Peter Archives - Page 4 of 112 - Florida Politics

Sunburn for 4.11.17 – Letting them eat cake; House demand apropos records; Pam Bondi sued; Herald wins two Pulitzers

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

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

DO NOT LET THE PERFECT BE THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD, MR. SPEAKER

If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.

“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.

“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “

That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.

But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.

What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.

Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.

The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.

Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.

None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.

However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.

Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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JOE NEGRON’S LAKE O RESERVOIR PROPOSAL GETS SENATE HEARING WEDNESDAY – Negron’s Everglades reservoir proposal (SB 1) is scheduled for a Senate special order hearing tomorrow, as both the House and Senate hold second readings and amendments on their respective budgets. The House budget is at $81.2 billion, around $4 billion less than the Senate. Both chambers are split on Negron’s Everglades reservoir issue, which now includes deepening 31,000 acres of reservoirs, and only using farmland as needed. The plan has also reduced from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, with Florida bonding for its share. The House version (HB 761) has yet to be heard by a committee. Corcoran, who remains opposed to bonding for the plan, says its chances are improving.

HOUSE, SENATE BUDGETERS DISAGREE ON WHAT EVERGLADES RESTORATION IS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – House members outlined $165.7 million for restoration. That’s $94.9 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP and $32 million for restoration strategies regional water quality plan (line 1594 of HB 5001); $29.9 million goes for Northern Everglades and estuaries (line 1594A). But they also include $5 million for dispersed water storage for the South Florida Water Management District (line 1589) and $3.9 million for agricultural nutrient reduction and water retention projects for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed (1356A). A press release from the Senate says it has $144 million for Everglades restoration, but if they used the more inclusive definition from the House, SB 2500 has $193.6 million; $112 million would go to CERP while the House has $94.9 million. It appears the Senate’s budget does not fully contemplate the Negron water storage bill (SB 10) as line 1595 offers $1 million for the C-51 reservoir. The House budget, of course, has no line for the reservoir.

EDITORIAL: SENATE BUDGET IS AN INVESTMENT IN FLORIDA’S EDUCATION via the South Florida Sun Sentinel ed board – The Senate would increase overall state funding for the universities by $334 million next year, about 12 percent. The House would cut that category by $183 million, almost 7 percent. The Senate also would make the universities accessible to more Floridians by expanding financial aid by $320 million. This total includes a $180 million increase in Bright Futures merit scholarships and a $126 million boost in need-based aid. The House, by contrast, would reduce Bright Futures by more than $11 million, though it would bump up need-based aid by $7 million. Negotiators in the two chambers will need to reconcile these and any other discrepancies before passing a budget and sending it to Gov. Scott‘s desk. But if lawmakers are truly committed to enhancing the quality and competitiveness of the state’s university system — and ultimately the state’s economy — the Senate’s position will prevail. A first-class higher education system is a critical component in attracting more high-wage jobs to Florida.

HOUSE BUDGET LANGUAGE WOULD UNDERMINE FLORIDA LOTTERY CONTRACT via Florida Politics – Pending an appeal of a court order blocking a $700 million Florida Lottery contract, proviso language in the proposed House budget would appear to block officials from attempting to enforce its terms. The language within the budget bill, HB 5100 (see page 329) pertains to a $26.6 million appropriation to operate game terminals. It would forbid officials from paying a vendor to “deploy, utilize, or lease” instant-ticket or full-service vending machines. The document would provide $5 million “only to pay to lease up to a maximum total of 1,500 instant ticket vending machines at a per-machine, per-month rate that must be specified in express terms in a vendor contract.”  A separate $2.9 million line authorizes leasing no more than 500 full-service machines, under a written contract with a vendor. The disputed contract would boost the number of full-service vending machines to 5,000.

DESPITE BIG DOLLARS, HOUSE ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN NOT ATTRACTIVE TO TOP NATIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL FIRMS via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – House Speaker Corcoran wants nonprofits that have operated high-performing charter schools in other states to replicate their success here. To that end, he’s made them an offer: $200 million to cover facilities costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus a wish list of statutory and regulatory changes designed to help them prosper. But it appears they’re not interested. Several of the organizations the Land O’Lakes Republican has mentioned by name or that have appeared in front of House education committees — networks that operate charter schools in New York City, Boston, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, among other locales … they have no plans to open schools in the Sunshine State.

HOUSE DEMANDS FINANCE RECORDS FROM SECRET APPROPRIATIONS via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – Speaker Corcoran wants two companies that received millions in secret appropriations to detail how they spent the taxpayer money. A Fernandina Beach psychological firm run by the friend of a state senator received $1 million in this year’s Florida State University budget with the lawmaker’s helpbut failed to produce the results it promised … An online education company operated from the Miami office of a lobbyist received $2 million in the Florida Polytechnic University budget but served fewer students at a greater cost than a separate program run through the University of Central Florida, the Daily News reported. Corcoran’s letters threatened to make the universities return the money if details aren’t provided by Thursday about how the companies spent the money or if they failed to use it as required.

ANITERE FLORES ATTACKED OVER AOB via Florida Politics – Floridians for Government Accountability is launching a direct mail campaign targeting Sen. Anitere Flores over insurance premiums. The direct mail campaign comes about a week after the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that indicated Flores, the chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, would be to blame if insurance rates increased. “Paying too much for insurance? The Wall Street Journal says Flores is at fault,” reads one side of the mailer.

TRIAL LAWYERS DENOUNCES HOUSE WORKERS’ COMP PACKAGE via Florida Politics – HB 7085 is “a handout to the insurance industry and its big-business allies – one that does little to benefit injured workers or most employers,” the Florida Justice Association said in a written statement. “The plan wipes out countless injured workers’ ability to afford legal help when insurance companies wrongfully deny benefits, without providing other new benefits to offset this added burden,” the organization said. Real reform would allow workers some choice in their doctors, a “mid-level” tier for benefits, competition between insurers on rates, and “reasonable” attorney fees, said Richard Chait, chairman of the workers’ compensation section. “The eventual outcome of the current approach will be that more injured workers will receive inadequate health care treatment to help them recover,” he said.

EVAN JENNE’S ‘TIPPING POINT’: A RUN FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER via Florida PoliticsIt’s tough to be a top Democrat in Florida, but Jenne is going for it. Jenne, of Dania Beach, recently announced his intention to seek the leadership of the House Democrats in 2020-22. In a state where Republicans have controlled the Legislature for the last two decades, “you can’t promise definitively that something will happen,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. That said, he added, “If I say I’m going to do something, you can stick to my word.”

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “As the House is poised to take up its budget proposal this week, please see the updated infographic at … below for the breakdown of legislation that has been placed on the calendar for a hearing in the Florida House through April 11th“:

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 16; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 23; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 23; MLB All-Star Game – 91; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 144; Election Day 2017 – 209; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 247; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 271.

BETSY DEVOS PRAISES THIS VOUCHER-LIKE PROGRAM. HERE’S WHAT IT MEANS FOR SCHOOL REFORM via Emma Brown with the Washington Post — Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice that the Trump administration holds up as a model for the nation. The voucher-like program, the largest of its kind in the country, helps pay tuition for nearly 100,000 students from low-income families. But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools. …Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice, does not seem to be bothered by that complaint. She is driven instead by the faith that children need and deserve alternatives to traditional public schools. … On Thursday, DeVos visited another Florida private school to highlight the program. Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary is “an awesome example of the opportunities provided through the Florida tax-credit scholarship,” DeVos told reporters. She said that the administration is working on how to expand choice nationally and that there is a “possibility” its efforts might be patterned on Florida’s tax-credit program, according to Politico.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: CFO Jeff Atwater will host the traditional “Ringing of the Bell” ceremony, honoring firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, at 8:35 a.m. at the Florida Capitol.

LAWSUIT: PAM BONDI FORCING CONTRIBUTIONS TO UNREGISTERED CHARITIES via Florida Politics – The Attorney General is forcing businesses who settle unfair trade actions with her office to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities, according to a lawsuit filed last week. She also is directing contributions to her Office’s own nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi … The petition says Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse. “Our office has not been served at this point; however, after a preliminary review of the information you provided us, we believe these claims to be without merit,” Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.

STATE, FORMER HEALTH CARE PROVIDER AGREE TO SETTLE SUIT OVER PRISONERS’ UNTREATED HERNIAS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – About 1,800 current and former Florida prison inmates who were denied medical care for hernias will be entitled to divide $1.7 million in damages from a class-action lawsuit under a conditional settlement agreed to by the Department of Corrections and its former prison health care provider, Corizon, and filed in federal court in Tallahassee last week. The suit was brought by the Florida Justice Institute and the Coral Gables law firm of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in September 2015 on behalf of three inmates. It alleged Corizon and the agency violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments by denying the inmates medical care in an effort to save money. The damages will be paid by Corizon, but the settlement agreement also requires the state prison system to adopt a new policy to provide consultations with surgeons for inmates with hernia symptoms in all Florida facilities.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor will plant a pinwheel garden with Department of Economic Opportunity staff to help raise awareness about child abuse prevention in Florida at 3 p.m. at the Caldwell Building Steps, at the intersection of Madison Street and Monroe Street, 107 Madison Street, in Tallahassee.

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS SAYS LACK OF OPENNESS STILL HINDERING CONSTITUTIONAL REWRITE PANEL via Florida PoliticsThe head of the League of Women Voters of Florida said Monday that “a lack of transparency” still plagues the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. In a letter to chairman Carlos Beruff and commissioners, LWVF President Pamela Goodman added concerns over “potential roadblocks to meaningful public engagement, potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and a less than robust respect for the Sunshine Rules.” The commission, which convenes every 20 years to fold public hearings, then review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document, still has not adopted final rules since its March 20 organization meeting.

PERSONNEL NOTE: GOVERNOR’S TOP LAWYER JOINING CONSTITUTION REVISION PANEL via Florida PoliticsWilliam Spicola, general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott for the past year, is leaving to become top legal officer of the Constitution Revision Commission. Replacing him as GC in the executive office of the governor is Daniel Nordby, a partner in Shutts & Bowen’s Tallahassee office. Both job changes become official on April 17, the governor’s office announced Monday. … Before joining Scott’s office, Spicola was a veteran of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. … Nordby has practiced election, constitutional, and administrative law at his firm since 2014. Before that, he served stints as general counsel to the Florida House and the secretary of state’s office.

