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On Gary Fineout

The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout is today reminding everyone who follows Florida politics why he is considered, arguably, the best political reporter in the state AND, perhaps, the last honest man in Tallahassee.

The veteran scribe reports that House Speaker Richard Corcoranwon’t name names of those he confronted on sexual harassment.

Corcoran boasted in a December television interview that the House imposed tough new sexual harassment rules for its members in 2016 in response to what he called “grossly inappropriate” and “illegal” behavior from “male pigs.” Those rules included mandatory training for House members.

Corcoran said this week he did not report any of these incidents to authorities. Corcoran said he could not give an exact number of how many legislators he witnessed engaging in misconduct, but added that there were probably “less than 10.”

The reporting is vintage Fineout … straight-forward, probing, and without any of the thumb-on-the-scale zeal that is the hallmark of too many other journalists’ writing.

“I am just looking to hold people accountable,” Fineout is fond of saying.

To be honest, Fineout has been something of an enigma these past few months, as the capital seems intent on destroying itself from within. Neither the AP, not Fineout specifically, are purposed to deliver the ‘journalism for those who can pay for it’ that has come to dominate Tallahassee. Fineout and Co. are writing to the audience that exists outside the bubble, so they’re not going to traffic in the kind of ultra insider-y content provided by Florida Politics, the News Service of Florida, or POLITICO Florida.

Yet, there’s rarely been a time like the present when the institutional knowledge of Gary Fineout is more needed.

Still, the place in the world of a reporter of Fineout’s stature is increasingly nebulous, a situation he readily acknowledges in a papal bull of a recent Facebook post. Here’s an excerpt (I’ve include the full text at the bottom):

Instead of being challenged to do better journalism, reporters are becoming assembly workers as part of a content mill. That content can be in the form of audio and video – and in fact one of the other trends is the continued death of narrative and print – but skills that enable reporters to analyze, ferret out details, and hold people accountable are becoming less important.

What’s more important? Did you do that story on an alligator that we think will drive more clicks?

My fear is that in the near future news organizations will devote fewer resources to covering local government and state government. The only coverage that matters right now from a political/policy standpoint is D.C.

While Fineout’s post is mostly right, not everyone agreed with what he had to say. Tallahassee Democrat publisher Skip Foster says his experience and outlook are somewhat different. Responding on Facebook to Fineout’s post, Foster writes:

While I agree that the type of watchdog journalism to which Gary refers is the bedrock of what we do, I also see a valid spectrum of coverage and mediums that doesn’t necessarily have to distract or detract from “old school” reporting. Audio and video reporting can (and should) be valid ways to augment traditional written reporting—often exceeding the capabilities of the written word to convey important information. Further, I see opportunity, not danger, in being informed by what readers like to consume.

What the conflict between the worldviews of Fineout and Foster says to me is Fineout’s problem isn’t journalism writ large. It’s where Fineout practices his craft that is the issue.

Quite frankly, the Associated Press is no longer the right place for Fineout’s work. He needs to be able to mix the straight reporting he provides for the AP with the insightful commentary he offers on his blog, The Fine Print.

If there’s one Florida political reporter who could do what Jon Ralston is doing in Nevada—traditional reporting housed in an independent media organizationit’s Fineout.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, I imagine the needs of Gary Fineout, husband and father, preclude him from striking out on his own. He needs health care benefits, retirement benefits, etc. Could he make enough money as an independent journalist to make up for the loss of these benefits? Maybe. But it’s probably not worth it to him to risk finding out.

Short of starting GaryFineout.com, Fineout might need to, like an all-star baseball player signed to the Marlins or Rays, eventually head to POLITICO or the Times/Herald, the Red Sox and Yankees of Florida’s political media.

I can report now that The Tampa Bay Times last year made a run at Fineout and he went so far as to interview for a position with its Tallahassee bureau, but mutually agreeable terms could not be reached.

So Fineout’s still (stuck?) at the Associated Press, spending most of his time reporting the kind of stories he wrote Wednesday night about the House Speaker. Unfortunately, he’s increasingly spending some of his time yelling “Get off my lawn” to some in the media who don’t operate in the black and white world which existed a decade ago.

But Florida politics is better off when Fineout is on the hunt for the next big story.

Hopefully there’s always a place for the big man to do his thing.

Here is the full text of Gary Fineout’s Facebook post.

Not a normal New Year’s Day resolution post, so I apologize but….As we head into 2018, it’s clear, more than ever that the news business in America is headed into a new reality that raises questions as to the future of journalism.

I have managed to survive – with much help from my spouse and others – amid the downturns and layoffs. But the ongoing transformations remain troubling.

Instead of being challenged to do better journalism, reporters are becoming assembly workers as part of a content mill. That content can be in the form of audio and video _ and in fact one of the other trends is the continued death of narrative and print – but skills that enable reporters to analyze, ferret out details, and hold people accountable – are becoming less important.

What’s more important? Did you do that story on an alligator that we think will drive more clicks?

My fear is that in the near future news organizations will devote fewer resources to covering local government and state government. The only coverage that matters right now from a political/policy standpoint is DC.Does that mean story telling will disappear? No. Does that mean good journalism will be banished? No.

But the day-in and day-out beat coverage is viewed as uninteresting to a broader audience – and one that won’t drive traffic digitally. As traditional – and more importantly independent media – spend less money and energy on this type of coverage the vacuum is filed by a combination of specialized niche media or those whose agenda is murky at best. The number of traditional – and again truly independent media – covering state government in Florida continues to decline. That means less coverage on things that truly do affect the public – from their light and insurance bill to what goes on in the classroom. 

The argument is that, well, we still want the big story, the one with a lot of pop, or big reveal. Spend your time on that. But many times those stories are revealed layer by layer, not in one fell swoop. It’s becoming harder and harder to convince editors and their managers that it’s worth the effort.

This year is an election year in Florida with a lot of important races and issues on the ballot. My sense, however, is that this will not get a lot of coverage. It won’t be exciting enough, which means it will be the non-independent media – and the television ads – that control the outcome.

I realize my post won’t change what’s happening – but people should at least have an understanding what’s at stake. I’m not giving up – nor are many of my colleagues. We will carry on.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 1.11.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

Call it “The War of the Digital Video Content.” (Actually, don’t.)

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s political committee put out a digital ad this week slamming Democrats for voting against the GOP tax plan that made it through Congress in December.

The Senate Leadership Fund ad touts the bill as the “biggest tax overhaul in generations” that will produce “bigger paychecks for middle class families” before blasting D’s who thumbs-down’ed the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is the only Democrat with a speaking line in the YouTube version of the web ad, though Florida’s own Bill Nelson can be seen as one of seven Democrats with the line, “It’s time they lose their jobs.”

The vid also has pull quotes from a handful of major companies that said they planned to pass at least part of their tax savings on to workers.

Senate Leadership Fund CEO Stephen Law said Nelson “made a huge mistake siding with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to obstruct middle class tax cuts. We will take it to Democrats over and over this year on tax reform and are confident it will be a winning issue for Republicans in November.”

Nelson is one five Democratic senators running for re-election in a state carried by President Donald Trump in 2018, and he still might face term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Scott – and his money – to win a fourth term.

Click on the image below to watch the video.

American Bridge spotlighting Scott’s offshore drilling flip-flop” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – American Bridge is launching a digital ad buy on Facebook and YouTube to spotlight what it describes as Scott‘s inconsistent position on offshore drilling. The buy, which will target coastal Florida communities, runs through the week. “Rick Scott does whatever is best for his wealthy cronies and big corporations, and that’s why he’s spent his entire political career fighting to expand oil drilling off Florida’s coast. Rick Scott’s latest lie is nothing more than a shameless attempt to whitewash history to further his personal political ambition,” said American Bridge spokesperson Joshua Karp in a press release Wednesday. American Bridge notes that Scott “absolutely opposed” an Obama-era moratorium against offshore oil exploration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and that Scott did not present any real opposition to offshore drilling until very recently.

Click on the image below to watch the video:

Still fuming, Bill Nelson blasts Donald Trump oil drilling reversal as ‘shameless political stunt ” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — The Democrat said he fears (Tuesday’s) announcement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke  could “discourage Floridians from commenting on the proposal that was published just this Monday, the one that opened up Florida’s entire coastline to drilling.” … “Floridians should beware, and they should make their objections known, because if we don’t, then the administration will try to say they never heard objections,” Nelson said from the Senate floor. Nelson … said he sent Zinke a letter Wednesday raising numerous questions, including just what exactly is off the table.

After Interior drops Florida from offshore drilling plan, other states say ‘me too’” via Ledyard King of USA TODAY — The ‘us-too’ chorus included officials from California, Delaware, New York, Oregon, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington who are eager to make their case to Zinke much like Gov. Scott was able to in a face-to-face meeting with the secretary in Tallahassee. Zinke announced last week he was proposing to open up 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf off the U.S. coast — including Florida — to oil and gas exploration in the largest single expansion of offshore drilling activity ever proposed. But he moved quickly on Florida, following pushback from some state officials, including Scott, a Trump confidante and likely Senate candidate this year, who said he would oppose drilling off Florida’s coasts where tourism and coastal military installations are important to the state’s economy. That spurred a pitch from Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who tweeted that his state also was “unique” and relied heavily on beach tourism.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @ByDarrylFears: In an interview just now w/ @washingtonpost, @SecretaryZinke said he plans to meet with every governor whose state would be affected by the drilling proposal. “This is going to be a long process. at least a year.”

— @RepTedYoho: America’s farmers and rural communities deserve access to broadband that is fast & reliable. Thank you @POTUS for signing 2 executive orders that will bring rural America up to speed.

— @ChadPergram: On (Darrell) Issa retirement, Retiring GOP FL (Illeana) Ros-Lehtinen says retiring GOPers from battleground districts “have seen the future and it ain’t pretty.” Says it is “rough sailing”

— @Braintasm: Went and saw The Post tonight. I watched a film about newspapers inside a movie theater inside of a mall. It was a dying industry turducken.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

House Speaker says he saw misconduct by legislators” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Richard Corcoran said he has personally confronted former state legislators who sexually harassed others, but he won’t name names. One of the fiercest critics of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct, Corcoran said none of those legislators are in office in now and that the incidents occurred before he became speaker. “I did report, I did talk to the legislators involved and it was resolved,” Corcoran said, adding later that “to the extent that there was a violation, that violation needed to be addressed, and it was addressed. And the behavior was curbed.” The bad behavior, Corcoran said, occurred throughout his political career, including when he worked as chief of staff in 2008 for then-House Speaker Marco Rubio, now a U.S. Senator. Corcoran said this week he did not report any of these incidents to authorities. Corcoran said he could not give an exact number of how many legislators he witnessed engaging in misconduct, but added that there were probably “less than 10.”

Higher-ed package heads to Senate floor — Senators will consider a proposal (SB 4) Thursday that would expand Bright Futures scholarships and need-based aid. The plan is one of Senate President Joe Negron’s priorities and is expected to pass through the chamber quickly. The Senate GOP released a video on Wednesday ahead of the vote. Click on the image below to watch it.

Tourism interests object as House moves on bed tax bill” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Rep. Randy Fine is sponsoring HB 585, which would give local tourism development councils the option of spending money on roads, sewers or environmental cleanup projects that benefit tourist attractions. He filed the measure after his county’s tourism board refused to spend money on cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon, even as it spent $14.5 million on other projects, including $5 million for soccer fields. The bill won the approval of the House Tourism and Gaming Control committee on an 8-4 vote, with two metro Orlando lawmakers, Republican Mike Miller and Democrat Amy Mercado among those voting against it. Tourism industry groups oppose the measure, contending it would give local governments a loophole to spend tourist development taxes, a surcharge on hotels known as bed taxes, on expensive infrastructure projects only partially related to tourism.

After high-profile data breaches, legislators want to toss credit report freeze fees” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — In the wake of recent high-profile data breaches compromising the information of thousands of Floridians, legislators and cabinet members on Wednesday advocated for two bills that would eliminate credit report freeze fees for consumers. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are backing two measures proposed in the Legislature, which they say would toss a “fundamentally unfair burden” to victims of identity theft. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican, is leading the fight to put an end to these fees in the Senate. While his bill awaits committee referrals, the companion House bill sponsored by state Rep. Shawn Harrison was advanced on Wednesday.

No-fault insurance repeal gets Senate backing” via the News Service of Florida — An effort to eliminate the state’s “no-fault” auto insurance system got rolling Wednesday in the Senate, amid concerns the change would not significantly lower rates. Also, questions continue over the fate of the Senate proposal (SB 150) because of medical coverage requirements that are not included in a similar measure (HB 19), which is teed up for a vote by the full House. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Wednesday voted 10-1 to support the bill … It would repeal the no-fault law, which requires motorists to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection. The proposal must still go before two more committees before reaching the Senate floor.

Tom Lee files Senate bill to restore civil rights for ex-felons — While a grassroots campaign is working on restoring voting rights to over 1.6 million felons, legislation that would accomplish a similar goal had been introduced in the Legislature. Now, GOP Sen. Tom Lee has filed companion legislation that would make it easier for felons to get their rights restored. SB 1654 would allow local circuit judges to restore the rights of felons after they’ve completed prison sentences and probation. It’s a companion to a House bill filed last month by Jacksonville Beach Rep. Cord Byrd (HB 903), also a Republican. A similar measure is before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission by former state Sens. Chris Smith and Arthenia Joyner, both Democrats.

Florida could grant legal immunity for reporting overdoses” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — A Senate panel Tuesday advanced a bill that would grant people immunity for carrying small amounts of drugs if they seek medical help for an overdose. The proposal applies to individuals who are found in possession of any drug, including fentanyl and illicit opioids, if they ask for medical assistance in “good faith” when they believe a user is experiencing an overdose. “It’s really trying to make sure that if somebody is in the midst of seeing somebody struggling of an overdose, they shouldn’t have to be worried about the state charging them,” said Sen. Brandes, the Pinellas County Republican sponsoring the measure.

Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a bill that would grant people immunity for carrying small amounts of drugs if they seek medical help for an overdose. 

Legislators discuss change in law that punishes injured immigrant workers” via Maria Perez of the Naples Daily News — A Florida lawmaker said he will file a measure in the Session to require employers and insurers to pay workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented workers injured on the job who now can be denied coverage … some Florida businesses profit from the labor of unauthorized immigrants after accepting false IDs without verifying the documents. But they or their insurers report the workers after they’re injured on the job under a state law that makes it a felony to obtain a job or benefits with false identification. While some businesses or their insurers avoided paying for injury claims, their workers got arrested, faced jail and deportation, and had to pay for medical care for their injuries. Employers and their insurers report these workers under a workers’ compensation fraud statute … a 2003 Florida law is punishing immigrants who are legitimately injured if they use Social Security numbers not assigned to them or use fake identification to obtain employment or workers’ compensation benefits. “It´s just not fair to the injured workers,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat and member of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

And … action! Annette Taddeo fights for film incentives” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Calling it a “shot of adrenaline,” South Florida Sen. Annette Taddeo on Wednesday stumped for her bill to bring TV and film incentives back to the Sunshine State. Her measure (SB 1606) would create the “Florida Motion Picture Capital Corporation” to “encourage the use of this state as a site for scripted productions by providing financing to such productions,” the bill says … But, despite support from Republican Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Democrat David Silvers of West Palm Beach in the House, Republican leadership there has opposed incentive programs. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, in particular, has derided other business incentives as “corporate welfare.”

AFP mailer: End public financing of private stadiums” via Florida Politics — Americans for Prosperity-Florida — the pro-free market, government spending watchdog — is sending out direct mail to urge support for ending “corporate welfare” for billionaire sports-team owners. Legislation pending in the 2018 Session would “eliminate taxpayer handouts to build stadiums on public lands, and end a program that gives professional sports teams subsidies to expand their stadiums,” the group said in a Wednesday release. “The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Tom Lee, would repeal the Florida Sports Development Fund and ban Florida sports teams from receiving taxpayer money to renovate stadiums on public land,” it said. “The second proposal, also sponsored by Avila, would prohibit sports franchises from developing facilities on public lands without meeting strict fair-market value requirements.”

Here is the mailer:

King of … ads? Bill would OK beer promotion in theme parks” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A key Senate panel said “beer me” on Wednesday, as it cleared legislation to allow ads for brewskis in Florida theme parks. The bill (SB 822) won over the Regulated Industries Committee by a vote of 7-2. Republican Sens. Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange voted ‘no.’ The measure had been contentious last year; critics said it would allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars from beer companies, and ultimately favor Big Beer manufacturers who can pay to put up the biggest and most ads. Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, … got at the heart of the issue: “Theme parks sell a lot of beer.”

Senators pick up six measures by Jack Latvala — Now that Sen. Latvala has resigned and can no longer champion the bills he introduced in the Senate for the 2018 Legislative Session, six senators have picked up some of his bills. Those measures include granting certain benefits to firefighters upon being diagnosed with cancer; prohibiting a franchisor from terminating or not renewing a franchise under certain circumstances, and major overhauling of beach renourishment funding in South Florida.

CPC commends House for taking up ‘assignment of benefits’ bill — The House is getting some praise from the Consumer Protection Coalition for getting HB 7015 prepped for a floor vote in the early days of the 2018 Session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Trumbull, aims to curb Assignment of Benefits litigation by changing the way attorneys fees are paid and impose new reporting requirements for parties looking to file a lawsuit over AOB claims. CPC, a coalition of insurance, contractor  and real estate businesses, said the House is “sending a clear message early in the legislative session that …. AOB abuse is hurting consumers and must be addressed immediately.” CPC also called on the Senate to “follow the House’s lead and do what is right for Florida’s consumers” by taking up the House’s bill or moving forward with its own version, SB 62 by Sen. Dorothy Hukill. That bill has not yet been heard in committee.

News Service of Florida shortens email blasts – In a note to subscribers, the Tallahassee-based news provider Wednesday said it was adding a “read more” button, instead of sending entire stories or briefs packages. That old method long posed a content security issue,” as some subscribers were regularly forwarding “stories and briefs packages to people who do not subscribe.” The News Service “depends on subscription revenues to maintain our reporting team and continue to deliver the amount and quality of coverage our subscribers require. So in redesigning our computer system, we looked for a better way to protect our material.” The service further said, “We understand this has been an adjustment for subscribers, and we continue to look at possible revisions in the format.”

