Governor Rick Scott will sign into law a sweeping education bill that would steer more money to privately run charter schools, require recess in elementary schools, and tinker with the state’s oft-criticized standardized testing system.
An informed legislative source told FloridaPolitics.com Monday morning that Scott will sign HB 7069 in Orlando on Thursday.
The legislation, which was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, barely edged out of the Florida Senate on a 20-18 vote where some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure. Corcoran said that the changes are even more dramatic than the A+ plan put in by former Gov. Jeb Bush nearly two decades ago that created the state’s first voucher program and created the state’s current school grading system.
“It is the greatest public school bill in the history of Florida,” Corcoran said after the bill was sent to Gov. Scott.
The Senate vote came after intense debate in which opponents contended the legislation was a give-away to charter schools, which are public schools that are run by private organizations and sometimes managed by for-profit companies.
The nearly 300-page bill includes a long list of education changes that legislators had been considering. But the final bill was negotiated largely in private and was not seen by the public until last week.
Some of the final changes drew the ire of the state’s teacher unions, parent groups as well as superintendents of some of Florida’s largest school districts.
Included in the bill is a requirement that elementary schools must set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess,” although at the last minute charter schools were exempted from the mandate. The bill includes more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses.
Bowing to criticism about Florida’s testing regimen, the measure eliminates the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam and pushes back the date in the school year when students must take Florida’s main standardized test.
Another major part of the bill creates the “Schools of Hope” program that would offer financial incentives to charter school operators who would agree to take students who now attending chronically failing schools, many of them in poor areas and urban neighborhoods. Additionally, up to 25 failing public schools may receive up to $2,000 per student for additional student services.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.
Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica. Scott Powers and Terry Roen of Orlando-Rising.com wrote today’s topper.
— ONE YEAR LATER —
On Monday, a city still in deep mourning will reckon itself to the first anniversary of one of the darkest days any city has ever had to endure, as Orlandoans pay their respects to those killed, wounded, or forever changed in the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre.
Huge crowds are expected at a multitude of events, highlighted by an opening of a memorabilia display at the Orange County Regional History Center, a memorial ceremony at the Pulse nightclub itself, and a community cry from the city’s heart, Lake Eola Park.
Just counting journalists – more than 750 have been credentialed – this no doubt will be a worldwide-watched moment.
Yet while victims, survivors, their families and friends, and thousands of ordinary citizens will deal with the very strong emotions and seek to celebrate the bonds that have made Orlando United very real, there may be a critical lack of such bonding among many key politicians.
Most of the locals, starting with Orlando’s Democratic Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County’s Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and including most of its lawmakers, will have no problems embracing and being embraced by an Orlando Family in need of their leadership. Starting in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, almost all they’ve said and done regarding Pulse has resonated with strength, love and togetherness.
It gets more complicated with those from outside of Orlando. That’s particularly true now that Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has thrown down a gauntlet to Republican Gov. Rick Scott: accusing him of turning his back on an LGBTQ community devastated by the Pulse shooting, and hinting that he might not be welcomed back.
Smith, a leader in both Orlando’s and Florida’s LGBTQ community, pointed out an obvious but not widely-discussed situation: that there has been, from the start, a stark difference in how Democrats and Republicans typically have characterized Pulse, and how they’ve acted since.
Was the Pulse tragedy an unthinkably-heinous hate crime against the LGBTQ community by a madman who professed hatred toward gays? Was it a terrorism act carried out by an ISIS-pledging Islamic radical? Was it both? And how should the guns issues be addressed, if at all?
Scott and other key Republicans, notably U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi, on up to President Donald Trump, all have said or done things seen by too many in Orlando as insensitive or off the mark in addressing those questions, particularly by not consistently acknowledging the LGBTQ community’s principal role.
Who among them will come Monday? Who among them will speak? Might they find the words to assert that they stand with Orlando and can embrace the communities grieving the most?
A city’s proud unity might begin to fray along political hems, or might be bound tighter, depending upon what happens.
Rick Scott declares June 12 as “Pulse Remembrance Day” — Gov. Scott on Friday issued a proclamation declaring Monday “Pulse Remembrance Day,” directed flags be flown at half-staff in the state from sunrise until sunset, and called for a moment of silence to honor and remember the victims. “I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 a.m. to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse Terror attack,” he said in a statement. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.”
“Services to mark one year since 49 killed” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press– Starting in the early hours … and continuing almost 24 hours later, survivors, victims’ families, city officials and central Florida residents will remember the victims with four services. The first service is closed to the public, and it’s being held at the nightclub for survivors, local officials and club employees. It will overlap with the exact time that gunman Omar Mateen began firing shots — a little after 2 a.m. June 12, 2016. It is followed by another midday service at the nightclub, and an evening gathering in the heart of downtown Orlando. A final, music-filled late-night service is being held at the nightclub … local churches throughout Orlando have arranged for church bells to ring simultaneously, 49 times at noon. Local officials also have declared the one-year mark as a day of “love and kindness,” and they are encouraging residents to volunteer or perform acts of compassion.
Assignment editors: The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence will hold a candlelight vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando at 7 p.m. in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Jason Lindsay, the executive director of the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and the Rev. Kara Scroggins are all expected to speak. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. is scheduled to perform.
Assignment editors: Rep. Kathy Castor will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. at Centennial Park, 1800 E. Eighth Avenue in Tampa to discuss the work that continues to honor the victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting. She will be joined by Nadine Smith with Equality Florida and Carrie West with Tampa Pride.
Assignment editors – In commemoration of the lives lost at the Pulse Nightclub shooting, state Sen. Linda Stewart will be volunteering to take a stand against bullying on Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness – at the Zebra Coalition Drop-in Center which is open from 12-5 p.m., 911 N Mills Avenue in Orlando.
Blood drives in honor of Pulse — OneBlood is holding blood drives throughout the state to remember the victims and honor the injured. In the days following the tragedy, thousands of people lined up for hours to give blood, but the group said it was the donors who donated in the “days before who made the vital difference.” OneBlood is urging Floridians to “make it a tradition” to give blood to commemorate the anniversary to ensure there are no blood shortages. There are blood drives at the Greater Orlando Area Donor Centers and select mobile drives through Wednesday, and all other OneBlood donor centers through Monday. Donors who give blood as part of the Pulse blood drive will receive a free commemorative T-shirt, as well as a free wellness checkup. To find a location near you, clickhere.
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— EPILOGUE —
Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald conducts an autopsy of the Special Session, concluding that it ended “by delivering more of the same: backroom deal-making that resolved differences over a trade.” Klas’ reporting relies heavily on the perspective of the Senate and quotes from Democratic members, but her conclusion is right: the big winner was Scott. Here are 5 interesting nuggets from Klas’ reporting:
— Scott made a midnight phone call to Joe Negron to ask him to attend a press conference in Miami the next morning where the ‘Big 3’ would announce a special session
— Scott (had) refrained from making a commitment about whether he would sign or veto HB 7069. That gave him leverage over the priority legislation and a rare negotiating advantage to demand fixes to the budget.
— Great imagery here: “Sitting at his conference table in the Speaker’s office early Friday afternoon, wolfing down a lunch of meat loaf and red velvet cake …”
— Anyone who thinks the Senate was a bigger winner than the House needs to re-read these two paragraphs: “Scott wanted to continue incentive programs that benefit specific companies. Corcoran said no. The Senate wanted to use local property tax money for schools, override Scott’s vetoes of higher education construction projects and dip into cash reserves to give more money to hospitals but Corcoran said no. Scott expected the Senate to deliver, and when they didn’t his loyalty to them quickly shifted. In the end, Corcoran delivered more to Scott than the Senate and the speaker seized the opportunity filled the void to make his own trade.”
— Meanwhile, Jack Latvala complains that rocks weigh more today: “We’ve got three fiefdoms in Tallahassee — the House, Senate and the governor — and they are unchallenged within their own body. They get carried away.”
“Governor signs ‘religious expression’ bill into law” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – The new law, which takes effect July 1, makes clear that students in Florida’s public schools cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and that they may pray at school during non-course time. It further states that school employees also may participate voluntarily in religious activities that are initiated by students before or after the school day. Complaints that some schools in north Florida did not allow such participation have prompted lawmakers to push for such provisions over several years. Representatives from many Christian organizations lobbied for the bill in committees, saying they were being discriminated against in schools.
“Florida shifts burden of proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ cases” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News– The new law would give defendants more protection from prosecution in “Stand Your Ground” cases by requiring prosecutors to prove whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity. The legislation would flip the responsibility onto the prosecutor to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed to use the Stand Your Ground defense in court. Republicans pushed the burden of proof bill for years but didn’t have much success until this year’s regular legislative session, when lawmakers finally passed the bill along party lines. The proposal came on the heels of a Florida Supreme Court last summer which ruled defendants would be responsible for the burden of proof showing they shouldn’t be prosecuted in “Stand Your Ground” cases.
“John Morgan to host Richard Corcoran fundraiser – even as he promises to sue lawmakers over medical marijuana” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – So not only could Morgan face Corcoran in a courtroom, he may also take him on as a candidate in next year’s governor’s race. Both men are exploring entering the contest. Morgan is a Democrat; Corcoran is a Republican. … News of the fundraiser was first reported in a tweet by Associated Press reporter Joe Reedy, and quickly confirmed in a tweet by Morgan himself. Morgan thanked Corcoran for the passage of Friday’s medical marijuana bill during the final day of a three-day special session. “We’ll show you our deep thanks for A2,” he tweeted. “You made it happen. Plain & simple! I’ll bring Makers Mark & Caymus.” … The fundraiser for Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC will be held next Thursday at the Orlando home of Zander and Carmen Clem, according to the invitation.
NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Today is the deadline for state candidates and political committees to file campaign finance reports for activity through May 31.
“Andrew Gillum’s campaign touting more than 7,000 donors” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s campaign is reporting Friday it has topped the 7,000 donor mark for $1.2 million in total contributions. That means Gillum’s official campaign and his unofficial political committee Forward Florida brought in about $150,000 from roughly 1,400 donors in May.
Save the date:
Firefighters back Jeremy Ring in Democratic primary for CFO — The Florida Professional Firefighters unanimously endorsed Ring, a Margate Democrat, in his bid to replace CFO Jeff Atwater in 2018. The decision came after Ring delivered a speech to the annual conference, where he reaffirmed his support to the state’s firefighters and pledged to give them the resources they need to fight and prevent fires. “These guys put their lives on the line for us every day and we need to make sure we have their backs not only by outfitting them with modern equipment, but also by giving them the peace of mind that their families will be provided for in the tragic event that they fall in the line of duty,” said Ring.
“J.D. Alexander may run for Senate again” via John Chambliss of the Lakeland Ledger – Alexander, who was the Senate budget chair in 2012, said it would be hard to continue to “just sit by” and do nothing. “I’ve enjoyed my private life, but with that said, it would be important to engage more effectively,” said Alexander If he runs in 2018, it would be for the Senate District 26 seat now held by Denise Grimsley of Sebring … he would face Rep. Ben Albritton in the GOP primar
“Mailer in SD 40 race calls Alex Diaz de la Portilla a ‘tax & spend liberal’” via Florida Politics — A new mailer calling Diaz de la Portilla a “tax & spend liberal” is hitting the mailboxes of voters living in Senate District 40. The mailer, paid for Making a Better Tomorrow, highlights Diaz de la Portilla’s time in the Legislature, and urges voters to call the Miami-Dade Republican and tell him “he doesn’t deserve another chance.” … The mail piece says Diaz de la Portilla increased taxes on garbage, hunting permits, and driver’s licenses by $2.2 billion; imposed “a 300 percent job-killing tax increase on small businesses;” and grew the size of government by $20 billion since 1995. “Career politician Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s higher taxes have killed jobs and hurt seniors,” it reads. “Alex Diaz de la Portilla isn’t really a conservative. His 16-year voting record proves he is just another tax & spend liberal.”
Builders and contractors back Jose Mallea in HD 116 — The construction industry trade association has thrown its support behind Mallea in the special election to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. “We are very pleased to endorse Jose Mallea,” said Peter M. Dyga, president and CEO of the ABC Florida East Coast Chapter. “His commitment to the principles of free enterprise and free markets lines up very well with our values. We believe we can count on him to be the kind of advocate for economic growth and increased opportunity we need in Tallahassee.” ABC of Florida is part of a national construction industry trade association that represents nearly 21,000 corporate members. The Florida East Chapter represents more than 450 member companies between Key West and the Space Coast, making it the largest commercial construction association in Florida. “I am honored to have the support of ABC,” said Mallea. “I appreciate their commitment to the principles of freedom and hard work that built this nation. I look forward to working with them to keep Florida’s economy strong and growing.”
— STATEWIDE —
“Donald Trump to unveil new U.S.-Cuba policy Friday in Miami” via Marc Caputo and Sergio Bustos of POLITICO – The specifics of Trump’s executive action aren’t yet clear … But it’s expected to bear the stamp of two pro-embargo anti-Castro Miami Republican hardliners, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who helped advise the White House and national security officials. Many expect that Trump will not reverse Obama’s decision to open a U.S. embassy in Havana or reinstate the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy that allowed Cuban immigrants who touched U.S. shores to become legal residents.
