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The text message that almost blew up the 2022 Speaker’s race

An excited text message may have cost state Rep. Paul Renner his shot at the Speakership—or kept it in play, if you believe several freshmen House Republicans.

That same text message, whoops, also may have violated Florida House Republican Caucus rules governing campaigning for leadership positions.

As Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida so capably reported, Renner “held an abrupt meeting of House freshman Republicans Thursday, just 15 minutes before the House was set to take the floor to pass its $81 billion proposed budget.”

The meeting came after at least two separate Wednesday night dinners were held by those opposed to Renner’s bid for Speaker.

What was not clear—at least, before now—is why Renner felt it so necessary to address his colleagues.

The must-read retelling of those events, especially with the damning headline “Renner on ropes…“, almost delivered a fatal blow to the Jacksonville Republican’s bid to lead the Florida House beginning in 2022.

But as it becomes clear what prompted Renner to speak out last Thursday, the shadow race may be in the same position it was a week ago.

“No one is out of it,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, himself a potential contender for House Speaker, when asked if he thought Renner or any other candidate was truly on the ropes.

That’s better than Renner may have expected after the POLITICO story broke, just as many lawmakers were returning home for the Easter holiday.

Renner declined to speak to POLITICO Florida or Florida Politics, but lawmakers and political consultants close to Renner say he was forced to do something after state Rep. Joe Gruters shared with him a text message he received Wednesday evening from fellow Republican Alex Miller.

Miller’s text essentially said that the Speaker’s race is narrowing to a choice between Ralph Massullo and James “J.W.” Grant.

Now was the time for Gruters to join a coalition of freshmen legislators who would not only serve as a block on Renner, but also keep the eventual winner to one of those who joined this eventual ‘Group of 14.’ There are currently 27 freshmen Republicans in the House, so 14 votes are needed to secure the Speakership.

Miller confirms that she did text Gruters Wednesday evening but would not say what she wrote. At least seven members of the freshmen class of House Republicans—representing the Renner camp, the anti-Renner coalition, and those unaffiliated with either faction—confirmed the gist of Miller’s text.

Instead of joining the coalition Miller was describing, Gruters alerted Renner to the movements taking place against him. Gruters would not discuss the content of Miller’s text, nor would he go on the record about what he told Renner.

He did say that whatever actions he took last Wednesday evening and Thursday morning were done so to make sure that the spirit of the rules instituted this year by Speaker Richard Corcoran were adhered to.

The new rules stipulate that members cannot select a leader until after the 2017 Session. Members are not suppose to solicit support for a leadership bid until after June 30.

Supporters of Renner believe that Miller’s text may have violated Republican Caucus guidelines which prohibit soliciting support for a leadership contender. Even some of those opposed to Renner’s bid believe the Miller text message “certainly violated the spirit of the rules,” as one outspoken member of the Wednesday dinner parties conceded.

Miller said whatever she wrote did not violate the rules.

Unfortunately for Renner, the Miller text message has served as a sort of antibody that has infected his leadership bid in ways not originally planned.

Instead of gaining sympathy for being plotted against, the way Renner responded to the situation—by feverishly making the case for his bid at the caucus meeting coordinated by state Rep. Chuck Clemmons—he turned off as many of his colleagues as he rallied.

“It was a gift to him if handled differently,” said one House member who is in the mix for Speaker. “But it wasn’t.”

Then again, the fact that the race has not spiraled away from Renner has to be considered a partial victory. “Everything has settled back down,” said Donalds, who spoke with Florida Politics on Easter Sunday.

“After that POLITICO article came out, a lot of those on the fence got spooked,” said one member who was inclined to join the coalition but has now reverted to a neutral position.

So what happens next?

As Dixon first noted and as FP can report in fuller detail (the complete draft rules can be read below), Massulo and Rep. Mike Grant have been tasked with writing draft rules to guide the class’s decision-making process.

A vote would take place July 1 in a meeting where “no outside communications are allowed until the meeting is adjourned.”

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Corcoran’s office, told Dixon that the freshmen Republicans “are not an official subset of the overall House Republican caucus, so they can do what they want, but that must fall within the caucus rules.”

There are complaints that the freshmen are writing rules that do not conform with current caucus rules—it’s never been clear whether a leader is to be chosen just by their class or by the entire caucus—and could bind future classes to guidelines they may not want in place.

So far,  Corcoran has stayed above the jockeying. But the Speaker is making it clear he’s not pleased with the timing of the drama unfolding.

“Leadership has been very clear: Follow the rules and all members’ focus over the next few weeks should be on fighting to positively impact the lives of the people we represent,” said Corcoran.

Of course, guessing who will be Speaker is the most exciting parlor game in Tallahassee. What makes this game so interesting is how varied the opinions are about how it will turn out.

The last race for Speaker was essentially a binary choice between Eric Eisnaugle and Chris Sprowls. The current situation involves at least seven Republicans who could win the leadership post: Renner, Grant, Donalds, Massullo, Miller, Erin Grall, and Frank White.

Randy Fine has consistently been reported to be in the mix, but at least one dozen freshmen Republicans have told Florida Politics over the last 72 hours that Fine’s chances of winning are very limited. Fine is a brilliant, wildly successful businessman, but he will likely have to content himself with a spoiler role.

Based on the discussions FP has had with members of the freshmen caucus, here is where the race shakes out:

— Renner can count on these definite votes: Clemmons, Randy Payne, and Clay Yarbrough.

— Renner would like to believe he has fellow northeast Florida Republican Jason Fischer in his camp, but there is increasing talk of Fischer being a swing vote, if not a dark horse candidate himself for Speaker.

— Renner’s camp also likes to claim Cyndi Stevenson as one of its supporters, but some of her colleagues say she is part of a block comprised of Grall, Amber Mariano, Miller, and Jackie Toledo. Another Central Florida member, Tom Leek, is also a presumed Renner vote.

— Renner may also receive the support of an ‘old man’s caucus’ comprised of Don Hahnfeldt, Sam Killebrew and Stan McClain.

Gruters, a political animal to his core, is a definite independent. He may like Renner, but he also would support Miller or Mike Grant. He’ll also know when it’s time to cut a deal to join the herd rather than being run over it.

There is a faction of north Florida members who will likely move and vote as a bloc: White, Mel Ponder, Jayer Williamson, and Cord Byrd. The inside joke about three of these members is that their roommate in Tallahassee is Grant. One thing is for certain, come July 1, either White will be a candidate for Speaker or Grant will be, but not both.

Donalds and Bob Rommel are pretty much joined at the hip. Although Donalds is a viable candidate for Speaker, he and Rommel may also be the ultimate swing votes in this contest.

If the Massulo-Grant faction is close to locking up the 14 votes it needs to keep the decision to just that group, Donalds and Rommel may be votes #13 and #14.

In fact, as of Monday morning, one Republican consultant close to House leadership and who has several clients in the freshman class say their phone has blown up all weekend with talk that the Group of 14 is, in fact, close to securing the votes it needs to keep the race to a choice of Massulo or Grant.

If that’s so, someone should make sure Alex Miller does not text anyone about it.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Going in style

“Before we begin with agency business,” Gov. Rick Scott said at this week’s Cabinet meeting, “we have one more person to recognize.”

To his surprise, it was CFO Jeff Atwater, who’s leaving Tallahassee after this Legislative Session to join Florida Atlantic University as VP and CFO

“I don’t see this on the agenda,” Atwater said, laughing. He showed off his new FAU license plate, “Owlin,” after the school’s athletic teams, the Owls.

CFO Atwater, who is leaving to take a job at FAU at the end of session,  said it would have been tough parking next to the university’s president with “a Gator plate on the car, so hopefully this was the right move.”

“Jeff has fought to reduce burdensome regulations, protected families from financial fraud, and has traveled the state – a lot – to return more than $1 billion in unclaimed property to its rightful owners,” Scott said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi added, “You epitomize honesty and ethics, and everything that people want to strive to be.”

And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam reminded the audience Atwater was Senate President during the Great Recession.

“That required character, leadership, and courage,” he said. “It’s easy to make decisions when things are going well, but when things (went) south, he took on some very, very difficult issues and Florida is better for it.”

Putnam then gifted him with an orange juice decanter; Bondi gave him a mug (“you can drink your milk in that”), and Scott presented him with a state flag in a case.

As they lined up for the obligatory photos, Bondi got sentimental.

“We’ll miss you; you’ve been just a joy,” she told him.

The capital city’s band “the Governor & Cabinet” is losing a member, but CFO Atwater indicated they could do a reunion tour. After AG Bondi said the “band is breaking up,” Atwater quickly responded “we can get the band back together again someday.”

“We all started together,” Bondi said—all four of the statewide elected officers were first elected in 2010. “The band is breaking up.”

After the meeting, Atwater told reporters one of his proudest accomplishments was overseeing 70,000 state contracts put online: “There is no secret on how we’re spending the money of the people of Florida.”

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:

Conference bound — The state might be getting closer to a budget deal. The Florida House on Thursday voted 89-26 for an $81 billion budget, after less than an hour debate. Some Democrats said the spending plan directs too much money to charter schools and doesn’t do enough for state workers. The vote came one day after the Senate unanimously approved its budget. There’s plenty of differences in the two plans — including a big gulf when it comes to spending. The Senate proposal is $4 billion more. Lawmakers now have three weeks to hammer out the details. The budget isn’t the only piece of legislation heading to conference, though. The House and Senate officially agreed to a conference committee to hammer out the details of proposed gambling legislation.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Rep. Jeanette Nunez  will serve as one of six members of the House conference. The other House members are Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, who will serve as alternating chair, Mike LaRosa, Larry Metz, Jared Moskowitz, and Joseph Geller. The Senate conference committee is made up of  Sens. Bill Galvano, who will serve as alternating chair, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Oscar Braynon II, Anitere Flores, Travis Hutson and Perry Thurston. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Pucker up — If ever state lawmakers wanted to give federal lawmakers wanted a big kiss, this week might have been it. Gov. Scott announced Wednesday that federal officials approved $1.5 billion in funding through the Low Income Pool program in Florida. The announcement came as the House and Senate were working on their budget proposals, which included cuts to Medicaid that hospitals have said could increase costs to patients. Justin Senior, the head of the Agency for Health Care Administration, said details still need to be finalized for how the state can use the money, but the number is final. He said he expects the state will receive the final terms and conditions early this summer.

Education hopes — Despite opposition from Democrats, the GOP-controlled House passed a proposal to create a privately-run “Schools of Hope” program to combat failing schools throughout the state. The proposal, a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, was approved on a 77-40 vote after more than three hours of debate. The goal is to to provide alternatives to chronically failing schools, often in poor areas. The schools would be within five miles of, or in the zones of, existing traditional public schools that have repeatedly earned low grades under the state’s school grading system. More than 100 schools statewide have been consistently ranked as low performing for more than three years. The bill heads to the Senate, where leaders have said they’re open to any idea that seeks to help students at low-performing schools.

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. called on his Democratic colleagues to “stop passing the blame and look at the solution that’s right in front of you” during debate on the “Schools of Hope” proposal this week. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Lake O plan closer to a-go — The Senate OK’d a proposal this week that would build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to help curb discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. A top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, the bill would create at least 240,000 acre feet of storage and would store about 78 billion gallons of water. It also provides $1.5 million for the project, split between state and federal governments. While the proposal was amended after pushback from the agriculture and sugar industries, both remain hesitant to support the proposal. It could face a steep climb in the House, where leadership is generally opposed to bonding.

Florida is burning — Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency this week as firefighters battled wildfires throughout the state, from the top of Florida near Georgia line to Miami-Dade County. Scott said the proclamation will make it easier for state, regional and local agencies to work together to protect the state’s families, visitors and communities. Wildfires are burning on more than 23,800 acres of land, and Agriculture Commissioner Putnam has called it the most active season since 2011. The largest blaze right know is the Cowbell Fire in Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 8,000 acres just north of Interstate 75.

Dry conditions are contributing to wildfire dangers, but according to the Florida Forest Service there have been more than 240 separate arson wildfires this year.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam asked for the public to help curb the spread of fires by reporting suspicious wildfire activity. Arson wildfires in the state, Putnam said, have increased 70 percent compared to this time last year.

“Wildland arsonists place lives, property and natural resources at risk, and we will not tolerate anyone who purposefully endangers Floridians and our first responders,” he said in a statement. “With the help of Floridians and visitors, we can better protect Florida’s communities and natural landscapes by stopping arsonists in their tracks.”

There were 23 active wildfires in Florida as of Tuesday, when Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to call 911, as well as the department’s arson hotline to report suspected arson or suspicious activities. Folks who report suspected wildlife arson activities should remember not to approach the suspect, and make sure to provide a description of the vehicle and the license plate, the physical description of the suspect, and the location of where the behavior was observed.