***Don’t clutter the Florida Constitution with things that don’t belong there! Trial lawyers want more flexibility to sue nursing homes and drive up the costs of long-term care for our state’s seniors. State and federal laws already ensure residents’ rights, and hundreds of thousands of hardworking professionals dedicate their lives to serving those in their care. Urge the Constitution Revision Commission to vote NO on misleading Proposal 88 here.***

Governors Club Thursday buffet menu – Starting at 7:30 a.m., the Breakfast Club will offer scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, Bradley’s country sausage links, fresh-cut seasonal fruit, biscuits, warm grits, coffee and assorted juice. Lunch buffet menu includes mixed green salad with assorted dressings, pineapple raisin coleslaw, ham and green pea salad, crawfish bisque, teriyaki tri-tip, Hawaiian chicken, orange mango shrimp, steamed jasmine rice, Asian stir-fry vegetables, sweet plantains and finishing with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.

— FLORIDA REALTORS UNVEIL SESSION PRIORITIES — 

The state’s largest professional trade association, Florida Realtors, wants to secure more opportunities for vacation rentals, affordable housing, and business growth, while also resolving issues impacting property insurance.

Each Legislative Session, the association acts as a strong advocate for homeownership initiatives and private property rights.

This Session is no different. In detail, here’s what Florida Realtors will be tackling in the Legislature:

Reforming assignment of benefits (AOB): According to Florida Realtors, a “growing number of contractors, such as water remediation companies and roofers, have been inflating the cost of repairs.” If contested, the contractors file a lawsuit — a cost that eventually shifts to policyholders. Tim Weiysheyer, vice chair of public policy at Florida Realtors, said, “Realtors are going to make it clear that drastic reform of the Assignment of Benefits process is needed to cut down on the abuse that drives up insurance premiums for property owners.”

Reducing business rent tax: Last year, the Legislature lowered the sales tax on rent to 5.8 percent. But there is more work to be done. Florida Realtors believes that further reductions can only lead to “providing businesses with the capital needed to expand, hire, improve benefits, and raise salaries.”

More vacation rentals: “We are urging the Legislature to step in and prevent property rights from being undermined,” said Florida Realtors President-Elect Eric Sain. The ability for homeowners to use vacation rental websites — like Airbnb — should be protected by property rights.

More affordable housing: According to Florida Realtors, “To encourage people to move to Florida, build lives here and contribute to the economy, the state housing trust funds need to be directed to as many programs as possible to help people buy homes.”

— NOTES FROM CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Mark Levin endorses Ron DeSantis for Florida Governor — The conservative radio host said during an interview on “The Mark Levin Show” … “I’ve gotten to know Ron DeSantis. He’s a very decent man, a very principled man, a family man with a beautiful family, trying to do the right thing. He’s a very atypical politician.” DeSantis responded: “Florida’s future is important for the people who are there and the people who may move there, but it’s also important nationally … We want to have big states that can implement limited government policies and show successes … and I’m committed to making sure we remain a state rooted in conservative reform.” The full interview is available on YouTube.

Conservative radio host Mark Levin calls Ron DeSantis a ‘good, principled man.’

Andrew Gillum wants to face DeSantis in Governor’s race” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — “DeSantis is the kind of matchup we are looking for this November: a right-wing ultraconservative, member of Congress, backed publicly by Donald Trump and his billionaire friends,” chief strategist Scott Arceneaux wrote to campaign manager Brendan McPhillips and communications director Geoff Burgan. A DeSantis-Gillum matchup would be ideal because DeSantis would “energize our base, even beyond Trump,” the memo reads. Brad Herold, a DeSantis campaign spokesman, said, “If Andrew Gillum thinks that an Iraq veteran and top conservative like Ron DeSantis is a weaker candidate than a career politician like Adam Putnam, he may actually be a worse candidate than he is a mayor.”

Assignment editors — Gillum and others with the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions will hold a news conference to discuss the “war” on local communities. “Speaker (RichardCorcoran has made stripping home rule from cities a priority,” according to a release. That’s at 10:30 a.m. outside the House chamber on the fourth floor of The Capitol.

Ruth’s List endorses Gwen Graham — Following women-propelled Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama, Graham is beginning 2018 with a heavy hitting endorsement from the progressive women’s organization Ruth’s List. “Ruth’s List is proud to join Floridians across the state in supporting Gwen Graham, a strong progressive leader, for Governor of Florida. After 20 years of Republican Rule and with Donald Trump in the White House, our state needs a governor who will stand up to the special interests for Florida families now more than ever,” said Gloria Romero Roses, Chair of Ruth’s List. “Gwen is a problem solver who has a proven record of fighting for a woman’s right to choose, voting rights and our environment. As governor, she will build an economy that works for every Floridian, fight to restore our promise to public schools and protect our clean land and water.” Ruth’s List has helped female candidates win in more than 64 races and has raised more than $4 million. Florida’s primary and general electorate is compromised of about 60 percent female voters and is expected to exceed that number in 2018.

Assignment editors — Graham joins the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for a “work day” in which Graham will, among other things, ride along with a narcotics officer. She’ll hold a media availability with Sheriff Mike Chitwood at 12:30 p.m., S. Saboda Training Center, 3901 Tiger Bay Road, Daytona Beach.

Assignment editors – Orlando-area entrepreneur and Democratic candidate for Governor Chris King kicks off a weeklong South Florida “Affordable Living Tour” at 2 p.m. with a tour of the Haitian Cultural Center, 212 NE. 59th Terracein Miami. At 3 p.m., King will host a Little Haiti Small Business Roundtable Discussion, 13695 W. Dixie Hwy. in Miami. Then, at 6 p.m., the candidate will attend a Rise up Speech and Q&A session at 3010 De Soto Blvd. in Coral Gables.

Philip Levine: Check to Marco Rubio ‘tiny’ compared with long, deep Democratic support” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — There’s that Sept. 30, 2009, check to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Florida House Speaker Rubio … It’s the $2,400 contribution to a Republican who then was seen as the darling of Florida’s Tea Party movement, an upstart whose explosive popularity on the right chased Charlie Crist from the Grand Old Party and made Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek a third-place finisher in 2010. Privately, some Democrats have been whispering wonder about whether Levine’s erstwhile support of Rubio in 2009 reflected at all on his commitment to the Florida Democratic Party. “Nope. Not at all. Zero,” Levine insisted in Orlando when asked about whether that contribution meant he harbored an interest in Rubio or for what he stands. “I have written millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, and that was just one small, tiny donation,” Levine said. “Friends of mine called me up and asked me for it, and I said ‘yes.’”

Philip Levine’s $2,400 check to Marco Rubio is dwarfed by the millions given to Democrats over the years.

Noted for opposition to Airbnb, Levine holds Jax event at Airbnb house” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — “[Miami Beach] doesn’t want what [you’re] selling!!!!” Per the Miami Herald in 2017, this was then Miami Beach Mayor Levine‘s reaction to Airbnb wanting to do business in the city. In that context, it was ironic that Levine’s event in Jacksonville Wednesday was at a home used at least part-time for Airbnb. The event host told us she and her husband split her time between Jacksonville and another city, and the home in the Riverside area is available for short-term rentals when they were out of town. Christian Ulvert, a spokesman for Levine, characterized the former mayor’s strident anti-Airbnb position in 2017 as being due to the company being “not the right thing for Miami Beach.” “He loves Airbnb,” Ulvert said, but Levine also “believes in local control.”

It looks like John Morgan is backing Jeremy Ring for Chief Financial Officer” via Florida Politics — Morgan gave the punny nod via Twitter, quoting an earlier tweet from Ring saying that the pair had a “great meeting yesterday”: “My hat is in his Ring. The @Yahoo guy made it big in the real world and would bring real-world experience as CFO. We don’t need more professional politicians. #LessIsMore.”

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward endorses Alex Andrade in HD 2 — “Alex Andrade’s commitment to his community coupled with his conservative principles makes him the right candidate to continue our region’s strong legacy of leadership in Tallahassee. Alex has a servant’s heart and is a trusted leader. He will bring a civil, common-sense approach to solving the challenges our state faces,” Hayward said. As a member of the Pensacola Young Professionals, Big Brothers Big Sister of Northwest Florida, and the Escambia Santa Rosa Bar Association Board Member, Andrade is heavily involved in civic and professional organizations throughout HD 2. A graduate of the University of Florida and inductee in the University of Florida Hall of Fame, he works as a lawyer for Moore, Hill & Westmoreland, P.A. and was appointed by Governor Scott to the 1st Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.

Bill Galvano committee tops $300,000 in December” via the News Service of Florida – … while a committee headed by incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva collected $190,000 … Galvano’s committee, known as Innovate Florida, brought in $304,550 in December and had about $790,000 in cash on hand as of the end of the month. Contributions included $50,000 from Florida Chamber of Commerce PACs, $25,000 from TECO Energy, Inc., and $25,000 from Florida Power & Light Co., the committee’s report shows. Oliva’s committee, known as Conservative Principles for Florida, had about $802,000 on hand after the $190,000 haul in December. Contributions during the month included $75,000 from the health insurer Florida Blue, $25,000 from Publix Supermarkets, Inc., and $25,000 from Florida Power & Light, the committee’s report shows.

Democrat Jason Haeseler enters House District 21 field” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Haeseler, a registered professional engineer, is an associate director of utilities at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is an Army veteran who served for seven years in multiple units in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and is a graduate of the University of Florida, with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He enters a contest with Republican incumbent state Rep. Chuck Clemons of Newberry. Democrat Joe Gordan Additon of Ocala also has entered the fray. The district encompasses western Alachua County, and Gilchrist and Dixie counties.

Democrats file to run in James Grant, Bill Hager House districts” via the News Service of Florida — Tampa Democrat Heather Kenyon Stahl opened an account to try to unseat Grant in House District 64, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties … Grant and three other candidates also have opened accounts for the race. Meanwhile, Boca Raton Democrat Tina Scott Polsky became the fifth candidate to open an account to try to replace Hager in Palm Beach County’s House District 89.

Democrat Alex Heeren announces his bid for House District 66 — The seat is currently held by Representative Larry Ahern, who is term-limited. Heeren is a Technology Integration Coordinator with Pinellas County Schools, helping teachers incorporate technology into their classrooms. He previously taught at Meadowlawn Middle School in St. Petersburg, as well as ran the Girls Who Code after school program. He still coaches the middle school’s volleyball team. Heeren is also an Eagle Scout and has lived in Pinellas County his entire life.

Attack ads heating up Sarasota state House race” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – The race for a state House seat covering much of northern Sarasota County is starting to heat up, with allies of Republican James Buchanan unleashing several attacks against Democrat Margaret Good. The hardball tactics are a sign that that the race is competitive. A television ad that began airing last week attacks Good’s record as an attorney and her alleged views on immigration. The television ad says that “Good defended allegations of fraud, negligence, Ponzi schemes and financial mismanagement” and adds that she “sides with liberals in making Sarasota a sanctuary city for illegal aliens” and “even tried to stop a Sarasota school teacher for getting her rightfully earned bonus.” Good campaign manager Kevin Lata called the television ad “30 seconds of lies… funded by special interest groups and insiders who want to continue business as usual in Tallahassee.”

Democrat Javier Fernandez reports solid start in HD 114 money race” via Florida Politics — Fernandez launched his bid for the open Miami-based HD 114 seat by raising more than $78,000 in the first month of his campaign. In addition to this notable start, Fernandez, a 42-year-old attorney and former Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Miami, also qualified by petition for the special election to succeed Daisy Baez, who stepped down in November. For inclusion on the ballot, Fernandez collected 126 individual donations, as well as qualifying by petition ahead of the first campaign reporting period. He reported raising $78,510 in December.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida Chamber Foundation predicts growth for Florida” via Lobby Tools —  The Florida Chamber Foundation expects Florida to become a $1 trillion economy by the end of 2018 and will create 180,000 jobs across Florida in 2018 — once again outpacing the U.S. economy in job growth. “If Florida were a stock, it would be considered a strong buy. But, while Florida’s economic outlook for 2018 is positive, it’s not without risks, some of which can be mitigated and some of which are larger than Florida,” said Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Florida’s leaders should remain focused on positioning Florida as a leader in global job creation, innovation and economic opportunity. We must continue to signal that Florida is open for business and ready for economic development investments.”

Adam Putnam addresses the crowd at the Florida Chamber’s Economic Outlook Summit, held at FSU’s Turnbull Center.

2018 Best Jobs: Florida doesn’t have many (Tampa Bay has fewer)” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — In the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for “Best Jobs of 2018,” Florida’s metropolitan areas failed to crack the top 50 hubs for jobs that offer good salaries, future opportunities and work-life balance. The report ranked 206 regions — and the Tampa Bay area clocked in at No. 117. The metro areas were ordered based on their concentration of “best” jobs. Naples was the highest-ranking Florida region at No. 55 … “Health care jobs are prominent on our list year after year and are predicted to continue growing rapidly within the job market by 2026,” said U.S. News & World Report careers reporter Rebecca Koenig in a prepared statement. According to the list, the No. 1 best occupation was software developer. Dentists claimed the No. 2 spot, followed by physician assistants, nurse practitioners and orthodontists.

All in — or out? Gambling revenue puzzles state economists” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A roundtable of state economists Tuesday decided to take a pass on adopting a forecast for Indian gambling dollars that flow to the state. The Seminole Tribe of Florida pays over $200 million a year into state coffers as part of a deal that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, especially blackjack. And even though the Tribe and the state settled their lawsuit over blackjack, the Revenue Estimating Conference this August added a telling footnote to their projections, basically telling lawmakers who build the yearly state budget: Don’t count on this money. They called it “nonrecurring” because it “cannot be anticipated with sufficient certainty.”

Panel moves forward on filling open PSC seat — The Public Service Commission Nominating Council has set Jan. 18 for picking the “most qualified” applicants to fill a vacancy on the board, and Jan. 25 as the date for interviews, voting and final selection. Gov. Scott had picked former Rep. Ritch Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state. But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation. Initial applicants include Rich Glorioso, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served in the House 2004-12, and Baldwyn English, who had been Brisé’s chief adviser for the last seven years. The full-time position, based in Tallahassee, pays $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval. The deadline to apply is this Friday, Jan. 12.

State appeals judge’s greyhound drug-testing ruling — The Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a notice of appeal in the 1st District Court of Appeal this week, records show. Administrative Law Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson ruled last month that state regulators’ method of testing racing dogs for drugs was “invalid.” Specifically, he found that drug-testing provisions from 2010 had not been appropriately adopted as official agency rules under the state’s rule-making procedure. There are now two competing bills in the 2018 Legislative Session: One is an outright ban on using steroids on dogs, and another expressly allows it as birth control. Now, the practice is OK’d in regulations but not in statute.

Florida wants to remove virus-excreting wild monkeys” via Jason Dearen of The Associated Press — Wildlife managers in Florida say they want to remove roaming monkeys from the state in light of a new study published that finds some of the animals are excreting a virus that can be dangerous to humans. Scientists studying a growing population of rhesus macaques in Silver Springs State Park say that rather than just carrying herpes B, which is common in the species, some of the monkeys have the virus in their saliva and other bodily fluids, posing a potential risk of spreading the disease. Human cases of the virus have been rare, with about 50 documented worldwide, and there have been no known transmissions of it to people from wild rhesus macaques in Florida or elsewhere. However, the researchers say the issue has not been thoroughly studied. The findings, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, prompted the researchers from the universities of Florida and Washington to warn Florida’s wildlife agency that the infected monkeys should be considered a public health concern. State wildlife officials say they are taking the problem seriously.

Analysis: St. Petersburg ranked among ‘worst places to die’” via Andrew McPherson and Ravi B. Parikh of The Washington Post — Using data from the Dartmouth Atlas — a source of information and analytics that organizes Medicare data by a variety of indicators linked to medical resource use — we recently ranked geographic areas based on markers of end-of-life care quality, including deaths in the hospital and number of physicians seen in the last year of life. But we can also rank areas based on how they treat us at an important moment of life: When it’s coming to an end. Race and other demographics in a given area certainly matter. One systematic review of more than 20 studies showed that African-American and Hispanic individuals utilize advance-care planning and hospice far less than whites. More research is needed to explore these differences and to close these gaps and demand high-quality, personalized care for people of all races. But race and demographics don’t provide all the answers. For instance, Sarasota and St. Petersburg, are only 45 miles apart and have similar ethnic demographics. Yet we found that they score quite differently on several key quality metrics at the end of life. A study ranked nearly 300 regions of the country based on seven factors, such as hospice use and the number of deaths in the hospital. Worst places to die: Las Vegas; Miami; Stockton, California; East Long Island; Honolulu; Newark; McAllen, Texas; Bronx; Manhattan and St. Petersburg, Florida.

— KUDOS TO FPL —

FPL wins kudos for closing coal plant, expanding solar

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced. The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both utilities’ generating systems.

JEA said the dismantling of the St. Johns coal plant has already begun, and the plant’s towers will be imploded later this year

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — on the first day of the new year: Horizon Solar Energy Center, which straddles Alachua and Putnam counties; Coral Farms Solar Energy Center, Putnam County; Indian River Solar Energy Center, Indian River County; Wildflower Solar Energy Center, DeSoto County.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

— “FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

— “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar, it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

FPL, which invested about $900 million building the plants, will also have four similar solar facilities completed by March 1: Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center, Brevard County; Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center, Indian River County; Hammock Solar Energy Center, Hendry County; Loggerhead Solar Energy Center, St. Lucie County.

— OPINIONS —

Mona Mangat: Marco Rubio, you failed Florida kids once. Here’s your chance to make amends.” via Florida Politics Children, families and parents … are caught in the crosshairs of the Republican tax and budget overhaul that will shift trillions in tax breaks to the rich and corporations while forcing health care cuts and higher taxes on working families. At the same time, the health care of millions of children hangs in the balance as their families wait to see if Congress will provide long-term stability to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) … Rubio recently tried to claim the title of children’s champion, making headlines when he demanded improvements to the tax bill’s Children’s Tax Credit (CTC) in exchange for his vote. But that was grandstanding with little substance. But now Rubio has an opportunity to stand up for many of the same kids the CTC leaves behind by becoming a vocal champion for CHIP and demanding that the same senators who pressured him into voting for the tax package provide families with certainty and ensure their kids will have the health care coverage they need. Without CHIP reauthorization, 215,000 kids in Florida will be kicked off the insurance rolls. Failing to champion the reauthorization of CHIP is morally reprehensible, and Florida won’t forgive Rubio if he fails families again.