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— KEY OPINIONS —

EDITORIAL: THE LEGISLATURE’S FREE-MARKET FANTASY FOR HOSPITALS via TBO.com – Access to quality health care is not just at risk in Washington. It also is at stake in Tallahassee, where Florida House Speaker Corcoran relentlessly pursues a free-market fantasy that threatens the future of hospitals such as Tampa General, Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg and the BayCare network. This is a risky strategy that would undermine the financial viability of the venerable institutions Tampa Bay residents have long relied upon for top-flight care, and it fails to recognize that hospitals cannot be treated like fast-food franchises competing for customers on opposite street corners. Corcoran declares he and his Republican allies are pushing “dynamic reform” to health care aimed at empowering patients by increasing the supply of health care options, which they believe will bring down prices. That would create a wild-west free market for health care where hospitals are treated no differently than auto dealers or furniture stores competing for customers by promising lower prices in the best neighborhoods and avoiding unprofitable sites in low-income communities. The reality is that health care doesn’t work that way unless you’re Gov. Scott, who got rich running the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system — now HCA Healthcare — that is one of the key supporters of the changes.

ROBERT MCCLURE: MISINFORMATION ABOUT EVERGLADES RESTORATION ABOUNDS via the Tallahassee Democrat – We all recognize the special place in Florida’s shared heritage and the unique ecosystem present in the Glades. So it has been somewhat disappointing to observe how much erroneous information is being written regarding attempts to restore the Everglades and fix ongoing challenges with Lake O. The James Madison Institute (JMI), with a 30-year history of nonpartisan, public policy work has done extensive research in this area, seeking to identify the most effective and efficient path forward regarding Everglades restoration. Nobody disputes the fact that heavy rain events have myriad negative impacts on the environment, the economy and the population. Heavy rains cause Lake O to reach depths requiring discharges from the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This water, often containing toxins, then flows into the Everglades estuary. And yet, many falsely claim the main source of pollution is the farmers of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This is in direct opposition to the facts on the ground, as highlighted in our report of 2016 entitled “Solving the Everglades Riddle.”

ANDY MADTES: WHAT HB 11 SUPPORTERS DON’T GET via Florida Politics – Recently the House passed HB 11, legislation that would require labor unions representing public sector workers to certify they have more than half of the workers signed up as members every single year. In their view this will empower workers to somehow bargain better contracts and benefits and, they swear, in no way an attempt to strip workers of their right to a voice on the job. It could be they just don’t understand how a union, in a “right to work for less” state like Florida, operates in a modern workplace. The wages, retirement, health care and other benefits that a union like AFSCME negotiates are enjoyed by every employee, not just those that pay dues. Things like investments in safety, emergency response protocols and, yes, how to save lives from a burning building are negotiated on behalf of bus drivers, public service aids and more, not just those in police and fire unites that the legislation would except under the belief they are the only ones dealing with public safety. All public-sector workers are on the front line of serving their community. Maybe the supporters of the legislation believe that all workers pitch in to the union in their workplace. That is not true. Members decide to pay dues for a variety of reasons but not because they are forced to do so. Non-members don’t even pay a fair share for the benefits they get to enjoy. It is a choice, but this legislation would take that choice from them.

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HOME RULE ADVOCACY GROUP ADDS TWO NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ITS ROSTER via Florida Politics – Home-rule advocates Campaign to Defend Local Solutions is adding Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Black Justice Coalition as official partners. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors that advocates for common-sense gun laws, while the National Black Justice Coalition is the country’s leading black LGBTQ civil rights organization. The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions was launched by Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in January and include in its membership elected officials from 15 states as well as local and national organizations. CDLS was formed to fight against local government pre-emption laws passed by state legislatures, which it claims are often pushed through by “shadowy special interests and unaccountable lobbyists.”

PERSONNEL NOTE: DOUGLAS SUNSHINE JOINS COURT CLERKS ORGANIZATION via Florida PoliticsSunshine has been named chief legal officer of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers statewide association, according to a Monday news release. Sunshine is a state government and legal veteran, with more than 25 years of experience. He’s been Agency Rules Coordinator for the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Department of Revenue. He also served in the Florida Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Unit, the Office of General Counsel for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Florida Engineers Management Corp., and the Florida Department of State.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FSU’S HIRES ALUMNA AS ITS NEW VP FOR STUDENT AFFAIRS via Florida Politics – The new hire is Amy Hecht, an FSU graduate who was VP for student affairs at The College of New Jersey, a public institution with about 7,400 students. Enrollment at FSU is nearly 42,000. “We are extremely pleased to welcome Amy back to her alma mater,” President John Thrasher said.  “Amy’s knowledge and experience in student affairs, as well as her passion for FSU, will serve our students well as we strive to continue on our path of excellence.” Hecht will oversee student housing, health, counseling, and recreation programs, as well as a career center, the student union, the student government association, and the dean of students. … She will succeed Mary Coburn, who is retiring at the end of this semester after 14 years as VP for student affairs.

FLORIDA WINTER BAR EXAM PASSAGE RATE NOW AT LOWEST POINT IN 8 YEARS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed the bar, or 57.7 percent, according to a release from the state’s Board of Bar Examiners. That’s down from the high pass rate of 80.2 percent in February 2013, when there were 819 first-timers, and the lowest passing percentage for the February exam since 2009. “Save for a few states, bar passage rates have continued to decline nationwide,” the Above the Law blog reported late last year, noting that California’s July bar exam pass rate was its lowest in 32 years. Experts have placed the blame on law schools lowering their admission standards to fill seats as the number of applicants continues to decline. Part of that decline is because full-time lawyer jobs keep dwindling, according to The American Lawyer. Citing U.S. Department of Labor data last week, the website reported “employment in the U.S. legal sector took another hit in March, with the industry losing 1,500 jobs.”

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MIAMI HERALD WINS TWO PULITZERS, FOR PANAMA PAPERS INVESTIGATION AND EDITORIAL CARTOONS via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Staff coverage of the Panama Papers, the international investigation that exposed how crooks and millionaires use the secret world of offshore companies, and the mordant political commentary of editorial cartoonist Jim Morin in a year rife with material won the Miami Herald two Pulitzer Prizes … The 2017 prize for explanatory reporting was awarded to the Herald, its parent company McClatchy and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for their dive into a massive cache of leaked documents that revealed a financial system of tax havens preferred by tax dodgers, corrupt politicians and drug dealers whose money often wound up in Miami real estate. The 2017 prize for editorial cartooning went to Morin, whose unmistakable quill-pen drawings and piercing captions have anchored the Herald’s editorial pages since 1978. Morin became a two-time Pulitzer winner, having previously earned the coveted prize in 1996.

TIMES FOOD CRITIC LAURA REILEY’S ‘FARM TO FABLE’ SERIES IS FINALIST FOR PULITZER PRIZE via the Tampa Bay Times – … which exposed false claims of food origins by many restaurants and farmers’ markets. Reiley’s work prompted state investigations into the claims and other state-level regulatory changes. She was one of three finalists for the prize, which was won by Hilton Als of the New Yorker.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, Jupiter Medical CEO John Couris discusses the Certificate of Need program as he tells lawmakers some regulations are necessary to maintain quality care in hospitals. Gomes also interviews Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez about his efforts to see a statewide ban on red-light cameras. House District 66 hopeful Berny Jacques gets a running start in his 2018 campaign. Plus, Gomes shares reactions from Florida officials about Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria.

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Tuesday’s Governors Club buffet menu offers a taste of the South with chicken noodle soup; spinach salad – spinach, red onion, roma tomato, bacon, shallots, mushrooms, eggs, herb vinaigrette; tiger slaw – red cabbage, carrots, coleslaw dressing; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; fried chicken; fried catfish & hush puppies; scalloped potatoes; butter beans & ham; and corn choux.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my favorite GrayRobinson lobbyist, Chris Carmody, as well as Betsy Collins and the St. Pete Chamber’s Chris Steinocher.

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, Mr. Speaker

If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.

“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.

“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “

That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.

But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.

What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.

Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.

The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.

Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.

And on and on and on. The only aspect of Florida government pure enough to pass the House’s litmus test is its own budget, which they will tell you is not weighed down with all of those pesky amendments like the Senate’s spending proposal.

None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.

However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.

Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The case against Rick Baker running for St. Petersburg mayor

As coy as he has been with the local media and as busy as he is promoting the Rowdies referendum, Rick Baker is almost certain to run for St. Petersburg mayor this year.

Last week, Baker was in Tallahassee for a series of not-exactly-clandestine meetings with top Republican donors like Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi.

Baker’s biggest cheerleader in the capital, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, set up the meetings.

Baker does not particularly enjoy fundraising; At least not as much as his fellow St. Petersburg office-bearer, Charlie Crist. It’s not that he can’t or won’t make the ask, it’s just that he believes — rightly so — that he probably has better things with his time.

So, for Baker to shake his tin can in Tallahassee, it’s the surest sign yet that he plans on challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman.

If polling is to be believed — and St. Pete Polls has a near-bulletproof record surveying St. Petersburg voters — Baker would actually start as a favorite against Kriseman.

Despite all the hullabaloo over the city’s sewage system crisis, as well as a lack of genuine, visible progress on big-ticket items like a new St. Petersburg Pier or a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman is popular with city voters.

Were anyone other than Baker to challenge Kriseman — from popular Republicans like Brandes to City Council veterans like Amy Foster or Darden Rice — the mayor would dispatch them easily.

But, head-to-head, Baker trumps Kriseman.

In other words, Kriseman is a popular mayor; Baker just happens to be a more popular former mayor.

Three times out of five, Baker beats Kriseman. Which means it’s not a lock that Baker will beat Kriseman in November. In fact, one can make a pretty compelling case for how Baker might lose to Kriseman.

Here are 10 reasons why Baker might not want to run against Kriseman.

Demographics  

St. Pete is an increasingly progressive city, substantially more so than when Baker was re-elected in 2005. St. Pete’s gay community is more visible and more influential than 12 years ago. And if there’s one cohort Baker is cross-wired with, it’s Team Pride. While in office, he refused to sign a proclamation celebrating Florida’s biggest Gay Pride festival — a symbolic non-gesture that many of the city’s LGBT leaders and residents have not forgotten. These folks may already be against Baker’s Republican politics, just as they were against Bill Foster‘s. But Baker’s candidacy may galvanize the gay community in a way no other candidate would.