“More than 100 wildfires are burning across the state and forecasts predict heightened wildfire danger for the next few months,” said Jim Karels, Florida State Forester. “Citizens and visitors who report suspicious wildfire activity are an invaluable resource as we work together to stop arsonists and keep wildfires at bay.”

The Senate exercised a procedural trick to set up eight House bills for conference committee, including the Schools of Hope measure.

None of the bills had passed in the Senate. So, upon a series of motions by Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, the Senator took up each bill, stripped the language, installed a blank amendment, and sent the bills back to the House.

“We do it that way every single year,” he told reporters. “We had four or five bills that we sent them that they hadn’t passed. They had eight that they sent us. We put them all in a big pot. And now they’ll go into conference and be able to be considered equally.”

Does that process provide for sufficient transparency?

“We require that each conference meeting, there has to be public testimony,” Latvala said. “Obviously, it’s been heard in the House. You know, that’s the system.”

Franklin County has a new Tax Collector.

Gov. Scott appointed Richard Watson, a 69-year-old St. George Island resident, to serve as the Franklin County Tax Collector. Watson will replace James Harris Jr., who resigned April 3.

Watson, according to the Governor’s Office, owns and operates Richard Watson LLC and is a realtor with Century 21 Collins Realty Inc. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas, and has a law degree from Emory University.

“I’m thrilled to be appointed,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat this week. “And I look forward to serving. I enjoy public service. I’m humbled by the confidence the governor has in me.”

Harris was arrested March 31 on a felony charge of having sex with a 17-year-old boy. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Harris resigned on April 3, the same day Scott suspended him from office.

Watson, a longtime lobbyist for the construction industry, was appointed to a term ending Nov. 13, 2018. He plans to run for the office in 2018.

Congratulations, Chief Ted Ross!

The Tice Fire & Rescue chief was named the Florida Fire Marshal of the Year during the 2017 Florida Fire Service Awards ceremony this week. The annual ceremony is hosted to honor those in the fire service community who have shown exceptionalism in their profession.

Ross followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Tice Fire & Rescue District in 1994, where he would serve his community for more than two decades, eventually becoming the district’s fire marshal. He was promoted to district chief in 2013, but petitioned to retain his duties as fire marshal. In an unprecedented move, he was stepped into a hybrid role, serving as both the chief and fire marshal.

CFO Atwater recognized Tice Fire Chief Ted Ross as Florida’s Fire Marshal of the Year.

In 2015, he was instrumental in improving the standing and investigative presence of area fire marshals by campaigning for additional equipment, engaging in educational opportunities and creating a functional consolidation of the fire/arson investigational resources in Lee County.

The other 2017 award winners were: Chief Darrel Donatto with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, who was awarded Fire Chief of the Year; Ryan Gallik with St. Cloud Fire Rescue, who was awarded Career Firefighter of the Year & Fire Service Instructor of the Year; James “David” Dietz with the Florida Forest Service Chipola Forestry Center, who was awarded Forestry Firefighter of the Year; Jackie de la Osa with the North Collier Fire Control & Rescue District, who was awarded Fire Inspector of the Year; Keith Tyson, the vice president of education research and outreach for Florida Cancer Support Network, who was awarded Professional Firefighter of the Year; Brock Dietz with the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office, Tallahassee Field Office, who was awarded the Fire Investigator of the Year; Earl Gray with the Highland Lakes Fire Department, who was awarded Volunteer Firefighter of the Year; Robert Lemons, with the Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services, who was awarded Fire and Life Safety Public Educator of the Year; and Fire Academy of the South at the Florida State College at Jacksonville, which was awarded the Training Center of the Year.

It’s good to be the appropriations chairman.

Sen. Latvala put his clout behind an amendment to declare two forms of cancer occupational hazards for firefighters.

And, guess what? His committee agreed to append the measure to the Senate’s workers’ compensation bill.

“The order on this amendment is wrong,” he told Sen. Anitere Flores, the vice-chair and the co-sponsor of the amendment. “It was your idea — your name should have been first. I’m not exactly sure how that could happen.”

“You’re the chairman,” Flores joked.

Latvala was tired of waiting for the bill to come out of Community Affairs, where Sen. Tom Lee is chairman. The two have tended to clash this session.

“Studies have been done over and over and over,” said Latvala. “And the studies show that firefighters are 50 percent more likely to develop multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than regular folks. And that’s enough for me.”

Bill sponsor Rob Bradley said later that was fine with the amendment.

“That’s an issue that they both are very passionate about. I respect that passion,” he said.

The torch is lit, now it’s time to show it off.

Attorney General Bondi kicked off the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run benefitting the Special Olympics this week at the Florida Capitol. Bondi was joined by hundreds of law enforcement officers and supporters, as well as Special Olympics President and CEO Sherry Wheelock.

“Special Olympics Florida is an amazing organization that provides some of the most remarkable people with the opportunity to discover new strengths and skills that will last a lifetime,” said Bondi in a statement. “I want to thank our law enforcement community and all those involved in the Torch Run for supporting these inspiring athletes.”

Eight thousand members of the law enforcement and corrections community will carry the Flame of Hope 1,500 miles throughout Florida to raise awareness about the Special Olympics. They’ll carry the torch to the opening ceremonies of the annual Florida State Summer Games, scheduled for May 19 and May 20 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista.

Broward County Undersheriff Steve Kinsey was blunt when describing why his office broke with the Florida Sheriff’s Association on a bill mandating civil diversion for young people caught in misdemeanors across Florida.

It’s about the bias.

The association wants to leave charging decisions up to officers’ discretion. So did Sen. Jeff Brandes. Sen. David Simmons seemed inclined that way, too.

Sheriff Scott Israel removed deputies’ discretion five years ago, and the system has worked, Kinsey insisted.

“I came up through the ranks — I’ve been in law enforcement for 26 years. Sometimes we see things at a different when we’re higher up,” he said. “By taking that discretion away, we didn’t allow the deputies’ personal biases to get involved in that decision.”

Existing law allows discretion, said Sen. Flores, the bill’s sponsor.

“And how has that discretion manifested itself? It manifests itself very, very differently, not just in different counties but among different people,” she said. “That is a harsh reality that we sometimes do not want to face.”

Kudos, Jason Hutchinson.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer was presented with the Governor’s Medal of Heroism during the Florida Cabinet meeting this week. The presentation came just weeks after Hutchinson was recognized as FWC’s 2017 Officer of the Year for his service and commitment to the safety of Florida’s families.

“Officer Hutchinson’s dedication to conserving resources and public safety makes him an ideal FWC officer,” said Col. Curtis Brown, the director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement, in a statement. “He has made a difference in his patrol area and we’re proud to have him representing the FWC.”

Gov. Scott & the Florida Cabinet recognized Jason Hutchinson for his heroism.

Hutchinson began his career at the Florida Department of Corrections, but became a sworn officer for the FWC in 2012, patrolling Santa Rosa County. Over the past year, he rescued a first-time hunter lost at night in the Escambia River swamp and was instrumental to apprehending one of the most wanted illegal drug distributers in the area. He also developed an officer mentoring program, and works with the community’s youth and civic organizations.

“I’m incredibly proud to recognize Officer Hutchinson with the Medal of Heroism today for his outstanding service to the State of Florida,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “Officer Hutchinson’s actions show how hard Florida’s law enforcement officers work every day to protect our families and communities.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee added language to the civil diversion bill this week that would require the Florida Supreme Court to report to the governor and Legislature every year on how many cases are languishing on its docket for longer than 180 days.

The detailed reports would have to include the court’s reasons for any backlog.

Democrats tend to view the provision as an intrusion on the court. Sen. Oscar Braynon wondered whether it was necessary to append it to the juvenile justice bill.

“We’re at the point in session where different bills may not be fully moving along the process,” said Sen. Flores. “This is an opportunity for several senators’ issues to be brought together for a bill. It’s a good way to have even more support for this very good bill.”

Give these educators a round of applause.

Gov. Scott presented four Florida educators with the Governor’s Shine Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. The award is presented to teachers and administrators who make significant contributions to the field of education, and the educators honored this week were recognized for their commitment to student successes and to furthering their professional skills.

The governor honored Sean Downing, the principal of Osceola Middle School in Okeechobee County; Melissa Garcia, a 10th through 12th grade school counselor at Seminole Ridge Community High School in Palm Beach County; Monica Pool, a literacy coach at South Fork High School in Martin County; and Sandy Waite, a fourth grade teacher at Southside Elementary School in Sarasota County.

“I am proud to present these four educators with the Governor’s Shine Award today and recognize their outstanding efforts to educate Florida’s next generation of leaders,” said Scott in a statement.

The Sunshine State could be among the hardest hit if Congress gets ride of Obamacare regulations to make insurance make health insurance coverage cheaper, according to a new report.

The Century Foundation, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank, found that if Republicans turn over regulations to the states, an estimated 91 million Americans in self-insured employer plans would be impacted. The report found more than 4.8 million Floridians could be at risk of losing essential health benefits if the plan goes forward.

According to the report, allowing states to replace the Affordable Care Act’s “ten essential health benefits with their own menu could return the individual and small group markets to the days when many key services were excluded from many plans.”

The report goes on to say there is a “difference between empowering states to improve their health systems and shifting hard decisions from the nation’s capital to state capitols.”

“The potential House Freedom Caucus amendment may be deregulation disguised as devolution,” it concluded.

Disease prevention non-profit Trust for America’s Health lamented massive cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report put out this week.

The group said $580 million has been cut out of the CDC budget since 2010 and budget sequestration is likely to knock the agency’s funding to 16 percent below 2010 numbers. States aren’t filling in that gap, either.

“It is painfully clear that the decrease in federal spending has not led to higher state spending for public health. Rather, the nation has doubled down on cuts at both levels, leaving us vulnerable to the next public health crisis. Cutting public health programs is shortsighted – and we will all pay the price over time,” said TFAH CEO John Auerbach.

The double down is likely to cost Americans more money in the long run, too.

According to the report, every dollar put toward substance use prevention produces a $34 return, while an investment of $10 per person community prevention programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and reduce tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually – a return of $5.60 per dollar spent.

The number of hospital beds in Florida appears to be on the rise.

A new report for the Florida Hospital Association — prepared by the University of Florida-IFA, Food & Resource Economics Department — found the number of hospital beds increased to 65,637 in 2015. That’s up 1.6 percent from 2013, when there were 64,604 hospital beds in the state.

The increase in beds coincides with a 2.6 percent increase in the number of hospitals operating in Florida in the same time frame. The report found 317 hospitals were located in Florida in 2015, up from 309 hospitals two years earlier.

Full- and part-time employees increased more than 6.8 percent, from 265,853 in 2013 to 284,110 in 2015; while the total employment impact rose to 901,675 in 2015.

To grow the populations, the Florida scrub-jays are getting new digs.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Florida Forest Service, announced this week it had relocated nine Florida scrub-jays Ocala National Forest to Seminole State Forest, about 20 miles away. The goal was to relocate birds from a stable population to areas of restored scrub habitat not yet discovered by the species.

Earlier this year, FWC research biologists relocated nine Florida scrub-jays from Ocala National Forest to Seminole State Forest, located about 20 miles away.

According to the FWC, the birds established new territories in their new homes, and researchers will monitor each population’s progress throughout this year’s breeding season.

The Florida scrub-jay is one of the most imperiled bird species in North America. Most of the remaining populations are small, with less than 25 breeding pairs, and are relatively isolated from each other. Florida scrub-jays are non-migratory, and have difficulty dispersing long distances when their available habitat is fragmented.

Relocation, or translocation, is a strategy used to improve population sizes, increase connectivity among population and preserve genetic diversity of imperiled species.

Steven Cleveland is doing his part to make his community a better place.

Cleveland, the director of the Florida Dream Center Adopt-A-Block program, was awarded with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award during the Florida Cabinet meeting this week.

“Volunteer Florida is honored to recognize Steven for his tireless commitment to Tampa’s underserved families and neighborhoods,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman in a statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to recognize Steven for the countless hours he has spent helping his community.”

The Adopt-A-Block program mobilizes volunteers throughout the Tampa area to distribute food, clothing and household necessities to low-income families and people experiencing homelessness. The program also organizes neighborhood cleanups and gardening projects to help revitalize Tampa’s low-income areas.

Under Cleveland’s leadership, the program mobilized 1,579 volunteers who served more than 5,200 hours of community service, distributed more than 18,940 pounds of food, and completed revitalization programs in the local Lealman neighborhood in 2016. Cleveland is also a member of the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Executive Board of Directors.

A Senate panel took the first step this week toward replacing a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the U.S. Capitol.

The Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill that would replace Smith’s statue in the Washington statuary hall with one of Mary McLeod Bethune, the civil-rights leader and founder of Daytona Beach’s Bethune-Cookman University.

The measure, SB 1360 by Fort Lauderdale Democrat Perry Thurston, passed with little debate, though one Yulee resident spoke out against the plan.

“My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I’m proud of them,” said Seber Newsome III.

