsible bill provides support for children and families, invests in the prevention and treatment of serious diseases, helps our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other territories, and strengthens the health care systems in states like Florida that are welcoming Americans displaced by Hurricane Maria. It’s vital that we work across party lines to help the tens of millions of Americans, including millions of children, who depend on these public health initiatives.”
There are several Republican and Democratic alternatives addressing CHIP and the other health programs. Murphy’s office said her bill has become the favorite among Democrats, drawing numerous Democratic co-sponsors already, including Darren Soto of Orlando.
Webster files bipartisan disaster preparedness bill for care facilities
The Republican from Orlando has joined with Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell to file legislation that ensures disaster preparedness for hospitals and long-term care facilities. The Worst-Case Scenario Hospital Preparedness Act comes in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season, which ravaged portions of Florida and most of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The storms caused flooding and power outages at medical and care facilities in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. A significant loss of life resulted, including 14 residents of a Hollywood, Fla. nursing home.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists health care as one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors. The bill seeks to improve emergency preparedness in the health care sector by directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to engage with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a comprehensive study into the future threats impacting emergency preparedness procedures for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health care facilities.
“Disaster preparedness is critical for protecting lives, improving resiliency and being good stewards of disaster relief dollars,” Webster said in a release. “The bill is a practical approach to ensuring that hospitals and long-term care facilities across the nation are more resilient against natural disasters.”
Tax bill conference underway; Castor one of House conferees
The House and Senate have named their representatives to the conference committee that will attempt to create a final bill for consideration. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor was appointed to join the groupby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“During my years representing the Tampa Bay area in Congress, I haven’t seen a bill that is more unfair and unwise,” Castor said in an email to constituents. “The battle earlier this year over health care and narrow focus on the huge tax giveaway have crowded out action on other important legislation so the GOP must cram everything into the last few weeks of the year.”
Neither Democratic Sen. Nelson, nor GOP Sen. Rubio was appointed by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. While both Florida Senators would have been pleased to serve as a conferee, Rubio likely relished the chance to further solidify the expanded Child Tax Credit for which he and Utah Republican Mike Lee have so strongly advocated.
GOP leadership has targeted a final bill be brought to both chambers before the end of the year.
Trump honors survivors, victims of Pearl Harbor attack
Thursday was the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. To honor those who perished that day, Trump signed a proclamation signifying Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
A half-dozen veterans of the attack joined the president at the White House, including 98-year-old Mickey Ganitch, who was about to play in a football game for his ship’s team when the attack came on that Sunday.
“We had a war to fight,” Ganitch told Trump.
“Today our entire nation pauses to remember Pearl Harbor and the brave warriors, who on that day stood tall and fought for America,” Trump said.