Demographics — Part 2

When Baker won re-election in 2005, he won every single precinct in the city. That means precincts where blacks are in the majority — no easy feat for a Republican running against an opponent who would become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Black voters also functioned as the deciding vote bloc for Baker in 2001 and for Foster in 2009 (both men defeated Kathleen Ford). Baker prides himself on his relationship with the black community. Remember, this is the policy wonk who won national acclaim for his vision of a “seamless city.” But will the black vote, in this era of Donald Trump, embrace Baker over a Democratic elected official who will likely be endorsed by most major African-American leaders? Even with Goliath Davis and Deveron Gibbons as his chief surrogates, it’s difficult to envision Baker winning the black vote at the same clip he did in his first two elections.

Lessons from Jeb

In the parlance of Game of Thrones, Baker is a loyal bannerman to House Jeb. So many Republican pols admire Baker, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine him having to look up to anyone. But Jeb Bush is one of those people. Had Bush won his bid for The White House, it’s very likely Baker would be Secretary of Something right now. Obviously, that was not the case and in Jeb’s humiliating defeat — “Please clap” — there’s a cautionary tale for Baker. Bush was out of office for so long, and the political environment had shifted so much, that he was caught flat-footed by the new rules of engagement. What will Baker do when an anonymous negative website about him inevitably pops up? What will Baker’s strategy for Facebook and Twitter be? Will he be caught on video saying something honest, but politically damaging? How will he interact with the Tom Rasks and David McKalips of the mayoral campaign? There are so many possible landmines out there for anyone running for office that it can be a challenge for even a savvy operator like Baker. He can ask his friend Jeb about that.

The Times will not be with him

Baker’s never been the Tampa Bay Times’ favorite local Republican (that would be Jack Latvala), but rarely has he been in its crosshairs. The local newspaper probably doesn’t have the desire or the horses to make Baker one of its “projects,” but it’s not going to be on his side — as it was in his races against Ford and Ed Helm — either. At the end of the day, the newspaper really likes Kriseman, even if it’s aware of his shortcomings. But his politics matches its and Baker’s apparently do not, so expect the editorial page (sans Baker ally Joni James) to weigh in again and again about how Baker had his time, and the city needs to move forward with Kriseman and blah, blah, blah. Also, the Tampa Bay Times may want to make up for this.

The Bill Edwards conundrum

One day, residents of St. Petersburg may look at a statute of Bill Edwards that memorialized his many, many contributions to the prosperity of the city. Or maybe not. It very much depends on the outcome of an ongoing federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accused Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. According to Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, Baker was uncertain about Edwards’ situation, especially as it relates to the Edwards-Baker effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the city. Questions about Edwards’ future and Baker’s work for The Edwards Group could be an issue on the campaign trail. Remember, Kriseman made Foster’s remote connections to Edwards an issue during the 2013 race.

Rick being Rick

As smart and successful as Baker has been throughout his career, now and then he makes a decision that even his most ardent defenders (like me) can’t explain. After all, Baker did endorse Herman Cain for President in 2011Kriseman is already making hay about Baker’s politics

Baker is not running against a tomato can.

Not hardly — Some might say Baker has been very lucky with who he’s had to run against in his previous campaigns. Ford, well, is Kathleen Ford, the ultimate femme fatale candidate who, despite her tenacity, was never going to win over a majority of supporters. Helm, well, is Ed Helm, who, despite his sheer intelligence, could not get out of his own way for long enough to build a winning coalition. While Ford, Helm, and Kriseman are all Democrats, Kriseman is nothing like Ford or Helm. He’s already proven he can build a winning coalition of city progressives, minorities, residents from the west part of the city, young voters, and the upscale urban liberals of northeast St. Pete. He has a loyal veteran campaign team and a base of donors and supporters already hard at work. Kriseman’s camp is not taking the prospect of a Baker challenge lightly; that’s why it has been raising money hand-over-fist in what is expected to be St. Pete’s most expensive campaign ever.

Duh! Kriseman is the incumbent

Even Captain Obvious recognizes there are many advantages to being the incumbent in a local race. For example, Kriseman recently won the endorsement of the police union, an organization which went with Foster in 2009. Why? Because Kriseman is committed to building a new headquarters for the St. Pete Police Department. Will rank-and-file cops turn out for Kriseman? That remains to be seen, but advantages like this are the kind of default support an incumbent receives. He gets to be on the city’s TV channel, shows up at ribbon-cuttings, be in the newspaper and on TV any day he wants. Kriseman will be careful about doing so, but all the city’s resources are at his disposal.

Kriseman knows how to throw a punch. Does Baker know what it’s like to be hit?

To quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Kriseman knows how to throw a punch; his campaign will not hesitate to use any and all lines of attacks against Baker. In the end, Kriseman’s campaign and its allies will throw the kitchen sink at Baker, who, while no stranger from the spotlight, hasn’t had a negative mailer written about him in 12 years. He hasn’t been the star of a grainy, black-and-white television attack ad. He hasn’t had his name dragged through the mud just for the sake of doing that. How will he react? How will Baker counterpunch? The answer to these questions may be the most fascinating thing to watch during the campaign.

Does Baker really want to be Mayor again?

I think if Rick Baker had his druthers, he’d strap on his guitar and tour the state talking about his soon-to-be-released book and how there is a third way for polarized state politics. He’d speak of a “seamless state” and how Republicans can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment. Or be president of an expansion Major League Soccer team. But I’m not 100 percent sure he wants to be Mayor of St. Petersburg for the next eight years — who would run against him in 2021? Sure, Dick Greco had a successful second act as Tampa’s mayor, but by the end of his career, Greco was sadly out of touch with the community he loved so much and once loved him.

Nothing in politics would cause Baker more heartache than for him to lose the respect of his neighbors and fellow residents.

Sunburn for 4.10.17 – Pulitzer Prize Day! On the road with Chris King; Jose Mallea raises $ in D.C.; Ballard’s $900K payday

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

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

PULITZER PRIZES ANNOUNCED TODAY; WILL ANY FLA. NEWSPAPERS  TAKE HOME A TROPHY?

It should be a slow day and relatively slow week in the Capitol as lawmakers stick close to home for the Easter break. They’ll convene Wednesday and Thursday to pass each chamber’s respective budget, but other than that it’s the calm before the storm of the last three weeks of Session.

With this lull in the action, you can pay attention to the awarding of the Pulitzer Prizes, which will take place at 3 p.m. from Columbia University.

Pulitzers expert Roy J. Harris Jr. asks: With President Donald Trump‘s attacks against the media now a daily reality, “what will the winning journalism say about the press’ value to the public?” Harris also wrote his annual preview of the competition for Poynter. The big-ticket national prizes will likely be won by the New York Times and The Washington Post (look for David Fahrenthold to score for his coverage of Trump’s charitable history, or lack thereof.)

So, will any Florida-based newspapers win a Pulitzer?

The Tampa Bay Times has won 12 throughout its distinguished history, including two last year. However, I’m not readily familiar with any Times projects produced in 2016 that were awards bait. I mean, nothing like what it published on Sunday, “Why Cops Shoot.” Then again, restaurant critic Laura Reiley‘s investigation into where her local eateries were really getting their ingredients may be one of the best pieces of criticism EVER. Might the Pulitzer judges stretch a little beyond what typically wins to recognize her work?

The Palm Beach Post’s reporting on the community’s heroin crisis has garnered national attention and awards, including recognition for the ethical struggle involved in publishing the faces and stories of those who died from the epidemic. It would not be surprising to see the Post end up being a finalist for a Pulitzer, although the issue has not been wrapped up with a pretty little bow on top of it (newspaper reports, officials take concrete action, problem is mitigated) like other investigative series in competition.

Every story written by the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller probably deserves some sort of award and her Sisyphean effort to shine a spotlight on the horrors of the state’s child protective system deserves as much attention as possible, but since she did not win for her incredible work in 2014-15 on “Innocents Lost,” she may never win.

Leave it to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to be Florida’s best chance for snatching a Pulitzer. As Harris notes, a team from the SHT was a Ring finalist for “Bias on the Bench,” which detailed unequal treatment of black and white defendants in Florida. It was also  among the top American Society of News Editors honorees announced this past week.

Will the Herald-Tribune’s team of Josh Salman, Emily Le Coz and Elizabeth Johnson earn the highest honor in journalism. Tune in today to find out. The event is being livestreamed from the historic World Room of the journalism building at New York’s Columbia University.

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I THINK I DID MORE INVESTIGATING ON PAM BONDI-TRUMP U THAN STATE ‘INVESTIGATORS’ DID via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel – The state attorney assigned to decide whether Attorney General Bondi did anything wrong when she asked for and accepted $25,000 in campaign cash from Trump — after her office had been asked to investigate Trump University — declared that he found no evidence to say she did. Of course, there wasn’t much evidence the prosecutor actually looked for evidence either. In a five-page report, Fort Myers State Attorney Stephen Russell’s office does not cite a single interview his office conducted in the course of reviewing this case. Nor does it reveal any new evidence the media hadn’t already reported. Not only that — and this part is key — Russell’s investigation actually ignored key evidence that had already been unearthed. Instead, Russell’s report seems to try to substantiate a claim that Bondi has made before — that she didn’t know her office had received complaints about Trump U when she requested and took campaign money from Trump.

‘LET’S GET TO WORK’ POSTS OVER $600K IN CONTRIBUTIONS FOR MARCH via Florida Politics – The political committee behind Gov. Rick Scott recently listed its March fundraising on its website. The largest contribution was $100,000 from U.S. Sugar. Also ponying up was Southeast QSR, a Clearwater-based Taco Bell franchisee, with $50,000, and Comcast Cable with $25,000. Its biggest expenditure in March was more than $976,000 to On Message of Annapolis, Maryland for “media production.” The PAC has run TV ads in recent weeks to back up Scott’s defense of the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm. Speaker Corcoran has criticized and tried to eliminate them as dispensers of “corporate welfare.” Scott says they help create jobs.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will honor Florida veterans during a ceremony at 9 a.m. the Bonita Bay Club, 26660 Country Club Drive in Bonita Springs.

ON THE ROAD WITH CHRIS KING, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay TimesKing, 38, an affordable housing executive and father of three from Winter Park, was on the trail just days after he launched his campaign with a hometown kickoff. He joins a diverse and wide-open field that includes … Andrew GillumGwen Graham and Philip Levine. He said Florida Democrats keep losing races for governor because they don’t articulate a vision and a message to voters, especially on economic issues. But the last two races were close — about 1 percentage point both times — so that while the losses pile up, his party is keeping within striking distance. King supports raising the minimum wage and restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons. He opposes the death penalty in most cases, saying it conflicts with his religious views, but that he would enforce the law as governor. “We need to limit its use,” King said. “I believe it’s a penalty in decline.”