“Marco Rubio defends his question of James Comey” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Rubio fired back at criticism that he was protecting President Donald Trump or had struck a deal over Cuba policy with him in return for his line of questioning during former FBI director James Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. Rubio told POLITICO that he instead sought to point out that the president did not interfere with the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections — the prime focus of the committee’s hearings.
“Court says marijuana investor information public” via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments by Surterra Florida, LLC, Alpha Foliage, Inc. and Redland Nursery, Inc. that information identifying investors and partners — submitted as part of license applications to the Florida Department of Health — should be shielded from release because it is a trade secret. Alpha Foliage and Redland Nursery submitted applications, while Surterra Florida is the “contractual agent” for the nurseries, according to Friday’s ruling. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled that the information about investors and partners, along with information about the firms’ consultants, should be available. The appeals court agreed on the issue of investors and partners, though it sent the case back to circuit court for more specific findings of the consultant issue.
“Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Tampa doesn’t pay taxes. So why do its customers?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times – The Hard Rock is on sovereign tribal land free from all state and local taxes. Yet the Seminoles choose to impose a tax on its customers, anyway, at the same rate required of other Hillsborough County hotels. State Sen. Dana Young calls the tribe’s hotel tax a “guise” to charge customers more while making it seem like Florida governments are getting a share. Santiago Corrada, Hillsborough County’s top tourism promoter, said he didn’t know about it and questioned if it was fair. But Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminoles, said the tax, in part, is charged to help other local hotels. Otherwise, the Hard Rock would have “an unfair competitive advantage over other area hotels” by undercutting their prices, he said. And the money collected goes toward government functions for the tribe, such as police and fire rescue.
What Shannon Shepp is reading – “Florida orange crop estimate increases slightly in June” via The Associated Press – Federal agricultural officials said that the June forecast showed the state’s orange crop growing by 500,000 boxes to 68.5 million boxes for the 2016-2017 growing season. The grapefruit crop forecast remained unchanged from the previous month at 7.8 million boxes.
— FORD’S F-SERIES KEEPS SOUTH FLORIDA MOVING —
Another sign Florida’s economy is running on all cylinders: Ford Motor Company announced May sales of its F-Series trucks were up 12.8 percent. That is the highest for the month in 13 years.
In the Miami market, Ford sales numbers show South Florida customers want power and comfort in their vehicles, based on an uptick in sales of Super Duty trucks offering stronger towing capacity, crew cabs with four doors and two rows of seats.
Among Miami’s Super Duty truck buyers, more than four in five choose diesel, and nine in 10 are picking crew cabs. Crew cabs are also popular among F-150 customers in Miami, where sales of F-150 crew cabs doubled over the last five years.
All this points to stronger consumer and business confidence. As the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, consumers are feeling more secure about the future and seeking out vehicles that serve both work and personal needs.
“For many of our Florida customers, the Ford F-Series is the right truck at the right time,’’ said Ford regional sales manager Rick Brisson. “As the job market continues to strengthen, people are looking for vehicles that fit their lifestyle, whether on the job or at home. May’s sales prove that.’’
Ford’s sales figures follow Gov. Rick Scott’s statewide jobs tour announcing gains and a declining unemployment rate. Statewide, Florida businesses created 15,000 new jobs in April, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent, the lowest since November 2007.
The Miami area added 16,500 new private-sector jobs over the year in April, with unemployment falling to 5.0 percent, down a 0.4 percentage point from a year ago. Many of those jobs were in trade, transportation and utilities, industries that benefit from truck ownership.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Commission clears Cary Pigman in state ethics case” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics– The Florida Ethics Commission cleared Rep. Pigman of charges that he misused his position to retaliate against a school principal in his district. The approved a recommendation by Judge June C. McKinney to dismiss the case against Pigman. At least one member of the commission abstained from the vote, while another member voted against the recommendation. Pigman, a doctor of emergency medicine and Army Reserve physician, was accused of “linking his efforts to obtain legislative funding for the Okeechobee School District … to retaliate or attempt to retaliate against an employee of the School District.”
New and renewed lobby registrations
Slater Bayliss, Christopher Chaney, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Citrus Home Health
Laura Boehmer, Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: American Craftsman Museum
Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: H.H. Holdings, Inc.
Jorge Chamizo, Floridian Partners: DentaQuest
Scott Dick, SKD Consulting Group: DFMMJ Investments
Happy birthday to Rep. Neil Combee, local bookstore owner Sally Bradshaw, new FDOT Sec’y Mike Dew, Matt Lettelleir, Margie Menzel, Rick Minor, and St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice.
With special session firmly in the rearview mirror, the 27 freshmen Republican members of the Florida House are quickly turning their attention to selecting one of their own to serve as Speaker, beginning in 2022.
Even during the special session — where the budget, key education policies and implementation of a medical marijuana amendment were decided — the question of who will hold the Speaker’s post was a hot topic.
All five of the announced candidates for the position – Rep. Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, Erin Grall, James W. Grant, Paul Renner – met Wednesday in Grant’s office to discuss the latest wrinkle roiling the internecine feud. At issue: whether the voting for Speaker, tentatively scheduled for June 30 (although even that has become an issue), would be conducted via secret ballot or not.
According to those present at the Wednesday meeting and subsequent emails within the freshman caucus, all five candidates agreed that secret balloting was the way to go.
However, enough happened Thursday and/or Friday that both Grant and Renner felt it necessary to email their colleagues Sunday to reiterate their commitment to secret balloting.
“Over the course of the last few days it seemed that we might not have a vote for speaker,” Rep. Ralph Massullo wrote to his colleagues Saturday evening, apparently in response to rumors swirling through the caucus that one candidate had locked up enough pledges so as to make voting, secret or otherwise, unnecessary.
Massullo, who along with Rep. Mike Grant has helped shepherd the rule-making process for this Speaker’s race, said he believed a “consensus” had developed within the class for a secret ballot “as the mechanism to elect our speaker.”
So what happened?
With the 27 members of the class all in one place at one time, undoubtedly some of the lieutenants from the various camps privately made the case for their captains to other unaligned members. Part of making that case is convincing a member that they could be left behind if they don’t join the winning side early enough.
An email from Grant confirms something was going on.
“When what is agreed to in front of the group and what happens in one-off or private conversations contradict, it obviously creates confusion and concern,” Grant wrote Sunday morning.
Grant’s team will tell you that Renner’s camp doesn’t want a secret ballot so that his allied consultants, fundraisers and lobbyists can exert pressure on undecided members.
Renner’s camp will tell you that Team Grant doesn’t want a secret ballot so that current House leadership — Speaker Richard Corcoran, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, and Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls — can exert pressure on undecided members.
Both Grant’s and Renner’s camps will tell you that Donalds and Grall want a secret ballot because they don’t want others knowing how few votes they receive on the first ballot.
What’s important is who DOES want a secret ballot. Foremost are the semi-independent members who don’t want to get caught up in a pledge card system.
And since winning these swing votes is key to winning the Speaker’s post, both Grant and Renner on Sunday wrote to their colleagues reiterating their commitment to a secret ballot.
“Each of the declared candidates met together during last week’s special session and reaffirmed our commitment to have a vote for our class leader through a secret ballot,” Renner wrote Sunday morning.
Grant wrote later, “Should you be told anything to the contrary and so that there is no confusion on my position, I wanted each of you to have, in writing, my continued commitment to support a vote by secret ballot.”
According to the inter-class emails, Massullo and Grant, “are going to secure a location in Orlando for June 30, 2017 where those who wish to attend can vote in person. Those who cannot attend will be able to cast their votes by some direct communication to either Larry Metz or Ray Rodrigues.”
Still left to be decided is how the class will “execute subsequent votes if one candidate fails to get a majority on the first round.”
As one member wrote in an email to their colleagues, “no one could ever say that serving in the FL House is easy.”
Earlier Friday, the same day lawmakers approved the implementing bill for the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, an appellate court handed marijuana growers a loss.
The 1st District Court of Appeals held that identities of investors and partners in medical marijuana companies aren’t trade secrets.
It remanded back to Circuit Judge CharlesDodson, however, to do more fact-finding on the question of whether the identities of their consultants is a trade secret, and thus would be exempt from public record laws.
Alpha Foliage, Redland Nursery and Surterra Florida were fighting a public records request for information from a competitor.
Dodson said requests for information about financial structure, security processes and building designs, nursery operations, scientific processes, business plans, administrative materials, and standard operating procedures could be denied.
But “identities and related information of appellants’ investors, consultants, and partners do not meet the trade secret definition,” the appellate court explained.
The companies “did not present evidence showing that the identities and related information of the specific investors and partners at issue” deserved trade secret protection.
The court suggested consultants might have a better case: “Consultants in the … medical cannabis industry can supply organizations with valuable information about how to cultivate, process, transport, and dispense cannabis.”
But whether “their identities and related information … are in fact trade secrets (is a) determination (to) be made by the trial court,” the court added.
Surterra is the “therapeutic cannabis-focused brand and business of Alpha Foliage.” A spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached Friday.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
#OrlandoStrong — Monday marks the one-year anniversary of a massacre at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead and dozens more wounded. The shooting, which happened during Latin music night at the popular gay nightclub, was the worst mass shooting in recent history. Orlando city and county officials have declared Monday “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness,” and Gov. Rick Scott issued a proclamation declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, directed flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset, and called for a moment of silence to remember the victims. “I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 AM to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse Terror attack,” he said in a statement. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.” Orlando officials will be marking the event with a series of events throughout the day, including memorial services at the site of Pulse.
Money, money, money — The original call for a Special Session focused on three things: funding for public schools, Visit Florida, and economic development programs. Lawmakers tackled several more issues than that during the three-day session, but they didn’t forget the reason they were in Tallahassee in the first place. The Legislature approved a bill (HB 1A) that would, among other things, boost funding for Visit Florida to $76 million, up from the $25 million originally agreed to by lawmakers, and set aside $85 million for an economic development fund housed in the Department of Economic Opportunity. Legislators also agreed to a bill (HB 3A) that would increase per-student funding by $100 for the state’s nearly 3 million school children. “This special session, we’ve increased the per-pupil spending to an all-time high, we’ve established a flexible, transparent economic development program and we’ve fully funded VISIT FLORIDA so we can continue to break visitation records,” said Gov. Scott. “We know that the most important things to a family are a good-paying job and a great education for their children, and these major investments will help us continue to create opportunities across our state for generations to come.”
Joe versus the world — The first few days of the Special Session got off to a rocky start, and seemed to only get worse as the week progressed. The Senate kicked off the week by overriding the governor’s veto of the education budget, and later voted to override the vetoes of millions upon millions of higher education projects. During a House GOP mixer on Wednesday evening, House Speaker Richard Corcoran seemed to take a swipe at Negron and the Senate, saying the upper chamber “did not stick to the plan.” An uncharacteristically perturbed Negron struck back, telling reporters Thursday he wanted to clear up a “fake narrative” circulating that the Senate made a deal with Scott and Corcoran. Negron said that wasn’t the case, and went on to say the chamber was not “going to rubber stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account.”
We have a deal — Despite a few tense days, lawmakers reached a deal Friday afternoon to get bring the Special Session in for a landing. The final deal included $60 million for 17 university projects, a priority for the Senate; a guarantee not to change the “required local effort” part of public school funding, a House priority; and $50 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike, a priority for the governor. The funding for higher education projects included $6.8 million for Florida State University for its interdisciplinary research commercialization building; Florida Gulf Coast University, which will see $12.7 million for its integrated watershed and coastal studies program; and $1.69 million for the University of Florida Health Center to fund medical marijuana research.
Medical marijuana win — Legislation to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment is headed to the governor’s desk after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved implementing legislation during the Special Session this week. The wide-ranging legislation (SB 8-A) will give guidance to state regulators as they put the state’s constitutional amendment medical marijuana into effect. Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the bill, among other things, requires the Department of Health to license 10 new growers by October, and allows for four new growers for every 100,000 patients. It also limits the number of retail facilities a grower can have to 25, but allows more to come online as the patient population. The cap expires in 2020. Gov. Scott said he will sign the bill into law.
Scenes from the Special Session
Post-session smiles — Gov. Scott and legislative leaders were all smiles when the three-day special session ended this week, but they didn’t get there without a few squabbles.
House leaders accused the Senate pushing for budget pork. The Senate ultimately acquiesced to an economic development system its leaders had decried as a slush fund. The House and governor made their own concessions, and each got a little of what they wanted along the way.
“Just because we’re in the same party doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be robust differences of opinion,” said Senate President Negron. “We’re not a monolithic group of people. We have diversity of opinion in our party on many ideas.
Negron stressed that he, personally, never lobbed any insults across the rotunda or toward the governor.
“I think the important thing is to look at what was actually accomplished. And what was accomplished was increased investments in our universities and of our students, and taking care of Lake Okeechobee, and doing things that we all can be proud of.”