Herschel Vinyard: CRC should reject Proposal 23” via Florida Politics – The sanctity of Florida’s Constitution is violated when we seek to fill it with “feel good” amendments that are often vague, duplicative, and trigger unintended consequences. As a former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I had the privilege of working with the sponsor of CRC Proposal 23 to identify restoration projects designed to reduce harmful algal blooms and freshwater discharges in Martin County. She was a terrific partner and her efforts to improve Florida’s environment are genuine and appreciated. However, this proposed amendment to allow an individual to disregard our environmental laws and place environmental decision making in Florida’s courts (which were named last month as the No. 1 “judicial hellhole” in the country) is not the answer. Current law already allows affected citizens to be involved in development permits and to take legal action to stop any person or company from “violating any laws, rules, or regulations for the protection of the air, water, and other natural resources of the state.” A constitutional amendment creating another right to sue is not the purpose of a constitution and would add to the litany of vague and duplicative amendments in our constitution. Restoration, not litigation, should be our rallying cry.

Heather Fitzenhagen: Level the playing field for Florida franchise operators” via Florida Politics — To operate a franchise business, owners devote hundreds of thousands of dollars on the franchise agreement, equipment and supplies, employees, advertising, and so much more. Right now, Florida provides few legal safeguards for the small-business men and businesswomen who choose to invest their hard-earned personal resources in a franchise business opportunity. I hope to change that. The Small Business Parity Act is designed to help achieve a more level playing field for those who invest their personal time, money, and energy to build local businesses. Currently, a corporation can terminate its franchise agreement — and effectively drive the operator out of business — with the snap of a finger. They don’t even need to have a valid cause. That is grossly unfair and imposes a tremendous burden on a well-intended entrepreneur. My legislation would help these franchise owners protect their growing businesses, providing a more even balance in the franchise relationship. It would stop a corporation from refusing to renew a franchise agreement unless the operator fails to substantially comply with the franchise agreement; it allows operators to sell or transfer their franchise to a qualified person; and it permits Florida franchise operators the right to pursue legal disputes with their franchisor in a Florida court and under Florida law.

— MOVEMENTS —

Interviews set for open Tallahassee judgeship” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A panel that vets applicants for judgeships have set interviews to fill a vacancy on the 2nd Judicial Circuit in north Florida. The circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission will meet at 9 a.m. on Jan. 16, at the Leon County Courthouse Annex in Tallahassee. Commissioners will interview 12 applicants for the opening, created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Francis. Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31. The JNC will recommend 3-6 names to Gov. Scott, who makes the final selection.

Personnel note: Greg Giordano named to PSC Nominating Council — Giordano, the assistant tax collector in Pasco County under Tax Collector Mike Fasano, is House Speaker Corcoran’s appointment to the nominating panel. Giordano has long been an aide to Fasano, a former state representative and senator, and Fasano and Corcoran are old friends and political allies. The Public Service Commission Nominating Council reviews applicants for openings on the PSC, then recommends finalists to the governor. The commission regulates investor-owned utilities. “I have seen firsthand the importance of having qualified individuals making decisions on rate cases, quality of service and other issues that pertain to utilities,” Giordano said in a statement. “The need to have consumer-oriented commissioners on the panel is important now more than ever.” He will serve a four-year term ending in 2022.

— ALOE —

Diet Coke gets new look and flavors amid sinking sales” via The Associated Press — Coca-Cola Co. says it is adding a slimmer 12-ounce Diet Coke can, refreshing the logo and offering the 35-year-old drink in four new flavors, including mango and ginger lime. The Atlanta-based company says the taste of the plain Diet Coke will stay the same … Diet Coke sales have fallen as more people switch to other low-calorie drinks, such as flavored fizzy water. The company says Diet Coke’s new look and flavors were aimed to appeal to millennials.

Florida man amasses world’s largest collection of vintage Walt Disney memorabilia” via News Channel 8 – Magee is known as “America’s Toy Scout” and one of his most prominent collections includes hundreds of Disney park prop memorabilia, worth around $2 million. It is the largest, private original Disney World and Disneyland park prop collection in the world. … Magee owns several items that were actually inside Disneyland in California on opening day in 1955. His collections also includes the seat parts from some of the most iconic rides of all time, the Peter Pan pirate ship and the original Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride vehicle.

What Jeff Brandes is reading — “Self-driving cars in a city like no other” via Oliver Cameron of Voyage — Voyage is bringing self-driving cars to a retirement community (and city) like no other: The Villages, Florida … we’re excited to announce that Voyage has started testing its self-driving fleet within the community. Beginning in early 2018, we’ll start rolling out a door-to-door self-driving taxi service to residents. The Villages, Florida is Voyage’s second deployment of self-driving cars in the past six months, following our successful launch at The Villages, San Jose. We’re also excited to share that we’ve completed a Series A to help fuel this expansion — bringing our 2017 fundraising total to more than $20M. We’re bringing a door-to-door self-driving taxi service to the 750 miles of road at The Villages. When fully operational, all 125,000 residents will have the ability to summon a self-driving car to their doorstep using the Voyage mobile app, then travel anywhere within the bounds of the community fully autonomously. In the autonomous vehicle field, this level of driverless technology is called “Level 4 automation.”

Happy birthday belatedly to one of the smartest (and certainly best-dressed men) in The Process, Albert Balido of Anfield Consulting.

Sixty Days for 1.10.18 — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

The Last 24

No oil derricks here: Gov. Rick Scott comes out a winner on offshore drilling, and went to Jacksonville to crow about it.

Boo on ‘data breaches’: Lawmakers and Cabinet members advocated for bills that would eliminate credit report freeze fees for consumers.

And … action! Sen. Annette Taddeo stumped for her bill to bring TV and film incentives back to the Sunshine State. Now to convince Richard Corcoran.

Regulate this: A state panel has set Jan. 18 for picking the “most qualified” applicants to fill a vacancy on the Public Service Commission, and Jan. 25 to vote for finalists.

Our kingdom for a horse … er, house: The Florida Realtors released their session goals — more opportunities for vacation rentals, affordable housing, and business growth; resolving property insurance problems.

Quote of the Day

“I’ve been clear forever. I’m going to take care of this environment.” — Gov. Scott in Jacksonville Wednesday, referring to the Trump administration backing away from a proposal to permit offshore drilling, including off the coast of Florida.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

Construction continues apace in Tallahassee’s downtown. The finishing touches are being put on the Ballard Partners’ building at Monroe and Park, and Florida Power & Light has broken ground on its new Jefferson Street home in the capital. Right next door to FPL, still another edifice is planned: The new home of Capital City Consulting, which has yet to get underway. We caught up with firm principal Nick Iarossi to get an update.

Q: What’s the status of your construction?

A: (FPL is) ahead of us. We should break ground in March or April. We are still working on finalizing our building’s conceptual design. But the building will be two stories and have a contemporary ‘feel.’ Lots of glass, natural light, collaborative work areas, with a very large conference room that can accomodate coalition meetings and after-hours events.

Q: Why are you making the move?

A: Quite simply, we’ve outgrown the space we’re in (i.e., the Greenberg Traurig building at College and Adams). We anticipate hiring more people above the 11 lobbyists and five support staff we have now.

Q: Why Jefferson Street?

A: With the Capitol a block away, it’s hard to beat the location. (And veteran lobbyist Ron Book will be their next door neighbor.)

Lobby Up

David Griffin has registered to lobby for the Florida Association of Broadcasters and St. John and Partners.

Griffin, once Florida Lottery Secretary under Gov. Jeb Bush, left the GrayRobinson law firm’s Tallahassee office last month to return to solo practice as “David Griffin Consulting.”

After his state government service, Griffin operated a successful solo consulting firm before joining GrayRobinson in mid-2014.

In addition to heading the state Lottery, he was the assistant executive director and interim executive director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, executive director of the Bush/Brogan 2002 transition office, and a Florida A&M University trustee in 2005.

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

Still more committee meetings! And this:

The Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council will meet to discuss substance abuse issues and solutions. That’s at 8:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, Tallahassee.

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum will hold a news conference with Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones to “emphasize the importance of local governance.” That’s at 10:30 a.m., fourth-floor rotunda, The Capitol.

A Constitution Revision Commission committee will consider a proposal that would shift a portion of anti-smoking program money to research and treatment of cancer. That’s at 12 p.m., Cabinet meeting room, The Capitol.

Senate Appropriations will hear Chair Rob Bradley’s proposal to expand Forever Florida. That’s at 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

The House and Senate will hold floor Sessions. The House convenes at 1 p.m. and the Senate convenes at 3:30 p.m. in their respective chambers.

Errata

Finally, a correction: Yesterday’s graphic did not reflect that both the Tennessee and Georgia Legislatures are also in session in 2018. We regret the omission.

Of course the Anitere Flores-Oscar Braynon affair is news! And other thoughts on the latest Tallahassee sex scandal

In the Wednesday edition of Florida Playbook, author Marc Caputo makes a very good point, but screws up another about a sex scandal involving two married senators — one of them the chamber’s highest-ranking Democrat and the other a powerful Republican.

“The Braynon-Flores affair is different from the (Jack) Latvala, (Stephen) Bittel and (Jeff) Clemens cases,” Caputo argues. He couldn’t be more right. Those scandals were about sexual assault and harassment, whereas the affair between Oscar Braynon and Anitere Flores is one between two consenting adults.

Where Caputo is wrong is when he writes, “Their affair wasn’t news until they decided to publicly address it.”

That’s baloney.

The Braynon-Flores affair is newsworthy on several levels and them publicly addressing it the way they did — with a terse, joint statement — only served to raise more questions. Methinks Caputo is dismissive of the newsworthiness of this story because, for once, he did not have the scoop.

Keep this in mind, the domain name of the anonymous website that outed Braynon and Flores had been up for twenty days before it was discovered. A source close to the situation tells me that Braynon and Flores did not retain public affairs firm Sachs Media Group until AFTER a tweet highlighted the site. This runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the two lawmakers were prepared to have their relationship outed after the first stories about Clemens’ affair broke in November.

But all of that is beside the larger points.

This scandal is news because this is the fourth and fifth time since November 2016 that a Florida Senator has been forced to admit to inappropriate behavior. There’s only forty of them in the upper chamber, so this is a high percentage. And Braynon and Flores will probably not be the last to have to cop to bad behavior.

There are two other state Senators who, in the past, have aggressively sexually harassed women in The Process. That’s not supposition. That’s from the women themselves who, to this day, remain afraid to speak out against these men out of fear to what may happen to their careers.

Of course, what Braynon and Flores did is, as Caputo would argue, not on the same level as sexual harassment, but it is, as Richard Corcoran would undoubtedly argue, part of the problem with the Senate.

It’s the arrogance. It’s the lying. It’s the forcing of others to go along with the whole charade.

Am I overstating the matter? I don’t think so. Imagine that you are a lobbyist and you have first-hand knowledge of the Braynon and Flores relationship. That gives you enormous power. Suddenly two powerful lawmakers are beholden to your silence. This begs the question: What happens when you go to Braynon or Flores on the last day of Session and ask them to tuck X into bill Y? They can’t possible say no.

Braynon and Flores will argue that this scenario has never happened. But they’ve been lying to everyone for the past, what, four years about their relationship. So now we’re suppose to take them at their words?

Don’t forget that Braynon was in charge of the Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts in 2016 when Flores was up for re-election. While some Democratic campaign experts, like Matt Isbell, who will argue that the Democrats put up a good fight, if not did all they could do, against Flores. But how does anyone really know that? Could Braynon and the Democrats, even in losing, have forced the Republicans to spend more of their budget defending Flores and thereby kept some money from flowing to more competitive races?

It’s questions like these that make this story newsworthy. And the two lawmakers’ pleading for “privacy” is simply ridiculous.

At this point, it looks like Jeff Clemens may have handled his scandal the best of any of these politicians. He resigned from office almost immediately after the story broke, even though his scandal did not involve any level of harassment (although it did involve an unbalanced power dynamic). As his political career was crumbling around him, Clemens recognized it was best to go home and salvage his private life.

That is what is so amazing about Braynon and Flores. On the same day they deliver the ultimate embarrassment to their loved ones, they also delivered a response to the governor’s state of the speech (Braynon) and sat in the Senate chambers and cheered on the Senate President (Flores).

If that was your husband or wife, do you think that’s the best place for them to be?

If that was your husband or wife, do you really want him or her to meet up with their boyfriend/girlfriend to issue a joint statement.

Hell no. They would be at home, eating the big pile of sh*t you absolutely deserved to give to them for however long you want to serve it to them.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Lee, missed the first day of Session because his “responsibilities as a father kept (him) from being in Tallahassee.”

Yet, Braynon and Flores, presumably with much bigger fires to put out at home, went about their business as lawmakers.

In their joint statement, Braynon and Flores emphasize not once but twice how they want to move past this to focus on “the important work ahead.”

If you are the loved one of one of these lawmakers, are you really comfortable with them working long hours away from home? Flores is at the center of several important legislative debates, including many issues important to the insurance industry. How can this not be a distraction?

Honestly, I hate writing about this crap.

I’ve hated being in Tallahassee these past three days because the stench of scandal hangs over the Capitol like the morning fog. It’s absolutely toxic. Men and women who have been longtime friends don’t know whether to hug each other or give one another a fist bump. People speak in incomplete sentences out of fear of saying the wrong thing.

Everyone is on edge.

Everyone is already counting down the days to Sine Die. That usually doesn’t happen until the horses pass the second post.

There are 59 days left before they drop the handkerchiefs.

See if you can hold your breath until then.

Sixty Days for 1.9.18 — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

The Last 24

More bad news for Senate: After an anonymous website outed them as a couple, state Sens. Oscar Braynon II and Anitere Flores admit to an affair.

Shocker: Gov. Rick Scott wants more tax cuts this year, as well as protections for people who report sexual misconduct, laws to fight the opioid crisis and more child protective investigators.

Could also be an 800-pound gorilla: Before talking about his legislative priorities on Opening Day, Senate President Joe Negron addressed the elephant in the room: Sexual harassment.

Après moi …: House Speaker Richard Corcoran kicked off Session vowing a deluge of reforms and not allowing Florida to “become a sanctuary state like California.”

Boiling over: Corcoran called for a House vote on whether to subpoena the Visit Florida-paid media company that produced “Emeril’s Florida.”

Forever filed: A version of Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley’s bill expanding Florida Forever funding has a House companion.

Showing us the money: A Republican super PAC backed by U.S. House leadership is reporting $15 million cash-on-hand going into the 2018 elections.

All in? Not yet: A roundtable of state economists decided to take a pass on adopting a forecast for Indian gambling dollars.

Quote of the Day

“I’ve talked to Sen. Flores about the issue … I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that their personal relationship has adversely affected how the Senate is run, decisions that were made … I intend to move on.” — Senate President Joe Negron, at a Tuesday news conference, in response to a question about Flores’ and Braynon’s relationship.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

As leader-designate for her Party, Jacksonville Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson assumes certain responsibilities. In a conversation with Florida Politics, she discussed some of them.

And, despite the possibility she will face a primary challenge, Gibson is not worried.

FP: You’ve been traveling the state more lately to help with Senate candidates/campaigns. What has that experience been like?

AG:  I am always ramped up — continually serving my constituents and the people of the state of Florida attending events, getting out information, doing my research, speaking out. Campaigning is a parallel dimension.

FP:  NE FL is well-positioned on Senate side, with Sen. Rob Bradley atop Appropriations. Are Senate Democrats aligned with his Florida Forever $100 million proposal? Will that be a bipartisan sale?

AG:  When we return for Session we will see where Democrats are separately and collectively on Florida Forever. The people of Florida voted on the funding source and the Legislature is bound by that. Focus [on] NE FL [getting its] fair share is a must do for me and I feel confident that will happen.

FP: On the off chance you face a primary challenge (Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown is mulling one), how does that affect you as a senator? Does it increase the urgency to ramp up campaigning after Session?

AG:  I am stocked up on my vitamins and have been pounding the pavement in Tally, D.C. and other areas, raising funds and meeting candidates on behalf of Senate Victory, and the energy and reception of support are very exciting! I think everyone understands that a more balanced Senate is more productive for all Florida.

Lobby Up

GrayRobinson recently added two education-related clients. Dean Cannon, Kim McDougal, Chris Spencer and Todd Steibly registered to lobby for the Pasco County schools, and Cannon, McDougal, Spencer and Robert Stuart Jr. registered to lobby for the Levy County School Board.

One can’t help but think this is the marquee value of having McDougal, Gov. Rick Scott’s former chief of staff and an education policy pro. She’s now GrayRobinson’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in the law firm’s Tallahassee office.

McDougal spent a decade with the Florida Legislature, working on a wide array of policy, but the majority of her work focused on K-20 education policy. She’s worked as a senior adviser or in a leadership role for many of Florida’s Education Commissioners.

McDougal later served under Scott for almost four years, beginning as a special adviser on education, then serving as Policy Coordinator for Education in the Office of Planning and Budget, then joining the Senior Leadership Team as Policy Director and finally as Legislative Affairs Director and Chief of Staff.

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

Committee hearings for everyone! Also, this stuff:

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are slated to speak during a breakfast event at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Capitol Days. That’s at 8 a.m., Augustus B. Turnbull III Conference Center, Florida State University, 555 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee.

Aides to Gov. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, as well as Putnam and Patronis will meet to discuss issues in advance of a Jan. 18 Cabinet meeting. That’s at 9 a.m., Cabinet meeting room, the Capitol.

Patronis and Putnam will hold a news conference with Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Shawn Harrison to “urge lawmakers to support (legislation) eliminating the credit report freeze fee.” That’s at 11 a.m., fourth floor, The Capitol.

Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, will hold a news conference about a proposal aimed at boosting the film industry in Florida. That’s at 11:45 a.m., fourth floor, the Capitol.