TENSIONS REFLECT A REPUBLICAN ‘PARTY IN TRANSITION’ via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat –  This is an extraordinary time for the Republican Party. The November election maintained its grip on all branches of state government. Voters also delivered Washington to the GOP as well, increasing the influence of Florida’s Congressional Republican delegation and installing a kindred spirit of Gov. Scott in the White House. But once the celebration quieted, the pressure of governing opened a rift in the coalition … The split in Tallahassee became public and vicious two weeks before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. Corcoran rallied the House Republican Caucus at the trendy Edison Restaurant to go forth and eliminate Scott’s pet project Enterprise Florida. He called the economic development agency, which hands out tax credits and other incentives to businesses, an example of “corporate welfare.” Scott was said to be livid. He responded with a video depicting Corcoran as a “job-killing Tallahassee politician.” Scott and Corcoran are on opposite sides regarding whether a fiscally-conservative government provides business incentives. How the Scott v. Corcoran debate will influence the budget battle remains an open question.

SAY WHAT, MR. CALL? A savvy Capitol insider messaged: “I actually read a James Call piece. A piece in which he seems to suggest that the divide in Florida is somehow connected to Trump phenomenon. It’s not. Maybe they utilized some of the same bandwidth – but his piece misses the 2010 split between establishment and a self-funded candidate, the decision by Scott to bypass the party after they rejected his party chair, the fact that Corcoran-Scott dynamic got started last year. and any story that relies on MacManus and Pafford as its anchors …. deep breath.”

SHOT – ANITERE FLORES, ON THE EDGE OF A BLACK HOLE via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – Bright-eyed Flores — with that arresting smile, the bounce in her step and so much time, it seemed, to hear out all comers — entered the Republican Senate in 2010 with as much promise as I’d ever seen in a freshman. She was a breath of fresh air. Fast-forward to 2017 and so many are asking themselves, what happened? The promise is gone, say senators throughout her caucus. It’s been soured by … what? Ambition? Opportunity? A change of allegiance to principles perhaps she held all along but didn’t realize or reveal? They plain don’t like what they see anymore. Maybe it’s only jealousy on the part of senators left behind. Then again, maybe the heaped-on praise went to her head, who knows? The point is, when I ask GOP senators where Flores goes from here, when Negron’s gavel isn’t propping her up — I usually get a wry smile or a shrug or worse: an answer.

CHASER – FLORES’S LEADERSHIP AND ‘GUN-BILL FATIGUE’ DISARM LEGISLATURE via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When Flores declared, unprompted, a month ago that there were a lot of controversial gun-rights measures she wouldn’t support this year, the Miami Republican state senator truly set the tone for the Legislature’s gun debate in 2017. With the session half over, only a handful of the two dozen pieces of gun-related legislation proposed this year have been considered at all, and of those, only a couple have a viable path at actually becoming law. The House approved three such bills this week — two of which could likely be enacted this year, including highly divisive changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — but lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties predict those measures will be the only ones on the table for this session. Several attribute Flores — who is No. 2 in the Senate behind President Negron — as the reason. “I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” Flores told the Herald/Times.

COMPROMISE WON’T BE SO EASY IN CHANGING ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Senate President Joe Negron … wants to hold the line and stick with the Senate’s more stringent version of SB 128, which would require prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” — before trial — why a criminal defendant cannot claim immunity from prosecution in use-of-force cases. Negron said he, personally, doesn’t want to accept the compromise language the House approved that sets the standard one step lower, to “clear and convincing evidence … I would rather have ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” Negron said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, if the government wants to convict you of a serious crime and send you to prison, they should have the burden to prove that at every stage of the proceeding beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”

DANNY BURGESS: ‘ABSOLUTELY, THE INJURED WORKER IS A BIG CONCERN HERE’ via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The workers’ compensation fix that emerged from the House Commerce Committee last week was the product of hours — and hours — of testimony, debate and negotiations. We caught up with I&B chairman Burgess immediately following the Commerce vote and ducked into a hearing room alcove for a quick post-mortem. Q: Are you disappointed you couldn’t get the unions on board? The actual workers? There was a lot of discussion here that we never hear about the workers. A: I think you heard that from every stakeholder: Absolutely, the injured worker is a big concern here. You heard that in our committee (Insurance & Banking), too and from my own mouth. I believe our extension of indemnity benefits is definitely a step in that right direction. There’s no question that the injured worker is one piece of the heart of the balance of the grand bargain. Q: That’s the temporary total disability? A: Yes, from 104 to 260 weeks. — Yes! (He answered the roll call for the next bill on the agenda.)

ABUSE OF THE SYSTEM BY A FEW COULD COST EVERYONE via Ann Howard of The Capitolist – The Consumer Protection Coalition, (which is a self-described ” broad-based group of business leaders, consumer advocates, real estate agents, construction contractors, insurance agents and insurance trade groups”) says the complicated issue of Assignment of Benefits fraud  will literally cost everyone in the state, so they are taking the fight to directly to lawmakers for relief. “Make no mistake: If the Legislature fails to address the growing cancer of AOB for a fifth straight year, Florida’s hardworking families are the ones that will lose. Our leaders have crystal clear evidence that AOB fraud and abuse is threatening the affordability of homeownership for average Floridians. For lower-income families and those on fixed incomes, it could literally put the dream of homeownership out of reach,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick, independent insurance agent in Miami. According to state-run Citizens Property Insurance, AOB fraud is hitting Citizens, hard.

COST OF TAX EXEMPTION FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA WOULD BE MINIMAL via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimated the bill might reduce tax receipts, but not enough to notice — even when accounting for the non-state residents who would qualify for cannabis cards if the bill becomes law. “We felt like there might be a few snowbirds coming in, but we didn’t think that would be a lot,” said Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. More telling would be CS/SB 406’s extension of medical marijuana use to people suffering “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as those enumerated, and for which a physician believes the use of medical marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient. Bottom line: a “negative insignificant” revenue impact.

GREYHOUND ACTIVISTS JOIN FLORIDA’S GAMBLING FIGHT via Alexandra Glorioso of News-Press.com – There’s GREY2K, a national advocacy group with less muscle but no less fight championing the cause of greyhounds. This year’s battle over gambling offers the greyhound group a rare opportunity to accomplish its goal: eliminate dog racing now held to justify card games in Florida. Some Republicans say GREY2K could benefit this year from the intricate chess game of ideology, lawsuits and special interests, and successfully disconnect greyhound racing from card games. “It would completely depend on the details,” said [Mike] La Rosa. But he acknowledged, it’s “something that could be discussed.” [Bill] Galvano said he was not interested in taking La Rosa up on a slot machine-live-events trade but did call greyhound racing a “dying industry.” About GREY2K, he said, “They are effective, but it’s an easy sell.”

PRIVATE NONPROFIT, FOR-PROFIT UNIVERSITIES COULD SOON GET REGULATORY RELIEF via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – Bad press, combined with federal rules and regulations disproportionately targeting the higher education alternatives, have taken their toll on nonprofit and for-profit universities in recent years — but that could soon change. For-profit and private nonprofit colleges and universities offer career-building options separate from traditional public universities … regulatory change is afoot. In February, Arthur Keiser, chancellor and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Keiser University, was named chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. The committee will make recommendations to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a noted Florida education reformer — regarding accreditation and institutional eligibility for federal student financial aid.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: CFO Jeff Atwater will present the annual Florida Fire Service Awards during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on the 22nd Floor of the Capitol. The annual ceremony recognizes members of the fire services community who have shown excellence in their profession.

CONGRATS: The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association announced this week that Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean is its 2017 Legislator of the Year. FOMA said the annual award goes to a lawmaker that has proven their support for osteopathic medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the citizens of Florida. “I am beyond honored to be FOMA’s 2017 Legislator of the Year,” Bean said. “As a longtime advocate for health care issues and a former chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand how important it is to be constantly working to improve our health care and adopt treatment, prevention and alleviation advancements that benefit all Floridians.”

MOVING ONLydia Claire Brooks is no longer a legislative assistant for Rep. Loranne Ausley, per LobbyTools. She now has three district secretaries: Jessica Lamb, Shane Roerk, and newcomer Mark Hodges.

REST IN PEACE: FRANK ATTKISSON KILLED IN BICYCLE-CAR CRASH via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Former Osceola County chairman, Florida state representative, and Kissimmee Mayor Attkisson was killed when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car … Attkisson, 61, was riding on Kissimmee Park Road near St. Cloud around 6:30 p.m. Thursday when his bike was struck from behind by a car driven by 26-year-old Kristie Jean Knoebel of St. Cloud … The crash is being investigated. Attkisson was transported to Osceola Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Republican served a long political career that began on the Kissimmee City Council in the early 1990s and included a stint as Kissimmee mayor from 1996-2000. He served in the House of Representatives from 2000-2008, when he was term limited out. In 2010, he ran for and won a seat on the Osceola County Commission, and two years later was elected the commission’s chairman. However, he lost re-election in 2014.

ABORTION AGAIN AT ISSUE IN LATEST CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW HEARING via Florida PoliticsAnti-abortion activists took to the microphone early and often at Friday’s Constitution Revision Commission hearing in Boca Raton. The 37-member panel, which convenes every 20 years to review and rewrite the state’s governing document, is now on a listening tour, holding public hearings around the state. A series of speakers Friday, as they had at previous hearings, urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. Several complained that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.

An estimated 500 Floridians made their voices heard at the most recent meeting of the Constitutional Revision Commission at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.

PRAYERS OVER A PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM ARE A FLORIDA FIXTURE via Florence Snyder for Florida Politics

In the 1960s, “morning announcements” at Miami Crestview Elementary School were served up with a side order of morning Scriptures.  The daily Bible readings skewed heavily New Testament, and the Jewish kids always dreaded spring, with its Easter ham-handed swipes at “Christ-killers.”

It was confusing, unsettling, and sometimes downright scary. Somehow, we managed to weather it without help from the ACLU.