Still friends — House Speaker Corcoran lobbed a lot of criticism at Gov. Scott’s top priorities this year.
Corcoran led the charge to eliminate Enterprise Florida and slash funding for Visit Florida, and vowed there wouldn’t be any “corporate welfare in the House budget.”
But the Land O’Lakes Republican said Scott shouldn’t take it personally.
“Gov. Scott’s a friend,” he said. “He’s a passionate warrior for what he believes in. I think the House was passionate fighting for what we believed in.”
Corcoran told reporters this week he thought it was great for the state to engage in this type of debate, and said the House did exactly what it said it would.
“What we said all along is, we will not do corporate welfare. We will not have a system of picking winners and losers,” he said. As a result, the new incentives package “that benefits everybody,” he said. “I think this is the beginning of walls crashing down on corporate welfare nationwide. Every other governor and every other state will start looking at this fund, and the way we’re doing it, which benefits everybody — and say, “That’s how we’re going to do economic development going forward.’”
Putting his foot down, but calmly — Did Senate President Negron’s “false narrative” rant save the special session? Sen. Jack Latvala thinks so. In presenting compromise legislation intended to let legislators get home, the Clearwater Republican praised the Senate President.
“This particular product here has your stamp on it, loud and clear. And I appreciate your help in bringing that about with your very effective, lawyerly, nice, almost argument last night,” said Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.
Negron threw the most polite fit you’ve ever seen during a news conference on the Senate floor this week.
The Senate had sided with Gov. Scott throughout the regular session, he complained. Yet Scott the House were settling their differences without regard for the Senate’s higher education priorities.
“We’re not just going to rubberstamp an agreement the two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.
Scott and the House eventually agreed to most of the Senate’s demands.
Mansplain much? — House Speaker Corcoran offered a reporter personal instruction in conservative principles when she asked him to defend carve-outs in the medical marijuana bill for shuttered citrus processors.
A provision reserving two medical marijuana treatment center licenses for such businesses emerged during the special session. During a media availability this week, Mary Ellen Klas, a reporter with the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee Bureau, asked Corcoran how that fit in with the House’s famous aversion to picking winners and losers.
“I tell you all the time: I’m a conservative. I’m a conservative. I believe that government has a role to regulate those things that create potential dangers to society,” Corcoran replied. “If you want, one of these days I’ll do an hour-long course on conservatism and how it interacts with a free-market system.”
Klas quickly asked: “So why are you selecting citrus companies that have had a failed processing facility an allowing them to get a license?”
When Corcoran responded by telling reporters to ask the Senate, Klas fired back: “Why are you signing onto that? You have ended corporate welfare?”
The speaker’s response: “I’ll have the whole conversation with you. I’ll be glad to walk you through conservatism and how it interacts with the free market.”
Capitol watchers react
The Florida Legislature ended its whirlwind three-day session this week after lawmakers approved measures to boost money for public schools, set aside money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, Visit Florida, and economic development programs, and implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.
It didn’t take long for Capitol watchers to weigh in.
– Kim Rivers, the CEO of Trulieve, on the medical marijuana implementing bill: We are reviewing the legislation and its impact, as well as the ability for patients to have access to much-needed medicine, to determine our next steps moving forward.”
– Ben Pollara with Florida for Care on medical marijuana: “It’s done! The House amended and passed medical marijuana legislation 103-9, and then the Senate had to vote AGAIN on the legislation, approving it 29-6. The bill’s next stop is Governor Scott’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law. Don’t get me wrong: this legislation is FAR from perfect. But it is a major step forward for patient access, and is drastically different and more patient-friendly than either chamber’s original implementing bills. Florida for Care will continue to fight – session after session – to improve upon this framework, and advocate for patient access. Now we have a strong starting point from which to do so. Thank you for everything you’ve done to get us to this point. This has been a four-and-a-half-year journey for me, and I know many of you have been at it much longer than I. This is a victory for patients in Florida. Period. We all have an enormous amount to be proud of.”
– Gil Langley, chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, on Visit Florida funding: “On behalf of Florida’s robust community of 1.4 million travel industry professionals, we commend the Florida Legislature for restoring funding for Florida’s tourism marketing effort to $76 million. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of Governor Rick Scott, coupled with Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran’s willingness to recognize the vital importance of promoting our state, Florida is on the right track to continuing our eight years of record tourism growth. VISIT FLORIDA works tirelessly to ensure the Sunshine State remains on the same playing field as competing destinations such as California, Texas and Hawaii, and we are grateful the new budget reflects this priority. All Floridians will benefit from the Legislature’s continued investment in tourism promotion, and we applaud lawmakers for their efforts during the 2017 Special Session.”
– Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of the Florida TaxWatch, on funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida: “The passage of House Bill 1A by the Florida Legislature will ensure that Florida’s economy continues to move forward following the crippling aftermath of the Great Recession. The bill will bring funding of VISIT FLORIDA to current fiscal year levels and up from the original $25 million appropriated in the 2017 Legislative Session, allowing the agency to continue to market the Sunshine State across the globe. We hope the language of the bill regarding VISIT FLORIDA will allow them to continue to focus on enticing tourists to Florida and boosting our economy rather than being overly bureaucratic. While Enterprise Florida (EFI) funding did not change, the bill creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, an $85 million fund to allow the Governor to approve funds for public infrastructure and workforce training projects that improve economic development. Under this, the Department of Economic Opportunity and EFI may recommend projects to the Governor. Florida TaxWatch research has found that continued funding of our economic incentive programs is crucial to ensuring the continued economic and job growth of the state as our population steadily rises. Florida TaxWatch will continue to recommend additional funding for Enterprise Florida and the state’s economic incentive programs to drive new, high-wage jobs to Florida. It is our hope that this issue is addressed in the 2018 Legislative Session.”
– Chris Hudson, the state director for Americans for Prosperity-FL on the passage of a bill (HB 1A) that revamps how economic development is done in Florida: “Florida taxpayers, and those looking to grow their businesses or come to the state have struck a huge win. Businesses that already exist here will be able to take advantage of key investments in infrastructure, companies looking to relocate to Florida will be able to capitalize on the benefits of educated workforce, and the individual taxpayers will benefit from a climate for job growth. We applaud the legislature and Governor Scott for coming together to put an end to corporate welfare. This is what economic development should look like across the country.”
– Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, on the conclusion of the Special Session: “Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran, and Joe Negron should all be ashamed of their dirty, backroom politics. What we’re seeing here are three men and a handful of unelected staffers making major policy decisions behind closed doors without any opportunity for open discussion or public input. Why do we even bother electing the full legislature if a handful of power-brokers will make all of the decisions in secret? This behavior is shameless and voters deserve far better.”
– David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Committee, on the conclusion of the Special Session: “In the end, Governor Scott got exactly what he wanted out of this self-serving special session: more money for his political allies and cronies, while hardworking Floridians were forced to pay the price. If Scott decides to run for the Senate in 2018, voters will remember who is responsible for the chaos and dysfunction that descended on Tallahassee as Scott sold out Florida’s public schools in order to push through his own personal agenda.”
Preparing for life on the outside
The Department of Corrections is doing its part to make sure inmates are prepared for life after prison.
The agency announced this week it was launching Compass 100, a curriculum for inmates nearing release that allows them to develop life skills combined with current education courses and substance abuse treatment programs.
The program focuses on topics like punctuality, workplace etiquette, and problem-solving. Inmates, according to the department, are required to complete a cognitive behavioral and restructuring curriculum designed to assist inmates to change the way they think and provide skills to communicate and solve problems.
“I’m incredibly proud of my staff for rethinking the way the Department operates and continuing to expand and enhance the opportunities and programs for inmates nearly release,” said DOC Secretary Julie Jones.
By the end of the program, inmates will also complete a “readiness portfolio,” which contains well-developed goals, a résumé, community resources, scheduled community appointments, and program completion certificates.
“Through programs such as Compass 100, we are able to take a more personalized approach for each inmate’s education,” said Jones. “The more prepared our inmates are for release, the more likely they will gain employment and becoming contributing members in their local communities.”
Keeping schools safe
Jewish day schools will get a boost from the state for safety measures.
Lawmakers tucked $654,000 into the fiscal 2017-18 budget, signed into law by Gov. Scott recently, for security funding for Jewish day schools throughout Florida. The money, according to the Governor’s Office, will be used to help provide security and counter-terrorism upgrades such as video cameras, fences, bullet-proof glass, and alarm systems.
“There has recently been a dramatic rise in the threats against Jewish day schools and I was proud to join Governor Scott and my fellow Legislative members in taking immediate action to help protect our Jewish communities,” said Rep. Randy Fine, who joined Scott at the Orlando Torah Academy earlier this week to discuss the funding. “This funding will help provide Jewish day schools with important security resources and ensure our students, teachers and parents feel safe.”
“We want to make sure our students stay safe and focused on what is most important — getting a great education, and I appreciate the Florida Legislature for taking quick action to come together and fight for this important funding,” said Scott. “We will continue to work closely with the members of Florida’s Jewish community and our partners in the state and federal government to do all we can to help keep all of our students and families safe.”
There were 167 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions, including 18 Jewish day schools, in 38 states and three Canadian provinces as of March 21, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Shut it down
A robocall operation in Orlando has been shuttered, thanks in part to the efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission obtained a permanent injunction halting operations at All Us Marketing. The company, according to Bondi’s office, allegedly bombarded millions of consumers with nationwide robocall campaigns designed to trick consumers into paying up-front for credit card interest rate reduction programs.
Consumers paid between $300 and $4,999 for programs, which claimed to substantially reduce credit card interest rates and save them thousands of dollars in a short time. The company, however, did not provide the promised interest rate reductions, and allegedly used the robocalls to falsely identify themselves as representatives of consumers’ banks or credit card companies. The company also allegedly charged a fee in advances of providing the debt relief services and called consumers with telephone numbers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry.
“This massive robocall operation bombarded consumers with millions of unwanted calls and misled victims into purchasing ineffective financial services—but thanks to our joint investigation, this scheme has been permanently shut down,” said Bondi in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to partner with the FTC to shut down robocall scams targeting Floridians.”
As part of the permanent injunction, the company and its affiliates are prohibited from telemarketing, offering debt relief products and services, misrepresenting financial products and services, and making deceptive or unsubstantiated claims.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the case.
New man in charge
Congratulations, Joshua Doyle!
The Florida Bar announced this week that its Board of Governors selected Doyle, a Tallahassee-based special agent for the FBI, to serve as the organization’s next executive director. Doyle will replace John “Jack” Harkness, Jr.
“Josh instills confidence in those around him and is good at motivating people to work toward a common goal,” said Harkness. “I look forward to working alongside him over the next several months and will always be a helping hand as he transitions into this new role.”
Doyle, 37, who has spent seven years with the bureau, previously was a lawyer-lobbyist for Metz, Husband & Daughton in Tallahassee, including serving as an outside legislative consultant to the Bar, the release said.
“Josh is one of the most ethical people I have had the fortune to know and treats everyone with respect, whether it is the building maintenance staff or a Supreme Court justice,” said Martha Barnett, a Tallahassee attorney, in a statement. “He also has a keen ability to process information quickly and stay one step ahead of what’s necessary to fulfill common goals.”
Harkness was appointed to the executive director post in 1980, and will continue to serve in an ongoing consultant role. Under his tenure, the Bar has become one of the largest in the country, growing from 27,713 members in 1980 when Harkness was appointed to more than 104,000 members today.
“There are no words that adequately convey the impact that Jack has had on this organization and the people that comprise it,” said William J. Schifino, Jr., president of The Florida Bar. “He leaves not just a legacy but a roadmap to guide the Bar through the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I am confident that Josh is more than up to the task.”
A few brave Florida men — When a maroon Honda Accord plowed through the sidewalk crowds in Times Square earlier this year, two Florida sailors were there to help the victims.
Gov. Scott honored both men — Airman David Barba and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Miller — for their bravery this week during a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, presenting both with the Medal of Merit.
One person died and 22 other people were injured when the vehicle traveled along the sidewalk for more than three blocks. The New York Times reported the driver of the vehicle was a 26-year-old Navy veteran from the Bronx who had a history of arrests for drunken driving.
The two sailors were on leave in New York from their station aboard the USS Iwo Jima and were in the immediate vicinity of Times Square when the incident occurred. According to the Governor’s Office, they immediately responded to the scene to assist and comfort injured victims until first responders arrived.
“While we train our sailors to be prepared for intense situations, I was proud that they reacted so quickly to help those in need without pausing to consider whether more danger was imminent,” said Capt. James Midkiff. The commanding officer of the USS Iwo Jima. “This is a great example of our shared commitment to protecting Americans and serving our great nation every day.”
Trumbull on defense — Rep. Jay Trumbull is defending the state’s defense industry.
Trumbull, a Panama City Republican, was appointed by House Speaker Corcoran to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which aims to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s military missions and installations. The appointment runs through November 2018.
“Florida plays a proud and strategic role in our nation’s defense,” said Trumbull. “Our military installations are key economic drivers across the state, particularly in the Panhandle, and I’m honored to be a part of this task force. I look forward to this opportunity to help make sure a Florida installation won’t be subject to a Base Realignment and Closure Action.”