Finally, state political candidates, committees and parties face a Wednesday deadline to file reports showing finance activity through Dec. 31.

The Delegation for 1.9.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Florida faces uphill battle in Supreme Court water case with Georgia

The two-decades-long dispute between Florida and Georgia is now in its final stages. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments that involve the livelihoods and the environment of those in the Apalachicola region.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported both sides were peppered with questions by the justices about how to prove harm to Florida and what remedies were available.

Florida sued Georgia in the Supreme Court in 2013, blaming farmers and booming metro Atlanta for low river flows that harmed the environment and fisheries dependent on freshwater entering the area. Florida portrays the case as its last chance to “stem Georgia’s inequitable consumption” of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia, leaving too little by the time the rivers come together and pass into Florida.

“It is effectively strangling the Apalachicola Region and killing or threatening its animal and plant life,” Florida said in its Supreme Court brief. Although the justices usually hear appeals, lawsuits between states start in the Supreme Court.

 

Georgia-Florida water war lands in U.S. Supreme Court.

Florida faced tough obstacles even before the oral arguments began. Eleven months ago, a special master appointed by the court advised the justices to reject Florida’s claims and side with Georgia.

For some unexplained reason, Florida failed to include the Army Corps of Engineers, who manages the water flow, in their lawsuit. Ralph Lancaster from Maine, the special master, made that a key part of his recommendation.

“Without the ability to bind the corps, I am not persuaded the court can assure Florida the relief it seeks,” he wrote. Lancaster submitted a 137-page report of his findings and recommendations to the court.

He also wrote the corps has sufficient control over the water flow that Florida might not see an increase in water flow from the Flint River into the Apalachicola even if the court would order a cap on Georgia’s consumption of water from the Flint. Georgia claims to restrict the water flow further north would “threaten the water supply of 5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta and risk crippling a multibillion agricultural sector in southwest Georgia.”

The corps’ has effectively granted Atlanta all of the water it needs from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, which eventually flows into the Apalachicola, until 2050.

Some of the court’s liberal justices indicated they accepted the crux of Florida’s argument that any water saved upstream would eventually end up downstream. But nearly all the justices appeared to agree that the absence of the corps in Florida’s suit was a major problem.

Despite this, Dr. Neal Dunn, the first-term Republican Congressman who represents the region, believes Florida made its case.

“Florida convincingly argued that we are right on the facts, the law, and the remedy: Florida’s been injured and Georgia can change its actions to address it,” said Dunn. who was in the courtroom. “What’s not in dispute is that the Special Master determined Georgia’s water usage has been devastating for our fisheries, our economy, and our environment. When it rules, the Court should send the case back to the Special Master with instructions to proceed toward an equitable apportionment of the basin’s waters.”

For more than 20 years, representatives of the two states met to try and work out an equitable agreement in lieu of a costly and bitter lawsuit. At times, the negotiations included the governors of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, including Jeb Bush and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Those multiple attempts failed, resulting in the lobbing of cross-border rhetorical grenades over the issue. Ironically, Lancaster’s report was issued on Valentine’s Day, 2017.

A decision is not expected until late spring.

Nelson vows to block rollback of oil drilling regulations

The three-term Democrat is prepared to invoke a procedural rule in an attempt to block the Donald Trump administration’s latest efforts to rollback several safety standards put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.

The Florida Democrat’s announcement on the Senate floor Wednesday was made just days after the U.S. Department of Interior released for public comment its latest proposal to reverse a series of safety regulations put in place to prevent another incident like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Bill Nelson will enact a procedural rule to prevent offshore oil drilling in Florida.

“Almost five million barrels of oil spilled as a result of a defective device called a blowout preventer,” Nelson said. “Now, what the Interior Department and this administration is trying to do is undo the updated standards for shear rams and blowout preventers and is trying to get rid of a required third party to certify the safety mechanisms.”

In order to stop the rollback, Nelson says he will invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the power to overturn an agency’s final rule. Legislators seeking to block an agency rule from taking effect can file a so-called Resolution of Disapproval within 60 days of a final rule being sent to Congress.

If a Resolution of Disapproval is approved by a majority in both the House and Senate and signed into law by the president, the agency’s rule would be overturned.

“I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola beach were blackened with tar and oil and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state of natural environment, the beautiful Florida beaches,” Nelson said.

On Monday, he received some assistance from delegation Republicans. According to POLITICO, GOP Representatives Matt Gaetz from Fort Walton Beach, and Francis Rooney of Naples say they have a pledge from House Speaker Paul Ryan to continue the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Gaetz said he and Rooney “have a commitment the Eastern Gulf moratorium will be in the must-pass (spending) bill” that must be approved this month.

Rubio, Wall Street Journal at it again

As the process of amending, and ultimately passing, the tax reform plan in the Senate, Florida’s junior Senator was frequently at odds with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial page. The conservative editorial writers were not sold on Rubio’s ultimate goal of doubling the Child Tax Credit.

When Rubio told reporters last week that the tax bill “went too far” in favor of corporations, the feud resumed.

The WSJ claimed Rubio has a “lack of understanding” of the economic reasoning behind the dramatic reduction in the corporate tax rate. The cuts, they say, will spur economic growth while increasing the Child Tax Credit will not.

Rubio fired back via Twitter.

“Another attack from the @WSJ ed board for believing workers, families & small biz are more important to economy than large C Corporations,” he tweeted. “I support free enterprise, not the “Corporatism” preached by 2 days WSJ editorial that believes the large multinational corp are THE economy.”

More to come at tax time.

Decision to end TPS for Salvadorans met with criticism

Some bipartisan criticism greeted the most recent Trump Administration decision involving immigration. On Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen gave the go-ahead to a policy that could force as many as 250,000 in this country from El Salvador to return to their home country.

The Salvadorans were in the United States after being granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) following an earthquake that ravaged El Salvador in 2001. In a statement, Nielsen indicated conditions had improved enough in El Salvador to where it could absorb the return of the temporary economic refugees.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

According to Nielsen and DHS, all is not lost for the Salvadorans. As Trump and his administration have done with ending DACA, Congress can enact a legislative solution for the refugees, who have until September 9, 2019 to either leave of gain legal status.

“Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years,” the announcement states. “The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution.”

The DHS action has incensed Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“America has long provided refuge for those fleeing dangerous conditions at home,” tweeted Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. “I urge this Administration to reconsider its decision to end TPS for El Salvadorans. Congress should find a permanent, legislative solution to extend their immigration status.”

Orlando Democrat Darren Soto said it would “break up Florida families and hurt our economy!”

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart voiced strong opposition to the policy.

“These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime,” he said in a statement. “It would be devastating to send them home after they have created a humble living for themselves and their families.”

With work intensifying on the DACA fix, the Salvadoran TPS issue, as well as ending TPS for Haitians,(announced in November) could become part of the administration’s strategy for overall immigration reform. This issue is far from over.

Delegation unites in support of Iran protesters

When groups of Iranians outside of major cities began to protest against their government, the delegation offered bipartisan support, along with the Trump administration, for courage and their goals. The protests brought back memories of 2009 when groups took to the streets of Tehran, only to be crushed, to condemn what they called a stolen” election.

Trump quickly offered his support to the protesters. “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government,” he tweeted. “You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time.”

“The United States stands on the side of the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom and opportunity against the oppressive Iranian regime,” said Democratic Sen. Nelson.

GOP Sen. Rubio, who joined with a bipartisan group of colleagues to file a Senate Resolution in support of the protests, said in a statement “The Iranian people have a right to peacefully protest the regime’s rampant corruption, and to call for a truly representative government that protects human rights, upholds the impartial rule of law, and seeks peace with all of its neighbors.”

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel agreed saying: “I stand in solidarity with the Iranian people as they make their voices heard. Peaceful protesters deserve the right to express grievances without violent retribution from their own government.”

Despite the verbal support, reports on Monday indicated the Iranian government was gaining the upper hand.

House Budget Committee chairwoman steps down

Tennessee Republican Diane Black has announced she is stepping down from her position as Chairwoman of the House Budget Committee. Black is running for Governor of Tennessee in 2018 but will finish her term in Congress.

“It has been an honor to serve as Chairman of the House Budget Committee,” Black wrote in a statement. “I am very proud of the hard work of our members and all we accomplished, especially offering real reforms for mandatory programs and unlocking pro-growth tax reform.”

One of the committee members, Fort Walton Beach Republican Gaetz, offered Black high marks for her work.

Republican Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee.

“It has been an honor to serve on the House Budget Committee under Rep. Diane Black’s leadership,” Gaetz said in a statement. “As chairman, Rep. Black has been a strong voice for bold, conservative reform, and I look forward to continuing her fight for fiscal responsibility and reducing America’s deficit. Her departure leaves tremendous shoes for the next chairman to fill,”

Black will hand over the gavel once a successor is chosen. The presumed front-runners include Arkansas Republican Steve Womack and Georgia Republican Rob Woodall. The current Vice-Chairman, Todd Rokita of Indiana, is running in 2018 for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Besides Gaetz, the other Florida delegation members who sit on the committee are Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Members of Congress share their success with constituents

As Congress began a new legislative year, several members made sure their constituents knew they were busy voting for and against legislation and policy proposals (see Lawson below). An end-of-year review allows them to highlight signature issues they will use on the stump during re-election.

One exception was Republican Sen. Rubio, who is not up for re-election for another four years. He put increasing the Child Tax Credit, helping increase sanctions on the Maduro regime in Venezuela and helping shape American policy toward Cuba as his top three.

Panama City Republican Dunn, also in his first term, spoke of his work on behalf of veterans and agriculture. In addition, Dunn highlighted his efforts on behalf of Floridians in the water dispute with Georgia, energy independence and military readiness.

First-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park highlighted bills and amendments she sponsored and co-sponsored along with statistics. Among those was her bill for small business loans, an anti-terrorism bill, along with provisions in the military spending bill and aid for Puerto Rico.

Orlando Democrat Soto, also completing his first year, provided constituents with statistics. In addition to helping secure more than $11 million in federal grants and helping return more than one-half million dollars to constituents, Soto’s office fielded 65,000 constituent communications and closed 435 cases.

Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, co-chair of the Florida delegation highlighted three initiatives signed into law in 2017. His measure to help citrus farmers after Hurricane Irma, incentives to move welfare recipients into jobs, and ensuring small businesses were not left behind in the tax reform bill were all signed into law as part of larger funding or tax bills.

Gaetz blasts new DOJ marijuana policy

With the announcement Attorney General Jeff Sessions had repealed Department of Justice policy instructing federal prosecutors to pursue only the most serious marijuana cases, the reaction was swift from both parties. First-term Republican Matt Gaetz from Fort Walton Beach, who has been a vocal proponent of medical marijuana, did not mince words.

“For Sessions to disregard (prior federal policy) is heartless and cold, and shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people,” Gaetz said. “He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients.”

Matt Gaetz blasts the Trump administration’s attack on medical marijuana.

Gaetz also said that disregarding policy which allowed states to implement responsible medical marijuana laws without federal interference is a huge step backward for states’ rights, for common-sense reform and for the American people.

Sessions’ action has also drawn rebuke from other politicians, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, who on Twitter called Sessions’ decision “either willfully ignorant of the medical science or an act of greed on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry.” Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado threatened on Twitter to withhold DOJ nominees unless the attorney general reverses course.

“This cruel plan is repugnant to the Tenth Amendment and harms some of our most vulnerable fellow Americans,” Gaetz said in a second statement issued Friday.

Lawson previews 2018 re-election issues in constituent mailer

As the calendar turns to another even-numbered year, re-election efforts will intensify. It is no exception for the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee.

Right after the New Year, Lawson provided a mailer to constituents highlighting his activities during his first year in Congress. The “Results North Florida Families Can Count On” provides a roadmap for his re-election message.

While the back side contained the many things Lawson supports, the two most prominent issues are on the front side and highlight what he voted against.

Al Lawson proclaims ‘results you can count on.’

Those issues are the GOP tax reform bill and the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“The tax package would raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of Floridians in 2018 alone,” the flyer says. “The bill also makes drastic cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit” (something with which Sen. Marco Rubio might quarrel). Lawson maintains the new law will cut “$1.5 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid.”

Lawson voted to preserve the ACA in part because it “would have kicked nearly 2.2 million Floridians off their health coverage and forced the American people to pay more for less coverage, he said.”

To show this flyer was in the works before the tax bill passed, it could have mentioned the provision that ended the health care mandate, effectively delivering a death blow to the current ACA.

While no Republican has announced a challenge, Lawson has a primary opponent in Rontel Batie from Jacksonville. Batie formerly served as a policy director for former Rep. Corrine Brown, who was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for multiple felonies.

Through September 30, Lawson had raised $190,969 and had $97,768 cash on hand and a debt of $74,457. Batie’s first report is due later this month.

DeSantis embraces Trump backing, joins race for governor

There are plenty of GOP candidates who might fear being tied to President Donald Trump. The three-term Congressman from Ponte Vedra is not one of them.

DeSantis announced Friday on Fox and Friends that he would seek the Republican nomination for governor. In his announcement, he touted the support coming from Trump.

Ron DeSantis, newly minted Republican candidate for Florida Governor.

“I’m excited about taking this first step toward a campaign for governor,” DeSantis told POLITICO. “As a former prosecutor, Iraq veteran and conservative leader who’s endorsed by President Trump, I’ve got the experience needed to win this race and build on Gov. [Rick] Scott’s strong legacy.”

DeSantis was referencing a December 22 tweet from Trump, where the president described the Congressman from the 6th district as “a brilliant young leader … who would make a great Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

DeSantis is a proven fundraiser, but soon after the Trump “endorsement,” some big names jumped on the bandwagon. Among those was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer and prominent investor Foster Friess.

The race to succeed DeSantis is already underway. Democrat Nancy Soderberg has already raised $336,000 and had $259,000 cash on hand as of September 30. Campaign finance reports for the fourth quarter are due next week.

Announcements from current members of the Florida Legislature and others are expected in the near future.

Crist introduces three bipartisan bills 

The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg joined with Republican colleagues to recently file three bipartisan bills. The Access Business Credit (ABC) Act was filed with GOP Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa.

If enacted, the ABC Act would amend the IRS code to provide incentives for banks to provide credit for small businesses. The interest paid on the loan would be excluded from the lender’s gross income with the long-term goal being additional credit availability and job creation.

Iowa Republican Rod Blum joined Democrat Charlie Crist on the Access Business Credit (ABC) Act.

“Making it easier for community banks to make more loans to small businesses is a smart and straightforward change — strengthening Main Street, the middle class, and our economy,” Charlie Crist said in a news release. “This is how we get things done for the American people, working together on common-sense legislation that puts the people first!”

Crist teamed up with Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick on two animal protection measures. The Puppy Protection Act targets breeders selling to pet stores (aka “puppy mills”) with regulations to ensure the animals are treated humanely.

The Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF!) Act would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from issuing commercial breeding licenses to those directly connected to dealers of dogs who have had their licenses suspended or revoked. Like the Puppy Protection Act, this bill would not affect family pets, livestock, or hobbyist breeders.

“The Bible teaches us to care for all of God’s creatures, and that includes man’s best friend,” Crist said. “I’m proud to help introduce bipartisan legislation that protects dogs from unprincipled dealers and breeders, providing a voice for the voiceless.”

Wasserman Schulz files airport safety bill

With the 2017 airport shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as a backdrop, the Democrat from Weston has filed a bill designed to prevent a future occurrence. Wasserman Schultz is sponsoring the Airport Advanced Logistics Emergency Response and Training (ALERT) Act seeks to protect airport passengers and workers around the country.

Specifically, the bill would expand the Airport Air Transportation Security Programs administered by TSA to enhance training, require planning, improve communications, and assist customers and the traveling public in the aftermath of any airport emergency.

In addition, at the 28 airports in TSA’s highest security level known as Category X, which includes Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the Airport ALERT Act would require an integrated and unified operations center to oversee and direct security operations for the entire airport.

“It’s a comprehensive approach so that no matter where you are traveling in the United States, no matter what airport you are going through, the traveling public is subject to the utmost safety standards,” Wasserman Schulz said. “That’s what this legislation is all about.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.

Paulson’s Politics:  Donald Trump, the uniter?

Who would have thought that Trump would be able to unite the American public and politicians from both political parties?

That is exactly what Trump has done in announcing his plan to open up offshore drilling off the continental shelf to 90 percent of the coastline. This reverses the Obama administration policy that banned offshore drilling in 94 percent of the continental shelf.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that 47 lease sales would begin in 2024, including 12 leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Zinke defended the plan arguing it would make America energy independent, expand the U.S. economy and “provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

Donald Trump, uniter?

The proposal was quickly attacked by governors and over one hundred elected officials from New Jersey to Louisiana, as well as the Department of Defense which had previously noted: “it cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland opposed the proposal due to potential damage to the Chesapeake Bay. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie said offshore drilling off the Jersey coast would threaten the $44 billion tourism industry and the 300,000 jobs it generated.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a close friend of Trump, opposed the plan and asked for an immediate meeting with Secretary Zinke “to discuss the concerns I have with the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation uniformly opposed the offshore drilling proposal, but so did most Republicans. Sen. Nelson called the plan “an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment … I will do everything I can do to defeat it.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Rubio joined Nelson in opposing the plan and in calling for a five-year extension of the plan that prevents offshore drilling within 125 miles of the Florida Panhandle and 235 miles off Tampa Bay. This ban, adopted in 2006, is set to expire in 2022.

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan called the Trump plan “reckless, misguided and potentially catastrophic to Florida. As the state with the longest coastline in the continental U. S., Florida is especially vulnerable to oil spills.”

Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Brian Mast both started their opposition to the plan. Mast stated that “our voice has been clear from the start; we will not tolerate drilling near the coast.”

The overriding fear of Floridians with respect to offshore drilling is the memory of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Louisiana coast. Eleven people died, and 215 million gallons of oil was spilled, contaminating water from Louisiana to Florida.

Trump has frequently been accused of dividing Americans. His offshore drilling plan seems to have achieved the impossible: Trump had united the American public and Democrats and Republicans in Congress in opposition to offshore drilling.

Thank you, Mr. President, for bringing us together.