We got all the help we needed from our teachers. Whatever the administration might be pushing on the public address system, the faculty had time, in those days, to pay attention to the children in front of them. There were fewer Test Police and Helicopter Parents. Teachers knew by the end of the first week of school what they could and could not expect of us. They had the flexibility to peel off children teetering on the brink of boredom and throw them into a “resource group,” where they learned about Malthus and Marx. Karl, not Graucho. They gave extra time to those who needed extra support.

At Easter, and all year long, the Jewish kids—-along with the children of Christians and atheists—had help from parents, as well. We learned how to go in to other people’s homes and houses of worship for simple meals and special occasions and join hands and bow our heads as our hosts gave voice to their traditions.

These lessons in respect served us as we outgrew Miami and our circles expanded to include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and others whose beliefs were not represented in north Dade County in the years before Joe Robbie brought football to town and a stadium to our neighborhood.

Respect for those who invite you into their lives is always pleasing to any God with whom anyone has ever had a personal relationship. Grabbing the microphone in the principal’s office to proselytize to a captive audience of elementary school children is just abusive showing off.

Last week, a self-described “constitutional conservative” used her public address system at the Constitution Revision Commission—a microphone that belongs to 20 million Floridians— to pray to her god, her way.  It’s not very respectful thing to do, but it’s probably an excellent indication of where this Commission is coming from, and where it’s planning to go.

MARTIN DYCKMAN: WHO NEEDS STRONG, INDEPENDENT COURTS? WE DO. via Florida Politics – It’s a paradox in America’s ongoing experiment with self-government that we depend on the weakest branch of government to defend us from the more powerful ones. The Founders gave a lot of thought and ink to this. Writing in the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the judiciary would always be “least dangerous” to the public’s freedoms because it would be “least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.” The courts have no police or troops of their own, no power to make laws but only to review them, no control over even their own budgets. It would be their job, though, to protect against abuses of power by the president or the Congress. When you see one of those branches going after the courts, like the hotheads in the Florida Legislature at the moment, consider whose ox they’re really trying to gore: yours … The Legislature largely ignored you, to put it politely, and tried to hide the evidence of its skullduggery by hiding behind such phony excuses as “legislative privilege” and “trade secrets.” All that took time, nearly three years in fact, but the court eventually, and rightly, ordered up new maps for the state Senate and the congressional districts … Remember who needs strong, independent courts. You do.

PAT NEAL: BUSINESS RENT TAX STIFLES FLORIDA’S ECONOMIC FUTURE via Florida Politics – The business rent tax is the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire country and Florida is the not-so-proud holder of that title … Due to this burdensome tax, Florida businesses shell out more than $1.7 billion every year to the state. As a result, our state economy dramatically suffers in the form of suppressed job growth and economic activity. Luckily, Gov. Scott is committed to cutting this tax on hardworking small-business owners and budding entrepreneurs. The governor has repeatedly made cutting or abolishing this tax one of his top priorities for numerous years as part of his commitment to creating jobs for Florida families. Recently, he has hit the road advocating for a 25 percent cut in the tax –  a move that could save Florida businesses more than $400 million per year and reduce prices for Florida consumers. The business rent tax places a disproportionate burden on small businesses and startups that do not have the capital to purchase bigger office space, hire new employees or expand to other locations. All of this creates a chilling effect on many of Florida’s more than 2 million small businesses.

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REPUBLICAN BOBBY OLSZEWSKI FILES TO RUN FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 44 SEAT via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsOlszewski, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, filed for the house seat that will be vacated by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who is not running again. First, Olszewski rounded up a strong list of supporters, including 30 local elected officials, mostly from western Orange County. Two other candidates already have filed for that seat, including Republican Usha Jain of Orlando, who also ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, and Democrat Paul Jason Chandler of Orlando, a newcomer as a candidate.

HD 66 HOPEFUL BERNY JACQUES STARTS STRONG, RAISES NEARLY $30K IN MARCH via Mitch Perry of Florida PoliticsJacques raised $29,740 in March, the first month of fundraising after launching a 2018 bid for Pinellas County’s House District 66. Contributors to the former Pinellas County Assistant State Attorney’s campaign include former Jeb Bush staffer Slater Bayliss, GOP fundraiser Brent Sembler, local Republican heavyweight Jim Holton, Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chair Mike Griffin and Fritz Brogan, former Executive Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Rick Scott. Jacques also picked up an endorsement from another local Pinellas County official, Largo City Commissioner Jamie Robinson.

HAPPENING TODAY:

PERSONNEL NOTE: GINGER DELEGAL SELECTED AS FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF COUNTIES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR via Florida PoliticsVirginia “Ginger” Delegal is one step closer to becoming the next Florida Association of Counties executive director. Delegal had been selected by the FAC Executive Committee in February, and confirmed by the Board of Directors last week. She has been interim Executive Director since Feb. 9. President Kathy Bryant and Immediate Past President Barbara Sharief now will begin final contract negotiations with Delegal. The contract, when complete, will go before the Board for final approval … She is married to Mark Delegal, currently a partner with Holland & Knight.

APPOINTED: Sara Gaver to the Florida Rehabilitation Council.

REAPPOINTED: Paul Wilson to the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

BALLARD PARTNERS SIGNS $900K CONTRACT WITH THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC via Megan Wilson of The Hill Ballard Partners, a firm connected to Trump, has signed its first foreign government as a client: the Dominican Republic. The Florida-based company helped Trump win the state in the presidential election and recently opened a K Street office to expand its business to Washington. The Dominican Republic signed a one-year contract with the firm worth $900,000, according to disclosure reports filed with the Justice Department. The contract does not list specifics about what the firm, founded by longtime Florida lobbyist and fundraiser Brian Ballard, will be doing for the country.

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR’S SON JOINS COREY LEWANDOWSKI LOBBY SHOP via Marc Caputo of POLITICO FloridaCarlos Gimenez Jr., former consultant for Trump and the son and namesake of Miami-Dade’s mayor, is joining the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager, Lewandoski, as it drums up business in one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Gimenez said he joined the newly founded firm, Avenue Strategies, to focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America. “We’re not just representing any client,” Gimenez, a 40-year-old attorney from the Miami-area, said. “We represent those who would further the interests of the Trump Administration and the American people.” Asked what interests those would be, Gimenez quickly said: “bringing back jobs and manufacturing to the United States.”

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brett Bacot, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: City of South Daytona

Rob Fields, Suskey Consulting: QlikTech, Inc.

Shawn Foster, Sunrise Consulting Group: Roche Surety and Casualty Company, Inc

Lindsay Erin Raphael, Corey Staniscia, Tripp Scott: The Balmoral Condominium Association, Inc.

Trey Traviesa, Strategos Public Affairs: SAI Interactive, Inc. d/b/a Thinking Media; Study Edge

SPOTTEDMarty Fiorentino at Omarosa Manigault‘s wedding and reception in Washington, D.C. at Trump International Hotel. She married Pastor John Allen NewmanFiorentino has taken a stint at the USDOT to work alongside Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

***The Senate Prospective Payment System plan will protect Florida’s aging seniors by incentivizing quality care. Learn more about how this reimbursement plan will promote improvement in Florida’s skilled-nursing centers. Learn more here.***

FSU RETIREMENT TRIBUTE TO VP MARY COBURN DRAWS HUGE CROWD AT WESTCOTT via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat – For the past 14 years, Coburn has helped chart the course for nearly everything involving FSU students – opening new residence halls, resolving issues of Greek life, addressing issues of free speech, consoling parents who have lost a child and promoting diversity and civility on campus. She’s done it all. Coburn is retiring as of May 19. She will take a sabbatical this summer and return to teaching this fall. Her successor is expected to be named next week. Coburn’s tenure at FSU actually started in 1981 in student development, rising to associate dean from 1994 to 2005. She left from August 1995 to January 2003, to become vice president for student affairs at Tallahassee Community College under President T.K. Wetherell. She returned to FSU after Wetherell assumed the presidency in 2003 to become vice president of student affairs.

HYPERLOOP ONE EYES 26-MINUTE MIAMI-ORLANDO ROUTE FOR TUBE TRAIN via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel –  … as one of 11 new alternatives. The Hyperloop initiative was created by billionaire Elon Musk; it hopes to connect cities at speeds similar to, or faster than, air travel at a much cheaper cost, eventually. The Orlando route was included in a recent announcement without much detail about who proposed it. Last January, teams of students from UCF submitted ideas for the local route. Hyperloop is a fledgling concept, having been introduced in 2013 by Musk, who shortly thereafter left the project to focus on his other businesses. Hyperloop One met policymakers and transportation experts in Washington D.C. … where it introduced 11 routes that had been pitched.

PAGING SPEAKER CORCORAN – HARBOR BRANCH FOUNDATION SUES FAU IN ‘HOSTILE TAKEOVER’ OF $68 MILLION via Conrad deFiebre of TCPalm – The nine-year marriage of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and Florida Atlantic University is on the rocks amid a lawsuit accusing the university of a “hostile takeover” to seize control of the foundation’s $68 million endowment … it’s a big-bucks battle over a world-renowned research facility often described by FAU’s president as the university’s “crown jewel.” Lawyers for the Fort Pierce-based institution’s foundation said without intervention by the St. Lucie County circuit court, Boca Raton-based FAU could divert Harbor Branch Foundation funds away from its charitable charter’s mission of marine research and state requirements for its administration of millions in specialty license plate money. “We don’t know what FAU would do if they got control of the endowment,” said Harbor Branch Foundation attorney Joseph Galardi. According to his legal filing, FAU in 2015 began trying to use endowment funds for purposes not approved by the endowment’s independent board.

TAMPA RELEASES ‘TAMPA TOGETHER: STATE OF THE CITY’ VIDEO — The city of Tampa has released a five-minute video highlighting Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s “State of City” speech. Buckhorn, who announced earlier this year he won’t run for governor in 2018, can’t run for re-election again because of term-limits, but used his address to unveil several initiatives, including one called Autism Friendly Tampa. “I came here not to do little things but to do big things; to leave this city in better shape than it was given to me, to prepare Tampa for its next chapter to give hop to the least, and the last and the lost, to empower our neighborhoods, to invest in the infrastructure of opportunity, to make this city the place in America where the best and the brightest want to be,” he said. “I don’t know about you, Tampa, but I intend to finish strong.” Click the image below to watch the video.