This year, the task force will oversee an update of its strategic plan for protecting the state’s military installations. Florida’s 20 major military installations have an annual economic impact of $73 billion and more than 750,000 jobs.
There are a few new judges on the bench.
Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Gregory Groger to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, Eric Roberson to the 4th Judicial Circuit Court, James Coleman to the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, and Darren Farfante and Christine Ann Marlewski to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court.
Groger, a 38-year-old Land O’Lakes resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit since 2003. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. Groger fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Walter L. Schafer, Jr., who died in January.
Roberson, a 37-year-old Jacksonville resident, is a county judge for Duval County. He previously worked in private practice and as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Florida and a law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of MarkHulsey III.
Coleman, a 45-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit since 1998. He received his bachelor’s degree from State University of New York at Albany and his law degree from Saint Thomas University School of Law. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Marc Gold.
Farfante, 46 of Tampa, practices law with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and previously served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division. He received his his bachelor’s, master of laws, master of accountancy, and law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Brenda “Tracy” Sheehan.
Marlewski, a 40-year-old Tampa resident, is an equity shareholder with GrayRobinson. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida. Marlewski fills the vacancy created by the resignation of William Levens.
The governor announced he reappointed John Henslick to the Southwest Water Management District board and Virginia Jones to the Suwannee River Water Management District board. Scott also announced Jaime Weisinger and Brandon Tucker have joined the South Florida Water Management District board, and Janet Price has joined the St. Johns River Water Management District board.
All five of these appointments are subject to confirmation of the Florida Senate.
And the Calhoun County School Board has a new member. Scott appointed Clifford Newsome, a 66-year-old from Altha, to the school board for a term ending Nov. 19, 2018. Newsome is the owner and president of Florida Construction Inc. and North Florida Sod Inc. Calhoun is appointed to a vacant seat previously held by Timothy Glenn Smith, who died in February.
Blame it on the rain
What fire threat? — Florida officials spent weeks warning of the threat of wildfires. After a week of soggy weather, the threat of fire appears to be minimal.
According to the Florida Forest Service fire danger index map, most of Florida’s 67 counties were had a low risk of fire danger forecast for this weekend. One county faced a moderate risk level, while no data was available for more than a dozen counties. That’s big difference from just two weeks ago, when fewer than 20 counties were listed placed in the low risk of fire danger category.
The Florida Forest Service also reported about 10 counties had burn bans in place. That number includes four counties that have permanent burn bans in place.
Heavy rains soaked Florida, and the Associated Press reported some areas got up to 11 inches of rain between Monday and Wednesday.
Skeeter season — The rain might have been welcome relief to parched plants, but the soaking this week could create breeding sites for mosquitoes that carry ZIka.
Mosquito control and public health officials urged Floridians to drain anything that collects water during heavy rains. Aedes aeypti mosquitoes, which spread the Zika virus, breed in stagnant water, including small items like bottle caps.
The Associated Press reported this week that Broward County officials planned to spray bacteria-based pesticides from trucks in urban areas this week to kill the mosquito larvae.
There have been 71 cases of Zika infections in Florida so far this year. According to the Department of Health, 55 of those cases were travel-related, while four were locally acquired infections.
Like a prayer — School districts may not discriminate against students, parents or school personnel because of a religious viewpoint under a new law signed by Gov. Scott.Scott signed the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” this week.
Senate President Negron said the law, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, was a way to protect the “constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”
“Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. The government should not impose a religion, but all too often we see the other extreme where we are taking away people’s right to free speech and their right to practice their faith in a way they believe is appropriate,” he said in a statement. “Students of any faith, or no faith, have a right to free speech. The Legislature and Governor Scott are taking the steps necessary to protect this important constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.”
Just a little prick — Call it a win for Florida’s babies (and their moms and dads).
Gov. Scott signed into law a bill (SB 1124) that calls on the Department of Health to adopt rules requiring every newborn in the state be tested for any condition included on the Federal Recommended Uniform Screening Program. The test is done through a blood draw shortly after birth, and allows diseases to be detected that would otherwise be missed until life-threatening symptoms present themselves.
“As medicine, medical testing and medical treatments advance, we are able to do more than ever before to help ensure the health and well-being of all – beginning with a simple heel prick after birth,” said Sen. Lauren Book, who sponsored the legislation.
“Knowing the results of these tests is critical to families facing an illness, ensuring that they have every opportunity to put appropriate, and often life-saving, treatment protocols in place,” she continued. “No family should have to go through the heartbreak of losing a child to a treatable illness.”
Another drink, please — Jacksonville residents lovers, rejoice! Two bills signed by Gov. Scott this week will allow more businesses to sell alcoholic beverages in certain areas of the city.
Sponsored by Rep. Tracie Davis, the first measure (HB 1291) allows businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption in the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District to also sell off-premise during popular events, including the Georgia-Florida game, the Gator Bowl, New Year’s Eve, and Jacksonville Jaguars games.
“This is common sense public policy that empowers Jacksonville’s small businesses with more opportunity to engage with a larger pool of customers,” explained Representative Tracie Davis. “Special events like the Florida-Georgia Game and Jaguars games are a big deal in our community that generate a lot of revenue. By allowing more businesses to participate, we are giving them the chance to grow and strengthen our local economy.”
A second measure (HB 1293), also sponsored by the Jacksonville Democrat, enlarges the area within Jacksonville where restaurants can be issued special restaurant beverage licenses under the reduced requirements of the local exception. The expansion includes the Murray Hill Commercial Area, Springfield Commercial Area, and the San Marco Transportation Corridor.
Get prepared — A new group, created under a bill (HB 181) signed by Gov. Scott recently, will help Floridians better prepare for the effects of natural hazards.
Sponsored by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, the measure creates an interagency workgroup to share information about individual agency’s work relating to current and potential impacts of natural hazards — such as extreme heat, drought, wildfire, sea-level change, storm surge, and flooding — throughout Florida.
“This forward-thinking legislation will allow Florida to prepare for the devastating impact of extreme weather events,” said Jacobs in a statement. “It is my hope that Florida will be seen as the national model for smart-government strategies to address the ever-alarming impacts brought to us by climate change.”
Under the new law, the workgroup is required to meet quarterly to provide information from the Department of Emergency Management on current and potential impacts of natural hazards, coordinate efforts to address the impacts, and provide information for annual progress reports. It also requires the department to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019, and each year thereafter.
“Stand Your Ground” — The burden of proof is officially flipped when it comes to the state’s self-defense immunity law.
The governor signed legislation this week that puts the burden of proof on the state in Stand Your Ground cases. Sponsored by Sen. Bradley, it also requires prosecutors to overcome the immunity claim by offering evidence meeting the standard of clear and convincing evidence.
“A defendant always has the presumption of innocence and the state always has a burden of proof,” said Bradley, in a statement. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”
The change went into effect immediately upon being signed.
Road warrior rules
Taking a road trip this summer? The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants to make safety is at the top of your list.
The agency launched its “Safe Summer Travel” campaign, an annual effort to make sure Florida drivers arrive at their summer destination alive, this week. The campaign is a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation, the Department of Children and Families, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and AAA – The Auto Club.
“Summer is one of the busiest times on Florida’s roadways, and motorists should take critical steps before departing to avoid a crisis on the road,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in a statement. “Whether it’s a day-trip or a family vacation, ensure you and your vehicle are travel-ready by checking your tires, checking for recalls, and always buckle up.”
The DHSMV suggests motorist follow a summer safety checklist before hitting the roadways, which includes preparing to drive in inclement weather, checking to make sure children and pets aren’t left in hot cars, and remember to drive sober.
Here’s one thing you can to make First Lady Ann Scott smile this summer: Make sure your children keep reading.
The first lady is doing her part, touring the state as part of the 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure. The annual reading challenge is meant to help keep Florida students about reading and literacy, making sure they don’t lose progress made during the school year.
“Reading has always been important to me and my family, and I am thrilled to once again participate in the Summer Literacy Adventure,” said First Lady Ann Scott. “Summer break is the perfect opportunity for families to spend extra time reading and learning together. I hope that all of Florida’s students will take the Summer Literacy pledge to help ensure they are prepared for a great school year ahead.”
As part of the challenge, children are encouraged to pledge to read “as many books as possible throughout the summer break.” The school whose students read the most books will get a surprise visit from the first lady next school year.
Scott kicked off her own summer literacy adventure this week when she stopped by Eden Gardens State Park to read to students with The Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast.
Florida sugar growers are pushing back hard on accusations that “Big Sugar and Big Citrus” had a hand in writing legislation to expand access to medical marijuana.
On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that that tucked into sweeping legislation on medical marijuana is “preferential treatment to companies that promise to convert orange juice factories and other citrus-processing facilities into marijuana grow sites.”
According to the Times, lawmakers want to replenish Florida’s citrus industry, which has been struggling after seasons of devastating citrus greening affecting crops and the rural communities that rely on oranges and grapefruits.
“It’s clear the language is written to benefit specific groups and specific companies,” Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemenstold the Times. “They know who is going to benefit. We don’t. And they are writing a bill that benefits these groups.”
Winter Park Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smithchimed in on Twitter: “Big Sugar getting special perks + incentives in cannabis bill! Why am I not surprised? Biz as usual here!” Smith represents House District 49, which covers parts of Orlando.
However, growers are aggressively fighting back on the claim, asserting there is absolutely no connection between the sugar industry and the issue of medical marijuana.
In a statement Friday, U.S. Sugar representative Judy Sanchez called the accusations “completely inaccurate.”
“A recent report from the Tampa Bay Times suggesting medical marijuana legislation was written to benefit U.S. Sugar is completely inaccurate,” Sanchez said. “Our company has NOT been engaged in any way with any member of the Florida Legislature regarding medical marijuana.”
The state Senate passed its version of medical marijuana implementation bill Friday, on the last scheduled day of the three-day Special Session. The bill is now headed to the house.
Quick hit: With hours left in the Special Session, rumors of a final deal abound.
Details are scarce, but one Senator close to negotiations said “there could be a path to get our work completed today,” putting it at a 60 percent probability.
The Senate could get its money for hospitals, but the House will dictate how to spend it.
Moreover, medical marijuana implementation is expected to pass without incident.
A deal on education funding is all but signed off on by Senate President JoeNegron and House Speaker RichardCorcoran.
What we don’t know: The fate of the Senate’s veto overrides.
As the AP’s Gary Fineout tweeted, “One possible out – but risky – is to add the higher ed vetoes the Senate wants to the school funding bill. But Scott could veto again … Unless of course @FLSenate can get @FLGovScott office to assure them that he won’t veto the higher ed projects a 2nd time.”
Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
— SESSION ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE AS GOP LEADERS FEUD —
Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which has been wracked by feuds among its top leaders for the last several years, is in danger of ending a three-day special session without restoring billions in money that public schools use to pay for day-to-day operations, reports Gary Fineout and Joe Reedy of the Associated Press.
A few days ago it appeared that Scott had worked out an agreement with GOP leaders, but Senate President Joe Negron insisted he never signed off on the deal.
“We’re not just going to rubber stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran has so far refused to go along with an override of Scott’s vetoes or set aside more money for hospitals.
“We would be the first Republican Legislature that overrode a Republican governor on pork-barrel spending. Find me that example. I don’t think it exists,” Corcoran said.
If legislators don’t act then public schools will lose out on more than $11.4 billion in state funding that it supposed to start trickling down later this summer.
“Negron teed off on ‘fake narrative’ that Senate signed off on Scott-Corcoran budget deal” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – In a stunning departure from his calm demeanor, an irritated Negron on Thursday denounced the “fake narrative” that he struck a deal over the now-imploding special session to fix school funding. Negron didn’t name names, but those close to him say he started to grow irate once Corcoran suggested that the Senate leader wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain …
— Part of Negron’s frustration is rooted in the way he runs the Senate. He doesn’t apply too much pressure to members and often lets them vote their will. As a result, it’s hard to promise votes for any deal — especially one involving Corcoran, whom many senators have begun to despise because they think he has ridden roughshod over the upper chamber.
— In uncharacteristic fashion, Negron pulled back the curtain on how the Senate works internally. He mentioned, for instance, that his office did not approve Senate quotes for the Scott’s press release last Friday announcing the key issues of the special session. More remarkably, he said he wanted to keep the Senate’s name off the special session proclamation.
— “The mood of the [Senate] is that we want to do what we think is right for the people we represent, and we are not going to be told what to do,” Senate budget chief Jack Latvala said Wednesday.
“Was there a strategy behind the Senate vetoes of $75 million in higher education overrides?” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Sen. Bill Galvano, the head of the Senate higher education budget, said that the governor’s vetoes seemed to be “an inordinate amount of vetoes” to universities and colleges that betray the Senate’s goal of shoring up universities and colleges this session. The move appears destined to be essentially ignored by the House at this point. So, was there a rhyme or reason for which projects were chosen? Were they targeted projects, intended to put pressure on the House to persuade Speaker Corcoran to reconsider his opposition to overriding vetoes? The answer is “not really,” according to Senate sources. The selection of projects was handled by Senate President Negron‘s office and appear to be based on “whoever had juice.” “We’re feeling left out in Jacksonville,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, whose district was left off the override list.