Contemplating  next move, Jolly says progressive voter enthusiasm is ‘massive’

The former Republican Congressman from Pinellas County has not ruled out a rematch against St. Petersburg Democrat Crist but understands it would be a formidable undertaking to oust the first-term Representative who ousted him.

The reality is that it’s the same Democratic-leaning seat that he ended up losing to Crist in 2016 by a 52 percent-48 percent margin. Couple that with the current political temperature and Jolly knows there might be better opportunities elsewhere.

The Cook Political Report last month listed the CD-13 set as being “likely Democratic” in 2018.

David Jolly is not ruling out a rematch in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I am still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by the filing deadline,” the Indian Shores Republican said last week. “The energy on the left is massive.”

If he does run for office anywhere as a Republican, he would fall under the Never Trump banner. An incessant critic of the president, his public pronouncements — mostly via Twitter — zing Trump and his administration.

He was an occasional critic of his party’s recently-enacted tax reform bill.

If Jolly does not run in 2018, there is still time for him. He is only 45 and in four years, Florida will likely have two more House seats, races for governor and the Cabinet and an open U.S. Senate seat on the ballot if Marco Rubio is not running for re-election.

Maybe the progressives will have calmed down by then.

Legendary astronaut passes away

John Young, an astronaut who once walked on the moon, died on Friday, January 5 from complications from pneumonia. Young, 87, spent a lot of time at Cape Canaveral as part of the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs.

He logged a total of 835 hours, or 36 days, in space throughout his career. He walked on the lunar surface as part of the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

Astronaut John W. Young, Apollo 16 Mission Commander.

In April 1981, he commanded the Space Shuttle Columbia’s, and the shuttle program’s, first flight. He was chief of the Astronaut Office from 1974 until 1987, when he retired from his post. In 1988 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Even before his career as a pilot and astronaut, Young called Orlando his home. He was a 1948 graduate of then-Orlando High School. The John Young Parkway runs through Osceola and Orange County.

“I’ve been very lucky, I think,” Young said at his retirement from NASA in 2004. Not able to specify which moment he liked the best, Young would only say “I liked them all.”

First-term Democratic Rep. Soto tweeted “RIP to Orlando favorite son Astronaut John Young. He walked on Moon but reached for the stars!”

Val Demings, also a first-term Democrat from Orlando said “This moonwalker and fearless explorer took humanity to new heights of discovery. We can all learn from his example.”

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.9.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

As state lawmakers dashed for last-minute campaign cash and the University of Alabama’s DeVonta Smith dashed to the end zone with the championship-winning touchdown, a website domain splashed into public view and became the talk of the town in Tallahassee on the eve of the annual legislative session.

The domain — which can be found here, but will not be explicitly mentioned (yet) because what it alleges in its name is unproven and, as of now, does not deserve to be memorialized on search engines, etc. — is only that: a domain name alluding to an affair between two married state lawmakers.

All that’s on the website is a “coming soon” message.

But the domain name is a public mention of a rumor which has long circulated in the capital. The velocity of the story increased during the scandal and downfall of state Sen. Jack Latvala.

At this stage, it’s impossible to know who is behind the domain name. Its marked private on ICANN WHOIS.

The source who alerted Florida Politics to the existence of the domain name says they believe that the looming website is the work of disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles, who, privately, has threatened to expose the two lawmakers referenced in the domain name. Others suggest this is the first of what could be many clandestine efforts by Latvala to exact revenge on his former colleagues.

Of course, nothing may ever come of the domain name. A website may never be completed. Perhaps the owner of the domain name is receiving exactly what they want by just having the website address mentioned in a publication like this.

Regardless of who is behind the domain name, it serves as a reminder that there are still gaping scars in the capital city as lawmakers convene for their sixty days of lawmaking. It was clear Monday evening — at popular watering holes near the Capitol, in private conversations, and at the massive shindig hosted by Associated Industries of Florida — that many in The Process are still walking on eggshells while they wait for another shoe to drop.

FDLE continues to review Latvala case Session has started, and Sen. Latvala is out of the picture in the Senate, but his case continues to be reviewed by the state’s law enforcement agency. After two separate Senate investigations concluded that the former Senate budget chairman sexually harassed women in his orbit and may have traded votes for a sexual encounter, the Senate turned over documents to FDLE officials for review. Officials in the department say they continue to review the case, which includes conducting more interviews and obtaining additional information that could potentially lead to charges.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AP: After months of investigation, new FBI report says no evidence of “sonic attacks” in #Cuba

@RichardCorcoran: The 2018 legislative session will be about less talk and more action. Just watch! #OnWeekOne

— @Fineout: Less than 1 year ago the night before Session — Jack Latvala hosted his own pre-session party at Oven Park. @FLGovScott was there, so was @joenegronfl & most of the Fla. Senate.

— @JeffSchweers: Adam Corey, lobbyist at heart of FBI probe into Tallahassee business dealings, puts $1.3 million office/condo on market

— @GBennettPost: Breaking: Entire Florida Senate replaced by floral arrangements.

— @BSFarrington: There are some nights when someone looks at me at a bar and says “I follow you on Twitter” and I panic. Tonight was not one of those nights.

— @Kriseman: Sad to learn about the passing of a City Hall fixture, Gene Smith — often called the 9th council member. He knew the issues well, helped us move forward on our new pier, and was always respectful. He will be missed.

— @RichEisen: In the last 11 months, @AtlantaFalcons and @FootballUGA have blown an average lead of 19 points in second-halves of championship games. Sincere condolences to the no doubt large group of desolate fans with overlapping fan interests.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— CAPITOL DAYS —

The Legislature’s in town, which means it’s time for the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 “Capitol Days.” Expect a who’s who of Florida’s business leaders, lawmakers and Cabinet members.

Events include the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Economic Outlook Summit “to unveil 2018 job growth projections.” That’s at 10 a.m. today.

“During this event you will be able to connect with leaders and CFOs from around the state, hear state economic projections and from the Chamber Foundation’s Council of Business Economists, receive updates on Florida’s international and global trade status, and engage in conversations about the future of Florida’s leading and emerging industries,” the group said in a release.

Tuesday’s speakers include Gov. Rick Scott; CFO Jimmy Patronis; Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; as well as Adrienne Johnston, Chief of the Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, Department of Economic Opportunity; Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist of the Florida Chamber Foundation; Christopher Oakley, Vice President and Regional Executive, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta-Jacksonville Branch, and Mark Howard, Executive Editor of Florida Trend magazine.

Moving on to Wednesday, speakers include Patronis, Putnam, Deputy Chief Judge David Langham; Joe Pickens, President of St. John’s River State College; Jim Saunders, editor of the News Service of Florida; and Gray Swoope, President & CEO of VisionFirst Advisors and former Florida Secretary of State.

Agendas and schedules are here and here.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Women say #TimesUp with plan to open legislative session dressed in black” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — When Florida legislators open their annual session on Tuesday, many women will be wearing black to send the same message of solidarity with the #MeToo movement as Hollywood stars did at the Golden Globes. The initiative is expected to cross party lines and position, including Democrats and Republicans, elected officials and lobbyists, agency and legislative staff and members of organizations, said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “A common message of strength and transparency.”

Progressive Awake the State speech to follow State of State — After Gov. Scott’s State of State speech on Tuesday, local and state leaders will call on Scott and the Legislature to pass a budget that invests in hardworking Floridians instead of doling out more corporate giveaways. The event, dubbed Awake the State, will take place immediately after Scott’s speech, which should end around 12 p.m. on Tuesday, at the fourth-floor rotunda in the Capitol building. Speaking will be FAMU student and Planned Parenthood volunteer Crishelle Bailey, We Are Florida and Florida Immigrant Coalition organizer Julio Calderon, Florida NOW lobbyist Barbara DeVane, Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief, Florida AFL-CIO legislative and political director Rich Templin, and Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy Executive Director Karen Woodall.

House ready to take up hot-button issues” via the News Service of Florida — The House this week plans to take up 16 bills, including controversial measures aimed at ending “sanctuary cities,” turning off red-light cameras and repealing the no-fault auto insurance system. A list of the bills posted online Monday includes a plan (HB 9), filed by Rep. Larry Metz, that targets “sanctuary cities.” In part, it would require state and local agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement and would bar “sanctuary” policies. Also on the agenda is a bill (HB 6001), sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila and Rep. Blaise Ignoglia that would repeal a state law allowing red-light cameras. Also, the House will consider a proposal (HB 19), filed by Rep. Erin Grall that would end the no-fault insurance system, including a requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage.

The Florida Senate this week is expected to quickly pass a plan by President Negron to make wide-ranging changes in the state’s higher-education system. The full Senate will begin taking up bills Thursday, two days after the start of the Session. Senators will consider a proposal (SB 4) that would expand Bright Futures scholarships and need-based aid. The bill, a top priority of Joe Negron, also would make a series of other changes, including holding universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding. Also Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to take up a proposal (SB 88), filed by Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill that would require high-school students to pass a financial-literacy course before graduation.

Florida’s tight finances could spark budget battle this year” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press — “I think there’s a way for everyone to achieve success in the budget arena,” said Senate President Negron. In a year when Scott and other top Republicans are expected to be on the ballot, there will be greater pressure to wrap up work on time and avoid a messy outcome. But the state’s finances have tightened up. The annual budget forecast projected that after setting aside money for Medicaid and schools and other recurring expenses that the state would have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. That forecast came before Hurricane Irma ripped across the state. While Florida expects to get reimbursed from the federal government, the state has been forced to pay nearly $1 billion storm-related expenses. Scott has asked for a nearly $87.4 billion budget — roughly 25 percent larger than the one passed during Scott’s first year — that calls for spending more on nearly everything from schools to the environment. Some of the governor’s recommendations, however, could spark a tug-of-war with the Legislature. Scott wants to boost the amount spent on each public-school student by nearly 3 percent, or $200 more a year and he is advocating a $100 increase to each teacher to help pay for school supplies.

Kevin Rader files bill to legalize steroids in racing dogs” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A Democratic state Senator from South Florida has filed legislation expressly allowing dog trainers to give anabolic steroids to racing greyhounds. The bill (SB 1774) was filed by Kevin Rader of Delray Beach. The measure otherwise bans steroid use on dogs “unless such steroids are used for birth control for the greyhound or the steroids are otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian licensed in this state who used the steroids to treat an injury or an illness, and the veterinarian is not employed by a greyhound permitholder.” State regulators already permit steroids; Rader’s bill would put using steroids as a form of birth control into state statute, if passed. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

Bills to end no-fault car insurance poised for early play in session” via Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post — Repealing PIP could save Florida drivers 6.7 percent on their overall insurance bills, an actuarial study commissioned by the state in 2016 found. That is after an expected bump in premiums for bodily-injury liability coverage, which would be required at $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. The House bill, HB 19, offers the most significant chance for responsible drivers to save up to $81 per car and close to $1 billion collectively each year. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Grall could come up for a vote on the House floor as early as Thursday. A similar bill passed the House by a wide margin last spring, though the Senate never acted on it. The savings would be largely negated under the Senate plan, SB 150, however. The average premium would actually rise slightly from $1,209.51 to $1,213.69 once the full requirements were in place, according to a Senate staff analysis. That’s because SB 150, which could be heard in the Senate banking and insurance committee Wednesday, repeals PIP and requires bodily injury liability coverage — but also requires drivers to pay for $5,000 of medical payments coverage.

Fight brews about nursing home lawsuits” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The Florida Health Care Association held a news conference to outline priorities for the 2018 legislative session … Head lobbyist Bob Asztalos included the nursing-home group’s opposition to legal changes supported by the Florida Justice Association trial-lawyers’ organization. Also in the list is a push for upward of $50 million in increased state funding for nursing homes. When matched with federal money, that request would result in a more than a $130 million increase in payments for nursing homes. Asztalos said trial attorneys have backed off agreements to limit nursing home litigation that was made in 2001 and again in 2014. Proposals include eliminating a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in nursing home lawsuits.

Local college presidents: Poor, minority students ‘overlooked’ in Senate higher ed agenda” via Jessica Bakeman of WLRN Miami — The leaders of Miami Dade College, Broward College and Palm Beach State College — whose schools enroll about half of all community college students in Florida — are teaming up to oppose Senate Bill 540, a chief priority of Republican Senate President Negron. The 247-page bill is a resurrected and revised version of Negron’s priority higher education legislation that was vetoed last year by Gov. Scott. In part to address Scott’s concerns that the bill unnecessarily punished community colleges, Negron eased some of the provisions that the schools found most problematic. Apparently, the changes weren’t enough to appease the schools’ leaders, who warn it would lead to unintended consequences if enacted. “The low-income, working-class people [who] are at our institutions sometimes … are just overlooked,” Broward College President David Armstrong told the Miami Herald editorial board.

Assignment editors — House Democrats will hold a pre-Session caucus meeting at 9 a.m. in the Democratic Office, Room 316 (Large Conference Room) of The Capitol.

Assignment editors — State Rep. Bob Cortes, Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Carlos J. “Johnny” Méndez Núñez and Puerto Rican House members will hold a media availability at 8:30 a.m. in Room 333 of the House Office Building to express gratitude to the State of Florida’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and offer their perspectives on recovery.

Governors Club Tuesday buffet menu — As Session begins, the Governors Club buffet returns with a breakfast club menu of scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, Bradley’s country sausage links, fresh-cut seasonal fruit, biscuits, warm grits, coffee and assorted juice. For lunch, the buffet is mixed green salad with assorted dressings, marinated mushroom salad, corn salad, potato leek soup, barbecue beef brisket, Southern fried chicken, blackened snapper, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, with apple cobbler for dessert.

***Don’t clutter the Florida Constitution with things that don’t belong there! Trial lawyers want more flexibility to sue nursing homes and drive up the costs of long-term care for our state’s seniors. State and federal laws already ensure residents’ rights, and hundreds of thousands of hardworking professionals dedicate their lives to serving those in their care. Urge the Constitution Revision Commission to vote NO on misleading Proposal 88 here.***

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Assignment editors — Former Miami Beach Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine will kick off his 10-day “Living Rooms” bus tour in Orlando at 10:45 a.m., 3998 Irma Shores Dr. then, at 3 p.m., Levine will be at the University of Florida Chabad Jewish Center, 2021 NW. 5th Ave. in Gainesville.

Putnam has raised $22M so far for gubernatorial bid” via Florida Politics — Republican candidate for Governor Putnam has posted over $22.5 million in his quest to be the state’s next chief executive, according to a Monday morning email. Putnam’s campaign and political committee, Florida Grown, now have raised a combined $22.55 million to date, spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said. They’re left with $16.25 million in combined cash on hand at the end of December.

Andrew Gillum’s campaign draws another $100K from George Soros” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The New York Democratic financier donated $100,000 to Gillum’s Forward Florida Political Committee Dec. 29 … That contribution helped the committee turn its first six-figure month since March, a month that was bolstered in part by an earlier Soros $100,000 check. Forward Florida also reported receiving $31,000 in December from a research and education organization called Collective Future of Washington D.C. Last week Gillum’s campaign announced that the committee raised $167,000 in December, its best month since last spring.

Gwen Graham pays $1,200 to get Hollywood Hills records request” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Graham on Monday wrote a $1,200 personal check to the governor’s Office of Open Government, saying it is a “small price to pay” for information on the 12 Hurricane Irma-related deaths at a Hollywood nursing home. The governor’s office said Graham got the hefty bill because her request was the first to be made, which launched staffers to work 100 hours to find, review and redact the information she wanted. Graham said that if Scott’s private phone voicemails are not included in her request, she will take “appropriate legal action.”

 “It’s disappointing that there are financial hurdles for the information that the people of Florida deserve to have,” Graham said.

>>>Email I didn’t open via the Republican Governors Association: “Profiles In Hypocrisy: Florida Dem Gov Candidate Gwen Graham Fails Her Own Transparency Tests

Frank White crosses $2 million mark in 2017” via Florida Politics — Topping the year in review was a declaration that the campaign hit $2.05 million in total fundraising last year, including $100,025 in December, which it believes will allow White to hold the top spot in the money race comfortably. While much of that money came from White’s own pockets, that’s a safe bet barring an unprecedented fundraising month from one of the four other candidates vying to replace termed-out AG Pam Bondi. White’s infographic also showed off the 20 endorsements he’s pulled in since declaring in October, with top billing going to Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley, Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson, Escambia Sheriff David Morgan, and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, himself a former sheriff of Duval County.

Gambling amendment crosses 725K valid signatures” via Florida Politics — Voter Control of Gambling in Florida had 725,942 valid signatures out of the 766,200 it needs to make the ballot. That number pegged to 8 percent of the turnout in the most recent presidential election. Amendments also need to hit signature quotas in 14 out of the state’s 27 congressional districts. As of Monday, the amendment had hit the mark in 12 seats, with CD 17 and CD 22 each about 5,000 signatures shy of the quota. The committee backing bill, Voters in Charge, has said it would need to gather 1.1 million signatures in total before it exceeds the verified signature requirement. By November, the group had collected a million. Voters in Charge had also spent nearly $5 million pushing the amendment as of the end of November, with the bulk of that money coming from Disney. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has its own gaming interests, has also put in $1 million to back the effort.

Lauren Baer reports reaching $575K in CD 18 campaign” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Baer‘s campaign reported that it raised more than $325,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing their total contributions to $575,000 in her bid to be elected to Congress in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. Bauer’s campaign stated that it received more than 2,000 individual contributions during October-December 2017. She seeks to oust Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City in the Treasure Coast district. First Baer, of Palm Beach Gardens, must get through a Democratic primary contest with Pam Keith, also of Palm Beach Gardens. At the end of the third quarter, Baer’s campaign had reported raising $252,000, and had finished September with $236,000 left in the bank. Keith’s campaign said she had raised $150,000 through the first three-quarters of 2017, and ended September with $63,000 in cash. Mast’s campaign reported he had raised almost $1.6 million through the first three-quarters, and finished September with $921,000 in the bank.

Rob Bradley committee reports blockbuster December fundraising” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — In December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families set an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month. The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund. All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Happening today — State Sen. Denise Grimsley will be holding a 7:30 a.m. fundraiser in her bid for the state’s Agriculture Commissioner at Florida Financial Strategies, 111-B East College Ave. in Tallahassee. Hosting Grimsley’s event is Senate President Negron, President-Designate Bill Galvano and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson.