DISNEY SEEKS PATENT FOR INTERACTIVE ‘HUMANOID’ ROBOTS via Ashley Carter of Orlando News 13 – The robots would “move and physically interact like an animated character.” The soft-body robots would be used to provide “interactive guidance or entertainment in stores and amusement parks,” according to the patent application. Since the robots would be interacting with park visitors, especially children, the inventors are making safety a priority. “To physically interact with children, the inventors understood that the robot should be soft and durable,” the filing stated. In order to achieve this, the robots would be comprised of multiple body segments and interconnecting joints. Each segment would have a “fluid-filled void” that could sense pressure (i.e., a hug from a child or collision) and adjust how the joints operate.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Jeff Atwater, Emily Duda Buckley, Matt Carlucci, Jesse Phillips, and Alli-Liby Schoonover. Celebrating today with a Budweiser is Jose Gonzalez. Also celebrating today is Jeremy Branch.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pinwheels, and putting the pieces back together

Mike Carroll sounded tired as he took to the mic during this week’s Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention kickoff at the Governor’s Mansion.

The secretary of the Department of the Children and Families again has had to deal with high-profile deaths, including, most recently, Naika Venant and Lauryn Martin-Everett.

Both were ‘system’ kids; both had hanged themselves.

First Lady Ann Scott, entertaining a group of little kids from Tallahassee’s Bethel Christian Academy, had tried to keep it light.

First Lady Ann Scott speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“How many here want to be governor?” she asked them. Almost all raised their hands.

“How many want to be a first lady?” When one of the boys raised a hand, the other kids giggled. “We have some female governors … you can be a first gentleman,” Mrs. Scott said, smiling.

Earlier that same morning, a House panel voted to approve a $3.75 million claim bill to compensate the surviving twin brother and other family of Nubia Barahona.

She was still another ‘system’ kid whose adoptive father killed her in 2011, then doused her body in caustic chemicals.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who is sponsoring the claim bill in the House, said “at every step of the way there were errors, there were flags that DCF should have seen.”

Maybe Carroll had the 10-year-old in mind as he spoke.

Mike Carroll, Secretary of Department of Children and Families, speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“Our kids are not as resilient as we think,” he said. “You can’t always see the hurt on the inside.  By the time they come into our system, they’re broken … and we try to put the pieces together.

“When we can’t, that’s the tragedy of our system,” he went on. “… No one state agency can fix this. The only way it’s fixed is people helping people.

“Sometimes it just takes one adult who will care,” Carroll said.

Nubia Barahona thought Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, were two of those adults.

Now the couple is awaiting trial on first-degree murder and other charges in Miami-Dade County.

After Carroll and others finished speaking, they took the kids outside and planted blue and white pinwheels in the garden. People took photos, and the kids got a snack.

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:

Money talks — We’re officially one step closer to Sine Die. Well, at least one step closer to having a budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $83.2 billion spending plan after agreeing to more than 100 amendments, which included local projects and budget language giving directions to execute existing line-items. The House Appropriations approved its $81.2 billion proposal after making a few tweaks during its Wednesday. Both chambers are will take up the bills next week, with floor sessions scheduled for Wednesday to begin debate on the proposals.

Grand compromise — Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority got a big facelift this week, when he announced he no longer planned to pursue a plan to buy 60,000 acres of farm land to build a reservoir. Instead, lawmakers approved an amended plan that would use 14,000 acres of land the state owns and leases to Florida Crystals until 2019. The price of the project — once listed at $2.4 billion — also dropped to $1.5 billion. The compromise came after pushback from the sugar industry, which owns much of the land in the area Negron was focused on, and some of his Democratic colleagues. U.S. Sugar, which fiercely opposed the original proposal, called the amended plan “significant progress.” Negron has said the plan would achieve his original goal of storing up to 120 billion of gallons of water that currently gets sent down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. discusses Senate Bill 10: Water Resources as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, listens in the background. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

More than an apology — State lawmakers took steps this week to apologize for the abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Mariana, but also to try to right some of the wrongs. House and Senate panels this week approved bills that acknowledges the abuses experiences by the students and expresses the Legislature’s regret. But the House Judiciary Committee went one step further this week, approving a proposed committee bill that, among other things, calls for the state to set up memorials in Mariana and Tallahassee and allows for the state to come up with a plan to search for more bodies on the property.

Hail a ride — Florida is speeding to statewide regulations for transportation network companies. After years of discussion, the House voted unanimously to approve a bill by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant that sets up a statewide regulatory system for ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft.  The proposal, among other things, sets minimum insurance standards and requires third-party background checks. The Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, cleared the Senate Rules Committee on a 10-1 vote this week, and now heads to the full Senate for a vote in the coming days.

Rep. Chris Sprowls is congratulated by Rep. James Grant his bill to regulate transportation network companies passed a second reading. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

577 Days — Add another Democrat to the list of folks getting of folks throwing their hat into the 2018 gubernatorial election. Orlando businessman Chris King made it officially official this week, launching his gubernatorial campaign at a senior affordable housing community his company renovated. He joins Andrew Gillum as just one of two mainstream candidates in the race, but plenty more are running shadow campaigns and expect to make a formal announcement — as former Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely 2018 contender has said — “soon.” They might not be in the race, but several would-be candidates are stocking away some cash for a rainy day (or gubernatorial campaign). Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political committee reported it raised nearly $1.1 million in March; while Sen. Jack Latvala’s political committee raised $246,000 in the first six days of the month.

Gulf Power Co.’s $62 million electric rate settlement agreement includes language authorizing a five-year experiment in operating electric vehicle charging stations.

Existing stations belong to shopping centers, hotels, and other businesses. The utility charges for the power.

Gulf Power will own the stations in its experiment, and they’ll be linked to the customers’ regular utility bills. No muss. No fuss.

Utility spokesman Rick DelaHaya said 52 customers have signed up so far, including hospitals and college campuses. Some units will be networked, so the Public Service Commission can review use data.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkle views the provision as a good thing.

“if it encourages electric vehicle usage, it’s good,” Rehwinkle said. “How you account for it in regulatory world, we’ll just see over the next five years.”

Jacksonville might want to change its nickname to “solar city.”

A new report found Jacksonville ranks 19th in the nation for installed solar capacity. The report, released this week, came as state lawmakers began discussions about implementing the pro-solar power constitutional amendment, which would remove solar barriers for businesses.

“By using solar power, Jacksonville is reducing pollution and improving public health for everyday Floridians,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida, in a statement. “To realize these benefits, city leaders should embrace a big vision for solar on rooftops throughout the state.”

For the third year in a row, Jacksonville ranked higher than Tampa, Miami and Orlando for the amount of installed solar.

According to the report, the Top 20 cities listed in the report have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. In 2016, solar was the leading new source of energy installed in Florida.

Florida working hard to keep the state’s “veteran friendly” status.

State lawmakers held a press conference this week to highlight various military-friendly bills from the 2017 Legislative Session.

“We’re focused in on making sure we maintain (our status as) the most veteran friendly state in the country,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who, along with Rep. Paul Renner, has proposed legislation that would grant exceptions to occupational licensing application fees and requirements to certain active duty members, honorably discharged members, and their spouses.

The press conference gave members a chance to encourage support for their proposals at the midway point in session, as well as highlight some of the work that has been done over the years.

Rep. Burgess, speaks about HB 55 Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans, during a press conference on military-friendly legislation at the Florida Capitol.

Lawmakers also highlighted a proposal (HB 55) that allow the state Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with organizations to provide alternative treatments to veterans.

 “It’s a good bill, and honestly it will save some of my brothers and sisters lives,” said Brian Anderson, a president and CEO of Veterans Alternative and former Green Beret.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Danny Burgess and Frank White, cleared the Health Innovation Subcommittee in March, but has not been scheduled for a second hearing.

Local leaders said “thanks” this week.

More than 100 mayors and county leaders across Florida recognized the impact AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs made in their communities as part of the fifth annual Mayor, County and Tribal Recognition Day for National Service. The annual event is a bipartisan effort to recognize the positive impact of national service, thank those who serve and encourage citizens to give back.

“Cities and counties are increasingly turning to national service as a cost-effective strategy to meet local needs,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “We are grateful for the elected officials who are participating in today’s recognition.”

Volunteer Florida administers over $32 million in federal, state and local funding to deliver national service programs like AmeriCorps to Florida.

“We are proud to be working with city and county leaders across America as we continue to strengthen communities through national service,” said Kim Mansaray, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

This year 108 Florida leaders participated in the event, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Nursing home groups held dueling press conferences this week — one to warn of changes to payment plans, the other to encourage support for it.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, called on Senate leaders to slow down the implementation of the prospective payment system included in the upper chamber’s proposed $83 billion spending plan. Thirty minutes later, the Florida Health Care Association called on lawmakers to move ahead with the plan.

Leading Age Florida says while it doesn’t oppose a prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out the details.

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

Florida lawmakers took action this week to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The House approved a bill (HB 557) that would modernize the current prescription drug monitoring program, shorten reporting times to better identify drug abuse, and limit the initial prescription of opioids to a 5-day supply for the treatment of acute pain, putting Florida in line with the Center for Disease Control’s recommended guidelines on opioid prescriptions.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Nick Duran, passed after emotional testimony from several members, including the Miami Democrat.

During his closing, Duran talked about the connection between heroin abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers, noting that people addicted to painkillers are “40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.”

Rep. Duran during debate on his bill this week. (Photo by Meredith Geddings)

“It starts somewhere, and it ends somewhere,” he said.

He then went on to tell his colleagues that less than a year ago, his brother-in-law passed away, “not from taking heroin, he was seven years clean.” But Duran said in a matter of a few weeks he “spiraled downward;” and when his family cleared out his home, they found fentanyl patches, a prescription pain medication. He urged members to support the legislation, saying a vote on the measure says Florida is “going to follow some of the same guidelines that other states believe are needed.”

“It is time for us to take a stand,” he said. “We know they are dangerous. They’re killing families. That’s what we’re dealing with. Enough is enough.”

The bill passed on a 93-22 vote.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee moved through a crowded and contentious agenda a tad too expeditiously for Sen. Oscar Braynon.

The panel had given swift approval to nearly a dozen bills before tackling major reforms of the workers’ compensation system and assignment of benefits agreements. With time running short, the committee limited testimony on those measures.

“I agreed to the time-certain thing, but I don’t believe this is how we should be doing this type of legislation,” Braynon said. “There are plenty of people who want to be heard, and I understand there are other bills that want to be heard. But I just don’t 100 percent agree with how we’re handling this one.”

“So, is there a motion?” Chairwoman Anitere Flores asked.