The bill needs approval from the Senate Rules Committee before its ready for the chamber floor.

Each state has two slots in the statuary hall, and Florida is represented by Smith and John Gorrie, a 19th-century Apalachicola resident who is regarded as the father of air conditioning.

Telecommunications company Comcast got some praise from Gov. Scott this week for announcing it will add jobs and build a new facility in Miramar.

“I am proud to announce that Comcast will be expanding in Florida and creating 600 new jobs for families in Miramar,” said Scott. “I was also honored to recognize some of the many military members and veterans that have built careers at Comcast thanks to the company’s commitment to hiring our brave service members.”

The new jobs will mostly be in customer service and have a starting wage of $16 an hour. Comcast’s VP of Business Services said the new hires are important to the company’s goal of boosting customer service satisfaction.

The company also reaffirmed their support for National Guard and Reserve employees.

“We recognize that these men and women are invaluable both to our company and to our Nation’s defense,” said Carol Eggert, Comcast VP of military and veteran affairs. “We highly value their skills and are proud to have thousands of members of the military community in all levels of the organization.”

The Department of Opportunity is lining its lawn with pinwheels this month.

The state’s jobs agency planted planted a pinwheel garden this week to raise awareness of child abuse prevention efforts around the state in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Nydia Ntouda, Training/Fundraising Specialist with Prevent Child Abuse Florida; Cissy Proctor, DEO Executive Director; and JoShonda Guerrier, DCF Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare prepare to plant a pinwheel garden in recognition of Florida Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“Our employees are committed to supporting Florida families as they raise children to be successful, happy and healthy,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “At DEO, we work every day to strengthen Florida’s families by helping them get good jobs that provide for their children and support their dreams and goals. As our communities continue to support happy, healthy children, our state will continue to grow and succeed.”

Pinwheels for prevention is a national campaign designed to increase awareness of child abuse efforts. In Florida, the effort is coordinated by Prevent Child Abuse Florida, the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, and the Department of Children and Families.

The shoes of sexual assault survivors will be on display at the Florida Capitol next week.

Hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, more than 750 pairs of shoes worn and submitted by sexual assault survivors of all ages from across Florida — and their accompanying stores — will be on display in the Capitol rotunda from April 19 to April 21. The display honors National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The presentation is backed by Sen. Lauren Book, the founder of Lauren’s Kids, and Rep. Kristin Jacobs, and intended to raise awareness and shatter stigmas surrounding sexual violence.

Thank you for your service.

That was the message Gov. Scott sent this week during a veterans’ event in Bonita Springs this week. The Naples Republican handed out more than 100 Governor’s Veterans Service Medals to Southwest Florida veterans, and recognized three World War II veterans for their service.

Gov. Scott thanked veterans during an event in Bonita Springs this week.

“It’s an honor to recognize these brave men and women for their service to our state and country,” said Scott. “We must take every opportunity to express our gratitude and thank our service members for their courage and sacrifice.”

Scott recognized Tech 4 Thomas Nelson Fagon, who joined the United States Army in 1942 and was deployed to the Philippines in 1945. His service has been recognized with the Good Conduct Medal, the American Theater Campaign Ribbon, and the Victory Medal.

He also presented Shipfitter 1st Class William Logan with a medal. Logan joined the U.S. Navy in 1942, and participated in two North African invasions leading to the severing of German Officer Erwin Rommel’s supply lines, considered a turning point in the war. He also traveled with his battalion to support invasions in Italy and Normandy.

The governor also recognized Staff Sgt. Leon Hesser, who began his service in 1942 with the U.S. Army. During World War II, Hesser supported efforts in the Philippines and the Pacific, and was discharged from Japan in 1946, shortly after the war ended.

Welcome to the council!

The University of Florida Bob Graham Center for Public Service announced Joan Forrest, Pam Iorio, and Chester Spellman accepted invitations to serve three-year terms on the center’s Council of Advisors. The council, which harnesses the expertise of various public and private sector leaders from across the state, provides strategic and programmatic direction to the Bob Graham Center.

“The willingness of these three outstanding individuals to serve as advisors for the Bob Graham Center for Public Service says a lot about the work of the center and its students,” said David Colburn, Ph.D., center director and University of Florida Provost Emeritus. “They will provide invaluable advice as the center looks to the future.”

Forrest, a University of Florida graduate, is the president of St. Petersburg’s Dawson Academy, a postgraduate educational and research facility dedicated to the advancement of dentistry.

Iorio is currently the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. She served as Mayor of Tampa from 2003 until 2011, and previously served as the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Election and a Hillsborough County commissioner.

Spellman is the CEO of Volunteer Florida, the governor’s lead agency for volunteerism and service. He also serves as the current chair for Connect Florida, a program of Leadership Florida and as the national chair of the American Association of State Service Commissions.

Three cheers for Nic’s Toggery!

The Tallahassee establishment was recognized this week with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award during the Florida Cabinet meeting this week. The capital city menswear specialty store was established by Nic Gavalas in 1950, and now has three locations and 15 employees.

Gov. Scott awarded Nic’s Toggery with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.

 “My brothers and I are proud to continue our father’s small business and fulfill his dream of the Southeast region with the finest quality of clothing,” said Victor Gavalas, president of Nic’s Toggery, in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful for our success, and we look forward to growing in Tallahassee and throughout Florida for generations to come.”

Palm Beach State College got a big gift from their partners in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The state college received nearly $100,000 from its partners, including a $20,000 dump truck from the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, a $25,000 John Deere Stationary Power Unit from the Everglades Farm Equipment, and a $50,000 tractor from Florida Crystals Corp.

The equipment will be used to train students in the College’s Heavy Equipment Mechanics program at the Belle Glade campus. The career certificate program prepares students for good-paying jobs as mechanics or mechanics helpers working on truck, bus and diesel engines, mobile heavy equipment, construction equipment and industrial vehicles.

“These forward-thinking companies share our vision of ensuring that students are highly skilled and job-ready when they graduate,” said PBSC President Ava L. Parker. “Their gifts will enable our students to work on equipment critical to local industries and allow us to do an even better job of providing a quality workforce for the region.”

Serving 48,000 students each year, the college is the largest institute of higher education in Palm Beach County, providing bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, professional certificates, career training and lifelong learning. The state college offers more than 130 programs of study at five campuses strategically located throughout the county.

“Training programs like this one are so valuable for the Glades communities and for agricultural companies and job providers in the EAA,” said Billy Sanchez, assistant vice president of Florida Crystals. “We are delighted to help support Palm Beach State College, because they offer services to enrich the lives of their students and, at the same time, help train the local workforce for the highly skilled jobs offered by local farming companies.”

This hoops lover is going places.

Andres Cardona, the founder and CEO of Elite Basketball Academy in Miami, was presented with the Young Entrepreneur Award during the Florida Cabinet meeting this week. The 23-year-old founded the youth basketball program in 2011, according to the Governor’s Office.

“It’s great to see Florida entrepreneurs follow their dreams of starting a business and make a difference in their community,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “It takes dedication and hard work to start a business, and I look forward to seeing Elite Basketball Academy’s success in Florida.”

The academy, according to its website, aims to “instill everlasting principles in the youths of our community, using basketball as our tool.”

Cardona graduated from Florida International University in 2016 with a bachelor of business administration and finance.

“Elite Basketball Academy is focused on providing youth with everlasting principles in the Miami area,” he said in a statement. “We work hard to develop outstanding citizens. I’m grateful for the success we have seen, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

A proposed sales tax exemption for golf courses would apply to seven at most, all of them in Miami-Dade County.

The suggestion was among the legislative initiatives reviewed by the Revenue Estimating Conference, comprising state government’s top economists.

“One of the criteria was that it had to be a county with more than 2 million people. So that’s only Miami-Dade, so they’re the only ones who could possibly qualify,” said Amy Baker, chief of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

It wasn’t clear how many golf courses the bill would apply to. They need to be publicly owned but operated by contractors, and offer youth education programs.

At least five courses qualify, and maybe as many as seven.

“We have to assume how many have those relationships, how many would continue those relationships.

The conference settled on a cost of $200,000 in the first year, and $210,000 going forward.

The Easter bunny made an early stop in Tallahassee.

Gov. Scott and First Lady Ann Scott hosted the annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Governor’s Mansion on April 8. The first couple hosted the event for children in foster care and adopted services, and military families.

About 200 people attended the event. Guests got to sip lemonade, mingle with the governor and first lady, and even meet the Easter Bunny. According to the Governor’s Office, guests received carrot shaped bags filled with goodies.

If you’re celebrating Easter this weekend, the best place to do it in the Florida might be Orlando.

Why? Well, according to WalletHub the City Beautiful is the 5th Best City in the nation to celebrate Easter.

The number crunchers at the personal finance website compared the 100 largest cities across 11 key metrics, ranging from the number of Easter egg hunts per capita to the weather forecast, to come up with the list of best places to celebrate Easter in 2017. Orlando was the only city in Florida to make the Top 10 list.

The city ranked No. 1 in churches per capita, brunch restaurants per capita, candy and chocolate stores per capita, and flower and gift shops per capita. Orlando ranked 11th for Easter egg hunt events per capita.

It was ranked 27th when it came to the Easter weather forecast; the weather Sunday is supposed to be 84 degrees and partly cloudy. Birmingham, Alabama — where it’s expected to be … 84 degrees and partly cloudy on Sunday — was ranked No. 1 for Easter weather forecast.

According to the report, Tampa was the 16th best city to celebrate Easter, followed by Jacksonville in the 41st spot, Miami in the 69th spot, and St. Petersburg in the 85th spot. Hialeah, according to the report, is the worst place in the country to celebrate Easter.

Mark your calendars, the Florida Folklife Program is set to honor Haiqiong Deng next week.

Deng, the recipient of the 2017 Florida Folk Heritage Award, will be honored at the Florida State University Music Concert featuring FSU Chinese and blues music ensembles at Opperman Music Hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The event is free and open to the public, and recognizes her accomplishments as a traditional Chinese musician and educator.

“We invite the community to take part in celebrating Ms. Deng’s contributions,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “Her dedication and life-long commitment to preserving and promoting Chinese culture and music has contributed deeply to Florida’s cultural heritage.”

Deng, the director of Chinese Music Ensemble at Florida State, has dedicated herself to teaching Chinese music to students since 2001.

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

Florida House should add miraculous LIP funding to its budget numbers

The $4-billion gap between the House and Senate budget plans got a lot smaller this week, courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott’s Low Income Pool (LIP) victory. Scott took a trip to Washington and returned home with $1.5 billion in new health care funding for Floridians.

After refusing the prior administration’s mandate that LIP funds would only flow if Florida expanded Medicaid, Scott and Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) leadership secured a commitment from the Donald Trump administration to finance Florida’s LIP program, which reimburses hospitals for providing charity health care.

Scott has been saying his close relationship with the Trump administration would be good for Florida, and it looks like he delivered.

The cost of Medicaid services is one of the things breaking the bank for Florida, and this renewed pot of money will help the Florida Legislature balance a budget that was struggling under the costs of indigent care.

There’s no question Scott and AHCA deserve credit for working this deal out through stealth negotiations with HHS Secretary Tom Price. Now it’s up to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is not exactly on the best of terms with the Governor, to accept the LIP money as a gift from above and apply it to its intended purpose.

This week the Senate adopted a 2017-18 budget proposal that includes $608 million in LIP funding, even though the deal with the feds hadn’t been announced yet. Call it an act of faith. Corcoran has refused to put any LIP funding into the House budget and has even chastised the Senate for allocating money that didn’t yet exist.

Well, now the money does exist and it is time for the House to step up and take action. Corcoran should announce that the House will add LIP funding to its budget immediately.

Let’s commit to not playing political games with this money. Evenly distribute the LIP funding throughout the state without favoring one region over another, or one type of hospital over another.

The dollar should follow the patient.

When the Senate started crafting a budget that depended on LIP funding, it looked like they were drawing to an inside straight. But sometimes even long shots pay off, and it helps when the governor is friends with the dealer.

It’s time for both sides to take the money with a hearty “thank you,” use it properly and move on to other issues.

Sunburn for 4.14.17 – Happy Easter Weekend

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

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

EASTER AND PASSOVER AS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THESE LOBBYISTS AND POLITICAL ASSOCIATIONS

Grab your bonnet, pull out the seersucker and get ready for a good-old-fashion Easter egg hunt.

Americans are expected to spend about $18.4 billion on Easter this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. That projection is 6 percent higher than last year’s record of $17.3 billion, and marks an all-time high in the 14 years the national organization has conducted the survey.

The increase in spending is likely due to how late the holiday falls on the calendar this year. The springtime celebration is nearly three weeks later than it was in 2016, giving folks essentially an extra month to prepare for the holiday.

According to the survey, about 61 percent of consumers plan to visit family and friends to celebrate the holiday. And since Florida a prime winter location for Northeastern and Midwestern grandparents, you can imagine flights to Florida will be jam-packed this week with children and grandchildren hoping to soak in some rays and spend some quality time with their nonnas and papas.