Anna Eskamani gets Orlando firefighters’ union endorsement in HD 47” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Local 1365 of the International Association of Fire Fighters represents more than 500 firefighters and communication specialists in the Orlando Fire Department. “Anna has shown a willingness to stand up for firefighter’s issues and the challenges we face as first responders. Anna will bring a fresh, new perspective to the Florida House that we believe will positively shape Orlando’s future for years to come. The Orlando Professional Firefighters are proud to call her our friend and endorse her candidacy for Florida House District 47,” Ron Glass, president of the Orlando Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 1365, stated in a news release from Eskamani’s campaign.

Vito Sheeley picks up four endorsements in run for House District 70” via the Tampa Bay Reporter — They are Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Petersburg Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman … Flowers said, “District 70 is in need of like-minded representation … The continued attacks aimed at diminishing our education system is besieged with unfunded mandates, and any sense of integrity has eroded daily, we need representation in line and in tune with the needs of District 70.” Kriseman said, “Vito’s track record speaks for itself. I’ve known Vito for years, and know his heart and how hard he will work on behalf of the people of his District and this community. We need Vito’s leadership in District 70.” Sheeley is facing incumbent Wengay Newton in the Democratic primary. No Republicans have announced for the HD 70 seat.


— STATEWIDE —

 Rick Scott signs the proclamation designating UCF champs.

Florida gets legal win on satellite TV taxes” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Ending years of legal battling about the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up a challenge to the constitutionality of a Florida law that sets different tax rates for satellite and cable-television services. The U.S. Supreme Court, without explanation, turned down Dish Network’s appeal of a ruling last year by the Florida Supreme Court that upheld the law. The state’s communications-services tax is 4.92 percent on the sale of cable services and 9.07 percent on the sale of satellite-TV services. Local governments also can impose communications-services taxes on cable, with rates varying. Dish Network contended the different state tax rates on satellite and cable are a form of protectionism that violates the “dormant” Commerce Clause, which bars states from discriminating against interstate commerce. But Attorney General Bondi’s office, which represented the Florida Department of Revenue, argued in a brief that a federal telecommunications law prevents local governments from taxing satellite services. As a result, the brief said, the state set a higher tax rate for satellite services and shares part of the money with local governments. Meanwhile, local governments can tax cable services.

Assignment editors — Marco Rubio, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues, will convene “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight.” The hearing begins at about 10 a.m. in SD-419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a livestream will be available on foreign.senate.gov.

GOP congressmen say Paul Ryan to push permanent moratorium on eastern Gulf drilling” via Matt Dixon and Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida — With Donald Trump proposing an expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling, two Republican Florida congressmen say they have received assurances from House Speaker Ryan that he will push for a permanent moratorium on drilling in the waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. “There is a governmental funding bill that has to be passed later this month,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz. “Francis Rooney and I had a conversation about this with Speaker Ryan, who gave Rooney and I a commitment that eastern Gulf moratorium language will be in the must-pass bill.” Both Gaetz, who is from Shalimar, and Rooney, a Republican from Naples, represent districts that border the Gulf of Mexico and are staunch Trump supporters. Like other elected officials in Florida, the two oppose the administration’s plan, unveiled last week, to include Florida in expanded offshore drilling, but hope language creating a permanent moratorium on eastern Gulf of Mexico drilling will ease concerns. Rooney said he was personally working on such language, with the aim of making sure the current drilling moratorium does not expire.

— OPINION —

Lawmakers must confront opioid crisis” via Nick Duran for the Miami Herald — (T)hree proposals — reinstating the Office of Drug Control, requesting a Medicaid waiver to cover a broader range of addiction treatment and allowing the syringe exchange pilot to expand from Miami-Dade County — are relative drops in the bucket of Florida’s roughly $80 billion annual budget. Reinstating the ODC would cost roughly $500,000 a year, a Medicaid waiver would mean a marginal increase in state spending on existing recipients (with the federal government covering 60 percent), and syringe exchange programs, by law, must be privately funded. The 2018 Session must be one in which we finally start to claw back from the destructive scourge of opiates. These bills attempt to strike at various parts of the greater problem, while costing our state little. They deserve the full consideration of the Florida Legislature this session.

Revise Florida’s unfair, ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing laws” via Simone Marstiller for the Miami Herald — Rather than sentencing people to overly harsh prison terms — which does not reduce recidivism or necessarily increase public safety — the goal should be rehabilitation. This paradigm shift must occur in the way all three branches of government approach criminal justice. While wholesale change cannot and should not happen overnight, incremental changes can be made now to Florida’s criminal justice system. Minor changes enacted over time can make the system fairer and ensure that those who need help get help, rather than just locking them up in prison where they will have little opportunity to overcome their problems and re-enter society in a productive manner.

— MOVEMENTS —

Personnel note: Lauren Bankert and Caylee Underwood join On3PR — Bankert and Underwood are the newest members to join the woman-owned On 3 Public Relations firm. “Their experience both in the public and private sectors, with skill sets in design as well as communications, will strengthen the services we provide clients in public relations, grassroots advocacy, coalition building and crisis communications,” President Christina Johnson announced Monday. Johnson said Bankert would serve as an account manager and Underwood will work as an account coordinator for the decade-old public relations firm.

Personnel note: Manny Reyes starts own firm — The veteran South Florida lobbyist announced on Twitter he had opened his own lobbying and consulting shop, after 20 years with Gomez Barker Associates, which was recently sold. Pereira Reyes Consulting will specialize in state and local lobbying and strategic planning. Reyes has a background in a variety of areas, including transportation, regulated industries and education. He also has worked on various political campaigns. He has served as an advisor to many charities and for his alma mater, Christopher Columbus High School in Miami. Reyes currently serves on the President’s Cabinet of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation.

New general counsel at FRLA — The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association announced Monday the recent addition of Samantha Padgett as General Counsel. Padgett joins FRLA’s Governmental Relations team, currently led by Richard Turner, who will assume a new title as Senior Vice President of Legal and Legislative Affairs. Padgett will perform legal functions, provide legal advice and strengthen the association’s advocacy efforts at the state and local levels. “We’re extremely proud to have Samantha H. Padgett join our team. Padgett is a well-respected professional in Tallahassee circles and across the state. I’m confident her legal expertise and experience will enhance the Florida hospitality industry’s presence,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the FRLA.

Happy birthday to Mike Fasano‘s right-hand-man, Greg Giordano. Also celebrating today is Mary Beth Wilson, err, Lisa Miller.

Sixty Days for 1.8.18 — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

The Last 24

Sen. Kevin Rader filed legislation expressly allowing dog trainers to give anabolic steroids to racing greyhounds.

Rep. Bill Hager has proposed creating a task force to look at options for moving the Capitol, executive branch offices and Legislature.

Democratic candidate for Governor Gwen Graham wrote a $1,200 check to Gov. Rick Scott for information on Hurricane Irma-related deaths at a Hollywood nursing home.

GOP Attorney General’s candidate and state Rep. Jay Fant filed a bill to protect wartime monuments from being moved except for “repair.”

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider whether different tax rates for satellite and cable-television services is constitutional.

South Florida’s community college presidents are fighting a bill they say would hurt low-income people and minorities who make up the majority of their student bodies.

Quote of the Day

“The Office of Open Government was moved up to the … 16th floor, which is symbolic today.” — Matt Harringer, campaign spokesman for Gwen Graham, as she got ready to turn over a $1,200 check for a public records request. The office used to be on the Capitol’s plaza level.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, moved to the Appropriations Chair last year when Sen. Jack Latvala relinquished the position.

Bradley discussed the path ahead this Legislative Session, and issued a strong endorsement of Gov. Rick Scott for U.S. Senate, in answering our three questions.

FP: What kind of traction is there for priority projects, such as Florida Forever? Have you talked to Governor’s office about these priorities?

RB: We’ve had productive budget discussions with both the Governor and the House. There is a path forward where everyone’s priorities are accommodated.

FP: Most people think Scott is all but running for Senate. What skill sets do you think he’d bring to the table after eight years in Tallahassee? Should there be a more competitive primary than what is emerging?

RB: I hope Governor Scott runs for the Senate and believe he will. If he does, I will be one of his most vocal supporters. I would urge others to stay out of the primary- it’s going to a bruising general and we need to save all of our resources for the battle with Sen. Nelson.

D.C. could use Governor Scott’s ability to focus on the big picture- he will focus D.C. on job creation and budget discipline.

FP: Based on your read of committees this year, does Session end on time? Why or why not?

RB: Session will likely end on time. It all depends on the timely completion of the budget. There is much commonality between the budget priorities of the Senate and the House. We should be able to resolve any minor differences between the two sides and finish on time.

Lobby Up

Holland & Knight lobbyists Mark Delegal, Josh Aubuchon, and Andrew Marcus have registered to lobby for Applied Underwriters, Inc.

The firm, a Berkshire Hathaway company, “designs financial services and workers’ compensation solutions to meet the real needs of small and mid-sized businesses nationwide,” according to its website.

“We are seeking to amend the insurance code to allow for an innovative workers’ compensation product to be offered to larger employers,” Delegal told Florida Politics.

“The product will provide a shared savings model where, when losses are below target, the businesses will receive a payment,” he added. “But if losses exceed the target, the business will be surcharged. Businesses with safe workplaces will have capital available to reinvest and hire.”

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley will be holding a 7:30 a.m. fundraiser in her bid to become the state’s Agriculture Commissioner. That’s at Florida Financial Strategies, 111-B East College Ave., Tallahassee.  

State Rep. Bob Cortes, Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Carlos J. “Johnny” Méndez Núñez and Puerto Rican House members will hold a media availability at 8:30 a.m. in Room 333 of the House Office Building to express gratitude to the State of Florida’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and offer their perspectives on recovery.

Florida House Democrats will hold a pre-Session caucus meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Democratic Office, Room 316 (Large Conference Room) of The Capitol.

The Senate will convene ceremonially to start the 2018 legislative session. That’s at 9:30 a.m., Senate chamber, the Capitol. The House will then convene ceremonially at 10 a.m., House chamber, the Capitol.

That’s followed by Gov. Rick Scott giving his annual — and last — State of the State address during a joint session; it’s the traditional kickoff for the 60-day Session. That’s 11 a.m., House chamber, the Capitol.

Progressives gather at The Capitol for the annual “Awake The State” rally, part of a series of statewide actions “promoting a just state budget,” the group said. That’s immediately after the governor’s State of the State address and the Democratic response (approximately noon), 4th-Floor Rotunda, The Capitol.

Then starts a slew of first-day committee hearings. Here are a couple of notable ones:

— The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee will consider a bill to make texting while driving a “primary” traffic offense. That’s at 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building, the Capitol.

— The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will consider a proposal, filed by Sen. Lauren Book, to allow restaurants to receive tax credits of as much as $300 for installing baby-changing tables. That’s at 4 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 1.8.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

It’s not uncommon for the House floor to look like a veritable florist’s shop on the first day of a Legislative Session.

But now, Speaker Richard Corcoran is telling members to cool it on displays of blooms and topiary. The 2018 Legislative Session begins Tuesday.

Corcoran

“Only reasonably-sized floral arrangements and live plants will be approved for distribution in the House Chamber for Opening Session,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said in a recent memo.

“All Member-to-Member gifts other than floral arrangements and plants should be delivered to Members’ offices,” he added.  “These policies are in place to protect the security and decorum of the House.”

Violating floor decorum is a peeve of the Speaker’s.

During the 2017 Session, he reminded members of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said at a media availability, “but over the last five or six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it) … Until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate … You can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Oliva

A month before that, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple Tshirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the Tshirts off or turn them inside out.

The reason: They violated House decorum.

The Legislature will convene in joint Session at 11 a.m. Jan. 9 to hear Gov. Rick Scott deliver his final State of the State Address. The Naples Republican, who may challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat, is term-limited this year.

Before the State of the State, the House hosts a “Members & Families Breakfast” 7:30-9:30 a.m. in the House Dining Room in the Capitol. 

Associated Industries of Florida soiree kicks off 2018 Legislative Session” via Florida Politics – The tradition continues. Associated Industries of Florida will host its annual pre-Session welcome back reception for legislators, lobbyists, and a host of other politicos this evening. Doors open for the ticketed event at 5:30 p.m. “AIF is excited for our annual legislative reception this evening that we’ve been hosting for more than four decades,” AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney said. “Each year, this time-honored tradition is eagerly anticipated by thousands of attendees as the start of the Legislative Session.”

Tonight’s fundraiser line-up:

11:30-12:30 p.m. – Sen. Annette Taddeo at Governor’s Club – Library Room

4:00-6:00 p.m. – Reps. Manny Diaz & Jeanette Nunez for Senate at Adam Street Advocates

4:00-6:00 p.m. – Sen. Dana Young at Governors Club – Capital Room

5:00-6:00 p.m. – Reps. MaryLynn Magar & Travis Cummings at Governors Club – Library

5:00-7:00 p.m. – FL Republican Senate Caucus Welcome Back Reception 2018 at DoubleTree – Roof Top

5:00-7:00 p.m. – Reps. Bobby Olszewski, Daniel Perez, & Lawrence McClure at DoubleTree Hilton

5:00-7:30 p.m. – Speaker Designate Jose Oliva, Leader Ray Rodriguez & Rep. Brian Avila at Adam Street Advocates

5:30-6:30 p.m. – Reps. Cord Byrd, Jamie Grant, Erin Grall, Frank White, & Jayer Williamson, Byron Donalds at Southern Public House, 224 E College Avenue.

7:00 p.m. – FL Senate Democrats Drink, Drop & Dash at Governors Club – Library Room

Tuesday, 7:30-9:30 a.m. – Sen. Denise Grimsley for Ag Commissioner at FL Financial Strategies

Mark your calendars – On January 17th, Red Dog Blue Dog is back for a fourth consecutive year with a record number of celebrity bartenders. Red Dog Blue Dog will match Republicans Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Sen. Wilton Simpson, and Sen. Young against Democrats Sen. Taddeo, Rep. Tracie Davis, and Rep. Evan Jenne. The teams compete to see who can raise the most money in tips for local dog rescue organizations. In recent years, Red Dog Blue Dog has become a marquee event for people in the process and Tallahassee’s animal rescue community. This year’s event is generously sponsored by Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Strategic Digital Services, Brecht and Hunter Heuchan, Steve Schale and Nikole Souder-Schale, and Enwright Rimes Consulting. Red Dog Blue Dog will be held at Township Tallahassee from 6-9pm. Proceeds for the event will be split between Leon County Humane Society, Tallahassee Animal Shelter Foundation, and Last Hope Rescue.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @Netflix: please stop calling our customer service hotline to ask if we have The Gorilla Channel (Background here)

— @MattGaetz: Putnam calling anyone else an “insider” is rich. He’s spent a career licking the boots of the establishment.

— @JimRosicaFL: Barbara Petersen of @FloridaFAF reports in email today: “For the first time in years, we have a fair number of *good* open government bills.”

— @AGlorios: Former Rep. Richard Glorioso is not my father. But honestly, I am beginning to wonder if we are long lost cousins. How many Gloriosos could there be? Is he on ancestry.com? We could solve this riddle …

— @SuncoastNews: Florida Lottery says MEGA MILLIONS jackpot-winning ticket from last night’s drawing was purchased at 7-Eleven at 7131 Ridge Road in Port Richey. One Florida ticket matched all 5 numbers and the Mega Ball from Friday night’s drawing to claim the $450 million MEGA MILLIONS jackpot

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Capitol still grappling with sexual misconduct” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press – There will be two empty chairs in the Florida Senate when lawmakers begin their annual 60-day Session Tuesday. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned in November after acknowledging he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Republican Sen. Jack Latvala resigned in December after an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations. Sexual misconduct has become a hot topic at the Capitol. Finding ways to protect victims is Attorney General Pam Bondi’s top legislative priority; Gov. Scott issued an order to state agencies aimed at strengthening sexual harassment policies, and it’s a topic that’s become part of the governor’s race. It’s also created awkwardness around the halls of the Capitol.

“It’s odd. It’s awkward. Male legislators aren’t sure whether to give you a hug or shake your hand,” said lobbyist Jennifer Green. “As for female lobbyists, I doubt I’ll ever have a closed-door meeting this Session.” Whether the atmosphere affects the process is another question, but it won’t make things easier. “Certainly, there’s a lot of unease in the Capitol. It does make it somewhat harder to get things done,” said Republican Sen. Dana Young. “My hope is that people are able to regain focus. Let’s get bills passed, let’s get a budget done. But I suspect there will be a shadow and an undercurrent that will be pervasive this Session.”

Dana Young says sexual harassment will be a ‘shadow and pervasive undercurrent’ this Session. 

Scott’s opioid bill is getting pushback. Should it?” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — At issue are four proposals: to stop doctors from prescribing more than three days’ worth of opioids to treat acute pain, to share a state database of opioid prescriptions with other states, to require doctors to check the database before prescribing opioids, and for them to be trained on proper prescribing techniques … the bill already has nearly 200 people registered to lobby it in the House — and most are likely to have problems with it. One of them is Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, the painkiller most responsible for starting the opioid crisis 20 years ago and one of the pills targeted by Scott’s bill. Other Republicans have voiced concerns that expanding the drug database to other states could lead to abuses. But those concerns are questionable and have been eclipsed by an epidemic that killed nearly 15 people a day in Florida in 2016 and even more per day in 2017.

Bills ready to go during the 2018 Legislative Session” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – The House has prepped 22 bills for floor action for when Speaker Corcoran gavels members to order Tuesday for the 60-day Session. The Senate has another two bills ready to go. The 24 bills are among the 2,780 measures filed by lawmakers and waiting to be heard by a committee. Most will never make it to a meeting. SB 4 makes permanent an increase in the Bright Futures scholarship program for state universities and colleges. A top priority of Corcoran is to outlaw sanctuary cities. Corcoran said it would be the first bill to pass out of the House this year. Previous versions of HB 9 died in the Senate the past two Sessions. HB 11 Government Accountability: Enables the Governor or the Commissioner of Education to notify the Legislative Auditing Committee that a local governmental entity, district school board, charter school, or charter technical career center has failed to comply with applicable auditing, financial reporting, bond issuance notification, or bond verification provisions or failed to disclose a financial emergency. HB 19 Motor Vehicle Insurance: Repeals the personal injury protection provision of the motor vehicle no-fault law. HB 23 Recovery Care Services: Changes the allowable length of stay at an outpatient clinic for Medicare reimbursement.