“No, no motion,” Braynon replied — he’s just wanted it noted for the record.

Sunshine, sand and … stress?

According to a new report from WalletHub, Florida is the 13th most stressed state in the nation. The number crunchers at the personal finance website looked at 33 key metrics — including average hours worked per week, the personal bankruptcy rate, and share of adults getting an adequate amount of sleep — to determine which states had the highest stress levels.

The Sunshine State — or should we call it the “Stressed-out State” — ranked 13th overall, but landed in the No. 6 spot when it came to family-related stress. The state was rank 16th in both work-related and money-related stress.

The most stressed out state is Alabama, which also ranked high when it came to work-related, money-related and family-related stress. Minnesota is the least stressed state in the nation.

Celebrate the springs: It’s what Bellamy Beaver would want.

Representatives from several water management districts, including the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District, were in Tallahassee this week as the House and Senate announced resolutions designating April as “Spring Awareness Month.” The resolutions are meant to promote awareness for preservation and restoration of Florida’s springs and natural resources.

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, Sen. Rob Bradley and water management officials celebrate “Springs Awareness Month.” (Photo via SRWMD Facebook)

“On behalf of the District and its 256 springs, I applaud the commitment that continues to be shown by Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature, and Secretary (Ryan) Matthews to protecting and restoring springs throughout the entire state,” said Jon Costello, a governing board member for the Northwest Florida Water Management District. “We are proud to stand with our friends from the other water management districts, DEP, and northwest Florida communities as we all continue to work toward the preservation of these precious natural resources.”

The event also featured an appearance from Bellamy Beaver, the mascot Ichetucknee Partnership. The nonprofit aims to promote the environmental and economic well-being of the Ichetucknee Springshed through locally-led, voluntary programs.

“There is no better symbol of the natural, pristine beauty of Florida than our world-famous springs,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, the House sponsor, in a statement. “From the legendary attraction of the renowned Ichetucknee to the secret splendor of the many small springs hidden up and down our rivers, we have an abundance of natural treasures in our state that we must preserve for our children and grandchildren.”

Call it a $274,000 month.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported it recovered $274,174 on behalf of Florida consumers in March. The state agency fielded 3,560 consumer complaints and initiated 3,560 investigations during the one-month period.

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the department provided assistance to 23,478 consumers through the 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and email during March. It also added 18,187 telephone numbers to the state’s Do Not Call List.

Last year, the department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, health studios, and telemarketers.

Applying for a state grant? Secretary of State Ken Detzner wants to make it a bit easier.

The Department of State launched its new online grant application system DOSGrants.com, which is meant to streamline the application process for grants offered by the Department of State, including arts and culture, historic preservation and library grants.

“These grant programs help to ensure that all Florida families have access to arts and culture programs, our state’s historic properties, and educational opportunities,” said Detzner in a statement. “The organizations who receive these grants create jobs, stimulate tourism and attract skilled workers. The new DOS Grants website, DOSGrants.com, will make it easier for more organizations to apply for grants while increasing transparency and allowing Floridians to search for state-funded programs in their community.”

The state department awarded more than $90 million in grants through 12 programs in fiscal 2016-17. The grant application period for several state grants, including the historic preservation small matching grant, general program supporting grants for cultural organizations, specific cultural project grants, and library services and technology act grants, are currently open.

Go Seminoles!

Florida State University alumni, faculty and staff stormed the Capitol this week as part of the Tallahassee university’s annual FSU Day at the Capitol. The annual event showcases the university’s accomplishments.

“Florida State is on a roll, both on and off thefield,” said FSU President John Thrasher in a statement on the university’s website. “There’s a lot of excitement at Florida State these days. We are a preeminent university with our sights set on even higher national prominence.”

FSU Day at the Florida Capitol

This year the university highlighted successes including receiving a record number of 2017 admissions applications, rising four-year graduation and retention rates, and one of the nation’s highest graduation rates for African-American students.

The day included a pep rally, and performances by the Flying High Circus, Marching Chiefs and the Florida State cheerleaders. FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher and football players Deondre Francois and Ryan Izzo also attended the festivities.

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott appointed Col. John Domenech and Sheldon Suga to the District Board of Trustees for the Florida Keys Community College.

Domenech, a 62-year-old Big Pine Key resident, is a retired senior project manager at Leidos, and formerly serves as a colonel in the U.S. Army. He succeeds Michelle Maxwell and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2020.

Suga, a 62-year-old Duck Key resident, is a VP managing director at Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key. He fills a vacant seat, and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2017.

Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

When it comes to Florida, millennials are swiping left.

A new report from WalletHub found the Sunshine State is the 10th worst state for millennials. The personal finance website compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 metrics, including the share of millennials, average monthly earnings, and millennial unemployment rate.

According to the report, Florida ranked 48th in the nation for the percentage of millennials, generally described as people in their “late-teens to early-30s,” living with their parents, and 38th for the millennial unemployment rate.

The state, according to the report, ranked 50th in the nation for the percentage of millennials with health insurance coverage and 48th for the percentage of millennials.

So where are the best places for millennials? Well, according to the number crunchers at WalletHub: North Dakota ranks No. 1, followed by Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, D.C., and Utah.

Florida’s lawmakers observe delicate courtesies during debate. It makes sense not to go out of one’s way to offend a colleague who might be on your side, or at least persuadable, tomorrow.

So Rep. Burgess was at pains not to label a Mike Miller amendment to his workers’ compensation fix “unfriendly” during Commerce Committee debate.

The amendment would have lowered the burden of proof and eliminated the requirement for a physical injury for claims involving mental or nervous injuries in the workplace for first responders.

As an Army reservist, Burgess sympathized. But Miller’s amendment could significantly increase insurance costs.

“It’s been said that this workers’ compensation issue, and the bill we have before us today, is an egg on a spoon on a tightrope over a whole bunch of molten lava,” Burgess said. “There’s no way, shape or form a willingness to call this an unfriendly amendment. But at this time I would prefer to move forward without this amendment attached.”

Miller finally withdrew his amendment, saying, “I do not want to be the person who injures that bill in any way.”

Way to go, Boston Whaler.

Gov. Scott stopped by the Edgwater company this week to commend it for its growth over the past few years. According to the Governor’s Office, the company has added more than 160 additional jobs since completing an 18-month expansion in 2015. The boat manufacturer now employs 750 Floridians.

Gov. Scott applauded Boston Whaler for its growth in recent years.

“I am proud to recognize Boston Whaler’s ongoing success in Florida following the completion of their expansion project two years ago,” said Scott in a statement. “Boston Whaler is a great example of why Enterprise Florida works: the economic incentives EFI offered helped Boston Whaler invest in our state, and our focus on making Florida business-friendly has led to years of further growth at Boston Whaler. I look forward to seeing their continued success in our state.”

Boston Whaler has been building boats in Florida since 1988.

Three Florida trauma centers were honored this week for their “heroic response to mass casualty events in their communities.”

The Florida Senate designated April 4 as Trauma Care Day, and recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital and Broward Medical Center for their work during tragedies this year.

In particular, lawmakers recognized Broward Health Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center for their efforts following the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. After the shooting, 54 victims were transferred to the Broward trauma center. The team sprang into action and worked around the clock to take care of the patients.

“These were challenging circumstances but our doctors, nurses and technical staff cared for all the patients coming from the Fort Lauderdale incident,” said Dr. Ivan Puente, Trauma Medical Director, Broward Health Medical Center. “Our Level 1 Trauma Center was established to prepare for this type of incident and I proud to serve with such a superb team of healthcare professionals.”

The resolution also recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center for its work in the days after the June 12 Pulse shooting and Lee Memorial for its work after the July 25 shooting at Club Blu in Fort Myers.

Three cheers for first responders and victim advocates.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Scott recognized first responders and victims’ rights advocates from across the state during an annual ceremony at the Capitol this week to commemorate National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.

“I am thankful for all who dedicate their lives to serving victims of crime, including those who rushed to the scene of tragedy following the Pulse nightclub attack—we honored some of those individuals today for their work helping victims and their families in the aftermath of the attack,” said Bondi in a statement. “All our award recipients are exceptional and play a vital role in helping victims heal and I am eternally grateful for their service.”

Bondi presented awards to Jeri Eubanks, a victim advocate with the State Attorney’s Office in the Seventh Judicial Circuit; Stephanie Mariano with Christ Church in Orlando; Joel Morales, a victim service advocate with the Orlando United Assistance Center; Detective Yulieth Ortiz with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Ross Partee with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office; Leidy Patino, a senior legal assistant with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit; and Officer David Starke with the Ormond Beach Police Department.

Scott also issued a proclamation to recognize National Crime Victims’ Week in Florida.

The Florida Lottery set a sales record during the third quarter by collecting more than $1.6 billion in ticket sales.

March alone accounted for more than $590 million in sales, the lottery has announced.

It was the best month for scratch-off sales to date, exceeding $433 million.

It all meant a contribution of $412 million to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund for the quarter.

“As we make the final push toward the end of the fiscal year, the Lottery remains committed to our mission of generating the most money possible to provide Florida’s students with the opportunity to receive a great education,” said Secretary Tom Delacenserie.

Consumers have a good feeling about Florida.

The Governor’s Office announced this week the consumer sentiment index shot up to a 15-year high of 99 in March. Personal income rose 4.9 percent for Floridians last year, the highest of the 10 largest states. Home values increased 12.5 percent.

“We have worked hard to turn Florida’s economy around and create opportunities for our future generations,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “Today’s announcement shows that when companies choose Florida to expand and grow, other parts of our economy, like personal income and home values, improve.”

Calculated by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, the Florida Consumer Sentiment Index measures five key indicators of consumers’ feelings about the economy. The report found all five components measured by the index rose in December, including personal finance indicators and expectations of future economic growth.

“Floridians are confident in their ability to find a good job and provide for their families, which is helping to fuel our state’s growing labor force and boosting our consumer confidence levels to new highs,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “We must build on the strong momentum Florida has already established by continuing to invest in job creation and economic diversification.”

Life got a tiny bit easier for Florida’s foster children.

The House approved a bill this week that makes permanent a program to help foster children get drivers licenses. Often called the “Keys to Independence Act,” the program helps kids get their learners permit or driver’s license, helps them find driver’s education courses and insurance, and offers financial assistance.