While folks are looking for good deals on airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, American and Delta to celebrate Easter and Passover with their families, those companies have hired top-notch government affairs teams to look out for their interest during the 2017 Legislative Session.

American Airlines has hired Mike Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, Anita Berry, Matt Blair, and Amanda Stewart with Corcoran & Johnston to work with Dawn White, the company’s in-house lobbyist, on behalf of its interests in front of the Legislature. Delta Air Lines has Nick Iarossi, Andrew Ketchel, Ron LaFace, and Chris Schoonover with Capital City Consulting fighting for its interests this year.

The legacy airlines aren’t the only ones hiring the big-wigs to fight for their rights before the Legislature, so they can help get you to grandmother’s house in time for the Easter Bunny’s arrival.

Southwest Airlines has hired Bill Rubin, Melissa Akeson, Christopher Finkbeiner, and Heather Turnbull with The Rubin Group and Bo Rivard with Harrison Rivard Ducan Buzzett Chtd. to work with Sherri Hull, its in-house lobbyist, during the 2017 Legislative Session. JetBlue has the team of Slater Bayliss, Sarah Busk, Al Cardenas, Christopher Chaney, Justin Day, and Stephen Shiver at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners on its side this year.

Once you’re here, you’ve got to eat. The National Retail Federation survey found 57 percent of consumers said they planned to cook a holiday meal and 17 percent said they planned to go to a restaurant.

Regardless of how you celebrated Passover — which began at sundown on Monday — or will be celebrating Easter on Sunday, it’s likely a trip to Publix was in order for the fixings for your meal. When the Florida-based grocery chain needs a hand in Tallahassee it turns to Charlie DudleyJorge Chamizo, and Teye Reeves with Floridian Partners. The threesome works with the in-house team of Lindsey Napier and Thomas Culligan to advocate for the store in the capital city.

Need a dinner recommendation? Oscar Anderson, David Browning, Christopher Dudley, James McFaddin, and Sydney Ridley might be able to come up with one. The Southern Strategy Group team works with Amanda Conochalla, the in-house lobbyist for Darden Restaurants, to represent the restaurant giant’s interests before the Legislature.

The National Retail Federation Survey found 52 percent of consumers said they planned to go to church on Easter. That’s got to be good news to the Florida Catholic Conference and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This year, the Florida Catholic Conference celebrated its 42nd annual Red Mass on April 5, and Reps. Kathleen Peters and Danny Burgess gave readings. When the bishops need an extra hand in the capital city, they turn to Ingrid Delgado, James Herzog, Michael James McQuone, and Michael Sheedy, the organization’s executive director.

Easter isn’t the only springtime holiday being celebrated this week, though. Passover began at sundown on Monday and memorialize the emancipation of Israelites held captive in Egypt after 400 years, culminating with the Exodus and Covenant of Moses.

Florida lawmakers are known to stand with Israel, and this year is no exception. In March, the House adopted a resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. That U.N resolution, among other things, said Israel’s settlement activities constituted a violation of international law. The House resolution (HR 281) proclaimed the House’s opposition to it, and called for the repeal of the U.N. resolution.

The Senate adopted a similar resolution.

The Florida Association of Jewish Federations has an active presence in Tallahassee, tapping Mario Bailey, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Bernie Friedman, Yolanda Cash Jackson, Nicholas Matthews, and Jeremy Shir with Becker & Poliakoff to help advance its causes in front of the Legislature.

With several threats made against the Jewish community in recent months, you can imagine the Ant-Defamation League is working overtime to combat anti-Semitism. The organization acts as “the 9-1-1 for the Jewish community in Florida” and the ADL Florida Office is on the “frontline of ensuring the safety of the Jewish community” in the state.”

Look for David Barkey, the southeastern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, to be working on behalf of the organization in Tallahassee.

However you celebrate this springtime, take a moment to enjoy the long weekend before the final stretch of session.

Chag pesach, to all! And a very Happy Easter, too.

RETAILERS EXPECT RECORD-SETTING EASTER SPENDING via Florida Politics – A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation is predicting record-setting Easter spending this year with a projected total of $18.4 billion in spending for the Christian holiday. The prime date for Easter this year … will cause a 6 percent hop in spending over last year when shoppers spent $17.3 billion. The per-person average will also jump 4 percent from the previous year to $152. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers will pick up food or candy, while 61 percent plan to pick up gifts, and half say they will buy clothing, up from 45 percent last year. About two out of five shoppers plan to buy flowers, decorations or greeting cards. A little under half of those customers will visit department stores, while about a quarter plan to shop small at a local business. Online shopping is also expected to get a 6 percent bump over last year, when 21 percent of consumers made their purchases from the comfort of their home … Overall, food will make up the biggest piece of the pie with a projected $5.8 billion in spending — and that’s not including the expected $2.6 billion spent on candy. Clothes follow at $3.3 billion, gifts at $2.9 billion, then $1.2 billion in flowers and $1.1 billion on decorations.

HAPPENING TODAY – FARM SHARE HOSTS FOOD DISTRIBUTION EVENT IN QUINCY — The non-profit organization will be distributing food and providing health screenings to residents of Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Jefferson, Franklin and Wakulla counties from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the North Florida Farm Share, 18212 Blue Star Highway, #5 in Quincy. The event is free and open to the public. This year, nearly 40.5 million pounds of food has been made available to families, children, the elderly, the disabled and veterans in Florida through Farm Share distribution programs.

THE LATEST TEST FOR THE WHITE HOUSE? PULLING OFF ITS EASTER EGG ROLL via Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times – “FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near,” said a Twitter post directed at Trump; the first lady, Melania Trump; and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. “Please reach out!” The message came from Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, the company that supplies commemorative wooden eggs for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the 138-year-old celebration that has drawn 35,000 people to the South Lawn in recent years. The staff of the company, based in Buckfield, Maine, wondered whether the Trumps planned to continue distributing the wooden eggs as party favors, or whether they were even going to have a White House Easter egg Roll at all. By early March, the White House announced that the roll was on — Monday, to be exact — and soon followed up with a rush order for the wooden eggs.

WORTH THE CLICK: “John F. Kennedy’s last Easter in Palm Beach” via the Palm Beach Post

PROGRAMMING NOTE: So that the staff of Florida Politics can fully enjoy the Easter holiday, there will be no Sunburn on Monday. We will resume publication on Tuesday. 

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 13; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 20; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 20; MLB All-Star Game – 88; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 141; Election Day 2017 – 206; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 244; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 268.

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AFP-FL RELEASES DIGITAL AD CALLING ON SENATE TO ‘END CORPORATE WELFARE’ via Florida Politics — Americans for Prosperity-Florida is continuing its efforts to try to put an end to economic incentives in Florida. The organization launched a 60-second digital ad campaign Thursday, urging Floridians to “contact (their) legislator and tell them the game’s over: end this corporate welfare.” The release comes one day after the Florida Senate approved its 2017-18 budget, which included money for Enterprise Florida and economic incentive programs. The House budget does not include funding for Enterprise Florida, and the House earlier this year voted to eliminate the agency. “We’re glad that under Speaker Richard Corcoran’s leadership the Florida House is making good stewardship a priority this year so that we can ensure that our hard-earned tax dollars are going to their best possible use,” said Chris Hudson, the state director for AFP-FL, in a statement.

— “Florida Poly cancels contract paid with secret state appropriation” via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News

— “Here are millions in tax cuts that Florida lawmakers are considering. Do any save you money?” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times

FSU RETURNS $200,000 AMID QUESTIONS ABOUT CONTRACT WITH NASSAU COUNTY PROVIDER via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Records from FSU indicate that Fernandina Beach-based Florida Psychological Associates has only screened 358 students through March despite receiving $590,192 in state dollars. Benchmarks in the contract indicate that 3,800 screenings were supposed by be completed by that time. The contract is worth $800,000 to FPA, which set a goal for its first year of screening 4,500 students plus 2,600 adults involved in the court system in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

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HOUSE APPROVES ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ BILL TO SAVE FAILING FLORIDA SCHOOLS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Legislators approved the “Schools of Hope” bill by a vote of 77-40. Democrats unanimously voted against the bill. HB 5105, sponsored by Reps. Chris Latvala and Mike Bileca would speed up the time for school districts to turn around failing schools in Florida. The proposal would also set aside $200 million in startup costs to attract new charter schools for students attending failing schools statewide. The allotted funds would pay for teacher recruitment and extending school days. It would affect 77,000 Florida students stuck in 115 “D” and “F” schools statewide. HB 5105 would … give districts only two years to fix “failure factories.” Members debated the proposal for hours, disagreeing over how effective the bill would be and how much ‘hope’ HB 5105 would actually give to students trapped in failing schools. To opponents of the measure, the proposal was too risky — and the rewards were less than certain.

— “LIBRE Initiative says it supports ‘Schools of Hope’ ” via Florida Politics

HOUSE, SENATE BILLS TO REPEAL PIP CLEAR COMMITTEES DESPITE QUESTIONS, DIFFERENCES via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 8-1 to approve a bill (SB 1766) that would repeal the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, replacing the PIP mandate with a requirement that motorists carry bodily injury protection. The Senate proposal, sponsored by Hillsborough County Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would create a medical payment, or MedPay, coverage mandate of $5,000. That system, according to a staff analysis, would provide “substantially similar coverage to current PIP medical benefits.” That provision is not included in the House proposal (HB 1063) which cleared the House Commerce Committee … That bill, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, also repeals the portion of the state law that requires motorists to obtain and maintain PIP coverage. Like Lee’s proposal, the House bill replaces the PIP mandate with a requirement to purchase bodily injury protection. The bill increases the minimum bodily injury coverage limits to $25,000 of injuries to another person, and $50,000 of injuries for two or  more people.

SENATE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BILL ACQUIRES FIREFIGHTER CANCER AMENDMENT via Florida Politics – The Senate’s workers’ compensation bill moved out of the Appropriations Committee Thursday after picking up an amendment declaring two forms of cancer occupational hazards for Florida’s 40,000 firefighters. The amendment … names multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. … Sen. Jeff Brandes objected that a bill to the same effect has been stuck in the Community Affairs Committee, and that Senate rules would steer the bill back there rather than to the Rules Committee and the floor. … That’s true only for a “substantial change” to a bill,” amendment co-sponsor Jack Latvala said. He’d offered only a small amendment. “I guess we’ll let the Rules chairman make that determination,” he continued.

SENATE VOTES TO CLEAR UP ‘MISTAKES’ IN SELF-DEFENSE LAW FOR HOMEOWNERS via Florida Politics – A bill clarifying that one need not wait to be attacked in one’s home before resorting to defensive force advanced passed the Senate Thursday. CS/CS/SB 1052 would reconcile conflicting statutes involving self-defense, correcting drafting errors muddying the legal situation made in 2014 legislation, bill sponsor David Simmons said. … A provision in existing law says one must wait to be attacked before using force. But other provisions hold that the right of self-defense begins when one “reasonably” believes it is necessary. … “They must actually believe — not only reasonably, but subjectively believe — that their lives are in danger, and they must reasonably act,” Simmons said at one point in the debate. “How much more do you want to impose upon a homeowner?”

PUBLIC-RECORDS EXEMPTION FOR MURDER WITNESSES HEADING TO GOVERNOR via Florida Politics – The Senate met the two-thirds requirement Thursday to send Gov. Rick Scott a bill creating a public-records exemption for identifying information about murder witnesses. The vote was 34-3 to accept the CS/CS/HB 111, the House version of legislation sponsored in the Senate by Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy. Exemptions to Florida’s stringent public-records laws require two-thirds votes in both Houses. The House overwhelmingly approved the measure on March 30. … “It’s long overdue,” Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia said. “Back in our community, the biggest problem we have is that people don’t want to speak up when they see a crime. This bill is going to go a long way to ensure that people’s voices are heard and their identities are kept private.”

SENATORS REVERSE POSITIONS ON TRI-RAIL, PUSH BILL TO LET CONTROVERSIAL CONTRACT STAND via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail. Brandes … sponsored an amendment that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract. Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract. Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things. Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously.

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CHAMBER ANNOUNCES GAMBLING CONFERENCE MEMBERS via Florida Politics – In alphabetical order, they are Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II, House Commerce chair José Félix Díaz, Senate President pro tempore Anitere Flores, Sen. Bill Galvano, House Tourism and Gaming Control Democratic ranking member Joe Geller, Senate Regulated Industries chair Travis Hutson, House Tourism and Gaming Control chair Mike La Rosa, Rep. Larry Metz, House Appropriations Democratic ranking member Jared Moskowitz, Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez, and Sen. Perry Thurston. The conference committee will meet next week to iron out differences between the House and Senate’s competing gambling bills. Both include a renewal of exclusive rights to blackjack for the Seminole Tribe of Florida in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. But the chambers differ in many areas, including whether to allow “designated-player games” that are similar to banked card games, like blackjack.