“Funding for HB 7069 left alone after Senate backs off” via The Miami Herald – Florida senators wanting a second crack at stopping a contentious $419 million education reform bill that narrowly passed the Legislature last month were unsuccessful on Thursday in defunding it to redirect the dollars to general K-12 public school spending. Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer led the charge to undo HB 7069, after Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — earlier passionately defiant — backed off his plans to force lawmakers to revisit the legislation during a three-day special session, even though it’s not on the Legislature’s restricted agenda.
The Special Session’s medical marijuana legislation is speeding toward passage.
For example, the Senate has managed to keep the bill clear of all but technical amendments.
It rejected, on a 15-21 vote, a proposal by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes to take a more laissez-faire approach, abandoning the vertical integration required under the proposed legislation, and allowing people to smoke their medicine.
“This bill allows specialization. This bill allows the market to work. It works in everything else,” Brandes said.
Bill sponsor RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican, opposed the amendment, arguing patients are more concerned with safety and efficacy than free-market principles.
In addition, it could blow up the legislative effort.
“If we were to accept this amendment, we would be throwing dynamite into the middle of the entire process,” Bradley said.
Another amendment by Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, to allow patients to smoke failed on a 14-20 vote.
Clemens said he’s never gotten a good explanation from county sheriffs who oppose allowing patients to smoke.
“Their response in public was, ‘We just think it’s unhealthy’ ” — an “absurd” response, he said.
The real reason?
“All I can surmise is that, when you see somebody walking down the street, and they’re smoking marijuana, you don’t want to determine whether they have a (ID) card. It’s just easier to bust them for it,” Clemens said.
Both chambers should vote out their respective bills today (Friday).
“Senate sets up its medical marijuana bill for a vote” via Florida Politics – Sen. Bradley returned to the floor to explain the bill and take questions from fellow senators. The legislation allows “edibles,” “vaping,” drops and pills but not smoking. The issue of whether to allow smoking continues to pit Republicans, who oppose it, against Democrats, who support it. Bradley said he was unmoved by arguments that the constitutional amendment passed by voters last year allows smoking. The amendment’s language refers to smoking but does not explicitly permit it. “If the drafters (of the amendment) wanted smoking to be a constitutional right, they should have said ‘smoking is a constitutional right,’” Bradley told colleagues. He added that medical professionals agree “the taking of smoke into your lungs is an inherently unhealthy act.” For now, the Special Session is still scheduled to end Friday.
“House beats back effort to allow smoking of medical marijuana” via Florida Politics– A change to the Special Session’s medical marijuana legislation that would have allowed patients to smoke it was handily defeated Thursday. The amendment offered by Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, was killed on the House floor by a vote of 37-71. “If a doctor and a patient determine that (smoking) is the best way to alleviate pain, or whatever it might be, then that should be left up to them,” he told reporters after the House’s daily session. “In any doctor-patient relationship, there is no one-size-fits-all.”
“Former lawmaker’s connections raise questions about marijuana bill” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Critics worry that the Legislature is on track to lock in place a system composed of a small number of politically connected companies, so it’s noteworthy that the bill includes a provision awarding one of those new licenses to a grower tied to lobbyist and former Sarasota lawmaker Doug Holder. Sources say Holder has told them that he is trying to position himself – or an entity he controls – to have an ownership interest in a company that would profit off the medical marijuana industry. A company Holder has been consulting for, Sun Bulb, would obtain a medical marijuana license under the bill before the Legislature right now. Holder asked to have any questions submitted in writing. Responding through text message, he said that, “I do not have an ownership interest with any nursery that has or is seeking a license to grow medical marijuana” and added that “my relationship with SunBulb is in the area of business development seeking interested investors or partners.”
“Whodunit? or, How did citrus get into Special Session medical marijuana bill?” via Florida Politics – Everyone loves a mystery, so how did a provision to help concerns with underused or shuttered citrus factories get into this year’s medical marijuana legislation? Language in both bills (SB 8-A, HB 5A) would give preferential treatment for up to two growing licenses to applicants who can show “they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses, and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.” Most recently, the Senate bill was approved by the Health Policy Committee on Thursday morning. Bill sponsor RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said he didn’t know where the verbiage came from. “I’m not aware of any specific companies,” he told reporters after the meeting.
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— STATEWIDE —
“Supreme Court sends Bessman Okafor sentence back, Scott reassigns it from Aramis Ayala” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The move came with swift intervention from state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who asked the governor to keep the case from going back to Ayala, who has vowed to not prosecute death penalties. The governor concurred, reassigning it to neighboring State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit, as he has done with 23 previous first-degree murder cases in the past three months. “I am grateful,” said Cortes, a Republican who has been a stern critic of Ayala’s declaration and how she arrived at her decision. Okafor’s murder conviction stands, according to the Supreme Court. The court threw out his death penalty and ordered another penalty phase trial.
“Supreme Court strikes down limit on medical malpractice awards” via Florida Politics – In a 4-3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday agreed with a lower court and said limiting certain damages in personal-injury medical malpractice lawsuits is unconstitutional. The ruling split along the usual lines, with the progressive-leaning justices concurring, and the conservatives—now including new Justice C. Alan Lawson—in dissent. The Legislature established $500,000 limits, or caps, on what are called “non-economic” damages for such cases. The Supreme Court previously ruled they don’t apply in medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death. The 4th District Court of Appeal had extended that decision to personal injury cases.
— The Florida Medical Association is disappointed with the ruling, says FMA president David Becker, “but given past decisions, it was not unexpected. The FMA will continue to do all it can to ensure that the costs of the medical liability system do not unfairly impact physicians ability to practice medicine.”
“Corrine Brown’s attorney files motion for new trial” via Lynnsey Gardner of News 4 Jax – James Smith had also talked about filing a motion to interview Juror No. 3, the juror who told the I-TEAM that the verdicts might not have been reached if one of the jurors hadn’t told Judge Timothy Corrigan something that got juror No. 13 removed from the panel. But Smith said after reviewing case law, nothing juror No. 3 could tell his team would be admissible in court to invalidate the verdict, but he continued to call the comments from juror No. 3 “disturbing.” “It just doesn’t look like we have a legal avenue to be able to get it in,” Smith said. “So rather than filing a motion where we know we have no chance of winning, we’ll simply move on and pursue the motions that we have that are viable.” Brown is having financial difficulties and hasn’t paid a chunk of her legal bills, sources tell the I-TEAM. Those bills will continue to climb as Brown goes through the appeals process.
“State athletics panel wins case over football field prayer” via Florida Politics – A federal judge ruled this week for the Florida High School Athletic Association, which was sued by Cambridge Christian School in Tampa. Association officials didn’t allow a spoken prayer over the public address system before a 2015 game at an Orlando stadium. The judge disagreed with the school that its constitutional free-speech rights had been violated. To have allowed the prayer would have amounted to a state endorsement, since the Association controlled the loudspeakers, of a religious message. Noting that players gathered on the field for unbroadcast praying, the ruling added that the school was “not denied alternate means of engaging in communal prayer.”
“State year-end test results show small fluctuations, with strongest growth in math” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – The percentages of students passing the tests remained overall stable in language arts, math and science. But there was notable improvement among high school students passing the Algebra I end-of-course exam, which is a graduation requirement, and the Algebra II end-of course exam, which lawmakers have slated to eliminate beginning next year. The Algebra I exam has always had high success rates in middle schools, where the students who take the course are advanced. This year, 89 percent of younger children taking the test passed it, up from 88 percent a year ago. The students who remain to take Algebra I in high school have always lagged behind, and this year proved no different. Just 42 percent of high schoolers passed the exam this year. However, that’s up from 36 percent a year earlier, indicating that high schools are working to overcome that gap and improve the course.
“Miami Beach voters will decide whether to limit alcohol sales on Ocean Drive” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald – Following shootings during Memorial Day weekend, Miami Beach commissioners unanimously agreed to let voters decide whether to limit alcohol sales at outdoor venues along Ocean Drive. A question will appear on the November ballot asking voters if the city should adopt an ordinance ending alcohol sales in outdoor venues at 2 a.m.instead of 5 a.m. Indoor establishments that are completely enclosed and located entirely within hotels would be exempt. The vote came after last week’s shootings in South Beach, including the fatal shooting of Miami-Dade resident Ladarian T. Phillips during an argument over a parking space. The violence reignited a debate about the state of the South Beach’s entertainment district.
“Zika concerns arise after heavy rainstorms” via Caitlin Randle of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – … leading to more mosquito spraying in four Broward cities. The county’s mosquito control division will spray portions of Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Sunrise and Lauderhill for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which is the variety known to carry and transmit the Zika virus. The spraying is a preventative measure as there are no active cases of Zika in Broward County. One local case of Zika was reported in August of last year.
— WHAT MANY PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT FLOODING IN SOUTH FLORIDA —
As South Florida experienced torrential rain this week, with more to come, many communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee watched the big lake rise. From drought conditions Last week, the lake was down to 10 feet. Rains pushed that number up to 11.2 feet. That leaves what Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News calls “breathing room” in Lake O.
It’s unlikely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is will open lock gates before lake level reaches 15-foot-6.
“But something else has begun to happen,” Smith writes. “In some easily flooded areas, canals have risen farther above sea level than the lake.”
What the water table shows are inflows to Lake O from the Martin County side — the St. Lucie Canal — because the lake level is lower than the canal water flowing in the from the east.
During periods of discharges, the number would be positive, but because water is actually flowing INTO Lake O, it’s negative.
The point is, many in the media got it wrong. They followed the Sierra Club’s lead, claiming – as they did in an NBC2 story – farmers were back pumping polluted stormwater into the lake to save flooded crops.
As Smith notes: Farmers have no say in the decision to back pump; they have no authority to turn on the pumps themselves and the South Florida Water Management District, which is in charge of flood control, isn’t concerned with keeping agricultural fields dry — they back pump when communities south of Lake Okeechobee — and the people in them — are flooded.
— DENISE GRIMSLEY TOPS $875K IN BID FOR AG. COMMISSIONER —
Sen. Denise Grimsley has more than $800,000 for her bid to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Grimsley’s campaign announced it raised a total of $71,000 in the days following the end of the regular 2017 Legislative Session through May 31. That brings her total raised to $875,000 — $386,600 for her official campaign and $488,500 for Saving Florida’s Heartland, her political committee.
“I am honored by the support our campaign has received from Floridians all over the state. We are working hard every day talking to voters about the vital importance of agriculture to our state’s economic health and the need for continued conservative leadership from our next Commissioner,” she said in a statement.
“With over two million Florida agriculture-related jobs, we need a proven fighter to carry the Republican banner next November and hold this seat,” she continued. “With over 600 donors and more joining our campaign every day, our message of supporting farmers and ranchers, defending our Second Amendment rights, and fighting to protect families and seniors is resonating with Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys.”
Grimsley faces Rep. Matt Caldwell and Paul Paulson in the Republican race to replace Putnam, who can’t run again because of term limits.
— MORE NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“GwenGraham calls for gun safety measures in advance of Pulse anniversary” viaSteven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Graham proposed new gun safety measures in the wake of Monday’s mass shooting outside Orlando and the approaching one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting. “A year after the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history — after the murder of 49 young people — Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature haven’t done a thing to curb gun violence in our state,” she said in a statement. Graham called for comprehensive universal background checks on all gun sales “to stop criminals and terrorists from purchasing guns.” She also proposed: a ban on large-capacity magazines; a requirement that abusers surrender firearms when a protective order is issued against them; and giving law enforcement “the tools they need to prevent those with serious mental illness from purchasing or keeping firearms.”
First on #FlaPol – “Baxter Troutman entering competitive Ag. Commissioner race” via Bill Rufty of SaintPetersBlog — The grandson of the late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Troutman will enter the competitive race to succeedPutnam. “I will file either Friday or Monday at the latest,” Troutman said. “This isn’t a decision I came to lightly and it isn’t a step to advance to a higher position up the career ladder.”
Assignment editors: Jeremy Ring is scheduled to address annual convention of the Florida Professional Firefighters at 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts in Sarasota.
“Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell weighing bid for Carlos Curbelo’s seat” viaAlex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016, was in Washington on Thursday to meet with party leaders and members of Congress. “I met with various members of Congress who are extremely concerned about the direction our country is in, they are encouraging me to take a serious look at it,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “One of the reasons I’m considering it is that I’m fully committed to the people in the district. The horrible healthcare vote that Curbelo took a few weeks ago shows that they don’t have a member in Congress. He doesn’t represent the district.” Mucarsel-Powell met with Florida Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel along with Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell and Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark.