Happening today – The Senate Special Order Calendar Group, which completes the list of bills to be heard on the Senate floor, meets at 4:30 p.m. in Room 401 of the Senate Office Building. The House Rules & Policy Committee meets to set a special-order calendar listing bills for the House floor. Meeting begins 5 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

Dana Young files bill to protect seniors from stem-cell clinics” via Florida Politics – New legislation from Sen. Young aims to “crack down on for-profit stem-cell clinics that are preying on Florida seniors and other vulnerable Floridians,” her office said. The Tampa Republican’s measure (SB 1508) relates to “use of stem cells in a clinic setting” … “I have learned about the many Floridians who have been badly affected by unregulated, and often questionable, alternative forms of stem-cell treatment offered in Florida stem-cell clinics,” Young said in a statement. “’It is clear something has to be done. These for-profit stem-cell clinics have cropped up all over the country, particularly here in Florida.”

Senate bill would boost contraceptive coverage” via the News Service of Florida – Health-insurance policies would be required to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptive drugs without imposing deductibles, coinsurance or co-payment requirements under a bill filed by state Sen. Lauren Book … The proposal (SB 1718) also would require insurance companies and HMOs to provide follow-up services, including insertion or removal of contraceptive devices, without additional cost-sharing requirements. The bill would provide an exemption from the mandate for religious employers and “closely held for-profit entities” that oppose the coverage due to the owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.” To qualify as a closely held entity, 50 percent of the ownership interest would need to be held by five or fewer people or must have a “substantially similar” ownership structure. Additionally, the company could not be publicly traded.

Lauren Book is pushing for insurance companies to cover contraceptives.

Ramon Alexander finds his issue: Performance-based funding for FAMU” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 33-year-old lawmaker wants to change a performance-based funding program that the Legislature created for the state university system. This year it provided zero dollars to his alma mater, Florida A&M University. Watch him, and it becomes clear he intends to use the PBF program as a gateway to discuss other spending and policy decisions. FAMU, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of North Florida received $0 when the Legislature handed out PBF money last year … Two schools, University of Florida and Florida State University, shared $93 million, – six other schools split $152 million. “The system is designed to fail. It picks winners and losers,” said Alexander. “That’s a problem because we all are taxpayers. We all have responsibilities and obligations.”

Assignment editors – The Florida Health Care Association will discuss its nursing-home group’s priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session. Media event begins 10:30 a.m. at Sachs Media Group, 114 South Duval St. in Tallahassee.

Tweet, tweet:

Epilogue: “Former manager of Florida House page program heading to prison” via Julie Montanaro of WCTV – The former head of the Florida House page and messenger program is headed to federal prison. A U.S. District judge sentenced Michael Chmielewski to 10 years in prison for trying to entice a minor for sex. Chmielewski was arrested in a sting operation and later found guilty of traveling to meet what he thought was a 14-year-old girl for sex. He had been chatting with an undercover agent.

— ELEPHANT GATHERING —

At the annual Republican Party of Florida gathering in Orlando, top Florida lawmakers called members to keep the eyes on the prize – and drown out the media babble – ahead of the 2018 midterms:

– U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio: “All the headlines in the year to come are going to be about how Republicans are going to get wiped out because, in a midterm election, the president’s party always loses seats. But I would just say this is not a conventional president. I think if we’ve learned anything in the last year-and-a-half is that Americans have changed a lot in the way they view politics and in the way they consume news and information. And the country is facing some real stark choices.”

– RPOF chair (and state Rep.) Blaise Ingoglia told members to stick with the successful “grassroots” efforts from 2016, and to keep the governor’s mansion and Florida Cabinet in “capable Republican hands” and to “finally send (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Bill Nelson into a final retirement.”

– Ingoglia added: “Then we (will) put the final nail in the coffin of the Florida Democratic Party.”

– Gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam called Washington a “swamp” … “A big part of the reason I left was to come home where you can make a difference; you make an impact, you can drive an agenda. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve transformed the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the last seven years … I think you can pull any random 20 people out of a Circle K and ask them where the real swamp is and all of them would know that it is Washington.”

– Congressman Ron DeSantis, also a newly announced candidate for Governor, said: “I think the thing that we’ve seen in Tallahassee is a lot of people having to resign from the Legislature. A lot of bad conduct has come out. I think there are problems with harassment that need to be addressed. In Washington, the bureaucracy really doesn’t change when Republican get in there. It’s a permanent bureaucracy. So, it’s a little bit different.”

– In a battle with Trump loyalists, members also helped elect Kathleen King to finish the last two years Florida Republican National Committeewoman Sharon Day’s term. Trump named Day, who served as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, as ambassador to Costa Rica. Day received 128 votes of the 177 state party members, defeating West Palm Beach’s Karen Giorno, who had served as Trump’s state director in the 2016 primary.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Chris King attracts $100K in campaign donations in December” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – With the December draw, King’s two committees reported raising $2.97 million total in 2017, and ended the year with $1.62 million cash on hand, his campaign said. King’s official campaign committee began December with $1.17 million left in the bank, and Rise and Lead with about $500,000. The latest numbers have not yet been posted.

Philip Levine takes his governor’s race campaign on the road next week in 10-city tour” via Amy Hollyfield of the Tampa Bay Times – He’ll land in Orlando just before outgoing Gov. Scott launches the 2018 Legislative Session with his final “State of the State” speech in Tallahassee. Each visit will take place in someone’s home, according to the campaign. “This tour begins a conversation we’ve never had, about things we’ve never done, for people who’ve never been given a chance. We’ve heard from Tallahassee. Now, I’m going to make sure they hear from us,” Levine said in a statement. “Tallahassee always tells us what they want us to hear. I’m going around this state to make sure they hear from us. From the living rooms of Florida, we will let Tallahassee know that climate change is real, the minimum wage is unlivable, that drilling off our shores is off-limits, and that taking away our right to home rule is out of the question.” The trip — which Levine has dubbed the “Live! From Florida’s Living Rooms Bus Tour” — is partly pegged as a retort to Scott’s speech. But it’s also an extension of an early effort to lift the Miami Beach millionaire’s profile outside of South Florida as his opponents stockpile money to spend closer to the election.

Philip Levine gears up for another statewide ‘living room’ tour.

Ross Spano garners endorsement of 7 House Republicans for AG bid” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The Dover Republican announced Thursday endorsements from seven of his GOP colleagues with whom he serves in the Florida House: Larry Ahern from Seminole; Ben Albritton from Bartow; Danny Burgess from Zephyrhills; Chris Latvala from Clearwater; Kathleen Peters from St. Petersburg and Charlie Stone from Ocala. “I know firsthand how hard Ross Spano works for the people he represents,” said Latvala. “He is a true conservative and a man of impeccable integrity. He will be a great Attorney General.”

Newly-elected Lawrence McClure files for re-election – After his victory in a special election last month for House District 58, Republican McClure opened a campaign account for re-election in November … No-party-affiliate candidate Shawn Gilliam of Plant City has also entered the race for the eastern Hillsborough County seat. Also, Eduardo Dominguez filed to run as a Democrat against Rep. Bobby Olszewski a Winter Garden Republican who recently won a special election in Orange County’s House District 44. Dominguez is the third Democrat to enter the race.

Broward Republican chairman resigns after months of turmoil” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Bob Sutton resigned, ending a tumultuous tenure during which his leadership came under scrutiny locally and by the state GOP. Sutton’s resignation was announced — with him present in the room — by Ingoglia during the state party’s quarterly Executive Board meeting at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando. The state party’s Executive Board directed the county party organization to hold an election Jan. 22 to elect a new chair — and imposed several other restrictions on the Broward party. Sutton, a Coral Springs teacher who lost campaigns for County Commission in 2012 and School Board in 2010, promised something different when he ran for the party post in 2015. The party’s dysfunction continued. He won re-election to the job in 2016 with just 51 percent of the vote. In 2017, when party secretary Dolly Rump resigned after a little more than four months on the job, she emailed fellow Republicans that, “We do not operate as a cohesive board; there is major dysfunction, division and disorder.”

***Don’t clutter the Florida Constitution with things that don’t belong there! Trial lawyers want more flexibility to sue nursing homes and drive up the costs of long-term care for our state’s seniors. State and federal laws already ensure residents’ rights, and hundreds of thousands of hardworking professionals dedicate their lives to serving those in their care. Urge the Constitution Revision Commission to vote NO on misleading Proposal 88 here.***

— STATEWIDE —

State says Medicaid recipients’ personal information breached” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel – The state Agency for Health Care Administration said in a news release that the breach may have exposed Medicaid enrollees’ full names, Medicaid ID numbers, dates of birth, address, diagnoses, medical conditions and Social Security numbers. The breach occurred when one of its employees was the victim of a malicious phishing email Nov. 15, but the agency didn’t know the extent of the risk until it received preliminary findings from the state Inspector General … Although the review is ongoing, AHCA officials said that, so far, approximately 6 percent of the 30,000 individuals can be confirmed as having their Medicaid ID or Social Security numbers “potentially accessed.”

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott attended the Florida National Guard deployment ceremony of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery Regiment in Lakeland to thank the brave men and women for their service to Florida and our nation.

Coastal waters threaten Florida’s historic resources” via Dale White of the Gainesville Sun – The Castillo de San Marcos withstood two sieges in 330 years and changed hands five times, but its latest invader — the rising Atlantic Ocean — threatens to erode the historic St. Augustine fortress. The coquina-shell walls of the oldest masonry fort in the United States once absorbed cannonballs but will be susceptible to the buffetings of the sea. On the other side of the state, Egmont Key was named one of the state’s 11 most endangered places this year by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation because rising seas threaten to submerge the island. Just outside Tampa Bay in the Gulf of Mexico, the island holds sacred significance for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as the ruins of another Spanish-American era fort, but its elevation is just 6 feet. “It’s the first project that we’ve placed on our annual endangered list because it’s endangered by sea level rise,” said Clay Henderson, who was president of the trust when the key was added to the list earlier this year. Like the St. Augustine fort and Egmont Key, thousands of Florida’s heritage sites are vulnerable to rising seas, said Henderson, executive director of Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. “Jupiter Lighthouse, Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Fort Jefferson and Fort Pickens in Pensacola — all of these places are threatened.”

Flags were at half-staff for Broward County deputy – Gov. Scott ordered flags at half-staff yesterday in honor of Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael David Ryan. The 58-year-old died on New Year’s Eve after almost 14 years of service with the sheriff’s office, a news release said. He had “collapsed during an encounter with a jail visitor” on Dec. 15, according to a Sun-Sentinel story. There was no physical contact between them, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman told the paper, but he never recovered. Scott directed U.S. and state flags flown at half-staff at the Broward County Courthouse, Davie City Hall and the Central Broward Sheriff’s District Office in Fort Lauderdale, sunrise to sunset on Sunday, Jan. 7.

Reappointed – Kelvin Lawson and Dr. Matthew Carter to the Florida A & M University board of trustees; Robert “Blake” Gable to Florida Gulf Coast District board of trustees.

Spotted at Quorum — Tampa Bay’s not-too-political happy hour — Friday night: Sen. Jeff Brandes, Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen and Kathleen Peters, former Rep. Ed Hooper, Pinellas Commissioners Charlie Justice and Janet Long, Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers, Clearwater Commissioner Doreen Caudell, St. Petersburg Councilman Ed MontanariRobert Blackmon, Donovan Brown, Sarah Busk, Ella Coffee, Reggie Cordoza, Barry Edwards, Mark Ferrulo, Rob Fields, Tim Heberlein, Jason Holloway, Laura Jolly, Jesse Landis, Matt Lettelleir, Shannon Love, Stephanie McClung, Susan McGrath, Sean McCoy, Trent Phillips, Chris and Gina Spencer, Alan Suskey, Michelle Todd Schorsch, Emily Sitzberger, Vanessa Thompson, Robert and Nancy Watkins, Jennifer Webb, and John Wehrung.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Roger Stone defends Donald Trump, attacks Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions at Orlando event” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel – Stone faced tough questions from U.S. Rep. Val Demings and other prominent Central Floridians at an Orlando event … At his appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida, Stone harshly criticized former White House adviser Bannon, defended Trump’s mental state, took issue with Attorney General Sessions’ new marijuana rules and, for good measure, talked for several minutes about his belief that LBJ was behind the JFK assassination. Given a chance to ask Stone a question, Demings asked whether Trump was dividing America along ethnic lines, to which Stone said a rising economy would help everyone. Stone defended Trump against accusations of being incapacitated or having mental issues, saying, “I understand the president has a unique style, and some people don’t like it. The ‘Trump is crazy, Trump is crazy, Trump is crazy’ meme? I don’t think that’s going to work.”

Supreme Court ready to wade into water war” via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the News Service of Florida – The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a decades-old legal fight between Florida and Georgia over water flow into the Apalachicola River. A court-appointed special master ruled in February that Florida had not proved its case that a water-usage cap should be imposed on Georgia to help the river and Apalachicola Bay … Florida is asking for the case to be returned to the special master to develop a more “equitable” distribution of water between the states from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In briefs filed with the court, Florida has argued that an increase in water consumption by Georgia, including in the Atlanta area, since the 1970s is “effectively strangling the Apalachicola region.” “For decades, Florida has done everything it could to avert that result — and Georgia has fought it at every turn,” a Florida brief said. “This litigation represents Florida’s last opportunity to stem Georgia’s inequitable consumption, and protect these irreplaceable natural resources, by apportioning the waters equitably between the states.”

Jeff Sessions may not target Florida in a new move to restrict medial marijuana.

Experts: Florida likely not a target in Jeff Sessions’ move to restrict marijuana” via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times – The 64,000 Floridians who are registered to receive medical marijuana need not worry about getting in trouble from federal enforcement, advocates and state lawmakers say. At least not yet. “I wouldn’t get overly concerned that a state prosecutor is going to come after cancer patients by any means,” said state Sen. Brandes who has long been a leader on medical marijuana policy in the state. “But we need to monitor this closely.” The push by Sessions, who has been vocal about his disdain for legalizing marijuana, is likely aimed at states like California, Colorado and Washington, where the marijuana industry’s impact is far greater than it is in Florida. Those states are the “low-hanging fruit” that Sessions is likely after, said Chris Walsh, vice president of the trade publication, Marijuana Business Daily. “I would say that it’s uncertain how this is all going to play out, but there’s bound to be some kind of ripple effect or chilling effect, at least,” Walsh said.

Matt Gaetz: Marijuana policy shift ‘heartless and cold’” via the Pensacola News Journal – Gaetz issued an additional statement regarding changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy: “This cruel plan is repugnant to the 10th Amendment and harms some of our most vulnerable fellow Americans. In my district and nationwide, children have been helped by medical marijuana when all other treatments have failed … (Attorney General) Sessions’ policy would make sick children sicker. It would oppose the will of 81 percent of veterans, according to the American Legion. It will place the government between vulnerable people and something that could help them. This decision even flies in the face of President Trump, who expressed support for medical marijuana and state-level decision-making during his campaign, and stated July 29, 2016, that ‘I think it should be up to the states.’ While prosecution of bad actors is always welcome, it would be heartless to systemically use the awesome power of the federal government to punish people providing legitimate medicine.”

— OPINIONS —

As we savor UCF championship, vow to end rigged path to playoffs” via John Sowinski for the Orlando Sentinel – The College Football Playoff (CFP) system tilts the field even further against up-and-comers. That’s bad news for programs like UCF, now one of the largest universities in America. The Knights now play Division 1 sports and are this year’s only undefeated Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision team. UCF’s Peach Bowl victory came over a team that beat both teams that will appear in the CFP Championship game. UCF’s claim to the National Football Championship may be less official, but it is no less legitimate because of how the CFP system is rigged. Unlike every other collegiate sport, the football playoff system is not owned by the NCAA, but by FBS teams, with Power 5 partisans controlling playoff rankings and Power 5 conferences guaranteed an exponentially higher share of playoff revenue. This year, the CFP ranking committee consistently under-ranked UCF and its scheduled opponents, making it impossible for the Knights to approach the playoff tier. Former UCF Coach Scott Frost rightly called it a “conscious effort” to keep UCF down. If this system does not reek of an unfair, predatory monopoly that uses wrongful gains and historic privilege to perpetuate an unfair financial advantage, then nothing does. It’s not just unfair; it’s un-American.

Protect our community redevelopment agencies” via Christopher Keller for the Orlando Sentinel — CRAs are incredibly successful tools for breathing new life into communities that are in need of revitalization. Their purpose is to eradicate physical blight in its many forms and elicit renewed interest and vitality within the district. This is achieved through local leadership and the preparation of a publicly vetted redevelopment plan. There are no state or federal monies spent by CRAs. Revenues used by CRAs come from future property value increases in the area — called “increment” because they are incremental increases in taxable values. The often slow but steady rebirth of a neighborhood, commercial area or community is guided by the constituents of the area through the CRA plan, budget and hearings. However, CRAs are currently under attack by legislation under consideration in the 2018 Legislative Session. These local agencies must be left intact to continue improving our communities. To ensure forward movement, and not regressive policy development, I encourage Orlando-area citizens to call on lawmakers to protect our CRAs.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune is pushing back against Greg Steube’s ‘Tallahassee knows best’ attitude.

Short-term rentals are local concern” via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board – The arguments against state Sen. Greg Steube’s continued attempt to replace locally crafted ordinances regulating short-term rentals with a statewide, one-size-fits-all law fall into two categories: principle and practical. The important principle is that certain decisions are best left to elected leaders in cities and counties — with direct input from the people most likely to be affected in their own communities. … There are countless cases in which state and federal laws and rules are necessary and beneficial. Yet there are times to defer to local conditions and community sentiment … the reality-based problem with that approach is that the differences between, say, the cities of Anna Maria and Sarasota are both relevant and significant. Anna Maria has no high-rises; Sarasota has plenty, and each municipality has a distinct character. It would be virtually impossible for a statewide law to adequately take such differences into account — even if proponents of pre-emption wanted to accommodate local considerations.