LEGISLATURE MAKES SLOW PROGRESS ON MEDICAL POT RULES via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Bills in the Senate and House don’t agree on the details of expanding access to the drug, from adding pot distributors to deciding whether doctors can prescribe marijuana to people who haven’t been their patients for at least three months. The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (SB 406) is seen as more permissive and has drawn support from medical marijuana advocates, while the House bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (HB 1397) is widely considered more restrictive and is backed by the Drug Free America Foundation. The Senate measure would eliminate a current requirement that a patient be under a doctor’s care for more than 90 days before being able to get a prescription for marijuana — a restriction that would be kept in place under the House version. The Senate bill would immediately expand the number of licenses issued for marijuana distributors in the state, while the House version would require that 150,000 patients sign up for medical marijuana use before expanding the existing pool of distributors.

PAUL RENNER ON ROPES AS PHANTOM 2022 SPEAKER’S RACE GRINDS ON via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Proposed rules changes, quiet caucus meetings, and a series of Wednesday night dinners around Tallahassee are the latest palpable byproducts of a phantom 2022 speaker’s race that is not supposed to be happening — but is in full swing. It has reached a point where there is potential that Speaker Corcoran “takes a look” to ensure the race is not violating new House Republican caucus rules designed to block speaker’s race jockeying until June 30. … Renner held an abrupt meeting of House freshman Republicans Thursday, just 15 minutes before the House was set to take the floor to pass its $81 billion proposed budget. The Jacksonville Republican wanted to address his colleagues about his speaker’s bid, according to several members who attended the meeting.

SUPREME COURT OKS TAXING SATELLITE TV HIGHER THAN CABLE via Florida PoliticsSatellite-television service can be taxed at a higher rate than cable TV, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday. Satellite companies had challenged the state’s Communications Services Tax (CST), which now taxes cable service at 4.92 percent and satellite at 9.07 percent. Those concerns, led by DirecTV, said that difference was unconstitutional and asked for a refund. But the high court reversed the 1st District Court of Appeal’s 2-1 decision, whose majority said that taxing the two services differently was wrong.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION WILL MEET ON UF’S CAMPUS via Florida Politics – The panel that reviews and suggests rewrites to the state’s governing document will meet in Gainesville on the campus of the University of Florida on Wednesday, April 26 at 5 p.m. The public hearing is at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 3201 Hull Road. The event will also be live-streamed by The Florida Channel on www.TheFloridaChannel.org. Future dates include April 27 in Jacksonville-Duval County; May 3 in Bay County; May 10 in Lee County; and May 17 in Hillsborough County.

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GOOD READ – UNIVERSITIES EYE ONLINE TUITION BEYOND FLORIDA – FINALLY via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida — Public higher education institutions … have struggled for two decades to attract students from other states and countries. Administrators have identified the schools’ limited reputations outside their regions and relatively unattractive tuition policies, as well as other states’ regulatory burdens, as hindrances to their success. …But as the State University System aims to dramatically expand online education over the next several years, administrators are renewing their hopes for gaining national traction. They’re lowering out-of-state tuition and betting on a new national network that allows students to register in online programs across state lines more easily. It’s hardly a new idea: Florida would actually be one of the last states to enter the compact, known as the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, or SARA. Skeptical politicians and policymakers have long questioned whether participating would be cost effective for institutions and expressed hesitance to surrender regulatory discretion over how schools based elsewhere operate here. Despite delays, the Legislature looks likely to pass a bill soon authorizing the Sunshine State to join.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

 Oscar Anderson, Southern Strategy Group: Apple

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Ocean Summit Association, Inc.

Kevin Marino Cabrera, Southern Strategy Group: Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Sportsman’s Land Trust

Timothy Meenan, Sarah Niewold, Joy Ryan, Meenan PA: Agrimed Industries

Jerry Paul, Capitol Energy Florida: Nuvve

Steve Schale, Schale Communications: Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky will continue last week’s discussion with Dr. James on Gov. Rick Scott’s reassignment of cases from 9th Circuit State Attorney Airamis Ayala to 5th Circuit State Attorney Ben King.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include former Republican consultant Mark Proctor, Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith, Manatee County Democratic Party Chair Sheryl Wilson and former Rep. Paula Dockery.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: This week Republican Sens. Dana Young and Jeff Brandes will be interviewed by Al Ruechel, while the Common Ground segment will feature Holly Gregory, Ed Narian, and Chris Ingram discussing the Electoral College and whether the country should switch to a popular vote for the presidency. The PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will tackle House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s claims about a jobs contract with Lockheed Martin.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Former Florida State University President and lawmaker Sandy D’Alemberte joins hosts Steve Vancore and Gary Yordon on this week’s episode.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Congressmen Al Lawson and Ted Yoho will be on the show to talk recess, town halls and Syria. HandsOn Jacksonville CEO LeAnn Daddario will also come by to talk about Florida Volunteer Month.

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

CHEESY MOVIE LOVERS, REJOICE: ‘MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’ RETURNS via Robert Ito of The New York Times – After one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns so far, the series is being revived on Netflix with 14 new 90-minute episodes. Joel Hodgson, the creator of the series and one of its first hosts, who has worked as a magician, ventriloquist, stand-up comic and toy designer over the years, said he can’t quite believe his show has reached the big time. “Our show has never been on prime time, and now it kind of is,” Hodgson said. “We were always on at 2 in the morning on cable, or Saturday mornings. Now people can watch at 7 in the evening, if they want.” Hodgson’s original (and ridiculous) conceit is still intact on “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.” A hapless pilot aboard an orbiting spacecraft (the Satellite of Love) is forced to watch the endless parade of B-movies as part of a diabolical experiment conducted by mad scientists. To keep himself company (and to stave off madness), the pilot creates two robot pals, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, who join him in tossing incredulous zingers at the screen as the movies unspool.

SEAWORLD TO ADD NEW RAPID RIVER RIDE ‘INFINITY FALLS’ via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – … the centerpiece of a new themed rainforest attraction. Infinity Falls is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2018. The ride’s 40-foot drop is the world’s tallest river rapid drop … Inspired by the South American rainforests, riders will rush through the feel of an exhilarating Class IV rapids. Guests will sit atop a family-style raft that will wind through a lush jungle setting. A vertical elevator will lift each raft to the top of the ride. The new ride is just another example of how SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is moving away from animal shows, which have been criticized by animal rights groups for keeping wild animals captive. The company stopped breeding orcas last year and has vowed to focus on education and conservation.

The Delegation for 4.13.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Every four years, Charlie Cook and his Cook Political Report compile the Partisan Voter Index (PVI) for each of the 435 congressional districts. The index takes the presidential popular vote from the 2012 and 2016 elections and uses the average to form the baseline for each party (Democrats 51 percent and Republicans 48 percent). If Hillary Clinton won a district with 59 percent, that district would have a PVI of D+8. If Donald Trump won with 51 percent, the PVI would be R+3.

Here are 5 takeaways from the 2017 Partisan Vote Index:

— We truly are a polarized state and nation. Only 72 districts nationwide have a PVI of between D+5 and R+5. Among Florida’s 27 districts, 24 have PVI scores of +5 or greater. A dozen of the Florida districts have a gap of 10 points or higher. Only Democrats Stephanie Murphy (even) and Charlie Crist (D+2), and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart (R+4) are in partisan swing districts but see number two below.

Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen defy the numbers. The Miami Republicans overcame bad partisan numbers to win swing districts. Curbelo won by 12 points in a district with a PVI score of D+6, the highest deficit of any Republican in Congress. Ros-Lehtinen was next among those known as “Clinton Republicans,” winning despite a D+5 PVI. She overcame Clinton’s 19-point margin over Trump in the 27th District to win by 10, the highest single gap among the Clinton Republicans nationwide.

New data from the Cook Political Report indicates three South Florida Republicans could be facing tough trends in the coming years.

— Trends favoring Democrats in Florida. South Florida’s three Hispanic Republicans are facing tough trends. Ros-Lehtinen’s district trended toward Democrats by 6.2 points over the last four years and represents the 6th greatest swing. Diaz-Balart’s district shifted 5.6 points toward Democrats and was the 10th largest. Curbelo’s district trended 4.5 points toward Democrats and was ranked 25th nationally.

— Redistricting tinkered with PVI in Florida. In 2013, the late Bill Young’s old district was R+1, but that flipped to D+2 for Crist. Gwen Graham beat Steve Southerland in a R+6 District 2 in 2014, but she wisely decided not to run in a new district that was R+18 for Neal Dunn. Daniel Webster fled his old district that was R+6 in 2013, paving the way for Val Demings to win in a new district that was D+11.

— Kansas may have a message for everyone. On Tuesday, Republican Ron Estes won by only 6 points in a special election to fill the 4th District formerly held by now-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The district has a PVI number of R+15. Pompeo won re-election in November by more than 30 points, and Trump won by 27. The GOP ignores something like this or the loud town halls at their peril.

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

Trump’s China summit cost local taxpayers $1.5M — Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said his office spent about $1.5 million to help the Secret Service with security during President Trump’s latest four-day visit to Palm Beach, reports George Bennett with the Palm Beach Post.

That visit included a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese delegation stayed at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, while Trump stayed at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. That led to two presidential security details and two sets of motorcades.

Law enforcement officials also had to deal with as many as 2,000 pro- and anti-Xi demonstrators.

“It was a large operational undertaking…When you’ve got two of the largest leaders of the world in one spot, the security is something you’ve got to pay attention to,” he told the Palm Beach Post.

Bennett reported that, as of Tuesday, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office reported it had spent about $3.5 million since Trump’s victory in November.

Trump spent this past Sunday at what appears to be his favorite course, Trump International Golf Course, in West Palm Beach. It was his 16th visit to a golf course since becoming President and the 10th weekend that he has visited a Trump property since taking office.

If it’s Sunday, that means golf: President Donald Trump hit the links at, where else, Trump International Golf Course in West Palm. Since his inauguration, this is his 16th visit to a golf course.

When will Trump arrive in Palm Beach for Easter? – According to restrictions posted by the Federal Aviation Administration, the president should arrive sometime after 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and leave the area Sunday before 4:30 p.m. The announcement means restrictions will be in place for a security zone covering much of Palm Beach County, extending into Martin and Broward counties. The Palm Beach Post reports the zone “includes two concentric rings of restricted airspace: an inner 10-nautical-mile ring that serves essentially as a no-fly zone, with limited exceptions; and an outer 30-nautical-mile ring with fewer restrictions on activity at airports.”

Bondi, others wait for White House personnel operation to get in gear — Since Trump was sworn in nearly three months ago, many in Florida and around the country have waited for the call to help the 45th President run the government. Pam Bondi is the most well-known Floridian still in limbo, and there seems to be no sign of shifting the process into second gear.

POLITICO reports “hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda.”

Presidents have 553 key appointments which require Senate approval. The president has forwarded 24 nominees, and 22 have been confirmed. By comparison, President Barack Obama had more than twice that number submitted and approved by April 7.

Politico quoted a White House source that used the word “paranoia” in describing the process. With the waterfall of leaks coming from current or outgoing staffers, the Trump team is trying to ensure loyalty among those they bring in.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not mind being quoted when he said “the executive branch is no different than any other branch. It’s a frustration of bureaucracy.”

If a fall guy emerges, expect it to be the head of the Office of Presidential Personnel, Joey DeStefano. Among the adjectives attached to him is “overwhelmed.”

On the other end are hundreds of applicants and hopefuls patiently waiting for their phone to ring. At least Bondi has other things to do in the meantime.

The trouble with Trump’s White House is Donald Trump” — In a recent column for the Daily Beast, Florida’s Rick Wilson makes the argument that problems within the White House aren’t due to staff but to the president himself.

“The cancer in the presidency isn’t his staff — though they reflect his shoddy intellect, his shallow impulsiveness, his loose grasp of reality, and Chinese-menu ideology,” writes Wilson. “The problem is Trump himself, and nothing and no one can change that.”

If Trump opts to keep Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, Wilson says Trump maintains a “poisonous, post-conservative nationalism and thinly-veiled racial and religious animus that helped put him in the Oval Office.” But if he fires him, then Trump should “prepare for war.”

“The information warfare architecture Bannon built with the money of Robert and Rebekah Mercer is already restive and nervous that Trump has been co-opted by (((them))) and lured into being a more conventional president,” writes Wilson. “Since the Trumpbart/Bannon/Mercer propaganda platform helped elect Trump with its lurid “reporting” and its troll army (shoutout to Putin!), it can just as easily be turned against him. Trump’s social media power was always boosted by—if not contingent upon—this system, and the idea of a vengeful Bannon turning those tools against him should keep Donald awake at night.”

Wilson also takes on Trump’s decision to elevate Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, to an increasingly prominent role in the administration, and questions about replacing Reince Priebus, the current chief of staff.