Equality Florida backs Annette Taddeo in SD 40 — Equality Florida Action PAC announced Thursday it was throwing its support behind Taddeo, a Miami-Dade Democrat, in the race to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40. “We are proud to endorse a true champion for equality in Senate District 40, replacing one of the most anti-LGBTQ legislators in Florida’s history,” said Hannah Willard, public policy director for Equality Florida. “We are eager to work with our ally and friend Annette Taddeo in Tallahassee, and we know she will tirelessly advocate for the best interest of all her constituents, including LGBTQ Floridians.” Taddeo said she was honored by the early support of Equality Florida Action PAC. “I am a longtime Ally of the LGBTQ community, not only because it’s the right thing to be, but because it’s personal to me,” she said in a statement. “As a teenager, I witnessed the injustices my sister confronted as she came out, and saw some in the family I love be ashamed, more worried about appearances than my sister’s happiness or love. I stood up for her then and will continue fighting for equality until everyone understands that love is love. I look forward to taking this fight to the Florida Senate.”
“Republican attacking opponent for Cuba travel has himself worked with Cuban exporter” viaJerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — Jose Mallea once worked as a lobbyist for (Ariel) Pereda and later chaired a fundraising group founded by the businessman who regularly deals with Havana. Mallea’s work for Pereda was perfectly legal, but it raises a serious question of just how strongly Mallea believes that traveling to Cuba or spending money on the island “feeds the dictatorship.” After all, Pereda’s work has a much bigger impact on the Cuban economy than a 29-year-old who took some engagement photos there.
“Rick Baker raises more than half-a-million dollars in May for mayoral bid” via Florida Politics – After just three weeks on the campaign trail, Baker‘s campaign is reporting that it raised an eye-opening $553,174 in contributions to his campaign and Seamless Florida, an affiliated political committee. Baker’s haul is a record-breaking amount for any campaign during the six elections the city of St. Petersburg has conducted under its current strong-mayor form of government. Baker’s campaign says it received money from 651 contributors, of which nearly half gave $25 of less.
— MOVEMENTS —
“How Brian Ballard is turning close ties to Trump into big business” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Trump pledged to “drain the swamp,” but Ballard is flourishing in a city where access is the ultimate commodity. “It’s luck,” he said in an interview from his new office on a recent afternoon, a Diet Coke before him and the TV tuned to Fox News. … Having already opened offices across Florida, including Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Ballard now is has formed partnerships with firms in New York and Chicago and is exploring Austin and Los Angeles.
Personnel note: Jennifer Hinson joins Rutledge Ecenia – Most recently, Hinson served as Senior Director of Hospital Contracting for WellCare Health Plans, where she had overall responsibility for WellCare’s Florida hospital network. She brings extensive knowledge in health care law and policy through private and public-sector experience. Throughout her career, Hinson has worked on a wide range of issues in health care law, and policy and litigation.
Personnel note: Zoe Linafelt joins Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers – Linafelt leaves Sachs Media Group to become the statewide organization’s communications manager, reporting to Chief Communications Officer Molly Kellogg-Schmauch. Linafelt has over seven years of experience in communications. “We are thrilled to have someone of Zoe’s skill and background join us at FCCC,” Kellogg-Schmauch said. “She brings a wealth of experience in strategic planning, writing and campaign measurement, and will be a strong addition to the team.” Linafelt received her undergraduate degree in English from Florida State University. She is an active member of the Capital Chapter of FPRA, currently serving as the director of membership.
New and renewed lobby registrations: Rebecca Roman, Adams St. Advocates: Unisys Corporation
— WEEKEND TV —
Black Almanac with Dr. Ed Jameson WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: James will discuss “1967 Tampa Race Riots & The Taking of The Central Ave. Community” with documentary filmmaker Travis R. Bell, professor at the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Mass Communications & Marketing.
Facing South Florida with Jim DeFedeon CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include Dr. Susan MacManus, USF professor of Government and International Affairs; reporter Joe Henderson; Democratic National Committee Member Alan Clendenin and Republican Party activist Leonard Mead.
In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion on current and proposed gun legislation with Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood and Pulse nightclub shooting survivor Angel Santiago, Jr.
Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto talks proposed gun legislation and reform introduced in Congress. PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rates a claim about mass shootings and current gun legislation.
Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO: Friday night guests include author and activist Michael Eric Dyson; performer Ice Cube; former NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory; former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly, and Symone Sanders, who served as national press secretary for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
The Usual Suspectson WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will be speaking with Feeding Florida director Robin Safley.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week, Justice speaks with Jacksonville City Council member Danny Becton, Duval County Public School Chair Paula Wright and School Board member Becki Couch. Also appearing is Teri Chenot, associate professor at the Keigwin School of Nursing /Brooks Rehabilitation College of Health Care Sciences at Jacksonville University.
— GRADUATION SEASON MEANS BIG BUCKS FOR AIRBNB —
Floridians traveling for the college graduation took advantage of vacation rental options in a big way, according to new data from Airbnb.
The data showed local Airbnb host communities expanded lodging capacities and offered affordable rental rates for visiting families. The report found guests booking rooms in Airbnb-marketed vacation rental homes more than doubled the Gainesville and Tallahassee around University of Florida and Florida A&M graduations.
“Home sharing provides significant economic value by expanding lodging capacity during commencement weekends for Florida communities that are home to large universities,” Tom Martinelli, policy director of Airbnb Florida, stated in a news release.
“As a Gator alumnus, I can certainly relate to my family having to book Gainesville hotel rooms a year in advance of my graduation, as is the case in college communities throughout the state,” he recalled. “We’re very encouraged to see how our platform has been utilized to provide affordable lodging accommodations for college families during stretches when hotels traditionally reach peak occupancy.”
The report noted 290 Airbnb-marketed vacation rental homes hosted 752 guests during the week of UF’s late April commencement. That’s 136 percent more than rental activity than the previous week.
In Tallahassee, 290 Airbnb vacation rental homes hosted 444 guests during FAMU’s graduation week, a 138 percent increase. The following week they hosted 637 guests for FSU’s commencement week, but since the previous week was FAMU’s graduation, the increase was just 35 percent. Tallahassee also was hosting the last two weeks of the Florida Legislative Session during those weeks.
Jacksonville’s 350 vacation rental home hosts saw 759 guests during the University of North Florida’s graduation in late April, a 59 percent increase over the previous week.
In Pensacola, 230 hosts had 433 guests during University of West Florida’s commencement week in early May, a 43 percent increase over the previous week; while 230 hosts had 433 guests during UWF’s commencement week in early May, a 43 percent increase over the previous week.
— ALOE —
“Man attacked by shark while spearfishing” via Timothy O’Hara of the Florida Keys News – Despite being bit by a shark and treated at the hospital, Key West resident Parker Simpson will return to spearfishing off the Florida Keys as soon as possible. Simpson was spearfishing some 6 miles off Stock Island when he was bit in the leg by a reef shark, Simpson said. Simpson and friends were freediving and shooting fish in roughly 50 feet of water. Simpson lost more than two pints of blood. He later said he spent four hours at a hospital.
Happy birthday to the Ambassador of Tallahassee, Jay Revell. Celebrating this weekend are Nick Iarossi, Amy Farrington, and Mike Fasano.
Among the highlights of the legislation: Increasing production caps from 75,000 to 250,000 gallons; allowing for off-site distribution points; and relaxing limits on how many bottles a consumer could buy in a given year.
More remains to be done, Stevenson told us.
“I had hoped to get the ability for distilleries to have unlimited bottle sales to the end consumer,” the St. Johns Republican said, yet a “compromise of six bottles” was reached.
“I know there was support in the industry and in the House and the Senate for a more robust bill, but going for more placed the entire bill at risk,” Stevenson added.
Shot, chaser: Jax liquor bills signed into law
While Republican Cord Byrd is meeting the wrath of the veto pen, Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis scored two big wins for the city of Jacksonville Tuesday.
Scott signed into law Tuesday two “local bills” regarding alcohol sales and consumption.
Both bills, carried at the request of the Jacksonville City Council, make it easier to drink in public places. One bill: Near the stadium. The other: At smaller restaurants in older neighborhoods.
HB 1291 waives the open container restrictions on alcoholic beverage consumption within and contiguous to the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District, “during 15 designated ‘special events’ and any other event designated as ‘special’ by the City Council.”
HB 1293 creates “special zones” in older neighborhoods with smaller commercial buildings, such as Murray Hill, Springfield and San Marco, to lower the required seating for a restaurant serving liquor from 150 to 100.
New recourse for terror victims
Stronger civil penalties for terrorism in the Sunshine State are imminent, as Gov. Scott signed Rep. Jason Fischer‘s “Civil Remedies for Terrorism” bill into law last Friday.
HB 65 was Fischer’s first bill, filed November.
Previously, under Florida law, there had not been a civil cause of action for terrorism. This bill changes that, allowing a person injured as a victim of terrorism to collect minimum damages of $1,000, along with legal fees, from the assailant or assailants.
Kim Daniels takes ‘glass half-full’ approach to Legislative Session
Though much of the narrative this week has been an evaluation of what Scott’s vetoes mean for local priorities, HD 14 Rep. Kim Daniels is looking at the positive: $1M brought home to the Jacksonville Democrat’s district.
“Despite difficult political circumstances, I am bringing back almost 1 million dollars back to District 14 as a freshman,” Daniels said in a news release this week.
Daniels cites four big approps victories: HB 3307 (Veterans’ Villa Training), HB 3509 (No One Left Behind Initiative), HB 2203 (ShotSpotter Pilot Program), and HB 2869 (Wayman Community Development).
Of those four, ShotSpotter may have been the biggest for Jacksonville; the pilot program will identify where bullets came from in high-crime neighborhoods.
“I am encouraged by these important recent budget developments,” Daniels continued. “My legislative glass is half full, not empty.”
$400K mistake for Cord Byrd?
Every budget process has winners and losers. Reports First Coast Newsthis week, Neptune Beach lost after the gubernatorial veto pen X’d out $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements.
“We’ll keep fighting for it. I think it’s an important and worthwhile project,” said State Rep.Byrd.
“That’s an evacuation route for hurricanes and storms,” Byrd, who initially wanted $950,000, added. “Obviously the beaches where that’s important for people to be able to leave in case there’s a bad storm. But also for general flooding in the area.”
Byrd was on the wrong side of Gov. Scott in the fight for economic incentives during the Legislative Session. One can speculate as to whether or not that was a $400K mistake.
That speculation would only be augmented by another Scott veto Tuesday: a proposed expansion of the purview of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority of Nassau County get the ax.
Scott’s objection was that the bill authorized construction of infrastructure outside of FDOT Work Program’s scope, pushes for infrastructure in Georgia, and allows the Authority the ability to issue bonds.
Lenny Curry wins again
Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton wanted to push a bill mandating extra payments on the city’s pension debt. But Mayor Curry didn’t want it. And the Finance Committee voted it down 4-1.
Becton had hectored, both personally and through proxies, media to cover his grandstand play — but once he got the coverage, the Southside Republican melted in the spotlight.
Red-faced as his bill got shelled in Finance Committee Wednesday, Becton laid into his colleagues before leaving the room.
The bill “made too much common sense” for them to vote for, he said.
Becton, who has been at cross-purposeswith Curry’s office before, started a fight he never had a chance to win, via a poorly-timed bill out of step with legislators.
Visit Jacksonville’s big record-keeping fail
The Jacksonville City Council Auditor stung local tourism agency Visit Jacksonville with an audit this week that showed real issues with record-keeping, as WOKV reports.
“The audit couldn’t find adequate support for $22,474.24 in payroll, because of insufficient documentation on time off requests, pay rates and similar areas. As an example, auditors found 39 payments for cellphone allowances in the time studied, but in 69 percent of those cases, they couldn’t find documents to support the employee was entitled to a cellphone allowance at all,” the WOKV report notes.
And regarding “the organization’s incentives program,” auditors found “payments, but not documents detailing the goals of the program, meaning they couldn’t verify the incentive payouts were proper. “
Other issues: duplicated reimbursements, checks authorized by past members of the board, and timecard management problems.
Visit Jacksonville wasn’t the only audit this week; as we reported, the Police and Fire Pension Fund also got dinged for botched bookkeeping.
Skateboarding is not a crime
This week, Councilman Bill Gulliford quietly withdrew a bill he filed a year ago that would have made skateboarding a crime on certain downtown sidewalks.
Gulliford’s beef: Skaters were destroying property, via sick moves better suited to street skate videos than the public policy sphere.
Gulliford had taken a lot of heat from members of the skateboarding community, as well as from one or two overage hipster types; however, he notes that there has been progress made toward dedicated skate parks downtown and elsewhere in the city, which could at least alleviate the problem.
ShotSpotter on schedule, sez Sheriff’s Office
The city of Jacksonville places a lot of stock in its new ShotSpotter program, and a Sheriff’s Office representative noted that training for officers will start in July, presaging deployment of the anti-gunshot technology before the end of the summer.
The pilot program will encompass 5 square miles in Jacksonville that, despite being a small fraction of the city’s over 800 miles of land mass, account for over 10 percent of gun shots.
ShotSpotter will help with investigations initially but will become part of a more holistic surveillance portfolio.
License plate readers, NIBIN(a federal database that identifies bullets from casings), and ShotSpotter: all parts of a larger JSO strategy to fight old crime patterns with new technology and techniques.