— ALOE —

Alabama vs. Georgia: A fight for the soul of the SEC” via Joseph Goodman of AL.com – The G-rated version of this story here in Atlanta is that the national championship is a celebration of the SEC. The truth is made of uglier stuff. This is not a toast to the SEC. It’s a fight for the soul of the league. Alabama vs. Georgia is not a family reunion. It’s a family feud. When you play a team from your own conference in a national championship game, there is more at stake than just a trophy. We learned that after Alabama destroyed LSU in the 2011 BCS National Championship. Built by Nick Saban and then passed off to Les Miles, LSU was never the same after that game. Alabama, meanwhile, went to win two more national championships and play in every College Football Playoff. Would a loss to Georgia disrupt Alabama in the same way? Perhaps even more. And that’s where this thing will get nasty.

Disney theme park deal for Florida residents returns, but the price climbs” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida residents can get three days at a Walt Disney World theme park for $159 per person, and add a fourth day for $20 more per person … out-of-state tourists have to pay $289 for the same ticket. And it is a price break from the usual $199 three-day ticket for Florida residents. This year’s Discover Disney deal went up $20 and is valid through June 24 with no blocked-out dates. Tickets may be used on consecutive days.

How Mega Millions changed the game so everyone gets rich — except you” via Alex Horton of The Washington Post – A recent rule change has made it harder for anyone to win the estimated $450 million jackpot (or $281 million if you opt for the cash buyout). Mega Millions (and Powerball) discovered that when the jackpot grows to an absurdly high figure, even skeptical players will buy tickets (New York Lottery’s commission tagline: “Hey, You Never Know”). Here’s how Mega Millions used to work: Players picked five numbers from 1 to 75 and a Mega number of 1 to 15. The odds of winning the top prize were 1-in-258,890,850. Then, in October, Mega Millions changed the rules. Now players pick numbers from 1 to 70 and a Mega number of 1 to 25. The odds of winning the jackpot are now 1-in-302,575,350. Reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize. But raising the number of Mega balls makes it harder to win the jackpot. The move is paying out for some players in the short run. It may be too early to determine whether Mega Millions’s rule modification has boosted sales, but it is clear that Powerball benefited from a similar change in 2015. Powerball’s revenue for fiscal 2016 rose $7 billion from the year before. Revenue had also climbed in 2015 from 2014, by $3 billion, compared with basically no growth from 2013 to 2014.

A Florida teacher shares an incredible gift with student’s mother — her kidney.

Teacher shares incredible gift with student’s mother” via Steve Hartman of CBS News – A good teacher will do almost anything for a student, but few have gone as far as Donna Hoagland, a teacher at Marsh Pointe Elementary in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. It all started when Donna noticed a change in one of her 4th graders … His mother, Anahita, was in stage 5 kidney failure … But Donna felt like she could help. Turns out, she has the same rare blood type … “(S) he’s like, ‘we’re a match,'” Anahita said. How could she say thank you? “You can’t,” Anahita said. “You really can’t.” The transplant happened over Christmas break, and now everyone is doing well — donor, recipient, and the boy they both cherish.

Happy birthday belatedly to our longtime friend Jonny Torres, as well as the Florida Association of Counties’ Cragin Mosteller and that bad debutante, Diane Roberts. Celebrating today is Rep. Rene “Coach P” PlasenciaRon BilbaoEvan Ross, and Blue Ticket Consulting’s Meagan Salisbury.

Not Just A Body Of Water — 1.7.18

Tampa Bay is more than a body of water — so much more.

To start, an admission: I really missed writing about Tampa Bay, particularly its politics.

With all that is going on in the region surrounding my beloved St. Petersburg, it was tough to resist being drawn back into the fray.

And in the post-Rick Baker/Jack Latvala era, our political landscape here has changed.

Will those changes prove to be for the better? Only time will tell.

Either way, to rectify this absence is Not Just A Body Of Water — a new weekly newsletter focusing exclusively on Tampa Bay, its politics and players.

As a new venture, “Body of Water” presents no small challenge; we must get back up to speed, reconnect with the region, learn some fresh faces. The long-term goal is to provide you, our loyal fan base, an exclusive, subscription-only service by summer 2018.

So, among the features in “Body of Water” are big-picture analysis, interviews, and highlights in the notable work of others. There will be data, photos and interviews with the personalities helping to keep our community dynamic.

Above all, we will focus on the people and issues that make Tampa Bay — more than a humble body of water — one of hottest spots in Florida politics and beyond.

— BOB BUCKHORN’S LAST YEAR —

Term-limited Tampa Mayor Buckhorn, facing a last full calendar year in office, has been busy securing his agenda priorities — and his legacy.

While the city’s municipal elections won’t be until April 2019, Buckhorn — or at least his reputation — will be front and center throughout 2018, as voters experience what could be a contentious campaign to choose his successor.

“I have no intention of being a lame duck,” Buckhorn told Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “I am not going to let up on one iota of the job I came to do.”

Among Buckhorn’s most visible accomplishments include the demolition, and upcoming revitalization, of the North Boulevard Homes public housing development, to make way for a $200 million mixed-use project on the Hillsborough River waterfront.

Buckhorn also intends to collaborate further with Tampa Bay Lightning owner and Strategic Property Partners co-partner Jeff Vinik on the high-profile $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, which seeks to transform the city’s Channelside neighborhood.

Hizzonor has also been quick to promote both himself and his performance, as shown in a recent email to Tampa residents, mostly touting a recent poll giving Buckhorn high marks:

— “Buckhorn does his own poll on transit, Donald Trump and Puerto Rico and … Bob Buckhorn” via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times

— “New survey shows Tampa voters really like Buckhorn, police” via Florida Politics

— “Transit is a top priority for Tampa residents, Buckhorn survey shows” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal

— “Hero: Tampa firefighter works full shift, arrives home to rescue neighbor from burning house” via WFLA

In addition to polishing his legacy, Buckhorn will spend 2018 sizing up what will soon be a growing field to vie for the mayor’s office. As of yet, no one has filed, but several names are being floated: former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilmembers Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, and civic activist David Straz.

Bob Buckhorn joins WWE superstar Titus O’Neil and other community partners for the 8th Annual Joy of Giving to give out more than 10,000 gifts for the holiday season.

— PIC OF THE WEEK —

On the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall, Rick Kriseman is sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 2, for his second term as mayor. Photo credit: Kim DeFalco

— THE ‘BURG IS SPRAWLING —

The sky really isn’t much of a limit for developers in St. Petersburg.

“Construction cranes in every direction,” writes the Tampa Bay Times’ Susan Taylor Martin. “High-rises where single-story buildings once stood.”

“This isn’t your father’s St. Petersburg.”

Estimated construction costs in the 130-year old town have reached $500 million, and there are 17 major projects underway. Five of those projects will add 1,500 rental units in St. Petersburg — complementing the 1,340 finished in the last three years.

The Beach Drive condos in the area have fared well, perhaps serving as a successful case study for investors. But the significant investments also mirror that of what’s going on in the city across the bay. The success of the Fusion 1560 complex also isn’t making investors shy away, writes Morgan.

Still, questions remain about whether St. Petersburg’s identity is enough to support major real estate ventures.

Ahead of demand?: Darron Kattan, managing director of Tampa’s Franklin Street brokerage, acknowledged there could be difficulty filling hundreds of new apartments immediately. St. Petersburg’s Avanti Apartments — one of the five underway — already is offering a free month’s rent.

But there’s optimism: “Downtown St. Pete is so dynamic that in the long run, it will support thousands more units,” Kattan said. “There’s been a fundamental kind of shift of people wanting to live in the core that we have not seen since the ‘60s.”

And the longtime residents don’t seem to mind: Former City Councilman Herbert Polson, who’s lived in St. Petersburg since 1959, “likes what he sees happening in downtown and the rest of St. Petersburg.”

— RICK KRISEMAN REJECTS LOCAL PIER RESTAURANT CONCEPT BY RICK BAKER SUPPORTER —

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille was selected to be the restaurant four the newly rebuilt St. Petersburg Pier, with a spot in what is currently the city’s Pelican parking lot.

As first reported by Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Mayor Kriseman chose the Florida chain over a local concept by Steve Westphal, a St. Pete restaurateur — and a donor and supporter of Baker, who lost to Kriseman in his campaign for mayor.

Westphal owns the Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge at Albert Whitted Airport, Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum and the Annex at 400 Beach.

Doc Ford’s, named after a character in a series of novels from Florida-based author Randy Wayne White, has locations in Sanibel Island, Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach. White is a partner in the restaurant chain.

“Doc Ford’s has already established a reputation as a highly successful destination restaurant. The restaurant’s name and Florida theme, based on the novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, will appeal to both residents and visitors,” Kriseman wrote in a January memo announcing the choice.

The project, as well as the renovated Pier, is scheduled to open next year.

— ST. PETE CHAMBER SCHEDULES TALLY TRIP, ANNUAL MTG. —

St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce will be making its annual Tallahassee trip Jan. 30-31, to meet with legislative leaders and advocate for its city and members.

To register, visit stpete.com/Tallahassee.

Members of the chamber Public Policy Committee can use the promotion code “PP17” to save 10 percent on registration. This discount is available through Jan. 12.

In a celebration of accomplishments in 2017, the Chamber will also hold its annual meeting to honor community leaders and discuss the future of the Chamber and the community.

Scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. in St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater, the event will name the Chamber’s Member of the Year as well as pass the gavel from the outgoing Board of Governors Chair to the incoming Chair.

Event sponsors include Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Duke Energy, St. Anthony’s Hospital and the Tampa International/Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Chamber members received two free tickets, with more information and sponsorship opportunities at stpete.com/annualmeeting.

>>>As of November, Matt Lettelleir, has joined the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce as Advocacy Manager. The former director of communications for the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee will now oversee tracking city, county and state legislation on behalf of Chamber members.

— PINELLAS POLS RUE JACK LATVALA’S ABSENCE —

While former Sen. Latvala faces a possible criminal investigation after his abrupt resignation, some prominent Pinellas County lawmakers are withholding judgment on the Clearwater Republican.

“I’m old enough and wise enough and I’ve been around long enough to know that you can say anything about anybody,” says Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat. “But the last time I checked this is still the United States and you’re still supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.”

Long’s stance was similar that taken by Latvala and his legal team when he was initially accused by six women of inappropriate touching or uttering demeaning remarks about their bodies, as reported by POLITICO Florida in early November.

But Latvala gave up the fight only hours after a second blockbuster report on his misconduct went public Dec. 20 — the most explosive claim centering on allegations of a quid pro quo of legislative support for sexual intimacy with an unnamed lobbyist — now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Among the fallout felt throughout Pinellas:

— Former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly was “shocked” to read the report from retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson, named Special Master for the Senate, who referred his sexual harassment report to law enforcement for criminal investigation. “This isn’t the Jack Latvala that we know … I think that Jack made the right decision, and now it’s a matter for him personally and his family.”

— In resigning, “the Senator did the right thing,” says Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie. “It was a very difficult situation for him. It was a very difficult situation for his family. And I think ultimately he did the right thing there.”

— “I was certainly surprised, like everybody” reading the Swanson report, says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “I had no idea.”

— “He’s a character, no question. He can be a bully and he’s a tough, tough guy when it comes to getting stuff done, but it’s a tough, tough atmosphere,” says Long, who has known Latvala for more than 40 years. He always treated her with dignity and respect, Long adds, and was proud that she was never on the receiving end of what she labels his “hissy fits.”

— “Not only Clearwater, not only Pinellas, but really the Tampa Bay area is going to not have the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, so we are all going to have to work a little harder, and our delegation is going to have to work a little bit harder, and I’m confident that they will,” says Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.

— NEW LAWMAKER READY FOR RE-ELECTION RUN —

Less than three weeks after winning a special election in a Hillsborough County House district, Republican Lawrence McClure is planning a re-election bid this fall.

McClure, who defeated three other candidates Dec. 19 to replace former Rep. Dan Raulerson opened a campaign account Friday for the November election, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Unaffiliated candidate Shawn Gilliam of Plant City also has opened an account for the District 58 race.

— POST-SESSION FUNDRAISING FRENZY BEGINS IN TAMPA — 

Nothing says post-Session in Florida like a good, old-fashioned fundraising frenzy.

And with the balance of the Senate in play, especially with an expected “wave election,” raising big money for campaigns is more essential than ever.

On Tuesday, March 27, just after the end of the annual 60-day legislative work session, a group of first-term Republican state lawmakers from across Florida is holding a joint fundraiser in Tampa to support their re-election efforts.

Listed on the invite are Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Doug Broxson of Pensacola, Panama City’s George Gainer, Travis Hutson of Palm Coast, Melbourne’s Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Gainesville’s Keith Perry, Sarasota’s Greg Steube and Dana Young of Tampa.

The event begins 5 p.m. at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, 5320 Interbay Blvd. in Tampa.

— FORMER RICK SCOTT OFFICIAL IN LINE FOR PINELLAS-PASCO JUDGESHIP —

Mary Thomas, a former top attorney at the Department of Elder Affairs under Gov. Scott, is under consideration for a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judgeship.

Thomas, who was a onetime candidate for North Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, is a finalist on the list of 11 names for the 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), sent to Scott in November to fill two vacancies created by the retirements of Mark I. Shames and John A. Schaefer.

After years living in Tallahassee, Thomas, a former state government lawyer under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, relocated to Pinellas County. In 2016, she lost the GOP primary to Panama City urological surgeon Neal Dunn, who later went on to win the now GOP-leaning district.

“Mary came aboard with me right after I got elected back in 2010 and worked in my general counsel office, and to give her bragging rights, everything she touched, it worked,” Scott said at a Club for Growth event in 2016, as reported by POLITICO. “So, thank you for helping her, and hopefully she has a big win.”

“If Gov. Rick Scott selects Thomas, she will oversee cases like divorces, child support issues and adoptions,” The Tampa Bay Times writes.

— PINELLAS CO. MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS ON THE WAY —

A handful of municipal offices throughout Pinellas County are up for election March 13, including mayors of the cities of Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Treasure Island and Pinellas Park.

Also, up for grabs are council seats in Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.

— “Qualifying period begins for St. Pete Beach City Commission

— “Four candidates qualify for South Pasadena City Commission election

— “Patrick Soranno goes uncontested for Indian Shores mayor

— “St. Pete Beach commissioners re-elected without opposition

— “Indian Rocks Beach voters set to pick new mayor, commissioners in 2018

— “Qualifying period begins for Treasure Island commission seats

— “Six candidates qualify for Belleair Beach City Council race

— “Qualifying period begins for three Safety Harbor commission seats

— “Six qualify for three seats in Treasure Island election

— “Realtor group endorses David Allbritton for Clearwater City Council

— PINELLAS PARK NAMES NEW FIRE CHIEF —

Pinellas Park Fire Chief Guy Keirn is retiring after last three years as chief. Deputy Chief Brett Schlatterer will be Keirn’s replacement.

Keirn’s last day is Jan. 22.

In his retirement letter, Keirn, a 33-year veteran of the fire department, said he wants to spend more time with family and his 1-year-old grandson.

Keirn said while having dinner recently, he and his wife, Susie, began discussing retirement, where he said: “It’s time.” He added that working for the Pinellas Park Fire Department was the “best decision I made in my life.”

— GRAND MARSHAL —

It is that time of year again for the Gulf Coast — Gasparilla.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla named former Tampa Bay Lightning Center Vincent Lecavalier as Grand Marshal of the 2018 Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest and Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates.

This year, Pirate Fest will be Saturday, January 27. EventFest Inc. produces the annual celebration; Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — Tampa serves as title sponsor.

“Tampa Bay is a special place with great traditions, and the Lightning and Gasparilla are two of them. I look forward to representing both with pride in the parade,” Lecavalier, an NHL All-Star, said in a statement.

Gasparilla is Tampa’s historic community celebration of the apocryphal legend of pirate José Gaspar, featuring a series of events (for both adults and kids) that include the Gasparilla Invasion, Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla Distance Classic, a film festival, and the Parade of the Pirates, which has been presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla since 1904.

Gasparilla’s 2015 centennial was the third largest parade in the United States, with more than 300,000 people — over a million people attending at least one of the various events — generating nearly $23 million for Tampa’s economy.

Events also include the Pirate Fest Street Festival, presented by Budweiser with live entertainment in downtown Tampa both before and after the parade.

Details are at GasparillaPirateFest.com, which is regularly updated; reserved Gasparilla Invasion Brunch and Gasparilla Parade tickets are available at GasparillaTreasures.com, or by calling (813) 251-8844.

— NEW BOSS —

Diane Bailey Morton is starting the new year as executive director of the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District by launching a new membership drive. Local business executive and community advocate Lorna Taylor is pledging a $10,000 match if the Warehouse Arts District Association can add 200 new members during the drive.

For more information, a schedule of Arts District events for January, to donate or become a continuing member, visit warehouseartsdistrictstpete.com/Membership.

— EAT HEALTHY —

A healthy lifestyle can start early, according to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

But it starts with family support — a perfect household New Year’s Resolution.

Per All Children’s, “Families that eat right, get plenty of physical activity, limit screen time and have good sleep habits are more likely to raise children with a normal body weight.”

The hospital recommends the following each day: nine hours of sleep, five servings of fruit and vegetables, no more than two hours in front of a screen, and an hour of physical activity.

Oh, and stop the sweetened drinks, too. That means no soda, sweet tea, lemonade, sports drinks, or even juice.

Need some help?: First Steps: Fit4AllKids is a free six-week program available for families with overweight children in the community. It’s offered year-round in St. Pete for children ages seven-plus.

Don’t forget about the flu: The Bay area already is seeing an increase in patients with the flu virus, according to All Children’s, and over a dozen pediatric deaths have occurred from the flu nationwide. The hospital recommends getting a flu shot (it’s not too late) and routinely washing hands to avoid the virus.

Dance against cancer: Dance Marathon is a nationwide movement that raises funds for Children’s Miracle Network through a multi-hour long “dance marathon.” It’s coming to Braden River High School on Jan. 20.

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