Mar-a-Lago kitchen vexed by health inspectors – From undercooled meat to dangerous fish, the Miami Herald reports on how health inspectors are zinging the kitchen of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Days before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Trump’s Palm Beach private club, Florida restaurant inspectors found potentially dangerous raw fish, citing the club for improper food storage in two broken down coolers.

Records show Inspectors found 13 violations at the club’s kitchen, an all-time high for an institution charging $200,000 in initiation fees. Three violations were marked “high priority” – meaning plates served in the dining room could hold illness-causing bacteria.

Proposed EPA Superfund budget cuts bad news for Florida – Broad domestic cuts in the Trump administration’s preliminary budget, which include the Environmental Protection Agency, will not be good news for Floridians living near several federal Superfund sites, including the former United Metals site in Marianna, the Piper Aircraft site in Vero Beach or the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS).

Ledyard King of the Tallahassee Democrat reports that the toxic contamination at those three sites — among Florida’s 53 active sites — made them part of the federal Superfund program, which the EPA names as some of the nation’s most environmentally hazardous areas.

Trump’s initial 2018 proposal cuts $330 million out of a nearly $1.1 billion Superfund budget – a 30 percent reduction to a program already struggling to keep pace with the increasing number of hazardous environmental hotspots. Superfund sites, such as abandoned industrial sites, city landfills and military depots, are linked to higher rates of cancer risks and other diseases.

Touring Miami affordable housing, Ben Carson gets stuck in an elevator – The U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was visiting Courtside Family Apartments, a complex co-developed by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and his nonprofit AM Affordable Housing, reports The Associated Press. Mourning arrived a few minutes late, so Carson and Miami-Dade County Public Housing Director Michael Liu began the tour without him. They got stuck along with five other people on the way down. The elevator descended safely, but the doors were jammed, so Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews had to pry them open.

Happening Thursday —  Carson continues listening tour in Miami — The part-time Palm Beach County resident is taking part in a national listening tour, which brings him to Miami this week. The tour is meant to give organizations that rely on, and support, public housing a chance to talk directly to Carson about their needs.

Carson will continue his listening tour with stops in Miami on Thursday. He kicked off his day at 12:15 p.m. at the Versailles Restaurant, 3555 SW 8th Street. During that stop, he’ll be joined by Linda McMahon, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Miguel Del Campillo, the president of the Florida Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

Carson then traveled to Villa Aurora, 1398 SW 1st Street, where was joined by Rep. Diaz-Balart.

Carson’s listening tour will continue in Hialeah, where he’ll be joined by Diaz-Balart, Del Campillo, Commissioner Esteban Bovo, and Julio Ponce, the executive director of the Hialeah Housing Authority. The group will hold a forum at 3 p.m. at Hoffman Gardens, 987 West 75th Street.

Carson will wrap up his day at 6:15 p.m. when he delivers the keynote address at the NAACP National Fair Housing Month Conference at the Miami-Dade College North Campus, 11380 NW 27th Avenue.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio get top marks in new survey — A new survey from Morning Consult showed Floridians thought both of the state’s senators were doing a good job when it comes to their work in the nation’s capital.

The survey of 8,793 Florida voters was conducted from January to March. It was part of a nationwide study that evaluated the job performance of the nation’s senators and governors.

According to the survey, Nelson’s approval rating is 53 percent. That’s up ever-so-slightly from September rankings, which showed Nelson had a 52 percent approval rating.

Nelson’s disapproval rating is 26 percent; up 2 points from September when it came in at 24 percent. The survey found 21 percent either didn’t know who Nelson was or didn’t have an opinion of the state’s senior senator.

Rubio saw a big bump since the last survey, according to the Morning Consult survey. The study found 52 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Rubio was doing, a 10-point increase from the September survey.

Also enjoying good news this week: Gov. Scott. The Morning Consult survey showed Scott has a 57 percent approval rating. That’s up 8 points from similar rankings released in September, which showed Scott had a 49 percent approval rating.

CVA calls on Nelson to support VA Accountability First Act of 2017 — Concerned Veterans for America launched a web ad this week urging the Orlando Democrat to support the legislation, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio earlier this year.

The bill, according to GovTrack, would institute necessary reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, by giving the secretary the authority to remove, demote or suspend employees for performance of misconduct. Nelson, according to CVA, supported similar legislation in the past.

“Senator Nelson has supported strong VA accountability measures in the past, and there should be nothing stopping him from doing so now,” said Mark Lucas, the executive director of CVA, in a statement. “The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 will help Secretary Shulkin get rid of the bad VA employees who drive a toxic culture and fail to give our veterans the care they need. Veterans shouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of incompetent or negligent VA employees. We urge the Senate to prioritize sending the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 to President Trump’s desk.”

The ad is part of a six-figure investment the group is making in helping get the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 through the Senate this year. The group is making thousands of phone calls to Senate targets.

The ad targeting Nelson is part of a larger series of 16 other accountability ads the group launched this week. It also launched ads targeting Democrats Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill.

Nelson calls for an end to attacks on climate science — Three years after he held a hearing in Miami Beach to draw attention to climate change, Nelson held a second hearing, this time with his sights set of the Trump administration, reports Jenny Staletovich with the Miami Herald.

Nelson held the hearing in West Palm Beach Monday, just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s so-called “winter White House.” The discussion highlighted a need to free science from politics.

Nelson said he has met with officials in federal agencies who said the administration had banned the term climate change. He said the administration has also proposed scaling back agencies that deal with climate-related issues.

“There are people trying to muzzle scientists. I’ve seen it in Washington. I’ve seen it here in the state of Florida,” he said, according to the Herald’s report.

Rubio calls on Trump to get tough on China — The Miami Republican senator said President Trump needs to be tough on China’s human rights violations in a Wall Street Journal editorial published ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US.

Rubio said issues such as the trade deficit and the plight of manufacturing workers is important, but that “it would be a mistake for the U.S. to view its relationship with China only through the lenses of economics or security.”

The second-term senator wrote that China’s economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, a US ally, and China’s illegitimate actions in the South China Sea should put sanctions are on the negotiating table unless China begins showing restraint.

“China’s authoritarianism, its disregard for the rule of law, and its growing desire to upend rather than support the rules-based international order should give the Trump administration pause about cutting any deals with Beijing,” he said.

Rubio also plugged the hashtag #FreeChinasHeroes, which his Congressional-Executive Commission on China is using to highlight individual prisoners of conscience this week

Senate unanimously passes hate crimes resolution co-sponsored by Rubio — Senators from both side of the aisle, including Florida’s junior senator, joined together sponsor a resolution condemning hate crimes and discrimination. The resolution, which passed unanimously late last week, condemned racial and religion-based crimes that are on the upswing in recent years.

“Embracing diversity of thought and people from different backgrounds has made America a more perfect union,” Rubio said in a news release. “Unfortunately, there are still some individuals who seek to tear our social fabric apart with violent acts and threats fueled by hatred.”

The resolution points out the increased acts of violence against Muslims as well as anti-Semitic acts and threats. Crimes against African-Americans, Hindus and Sikhs are also condemned.

California Democrats Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein co-sponsored the resolution along with Maine Republican Susan Collins.

“In America, no one should live in fear due to their religion, race, or ethnicity,” said Harris, who was the lead senator on the resolution.

Rubio, bipartisan coalition address campus sexual assaults — The Miami Republican has joined with several colleagues from both sides of the aisle to address the ongoing problem of sexual assault on college campuses. The bipartisan group introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act designed to protect students and strengthen accountability and transparency at institutions.

“Sexual assault on college campuses is a crime that too often goes unpunished,” Rubio said in a news release. “We must hold colleges and universities accountable for ensuring the safety and well-being of their students.”

Some of the changes provided in the bill include the way incidents are reported and adds safeguards for both the victims as well as the accused of such incidents. Also included are new standards to the notification process for victims and the accused.

Joining Rubio in sponsoring the legislation are fellow Republicans Dean Heller of Nevada and Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. From the Democrat side are Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Rubio paying ‘a lot’ of attention to Florida –- After facing criticism for lacking focus on Florida, the Tampa Bay Times notes the Miami Republican has been “paying a lot of attention to the state,” meeting with groups in Washington, giving media interviews, speaking at a Vero Beach prayer breakfast and visiting a Plant City strawberry farm. Rubio also booked a Lincoln Day dinner event in Pinellas County for May 19.

“By no means has he given up his national profile,” writes the Times’ Alex Leary, “ensuring he’d be heard in the Syria developments. He continues to tap into a national fundraising base. And he’s eschewing calls to hold a town hall.”

Whatever the case, Leary says it’s “interesting.”

Days until the 2017 election: 208.

Paulson’s Principles: The Florida delegation gets no respect

Florida is the Rodney Dangerfield of congressional delegations: it gets no respect. And, after the 2016 election, it will merit even less respect.

Due to retirements, court-ordered reapportionment which altered the boundaries of 24 of the 27 congressional districts, and several members seeking higher office led to the election of eight new members in the 27 person delegation.

The high turnover is great for those who seek new faces in Congress; it is terrible for Floridians who want their congressional delegation to exercise the clout you would expect to have from the third largest delegation in the nation.

Florida’s congressional delegation has never garnered much respect. Florida is the only one of the ten most populous states never to have a House Speaker, Senate President or House or Senate majority leader. Florida is like the little kid on the beach who keeps getting sand kicked in his face.

As the third most populous state with the third largest congressional delegation, one would expect Florida to have far more political clout. The only House committee chair, Jeff Miller, chair of Veterans Affairs, retired after the 2016 election. Floridians do hold seven subcommittee chairs.

In comparison to Florida, the smaller Texas delegation has seven committee chairs and seven subcommittee chairs. Guess which delegation has more political clout?

So, why has the Florida congressional delegation garnered so little political clout over the decades? Part of it is due to Florida’s rapidly growing population since the end of World War II. Members of Congress consistently face a rapidly changing electorate, making it more difficult to build-up committee seniority. Also, Florida elections have been more competitive than other states, making long tenure more unlikely.

The 2016 election hit no area of Florida harder than Jacksonville. They lost long-time Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Republican, who chaired the important Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government. Crenshaw retired from Congress, while fellow Jacksonville member Corrine Brown, was defeated when her district underwent a massive redrawing due to court action. Brown, elected in 1992, was the ranking Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In addition to the abundance of new faces in Congress, Florida’s political clout has been damaged by House rules changes. The ban on congressional earmarks, long used to secure a compromise on legislation and to award more senior members, was abolished by the Republican Caucus. Congressmen Bill Young, Republican from Pinellas County, was probably most adversely affected by the earmark ban. Young’ name is plastered all over Pinellas County, a testimony to his bringing home federal dollars to his district.

Republicans also imposed a six-year limit on chairing a committee. Although that reform opened up power positions to younger members, it also took power away from more senior members. Both John Mica and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had to give up leadership positions due to the 6-year term limit.

Mica was defeated in 2016 by political newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, and Ros-Lehtinen is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican members of the Florida delegation. The loss of Mica and the jeopardy in which Ros-Lehtinen finds herself is not due solely to the rules changes, but it certainly didn’t help their re-election chances.

AFP launches ad calling on Congress to scrap border adjustment tax — A new ad from Americans for Prosperity is calling on Congress to ax the border adjustment tax provision included in House leadership tax reform proposals.

The organization launched the national, six-figure ad buy Monday. The ad 30-second spots are expected to air on cable news, and encourage the public to call on their lawmakers to scrap the provision.

“Imposing a massive 20-percent import tax is the wrong approach. A border adjustment tax would harm hard working families that deserve relief from the tax code, not a new consumer tax that would drive up the cost of everyday items,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, in a statement. “Congress needs to know this is not the change the American people signed up for. We have a significant opportunity to get the tax system working for every American, but we need to move on from this costly and misguided policy.”

The ad, according to the organization, is the latest in AFP’s effort to oppose the border adjustment tax, and comes on the heels of a new report, which detailed the impact the tax could have on state’s economies

Delegation supports Syrian missile strikes, but offers suggestions going forward — Last week’s U.S. missile strike into Syria was generally supported by the Florida delegation. Democrats spoke of the need for a plan going forward, including gaining Congressional approval for further action, and the need to end rethink the president’s ban on Syrian refugees.

Other Democrats sounded like Kentucky Republican Senator and libertarian Rand Paul in believing last week’s strikes were not lawful. Here is a broad sample from around the state.

“President Trump was fully justified in executing America’s response,” said Shalimar Republican Matt Gaetz. “All precautions were taken to avoid human casualties of any kind. A message has been sent that there will be consequences for such vile acts.”

“Our military leaders acted swiftly and professionally to send a clear message that (Bashar al-Assad’s) disregard for international law and innocent lives will not be tolerated,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. “Finally, to help save lives and enhance our national security, President Trump should rethink his harmful ban on Syrian refugees.”

“The Assad regime has terrorized the Syrian people and, unlike the previous administration, President Trump will not tolerate Assad’s egregious actions,” said Miami Republican Diaz-Balart. “I applaud President Trump for his stance against those who would use these horrifying weapons.”