ShotSpotter and NIBIN can be married to video surveillance, leading the JSO rep to observe that “the sky’s the limit as far as the technology goes.”
Now, if they can only compel people to use turn signals in traffic.
CSX gives $84M to Oxygen Tank CEO
Life is good for CSX CEO Hunter Harrison — except for needing an oxygen tank to breathe.
The Jax Daily Recordreports that the shareholders OK’d $84M for the man who came in and gutted much of the company.
Did the shareholders have a choice? The alternative was a hostile takeover.
A CSX VP notes that needing assistance breathing doesn’t slow Harrison down, saying the man in charge “brings a lot of energy from 9 o’clock in the morning to 9 o’clock at night.”
London calling for Jaguars
This week, the Jax Daily Recordbecame the latest local publication to cover the cash cow that London is for the local NFL franchise.
“The reason we’re interested in London is maximizing our local revenue,” Jags’ President Mark Lamping said. “Just maximizing Jacksonville is not going to get where we want to be.”
“Lamping said the Jaguars generated about 15 percent of their local revenue from the London game, although that percentage dropped to 12 percent last year because of a less favorable foreign exchange rate … With the help of the revenue stream from London, the Jaguars’ local revenue rank has increased into the mid-20s among NFL teams,” the Record report continued.
Mark Hulsey replacement named
Disgraced and resigned Judge Mark Hulsey has finally been replaced on the 4th Judicial Circuit Court.
From the Governor’s Office this week: “Eric Roberson, 37, of Jacksonville, is currently a county judge for Duval County. He previously worked in private practice, and as an Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit.”
Roberson’s ASA stint went from 2005 to 2007. From there, he moved onto McGuireWoods, Jason Porter, and then his own firm before becoming a county judge in 2015.
Those familiar with the selection process asserted that Roberson had the inside track all along. Whether that’s the case or not, the rumor mill was accurate in this case.
Armada’s Kevan George called up to national team for big clash versus USA
Jacksonville Armada FC midfielder Kevan George has been called up to the Trinidad and Tobago national team for the 2018 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier against the United States and Costa Rica.
George, who has started all 10 games in the NASL with the Armada FC this season, left to train with the Soca Warriors ahead of the two qualifying matches earlier this week.
Trinidad and Tobago faced the United States Thursday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver. The team will then leave for Costa Rica to play at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica San Jose Tuesday, June 13. Trinidad and Tobago now sit just one point behind the U.S. in the final World Cup qualifying spot from CONCACAF.
The Armada FC vice-captain has appeared in 32 games for the Trinidad and Tobago national soccer team. George’s most recent appearances for Trinidad and Tobago came in March when he was called up to play in two Round Five games of the CONCACAF Qualifying Competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. George started in both games at Hasley Crawford Stadium in Trinidad. The team won 1-0 against Panama March 24, but then lost to Mexico March 28.
George will return to the Jacksonville Armada FC in time for its away match against the Miami FC Saturday, June 17, in Miami.
This week’s biggest news events could have long-term effects
Much has happened since our last publication. While our team took a break, events in Washington and around the world did not.
Tops among the serious events was London suffering yet another terrorist attack (not long after The Delegation publisher and his family had walked on the London Bridge). Also creating a firestorm was Kathy Griffin’s attempt at humor featuring the head of President Donald Trump, and Bill Maher’s use of the n-word during an interview with Republican Senator Ben Sasse.
Dominating this week’s national news is Thursday’s much-anticipated appearance of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Beginning early in the week, breathless cable news outlets ran countdown clocks until the moment Comey would put his right hand in the air and take the oath pledging to tell the truth. Washington bars are open for Comey hearing happy hours.
Comey’s answers will be parsed into succinct messages that both parties will turn into talking points supporting or condemning the president. Democrats want Comey to say Trump obstructed justice while Republicans want him to say whether or not Trump himself is under investigation.
Speaking of the leader of the free world, Trump’s detractors often shake their head at the way he operates, while supporters nod in the affirmative most of the same time (the Twitter missives are beginning to wear thin on conservatives). The president did not disappoint when, on the eve of Comey’s testimony, he chose that moment to nominate Comey’s successor, Christopher A. Wray.
As Comey was testifying on Thursday, across the pond, Great Britain was voting on whether to fire the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Theresa May. Thursday’s elections were called before the recent terror attacks, but they loom as events that could boost the Labour Party’s (progressive) chances for an upset. A Labour victory would affect U.S. and Great Britain foreign policy in a big way.
Whatever happens, Thursday will be a huge news day with long-term ramifications.
Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
Sugar talks might hint at Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation strategy
Florida Crystals sugar barons Alfonso and José Fanjul, who contributed half a million dollars to the Trump inauguration, are hoping the new administration will take on one piece of President Barack Obama’s unfinished business – controlling imports of Mexican sugar.
As the New York Times reports, sugar interests have become a centerpiece of a contentious trade issue between the U.S. and Mexico. With the approaching deadline on a sugar import agreement, many looking at the negotiations for any hints of Washington’s approach to renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“In Mexico everybody is looking at the sugar agreement because it’s a thermometer of how things are going to be managed,” Mexico sugar chamber president Juan Cortina Gallardo told the Times. “It’s a politically sensitive and charged issue.”
The extended battle over a single product raises questions about how NAFTA negotiations could bog down if the Trump administration takes on too much at once. While talks with Mexico and Canada could begin by August, the administration has been silent about its long-term plans.
Airbnb hopes Trump leaves Americans free to travel to Cuba
With President Trump’s policy toward Cuba still unknown, the home-booking website Airbnb is taking pro-active measures to extoll the virtues of traveling to the island nation. Airbnb recently published a report showing Americans are joining other worldwide tourists in finding their way to Cuba in rather large numbers since President Obama began the process of normalizing relations in 2015.
According to the report, more than 560,000 guest arrivals into Cuban homes were recorded since April, 2015, when Airbnb launched in Cuba. Just in 2017, the average number of arrivals totals 70,000.
Over the past 25 months, guests paid more than $40 million to Cuban individuals for home rentals. Any change making travel more difficult would certainly affect the company’s bottom line.
“We’ve spoken with Democrats and Republicans and hope any policy changes support people-to-people diplomacy and the individual Cubans and their families who have been empowered by the chance to earn money and share their space, culture and community with travelers from around the world,” said Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas.
Hurricane season is here
Rubio asks Trump to relax regulations that hinder hurricane relief — With hurricane season officially underway, Sen. Marco Rubio is urging President Trump to make it easier to speed up hurricane relief efforts. Last week he wrote to the president asking for a thorough review of regulations that could be relaxed when disaster strikes in the name of helping victims.
“It is intolerable that in addition to confronting a natural disaster, people also need to navigate a complex web of excessive and overly burdensome federal regulations in the disaster’s wake,” wrote the Florida Republican. “Floridians are eager to see Washington, D.C. refocus and refine the government’s disaster relieve mission to ensure that meeting victims’ needs is always the immediate priority.”
Rubio provided examples including requiring the Veterans Administration “to fully enact the Veterans Choice Program reforms so that veterans living in rural areas” would have full access to medical care. He also mentioned areas where inter-agency cooperation can be improved and stressed the need for temporarily waiving “well-intentioned” rules that hinder relief efforts.
Rubio also asked Trump to “work with my office and the State of Florida” to address “any other regulatory burdens associated with federal disaster relief.”
Ross welcomes hurricane hunters to new home in Lakeland — With hurricane season officially underway, there was no better time for the Republican from Lakeland to welcome the hurricane hunter air operations to his hometown. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Aircraft Operation Center (AOC) facility is now officially a part of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.
Lakeland Linder won out over other suitors, including the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport. Lakeland, behind an aggressive presentation led by airport manager, Gene Conrad, and supported by Ross, was named the winner when NOAA made the final decisionin November.
“It is critically important to stay in our local area,” said Capt. Michael Silah, commanding officer of the air operations section. “They were aggressive and crazy, but they’re our kind of crazy.”
The move was necessitated by the need for NOAA to vacate its former headquarters, a hangar at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The agency was pleased to stay in central Florida.
“I know the men and women of the NOAA Corps and AOC will continue to brace their selfless mission and never hesitate to respond to unforeseen, and often dangerous, events,” Ross said at the ribbon cutting. “You can rest assured that my colleagues and I will fight to ensure you have the necessary tools and resources to conduct your important work.”
Buchanan urges Trump to fill top positions at FEMA, NOAA — The Sarasota Republican is concerned the slow pace of staffing up the Trump Administration could hurt Florida in the near future. With hurricane season officially underway, Rep. Vern Buchanan is most concerned about the lack of leadership in two critical agencies.
“These agencies are critical in keeping Floridians safe,” Buchanan said in a release. “I’m a big proponent of hurricane preparedness and part of being prepared is having key personnel in place. The Trump Administration needs to get their NOAA and FEMA chiefs on the job quickly because we don’t know when the next big storm is going to hit.”
Buchanan reminds that Florida ranks second only behind California for overall risk of natural disasters. That state has 6.7 million homes listed in high or very high risk categories, with Florida leading the nation for homes at risk for hurricane damage.
Both agencies are under interim administrators until replacements are named. Florida’s Craig Fugate led FEMA during the Obama Administration.
Rubio visits Naval Air Station Pensacola
Sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Corry Station got a chance to share lunch with a senator recently.
Sen. Rubio joined enlisted sailors for lunch recently, using the visit as a chance to talk with enlisted military members about the Northwest Florida installation. Rubio met with sailors, and had lunch a group of men and women.
“It was an honor to see these sailors at two of the Navy’s most important installations in Northwest Florida working to ensure our cyber defense capabilities and the future of naval aviation,” said Rubio. “As Florida’s senator, I will continue to support a strong national defense and care for our military personnel and veterans’ communities across the state.”
Located in Escambia County, Naval Air Station Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel. It is home to, among other things, the Naval Aviation Schools Command, Naval Air Training Technical Training Center, and the Blue Angels.
“It was great to spend the day in the Pensacola area to tour NAS Pensacola, the cradle of naval aviation, and Corry Station, the Navy’s premiere cyber and information warfare training center,” said Rubio.
Nelson and Rubio want Cuba to finally pay up for rip offs of Americans
Florida’s senators are joining forces to help force Cuba pay back a nearly 60-year-old debt to Americans. Politico writes Rubio and Nelson “want the Communist government to fork over $8 billion to compensate Americans whose property was ‘stolen’ when the Castro regime nationalized utilities and industries” shortly after the 1959 coup.
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the senators urge the Trump Administration to take action.
“While the Cuban Government has manufactured ridiculous counter-claims to avoid responsibility, we urge you to seek fair compensation on behalf of these Americans as soon as possible,” they wrote.
Those counter-claims include Cuba’s contention the U.S. owes that nation $300 billion from the 56-year trade embargo imposed by the U.S. and the costs of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
A bill in Congress sponsored by Arkansas Republican Congressman Rick Crawford calls for a tax on the sellers of goods to Cuba with proceeds going to those whose assets were taken by the Castro regime. Among those “backing the concept of the bill” is Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, a Cuban-American.
Rubio and Nelson did not speak to Crawford’s bill, but John Kavulich, president of the U.S. Trade and Economic Council, had plenty to say.
“Cuba pays nothing, and it’s a transfer of money within the U.S.,” he said. “These two members of the United States Congress are establishing a treacherous precedent for resolving issues of expropriation not only with the Republic of Cuba, but with other countries which may take similar actions.”
Nelson, most Democrats opposed to Trump air traffic control privatization idea
Florida’s senior senator is not at all enamored with President Trump’s call to privatize air traffic controlin the U.S. At a MondayWhite House event, the president touted the merits of such a change by saying “this new entity will not need taxpayer money, which is very shocking when people hear that.”
“The safety of the flying public should not be for sale,” Nelson said. “Handing air traffic control over to a private entity partly governed by the airlines is both a risk and a liability we can’t afford to take.”
One of Shuster’s committee members, Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson, is also strongly opposed.
“I do not believe that giving the airlines control of the system from which they will benefit economically, complete with the power to institute higher fees and taxes, is the answer,” she said in a statement.
Hutchinson Island Republican Brian Mast, also a committee member, voiced support for the privatization effort. West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel and Winter Garden Republican Daniel Webster also serve on the committee.
— Sen. Rubio and Rep. Francis Rooney at the White House attended a dinner at the White House with President Trump and several other members of Congress. Rooney, a Naples Republican, used the opportunity to stress the need to include Everglades restoration as a key part of any infrastructure package brought forward.
“Everglades restoration is important to not only the State of Florida but also the entire country. Our economy has been decimated, and local businesses have closed. We all have a vested interest,” said Rooney, who also spoke to Trump about his recent visit to Saudi Arabia. “Our mission at the federal level must be to earn the support necessary to secure federal funding already approved through the Water Resource Development Acts (WRDA) of 2007, 2014, 2016.”
Sens. Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton and Todd Young, and Rep. Lee Zeldin also attended the dinner. According to theWhite House pool report, the menu included ten herb ravioli with lemon ricotta and a roasted tomato ragout; American wagyu beef tenderloin with sauce choron, glazed market vegetables and pomme soufflé; and a chocolate candy bar nougat glace for dessert.