“It is a sad state of affairs for this nation that Congress has continued to sit idly by while the Executive Branch further engages our military in conflicts overseas without Congressional authorization,” said South Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings. “This dereliction is no fault of President Donald John Trump’s, but does our entire national a disservice.”

“(Thursday) night the United States took appropriate military action to degrade Syria’s ability to launch further chemical weapons attacks,” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn. “The world must unite to show Assad such attacks are intolerable and he will be held accountable.”

“(Thursday) night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered,” said St. Petersburg freshman Democrat Charlie Crist. “Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies.”

“The U.S. strike against a Syrian air base was a measured and appropriate response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons,” said Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan. “I hope the president will now bring together the international community in a unified response against the Syrian government’s unacceptable actions.”

Murphy, Demings back missile strikes but call for long-term solution — Orlando’s two freshmen Democratic U.S. congresswomen both declared their support for President Donald Trump‘s missile strikes on Syria last week, yet expressed a yearning for a long-term solution.

U.S. Reps. Val Demings of Orlando and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park made their statements to the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida during a luncheon update on their first three months in Congress.

Beyond Syria, both expressed desires for bipartisan efforts to address health care by considering improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and both disavowed any overt partisan glee or anger regarding health care bills, Friday’s confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But the most sincere bipartisan overture they each made had to do with their mutual horror over the chemical weapons Syrian President Bashar Assad used on his people this week, and their support for Trump’s missile attack on Assad’s air base Thursday night.

Murphy, a former Defense Department analyst who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, called the attack “singular” and “measured.” Demings, a former Orlando police chief who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, called it “immediate and appropriate.”

“Our national security, the security of our nation, has to be, it must be, our number one concern, and it has to be at the forefront of our minds every day,” Demings said. “We all saw the horrific images in Syria a couple of days ago, of children, women and men who were brutally murdered, led by Assad, a chemical attack against his own people. We all saw the images of the babies.

“I was pleasantly pleased to see the president respond to those images and clearly respond,” Demings said. “I believe the airstrike, 59-missile strike, was immediate and appropriate.”

Murphy noted Tuesday was not the first time Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people.”

NRCC targets Murphy over ACA support — The National Republican Congressional Committee unveiled a digital billboard targeting Murphy in her hometown of Winter Park on Tuesday.

The billboard — located on Fairbanks Avenue — encourages passers-by to tell the Winter Park Democrat “No to Obamacare! No to Single-payer healthcare!”

“Stephanie Murphy supports Obamacare, yet her constituents are suffering under it,” said NRCC Spokesperson Maddie Anderson in a statement. “The voters of Florida’s 7th Congressional District need to know that their representative is a supporter of the failed law, and is doing nothing to fix the problems they are experiencing because of it.”

Webster joins effort to reform federal saltwater fisheries — The Central Florida Republican joined with three other colleagues to address recreational and economic issues surrounding saltwater fishing in the state. Sponsored by Louisiana Republican Garret Graves, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 is designed to improve the public’s access to federal waters, promote conservation and spur economic growth.

“Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World, with recreational fishing supporting more than 128,000 jobs and generating $9.6 billion in economic impact,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.

Among other things, the bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science, and technology to guide decision-making. Joining Graves and Webster in co-sponsoring the bill are Texas Democrat Gene Green and Virginia Republican Rob Wittman.

“On behalf of America’s 11 million saltwater anglers, we thank Congressmen Graves, Green Webster and Wittman for championing this legislation to modernize federal recreational fishing management,” said Jeff Angers, President of the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

Bilirakis opens Wesley Chapel office — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis expanded his footprint this week with the opening of a new district office.

“I’m proud to announce the opening of my new office space in Wesley Chapel. Here, my team and I will be able to better serve the people of central and east Pasco, and ensuring we are accessible to all parts of Florida’s 12th District,” the Republican congressman said. “The Wesley Chapel office is ready to assist you, and I encourage local residents to come by and say hello.”

The Wesley Chapel branch, inside the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce building, is the congressman’s third district office after the New Port Richey and Tarpon Springs locations.

Bilirakis said he would break in the new digs with office hours from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on April 18 and that those interested in swinging by during office hours should call ahead to confirm a time at 727-232-2921.

Save the date – Charlie Crist will be special guest at the Suncoast “Tiger Bay After Hours” event Thursday, April 20, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at The Hangar, 541 First St. SE in St. Petersburg. Admission is free for Tiger Bay members, $10 for guests. RSVP deadline is noon Monday, April 17. Register here.

Ross, Soto visit troops in Middle East – It was part of a five-day trip to Iraq and Kuwait, reports the Ledger of Lakeland, to “visit with active-duty members of the Florida National Guard, learn more on operations in the Middle East and meet with foreign officials.”

“Meeting face to face with members of the Florida National Guard in Kuwait, and being able to shake their hands and thank them for their service in person, was an amazing honor,” Ross said in a statement during his trip home Tuesday. “Our military is the most advanced and well trained the world has ever seen, not just because of the latest in technology and weapons systems, but because of the courageous men and women who volunteer to stand in defense of our country.”

Ross brought with him a “suitcase filled to the brim” with letters from students at from schools in Lakeland, Brandon and Claremont.

Castor leads anniversary celebration for Special Operations Command   The Tampa Democrat joined with some of her colleagues in Congress to honor an elite group of military personnel. On the 30th anniversary of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Castor and other members of the Special Operations Forces Caucus, of which she is co-chair, introduced a resolution celebrating that anniversary.

Special Operations Command, activated on April 16, 1987, is headquartered at MacDill Air Force base in Castor’s district. Special Operations are well-known for their many successes in protecting America’s national security.

“Today, USSOCOM is an agile and effective global force for good,” said Castor in a news release. “We must be vigilant in our support for modernizing our strategic capabilities that will bolster counterterrorism efforts.”

Other co-sponsors of the resolution are California Democrat Scott Peters, Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz, and North Carolina Republican Walter Jones.

“It is my honor to file this resolution to honor our fallen and our active special forces who answer the call to keep America safe,” Castor said.

Buchanan honored by Humane Society — The Humane Society of the United States awarded the Sarasota Republican with its “Legislative Leader” award for his work to protect animals during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Buchanan was honored for his 2016 congressional record, which included support for outlawing horse slaughter, banning cosmetics testing on animals and protecting endangered species.

Rep. Buchanan is presented with the award by Sara Amundson of the Humane Society

“Rep. Buchanan has been a forceful champion for animals again in 2016, as a lead sponsor of the SAFE Act to stop horse slaughter for human consumption and a sponsor of the AWARE Act to bring humane care standards to farm animals used in federal research,” said Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, in a statement. “We are so grateful for his stalwart support and compassion.”

Pacelle also pointed to Buchanan’s work challenging plans for wild horses on federal land, fighting for endangered species, and voting to sustain protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states.

“Safeguarding threatened wildlife and promoting animal welfare should be a nonpartisan issue important to everyone,” said Buchanan in a statement.

T. Rooney advocates earmarks to “make infrastructure A+ again” — The Republican from the 17th District is beginning to push harder for an idea he offered earlier this year to help fund infrastructure projects. This week Rooney sent out a release titled “Rooney to Trump: Let’s Make Infrastructure A+ again.

To get his plan through Congress, he will need to overcome a bad word inside Republican circles: earmarks.

Rooney referred to an op-ed he wrote in February, where he talked about funding projects for water resource development “without increasing our current level of spending by one cent.” To keep this pledge, he offered a “minor amendment (emphasis his) to the earmark moratorium.”

Last month, he wrote to President Trump about the idea and gave a pertinent example of the necessity of repairing the aging Herbert Hoover Dike, which is all that stands between residents and catastrophic flooding from Lake Okeechobee. With the Army Corps of Engineers requesting only “roughly half of the funding required to complete the repairs necessary … the earmark ban prevents me from doing anything about it.”

“Yes, it may be politically risky to suggest that politicians and earmarks should be trusted in a room together again,” he wrote, “but I think it’s riskier to continue the broken status quo for political expediency.”

Mast to hold town hall this weekend — With Congress out of session for two more weeks, legislators will be meeting with constituents in various forms. The freshman Republican will take the plunge for another town hall this Saturday.

Republicans have faced vociferous attendees who are unhappy with various issues, but mostly President Trump and the GOP approach to health care. Despite the failure of the American Health Care Act, Mast is still likely to hear plenty about health care. He will have the opportunity to gauge the voters’ feelings on last week’s missile strikes in Syria as well.

“After nearly a decade of failed foreign policy, a stagnated economy, and partisan dysfunction, we’re past due for real progress to improve the lives of families in our community,” he said in the email invitation to attend.

Joining Mast will be Democratic Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. The town hall is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and will be held at Seminole Ridge High School, 4601 Seminole Pratt Whitney Road in Loxahatchee. Seating is limited.

Happening Thursday: Deutch joins town hall, discusses money in politics – Deutch will take part in a town hall to talk about the Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision. Hosted by Indivisible, the event begins 2 p.m. at the Pride Center at Equality Park, 2040 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Deutch is vice chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force within the Democratic Caucus. He is also the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United with nearly 100 House co-sponsors.

MDB talks air traffic management during stop at Harris Corp — Rep. Diaz-Balart met with Bill Brown, the chairman, president and CEO of Harris Corp. during a visit to the company’s Melbourne headquarters this week.

The Miami Republican toured the company’s Global Innovation Center and the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure Network Operations Center, a facility that carries critical safety-of-flight communications throughout the U.S. airspace. Diaz-Balart is the chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee and sits on the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Diaz-Balart toured Harris Corp. this week.

“For over 35 years, Harris has created and cultivated hundreds of jobs in Florida that provide indispensable support to our nation’s military, airspace, and infrastructure. They produce and maintain cutting-edge systems critical to the safety and security of the national airspace, including vital NextGen telecommunications programs,” said Diaz-Balart. “I enjoyed learning about these systems and their research and development in defense, aviation, and space. I look forward to continue working with them to ensure we sustain advances in infrastructure and aviation and maintain our military superiority.”

Curbelo target of attack ads over attempted Obamacare repeal — Save My Care, a coalition of left-leaning health care advocacy groups fighting to preserve Obamacare, is launching a seven-figure ad buy in seven competitive House districts across the country, including Rep. Curbelo’s, reports Kyle Cheney with POLITICO.

The ad blitz marks one of the first attempts by progressive groups to hit Republicans on their failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and comes as members arrive home for a two-week recess. The advertisement targets Republicans in five districts won by Clinton — Curbelo, Darrell Issa of California, Martha McSally of Arizona, Mike Coffman of Colorado, and David Valadao of California. The ads will also air two districts won by President Trump — Florida’s Brian Mast and New Jersey’s Tom MacArthur.

Cheney also reported pressure on moderate members is also coming from the right, with conservative groups like Heritage Action indicating they intend to have a presence in moderate members’ districts.

Ros-Lehtinen calls on Trump to oust Bannon — The Miami Republican didn’t mince words last week when she said presidential advisor Steve Bannon should be ousted from the White House for un-American views.

“I think it would be welcome news for the nation,” she said on a Miami radio show.

She similarly called Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council earlier this week “welcome news.”

“His views are not in line with our country,” the congresswoman said Friday. “We are an inclusive country that welcomes different points of views. His ties to certain groups are very worrisome.”

Ros-Lehtinen didn’t list any specific policy points where she disagrees with the former Breitbart News executive, but she has been at odds with President Donald Trump’s administration over its deportation and refugee policies as well as its position on transgender restrooms.

DSCC launches Google search ad targeting Rick Scott — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced this week it was launching a six-figure digital ad buy of Google search advertisements highlighting Scott’s support for the American Health Care Act, the failed GOP health care plan.

According to the DSCC, the ads will reach Florida voters who search for information about Scott’s record on health care. The ads will direct individuals a Florida-specific page on the DSCC’s newly expanded health care website, which features video of Scott praising the Republican plan.

“There is nowhere Gov. Scott can travel across the state to escape his support for a toxic Plan that makes older Floridians pay five times more for care, strips coverage from millions and raises costs for middle-class families — all to give another tax break to big insurance companies,” said David Bergstein with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in a statement.

Scott is widely believed to be considering a 2018 U.S. Senate bid.

Scott not giving up on healthcare reform — The Naples Republican said this week he isn’t ready to throw in the towel when it comes to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and doesn’t think Congress should either.

During a stop in Bonita Springs on Monday, Scott said he plans to “do everything (he) can do to make sure we can get something done” on health care. Scott had met several times with President Trump and members of his administration during the effort earlier this year to repeal and replace Obamacare, and even traveled to Jacksonville with Vice President Mike Pence to promote the House proposal. That plan, however, failed to progress when Republicans didn’t have the votes to get it through the House.