— POLITCO reported that Sen. Nelson was one of several people who attended Sen. Al Franken’s book party this week in Georgetown. Also in attendance, according to POLITICO, were Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Maggie Hassan, Richard Blumenthal, and Sheldon Whitehouse; Andrea Mitchell, Kasie Hunt, and Mark Leibovich. Franken’s book “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate” was released May 30.
— Rick Wilson, a Florida media consultant, in a Vanity Fair article about “the #NeverTrumpers still waging war on Twitter.” Here’s how Vanity Fair contributing editor James Wolcott described Wilson: “A Republican political consultant and media strategist based in Florida, where they play extra not-nice, Wilson goes for the jugular and the groin, once describing some Trump supporters as “childless single men who masturbate to anime.”
Paulson’s Principles: Dems face the best congressional prospects ever!
If Democrats do not make substantial congressional gains both nationally and in Florida in 2018, they may never be likely to win back control of congress.
Conditions have seldom been better for Democrats to pickup many seats in Congress, especially in the House. Let me run down the factors favoring Democrats in 2018.
First is President Trump. Presidents can either unify or divide the nation, and Trump clearly falls in the latter category. Yes, he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 when virtually no one thought he had a chance to win. Nevertheless, he has galvanized Democrats unlike any other person or issue.
President Trump’s approval rate has dropped to 34%, historically low for an incoming president. Democrats by the thousands have turned out to protest Trump and his policies.
One of those unpopular policies is the Republican American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the House to “repeal and Replace” Obamacare. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 55% of Americans have a negative view of the AHCA.
Two, President Trump and the AHCA have unified Democrats like never before. Turnout at Republican town halls have been filled with enormous crowds of angry voters. Almost every Republican House member has faced the wrath of large crowds of angry constituents.
In Florida, Republican Congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Brian Mast are just two of the many Republicans to confront voters who promise to oppose them for voting to repeal Obamacare. Over 5,000 individuals RSVP’d to attend Congressman Vern Buchanan’s town hall at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center. 1700 packed the Center and 800 more listened from outside. Another 2,500 were turned away.
Three, because of Trump, the AHCA and angry voters, the genetic ballot leans heavily in favor of Democrats. When asked in the most recent survey which party they would support in the 2018 congressional election, 44% said Democrats and 37% said Republicans. Going into the 2016 election, Democrats led by a single point.
The genetic ballot is one of the best predictors of election outcomes. Controlling for the party that controls the White House, the genetic ballot strongly correlates (+.78) with House election results.
Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight, recently wrote that the current genetic ballot “shows the Democrats in a stronger position at this point in a midterm election cycle than any party without control of the House since 1942.” It is hard to imagine a more positive scenario for Democrats.
Two additional factors favor Democrats. First, by the time the 2018 election occurs, Republicans will have controlled the House for eight years and the Florida delegation for a quarter century. At a time where the public demands change, that’s a long time for any party to have political control.
Second, just as Democrats are united, Republicans are divided by their president and his policies. In many southern states, including Florida, the Republican Party is torn apart by intra-party disputes.
One unknown factor going into the 2018 election is how many Republicans will run for reelection and how many will retire. If many Republicans decide to retire, this will greatly benefit the Democrats.
Do Republicans have anything working in their favor? Yes, they are running against Democrats. If the Democratic Party lost the presidency in 2016, in spite of all their advantages and, if the Democrats could only pick up two Senate seats when Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 seats, then we can never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw things up.
Gaetz to host another “Open Gaetz Day”
The Republican from the 1st Congressional District will soon be spending a full day with constituents and community leaders. Gaetz will have the “Open Gaetz Day” on Saturday, June 17 in his hometown of Fort Walton Beach.
The day opens with a town hall at 9:00 a.m. followed by a visit with residents of a center housing retired enlisted military members. Following tours of health care facilities, the day concludes with a military roundtable and an appearance at a constituent information booth at a local Latin festival.
“I always look forward to interacting with my constituents and hearing their comments, concerns and even criticisms,” Gaetz said. “I feel it is very important that as their Congressman I remain accessible and open to listening to their ideas. It should be a great day full of events and I hope to see a lot of people out participating.”
Bilirakis hears plea from conservative groups to block hearing aid regulation
A group of Tea Party organizations are calling for Bilirakis’ support against excessive government regulation over hearing aids.
Elizabeth Warren, working with a handful of Senate Republicans, is writing legislation to create an over-the-counter category of a type hearing aids known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). The hearing aid industry has come out strongly against the bill, as well as more than a dozen Tea Party-aligned organizations such as Frontiers of Freedom, Conservative Leadership PAC, 60 Plus Association, Tea Party Nation and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.
In a letter to Bilirakis, the coalition says PSAPs simply amplify sound; they are not medical hearing aids and should not be regulated as such.
Among the reasons the group chose Bilirakis to garner support – as one of the estimated 30 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, the Tarpon Springs Republican relies on a hearing aid.
This amount is significant because it equals half of an employer’s payroll tax obligation. The tax break is for up to three employees and totaling $100,000 in wages.
“The lingering impact of the Great Recession continues to make it difficult for many small businesses to obtain bank loans in order to grow,” said Crist. “I look forward to working with Congressman Rooney to promote this common-sense, bipartisan effort to help our small businesses grow and improve communities across America.”
“This common-sense bill rewards small business for creating jobs in our communities,” said Rooney. “Promoting local businesses and encouraging job growth is not a partisan issue.”
Buchanan, bipartisan delegation briefed on anti-terror measures in Europe, Africa
The Sarasota Republican and a bipartisan Congressional delegation recently returned from a trip to Europe and the Middle East. Buchanan and the group visited Bahrain, Germany and Kuwait to meet with military leaders, foreign officials and military officers and enlisted personnel.
He met with the Commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain and spent some time with
Florida troops and sailors, including Navy Master Chief Deborah Mack of Sarasota.
“Deborah and the other troops I met with are true patriots who leave family and friends for months on end to fight for our country,” Buchanan said. “It was a privilege to meet service members from Florida and witness firsthand their love of country.”
In Stuttgart, Germany, Buchanan and the group met with Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, head of AFRICOM, for a briefing on terror activity on the African continent. AFRICOM is an arm of the Department of Defense and is responsible for the military relationships with 54 African nations.
“Jihadists in North Africa continue to pose a serious threat to global piece,” Buchanan said. “As we saw with Manchester, Africa remains a hot spot for the recruitment and training of terrorists.”
The remainder of the trip to Germany and to Kuwait involved discussions on intelligence operations, threats posed to NATO and efforts to eradicate ISIS.
DCCC tries to rile up Mast town hall crowd with ad buy
The Hutchinson Island Republican fielded questions from a largely hostile crowd at a Stuart town hall on Monday night. To help ensure passions were inflamed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) “launched a significant digital ad buy” accusing Mast of lying about “his campaign’s use of data from Russian hackers.” The ad came complete with a sinister Vladimir Putin looking over Mast’s right shoulder.
Media estimates pegged the town hall attendance at between 350 to 400. Mast briefly addressed Russia and any possible ties to President Trump, saying he believed the president’s denials and would wait for Congressional investigations and the work of special counsel Robert Mueller. He called any talk of impeachment “irresponsible.”
Health care, specifically Mast’s vote for the American Health Care Act was on the minds of attendees far more than Russia. One said “You’re going to kill me. I’m going to die.”
Another accused Mast of not caring “about the lives of those who would lose their health care.”
Mast had some supporters there as well, but the already agitated, or those inspired by the DCCC, were clearly the noisiest.
Keys activists leave hundreds of ‘coconut telegraphs’ at Curbelo’s office
In a self-described “coconut caravan,” 10 members of the Upper Keys Action Network (UKAN) left about 300 coconuts at the Miami office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
As reported by WLRN’s Holly Pretsky, UKAN was formed after the 2016 election to keep Keys residents politically engaged. The Miami Republican’s district includes the Keys.
The coconuts’ message – calling on Curbelo to hold a town hall in the Keys — were painted with phrases like “Save ACA [the Affordable Care Act],” “country over party,” and “Climate change is real.”
“The overall message is ‘Hey, come to the Keys. Come meet with us. Come hear what your constituents have to say,’” UKAN organizer Lindsey Crews told WLRN. She said this wasn’t the only time coconuts have been used to send a message to elected officials.
Curbelo didn’t see the “telegrams” in person, however, since he is in Washington D.C. this week.
Race to replace Ros-Lethtinen: Fuhrman out, Richardson in
South Miami Democrat Scott Fuhrman announced this week he won’t run for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The Miami Herald reportedFuhram, who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, suspended his campaign. He cited a lack of support from donors as the primary reason for his decision to bow out.
A slew of Democrats have announced they are running for the seat, including state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez. And this week, state Rep. David Richardson formally announced he was running for the seat.
Mary Ellen Klas with the Miami Herald reported the 60-year-old Miami Beach Democrat said the “most important thing is that anyone working in Washington has got to work in a bipartisan way and, for the last five years, I’ve demonstrated I’ve been able to get things done in the minority.”
Ros-Lehtinen announced earlier this year she planned to retire in 2018 at the end of her term.
Murphy cleared of campaign finance violation complaint
The Federal Elections Commission found U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy did not violate campaign finance laws as claimed in a complaint filed against him in 2016, reports Isadora Rangel with TC Palm.
The FEC found “the “the statute of limitations has run on all of the activity at issue and the available record does not support an inference that Ibrahim Al-Rashid made the purported contributions in the names of the alleged conduits,” according to the report.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, filed a complaint against Murphy in 2016. The complaint alleged Al-Rashid, Murphy’s friend, skirted campaign contribution limits by funneling donations through his then-wife, members of his family and other individuals. The donations totaled nearly $30,000.
The complaint came as Murphy, a Treasure Coast Democrat, was running for the U.S. Senate.
Scott, Lenny Curry D.C. bound
Gov. Rick Scott and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry are expected to attend a “listening session” on infrastructure with President Trump on Thursday, reports Alex Leary with the Tampa Bay Times.
Leary reported a White House spokesman said Scott will join several governors and state, local and private sector leaders interested in “working together to improve our nation’s infrastructure.” Leary reported Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge is also expected to attend.
According to A.G. Gancarski with Florida Politics, Curry’s office said the mayor will be participating in meetings “on the Hill and with the administration to discuss Jacksonville needs” during his visit to D.C.
Bondi joins Trump for bill signing
Attorney General Pam Bondi was back in D.C., attending a bill signing ceremony for two bills that aim to help military veterans, law enforcement officers and their families.
Bondi was one of several people who attended a ceremony at the White House recently as President Trump signed the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act of 2017 and the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017.
“These are much needed bills to help those who sacrifice so much to keep us safe, and I am honored to join the President as he signs this important legislation in support of our military and law enforcement heroes,” she said in a statement.
Delegation has made key contributions in Congressional Baseball Game
One night each year, Republicans and Democrats take their rivalries outside the halls of Congress and onto the baseball field. Next week, the annual Congressional Baseball Game is slated for Nationals’ Park in Washington.
The Florida delegation has played some important roles in recent years. Last year, Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney stroked a walk-off singleto give Republicans an 8-7 victory and breaking a losing streak dating back to 2008.
Rooney’s game-winner came off former Congressman Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. As Murphy entered the game in relief, he was greeted with taunts of “MAR-CO, RU-BIO,” (the campaign for Senate was fully underway) from GOP rooters.
The game, began in 1909, benefits Washington, DC charities. Throughout the game’s long history, congresswomen were not in the lineup, but that changed in 1993 when three women, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, broke into the starting lineup. One former congressman, Orlando Republican Lou Frey, was inducted into the Congressional Baseball Game Hall of Fame in 2008.
This year’s game, to be played on June 15, features four Florida Republicans on the roster. In addition to Rooney, Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, and Dennis Ross of Lakeland are set to play. No Florida Democrats will suit up.
After last year’s GOP win, the all-time series is tied with 39 wins each, plus one tie
Like his opponents, he racked up several key endorsements; former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Senate Democratic Leader-designate Jeff Clemens, Sen. Perry Thurston, state Rep. Joe Abruzzo and Palm Beach County Tax Collector for life, Anne Gannon.
“While Mayor Gillum took time off the trail this month for the birth of his third child, we’re confident that we’ll have the resources to compete all across Florida,” said Geoff Burgan, the communications director for Gillum’s campaign. “We’ve raised more than $1 million from more than 7,000 contributors — by far the most in the Governor’s Race.”
We’d be the last people to ding Gillum for spending time with his family after welcoming a new child, but the idea that he “took time off the trail” doesn’t mesh with the flurry of activity coming out of Gillum’s camp.
If you are running a statewide race and against some formidable opponents, you simply cannot let that happen. Florida is a big state and it takes tens of millions of dollars to reach voters.
And with only 14 months until voters actually start casting ballots, every single month is precious. It’s like putting a lot of people on base but having none of them — not one — touch the only base that really matters: home plate.
Gillum’s fond of saying, “Bring it home.” In fact, it is his campaign slogan.