While Scott has applauded Trump for moving on to issues like tax and regulatory reform, he has been critical of the decision to move away from health care completely. Earlier this month, he penned an op-ed in USA Today where he said: “failing and then quitting is unacceptable.” He echoed that sentiment this week while speaking to reporters in Bonita Springs, saying Congress “can’t just stop.”

“I’ve been in business all my life. If something doesn’t go right the first time, you just don’t shut down. The fact that they didn’t get it the first time, you can’t just stop,” said Scott. “We’ve got to figure out how everybody has the opportunity to afford high-quality health care, and … I’m going to try and do everything I can to make sure that happens.”

Spotted – At a D.C. fundraiser Monday for Jose Mallea, the former Rubio campaign manager and Jeb Bush adviser running for the Florida House: Olga Arguello, Dane Bahnsen, Allie Brandenburger, Fritz Brogan, Andy Card (Mallea served as his personal aide at the White House) and his wife Rev. Kathleen Card, Ed Cash, Tom DiNanno, Michael Heath, Tom Hoare, John McConnell, Frank Mermoud, Tim Miller, James Norton, as well as several Bush 43 and Jeb! alumni.

Ballard Partners signs its first foreign government as client — The Dominican Republic signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Tallahassee-based firm, reports Megan R. Wilson with The Hill.

The contract doesn’t list specifics about what the firm will be doing for the country, only stating it will provide “various strategic consulting and advocacy services to (the government of the Dominican Republic) in relation to businesses” with the United States.

In February, Brian Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, announced he was opening up a Washington, D.C. outpost of his Florida-based firm. The announcement came just weeks after President Trump, who Ballard supported during the 2016 presidential, was sworn into office.

According to Wilson’s report, Ballard Partners will be responsible for consulting with the Dominican Republic and advocating on its behalf “the situations and matters that (the client) deems necessary and appropriate before the Federal Government of the United States of America.”

Robert Wexler joins Ballard Partners D.C. team — The Florida-based government affairs firm announced Thursday that Wexler, a former congressman, has joined the Washington, D.C. office as senior counsellor.

“Having someone of Robert Wexler’s caliber on our team is a tremendous win for the firm,” said Ballard, president of Ballard Partners, in a statement. “Having worked with numerous governments in Europe, Asia and the Middle East throughout his tenure as U.S. Congressman and advisor to President Barack Obama, Robert’s three decades of political experience will advance our work for international clients. We are pleased to welcome him to our office in the nation’s Capitol.”

Wexler served in Congress from 1997 until 2010, before retiring to serve as president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. He was an advisor on Middle East and Israel issues during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served on the president’s 2012 re-election steering committee.

His extensive foreign policy experience is expected to be put to good use in his role as senior counsellor at Ballard Partners, where he will spearhead the firm’s growing international affairs practice.

Book asks Nelson to protect funding for homeless — Super lobbyist Ron Book is using a letter to Florida’s senior senator to send a political message to the Trump Administration. Book, who is Chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, is raising awareness of proposed budget cuts that could have negative impacts on the area homeless.

The letter to Nelson opened by describing him as a “longtime and passionate supporter of homeless services in Miami-Dade County.” Book methodically pointed out “potential local impacts of the proposed cuts to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)” outlined in the president’s proposed budget.

The timing of the letter was exquisite. It became public before HUD Secretary Carson’s visit to Miami this week.

Book pledged to Nelson that he and his organization would “continue to work cooperatively and collaboratively with you and your office” going forward. The letter was addressed only to Nelson and omitted Rubio, a Miami-Dade resident.

Miami-Dade mayor’s son to join Corey Lewandowski lobby shop – Former Trump consultant Carlos Gimenez Jr.is joining Avenue Strategies, the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager Lewandowski. POLITICO Florida reports that Gimenez, son and namesake of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said he joined the newly founded firm to “focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America.”

 

Two reasons why you have to love the way Richard Corcoran plays the game

Earlier this week I was a little hard on my favorite Speaker of the Florida House, so today I need to butter him up. But he deserves it.

Here’s why. You just have to love the way Richard Corcoran plays the game.

Take for example the comments he made during an interview with the Florida Channel’s “Face to Face” program. As Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times noted, Corcoran casually laughed off predictions of a late-Session meltdown. “The speaker says such talk is cooked up by news outlets and that his talks with the Senate have been amicable.”

Hold on a second there, Mr. Speaker. It was you, while speaking to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club, who said the House was ready for a special session. So don’t blame us in the media for concerns about the 2017 Session coming off the rails.

Here’s another example of the Speaker’s gamesmanship. Today, the Speaker invited U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to address the Florida House. During his speech, Nelson commended Corcoran for his “courageous” work to address the wrong committed decades ago at the Marianaa (Dozier) School for Boys.

As Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida noted on Twitter, the Speaker just invited Nelson — who likely faces a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott in 2018) into the legislative chamber (the House) Scott is feuding with to praise the guy (Corcoran) Scott is at war with.

Man, that’s rich.

But what else can you expect from a master class player like Corcoran?

FDFC silent after lawmakers question All Aboard Florida bonding process

Two Republican lawmakers are still waiting for a response from the Florida Development Finance Corporation about its approval of a $600 million private equity bond application for All Aboard Florida.

The rail project is seeking to provide passenger service from Miami to West Palm Beach and, eventually, service to Orlando.

FDFC approved the issuance of $1.75 billion in bonds for All Aboard Florida back in 2015, but Martin and Indian River counties brought forward a suit alleging that the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

A federal judge agreed and ruled last year that NEPA applied to the project since the federal government would not receive tax payments on the bonds — a subsidy valued at $600 million.

Though All Aboard Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation withdrew the original bond allocation as a result of the ruling, the U.S. DOT went on to provide AAF with a new $600 million bond allocation for the Miami to West Palm Beach phase of the project without restarting the FDFC approval process.

The rail company also filed papers in court indicating it was looking for another $1.15 billion in bonds for the West Palm Beach to Orlando phase.

Miami Sen. Anitere Flores sent a letter to FDFC Director William Spivey in February asking what the FDFC’s role was with the approval of the new bond.

Flores asked, “As the bond issuer to this new $600 million application, did the FDFC take the position that AAF can simply rely upon previous FDFC actions taken with respect to the AAF bonding process?”

“Based on DOT’s recent approval of this $600 million allocation, I am concerned that the FDFC has informally agreed that it can simply transfer its previous actions and approvals to the new application, without any further consideration of the economic and social impacts of the project it would help fund,” she said.

SD 17 Sen. Debbie Mayfield echoed Flores with a letter dated March 30 and asked Spivey weigh in on the bonding process for the new allocation by April 10.

Spivey, nor any other representative of the FDFC, has responded to the questions posed by the two lawmakers.

CARE FL, an organization opposed to the rail line, called the lack of a response from FDFC alarming and said that original allocation was flawed from the start.

(Imagine the man parts it takes for Spivey et. al. to ignore not one, but two state senators. Now, that’s arrogance!)

The group, comprised of HOAs and concerned citizens along the Treasure Coast route of the project, considered last year’s court ruling a big win and take umbrage with AAF and US DOT for what they say is skirting the law on the new bond allocation.

“What is extremely troubling is that the FDFC has yet to respond to concerns from Sens. Flores and Mayfield regarding how a 2015 proceeding to approve bonds can be used to justify approval of a subsequent Nov. 2016 bond issuance,” the group said Wednesday.

After the original bond issuance was withdrawn, US DOT and AAF again sought to dismiss the case. The counties filed opposition motions Jan. 16 and US DOT and AAF filed reply briefs Jan. 31.

With the case fully briefed, both sides are waiting on a final court ruling.

With ‘pre-reveal’ games, it’s déjà vu all over again

Illegal gambling is like cockroaches: You kill one and there are dozens more when it came from.

Back in 2013, a multi-state illegal gambling investigation embarrassed the Legislature, resulted in dozens of arrests and eventually took down a lieutenant governor.

Jennifer Carroll stepped down because, before her election, she provided public-relations representation to the company being investigated. Yup, she was never charged with a crime and yet just the past association cost her the job.

Some weeks later, lawmakers outlawed the strip-mall casinos known as internet cafes. Florida now prohibits any “device or system or network of devices” that plays like a slot machine, which – unless you were a South Florida pari-mutuel or the Seminole Tribe – was already illegal.

That was then.

These days, we have a lone circuit judge in Tallahassee that ruled a game that looks like a slot machine and basically plays like a slot machine isn’t a slot machine under Florida law.

Judge John Cooper, in a case first reported by FloridaPolitics.com reporter Jim Rosica, last month said the entertainment devices (ha!) known as “pre-reveal” games were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.”

Are we the least bit surprised that lawmakers, historically unable to pass the least kind of gambling reform, again let the courts make what’s essentially a major policy decision about betting?

“I see a giant wave coming,” said one unnamed person in Florida’s gambling industry. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.

The judge’s ruling, taken to its logical conclusion, means pre-reveal games will pop up everywhere in the state: restaurants, bars, and probably other places where kids will be exposed to them. I have to think, in some way, that’s worse than giving slots to pari-mutuels in the handful of counties that passed a slots referendum.

Let’s cut to the chase: The House needs to reach a reasonable deal with the Senate to pass a gambling bill and regulate this stuff once and for all. Lawmakers cannot afford to allow for the thousands of pre-reveal games that will enter the state if nothing is done to stop them.

We know the drill. The pre-reveal game manufacturers will hire lobbyists, armed with the Cooper decision, and become a constituency that cannot be stopped if they are not banned this Session.

I won’t mention at length that the state allows “summer jai alai” permits, which turns into card rooms in hotels. And that the state Supreme Court still has not ruled on whether to allow slots in referendum counties.

It’s time for the Legislature to have courage and take action, rather than capitulating its authority to the courts and crafty gambling attorneys.

Reach a deal with the Tribe that limits gambling expansion for 20 years and regulate what we have. If a deal needs to include slots at referendum counties that have passed a referendum, so be it.

That’s still better than ruining the Florida brand by becoming Nevada, with pre-reveal “slots” at every restaurant, bar and gas station.

A dangerous consequence of Florida’s Eyeball Wars; throwing gasoline on the state’s wildfire opioid crisis

It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter.

Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars.

Few can argue the opioid problem has reached epic proportions. The Washington Post is reporting more than 200,000 deaths from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, nearly 600 people died from overdoses in Palm Beach County alone, says the Palm Beach Post.

By 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the legislature had begun actively cracking down on the state’s “pill mills,” helped by the Florida Prescription Drug Diversion and Abuse program, set up by the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, created during the 2012 Legislative Session.

In 2017, a group of state legislators, including Reps. Bob Rommel of Naples, Larry Lee of St. Lucie, Nick Duran of Miami-Dade, and Cary Pigman of Sebring have each filed legislation seeking innovative ways to combat Florida’s mounting opioid crisis.

Despite efforts to fix a problem in one area, Pigman may have open the door for another.

As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, the Avon Park Republican – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida.

Sponsored by Manny Diaz, HB 1037 is a bill that would allow optometrists, who are neither medical doctors nor educated in medical school, the ability to prescribe all manner of narcotics, except Schedule 1. The bill is being aggressively pushed by the Florida Optometric Association, which has assembled a team of a dozen lobbyists to promote HB 1037, including Michael Corcoran, brother of the House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Optometrists claim the expansion of services will allow them to perform intricate, “noninvasive” laser surgery. It has been an argument thoroughly debunked by the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association, which say optometrists do not have nearly the amount of training and expertise necessary to perform such delicate procedures.

There is no such thing as “noninvasive” eye surgery, they point out.

However, the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous.

If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

Such a resolution in the Eyeball Wars would be like throwing gasoline on the raging wildfire of Florida’s opioid crisis.

Professing love for Florida business, Chris King video uses stock footage from LA, Washington

Chris King, the newly announced Democratic candidate for Florida governor, wants to “lift up” homegrown businesses.

Apparently, those homegrown businesses include those in  Los Angeles and Silverdale, Washington.

In a YouTube video posted last week, the Winter Park affordable housing executive offers his vision of the state of Florida politics.

“We need a whole new generation of people to stand up and demand more from our politics,” King says in the nearly four-minute clip “Rise and Lead.”

“I am committed to the success of Florida,” he adds emotionally. “I had a real interest in affordable housing, I saw a huge need in Florida and so our business really was trying to take on that need was trying to go to communities where morale was low … bringing hope and bringing vision.”

Despite presenting a well-produced video, complete with heartfelt testimonials and inspiring words of dedication to the success of Florida business, a closer examination reveals a slightly different reality.

At the 3:08 mark, King’s video uses a few moments of slick B-roll stock footage, each coming from places far from the Sunshine State.

According to Pond5 footage exchange, the clips include “Construction Workers Talking,” produced in Silverdale and “Business People Writing Notes on Wall” coming from Los Angeles.

Would it be out of line to ask a candidate who launched his campaign for governor with a love of Florida business to actually film his first commercial in Florida?

 

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