“Being able to drive is so important to being self-sufficient,” said Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who sponsored the bill in the House. “There are many places in Florida where you can’t get a job if you don’t have a license or you’re limited in where you can attend school because there is no mass transportation. Kids from the child welfare system should not have to start adulthood at a disadvantage.”

The bill also expands eligibility for the program and allows a grace period to complete the program if a child transitions to a new home. The bill, which already received Senate approval, now heads to Gov. Scott.

“Foster youth are often at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons, particularly when it comes to obtaining driver’s licenses and trying to become independent, successful adults,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, the Senate sponsor. “This bill solves these problems and provides Florida’s foster kids the opportunity they want and so rightly deserve.”

Florida students could soon be required to know their dollars and cent to graduate.

A Senate bill to require high school students to take a half-credit, full-semester course in personal financial literacy education as a graduation requirement cleared is final committee stop this week. Sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the bill received unanimous support during each of its committee stops.

“A required personal finance course will prepare our high school students heading to college or entering the work force with the tools and insight they need to be well-equipped to handle their personal finances,” said Hukill in a statement. “Sound financial management skills are important to all Floridians and especially to our students preparing for adulthood.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

CFO Jeff Atwater got top marks for being a good Catholic.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops presented Atwater with the Thomas A. Horkan, Jr. Distinguished Catholic Leader Award during the annual Catholic Days at the Capitol this week. According to the organization, the award is given each year to a Catholic Floridian whose life and work is “especially noteworthy for enhancing Florida’s laws and way of life through Gospel values.”

“Jeff Atwater has distinguished himself in Florida politics as a Catholic leader who is principled, political in the best sense, civil without being soft and deeply engaged,” said Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami present CFO Atwater with an award recognizing his service.

Atwater, who has served at the local level before being elected to the Florida House and later the Florida Senate, served as the Senate President from 2008 until 2010. He was elected to serve as the chief financial officer in 2010. He announced earlier this year he planned to step down at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session to take on a similar role at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Named for Thomas A. Horkan, Jr., the founding executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, Atwater is only the seventh recipient of the award since its inception in 1995.

It’s been 100 years since the United States entered World War I, and state officials are joining the nation in recognizing that moment.

The Department of State this week joined the nation in recognizing the United States’ entry into World War I by providing online education resources to tell the story of Floridians participation. Florida Memory, the digital outreach program of the State Library and the Archives of Florida, launched a new online exhibit Florida in WWI this week. The online exhibit features documents, images and artifacts.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources has also created a Florida page on the United States World War One Centennial Commission webpage. The commission’s webpage is the online portal to the United States World War I Centennial Commission, which is charge of planning and coordinating national commemorations of the centennial. It is also working on establishing a National World War I Memorial in Washington D.C.

Put down your phone, and focus on the road.

That’s the message the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is sending this throughout April as it promotes Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The state agency is teaming up with the Florida Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA—The Auto Club Group to raise awareness about the risks of driving distracted.

“Driving distracted significantly slows a driver’s reaction time to effectively avoid a crash, and no one should take that risk,” said Terry Rhodes the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In 2016, there were 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida. That’s more than five crashes every hour. According to the department, distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious bodily injuries and 233 fatalities.

“It’s easy to underestimate the devastating effects of distracted driving, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly for our drivers and the officers who are trying to keep them safe on our roads and highways,” said Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal. “Make a commitment today to put down your phone and whatever else might be commanding your attention and keep your eyes on the road.”

Take it slow Monday: It’s Florida Gopher Tortoise.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging communities, organizations, and individuals to do their part to help conserve the threatened species.

“If you’re a fan of the gopher tortoise, help us spread the word on conserving this threatened species, whose burrows are home to hundreds of animals, including the eastern indigo snake, gopher frog and Florida mouse,” said Deborah Burr, the head of the FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Program. “If you see a gopher tortoise crossing the road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the same direction it was heading, but only if it safe for you to do so. Remember, the gopher tortoise is a land animal, so never put it in water. And don’t forget it is illegal to harm a gopher tortoise, its eggs or its burrow.”

Seven counties — Alachua, Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Indian River, and Sarasota — and several cities are adopting Florida Gopher Tortoise Day resolutions this year.

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

 

Feds reveal why Rivada Mercury, Harris lost FirstNet bid

Last week, the federal government awarded AT&T with the coveted FirstNet contract to build and manage the next-generation federal public safety communications network.

This week, unsealed court records shed added light on the reason federal officials sided with AT&T and Motorola Solutions and not rivals Rivada Mercury and Melbourne-based Harris Corporation.

Documents outline a series of obstacles to the companies’ inclusion in FirstNet, the federal initiative to create a single platform as the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated exclusively to public safety.

Redacted documents made available by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims show federal evaluators considered the proposal by Rivada Mercury and Harris Corporation “risky.”

Further, records say the bid from Rivada Mercury “contain[ed] ‘deficiencies and/or combination of significant weaknesses that, if accepted, would introduce excessive, increased risk.’ The evaluation went on to say that if accepted, success would be ‘highly unlikely.’”

A report from Urgent Communications also detailed another stumbling block for Rivada Mercury — its lack of “formal agreements with many companies included in its announced bidding team, so FirstNet would have to wait for such deals to be finalized before it could proceed with the build out of the nationwide network.”

This may explain in part why partner Harris Corporation jumped the gun announcing a partnership with AT&T before a Harris representative was forced to walk back the comment.

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently awarded the 25-year contract, which will require AT&T to invest more than $46.5 billion in the construction of the FirstNet system. Estimates are that the system will create 10,000 jobs in the first two years. Once completed, public safety users will have advanced communications capabilities, including the ability to send video and live footage from the field.

FirstNet will be a lifesaving tool during natural disasters such as major hurricanes, where residents must rely on communications between local law enforcement, the National Guard, Florida Wildlife Commissioner Officers, EMTs and others.

Restroom sign

Restroom sex sullies Capitol’s 22nd floor

Which lawmaker’s intern was caught having sex in a public restroom in the Capitol’s 22nd floor?

We investigate, because Florida.

Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for Capitol Police, said: “there were no arrests, but we do have a report on the incident.” She promised to release a copy later Friday.

An officer apparently heard noise from the restroom and investigated, sources tell us.

We also hear that the other person was a Florida State student. Wanna bet the nasty happened on FSU Day?

Updated 4 p.m. — Plessinger now says the incident report on the matter isn’t finished and won’t be ready for release until Monday at the earliest.

Updated Monday 6 p.m. — An incident report was made available, reprinted below. We have blacked out the names so as not to “out” either of the participants.

Sunburn for 4.7.17 – Uber victory; Bondi didn’t bribe; Thank you for being you, Mr. Speaker; Perry Thurston is everywhere!; Worm gruntin’

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

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

AN UBER VICTORY

After three years of frustration and failure, a bill regulating transportation network companies in Florida is on the verge of reaching the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

On Thursday, the Senate Rules Committee passed SB 340 by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

The Senate move came a day after the House version (HB 221) passed 115-0, a vote very similar to the overwhelming approval received in the 2016 Session – that is before it died in the Senate, which has become a graveyard of late for ride-sharing legislation.

But in 2017, the mood in the Legislature’s upper chamber is very different.

This time, it appears statewide regulations on Uber and Lyft will soon become law.

Rep. Chris Sprowls is congratulated by Rep. James Grant after his bill to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft passed a second reading Tuesday. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

During the Rules Committee meeting, the sole objection came via Brandon Republican Tom Lee, who offered an amendment prohibiting government entities from entering exclusive contracts with a TNC. Lee maintained that if SB 340 is truly about free market competition and tearing down the taxi monopoly, government entities shouldn’t be able to make deals with local governments that restrict competition among other TNCs.

After Brandes had promised to address those concerns before his bill goes to the full Senate, Lee withdrew the amendment.

While the House version faced no dissent, sponsor Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor (who co-sponsored the bill with Tampa’s Jamie Grant) was pressed in Committee about the thoroughness of background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Sprowls, a former prosecutor, argued the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than those ride-sharing drivers will be subjected to through under the statewide bill.

“The FBI database has 95 million records,” Sprowls said. “These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill have 500 million records.”

 Although the full Senate will have ample opportunity to refine the bill further, ride-sharing company officials sound confident that the bill will soon become state law.

“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing,” exclaimed Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy.

REAX

Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison: “We are grateful to the members of the Senate Rules Committee, and especially Senator Brandes, for advancing legislation to create a comprehensive statewide framework for ridesharing in Florida. This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity. We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”

Uber’s Stephanie Smith: “Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing. At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this. We are thankful for the hard work of Sen. Jeffrey Brandes on this bill, and the 10 members of the Senate Rules Committee who voted in favor of safe and reliable transportation options for everyone who lives, works, and visits Florida.”

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PAM BONDI BRIBERY CASE DROPPED FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Fort Myers-area State Attorney Stephen Russell presented Gov. Scott with the results of an investigation. The complaint stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation about the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. The investigation came after numerous complaints filed against Bondi by a Massachusetts attorney. Scott assigned the case to Russell after the initial prosecutor, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, requested a different prosecutor. A prosecutor working for Russell’s office concluded that there is no reasonable suspicion that Trump or Bondi broke Florida’s bribery law.

RICHARD CORCORAN: THE PRESS CORPS’ ENABLER via Florida Politics – At halftime in this year’s Legislative Session, Corcoran sounds like he’s getting a bit fatigued with questions about “transparency.” At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills. “All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said. “Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on.”

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran reacts to a colleague on the floor of the House Tuesday at the Florida Capitol. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

CORCORAN SAYS EVERGLADES RESERVOIR BONDING STILL A PROBLEM AS OTHERS RAISE CONCERNS via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO FloridaCorcoran said a Senate proposal for an Everglades water storage reservoir is “getting better and better” after it was overhauled. But the proposal to borrow up to $1.2 billion to build the reservoir remains a problem … “No, we’re not bonding” he told reporters. “Bonding is an issue.” The cost still would be split with the federal government and the reservoir size to be determined later. “Obviously, it’s a Senate priority,” Corcoran said. “We feel like it’s getting more and more into a place where, that you could see some sort of finality.”

HOUSE, SENATE PHILOSOPHICALLY SPLIT ON MEMBER PROJECTS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – (T)he question of which projects get funded is always a source of contention between the House and the Senate. But this year a more fundamentally philosophical difference has emerged between the chamber’s two leaders when it comes to the relatively small pots of local funding that help pay for members’ pet initiatives, or project requests given to them by lobbyists who represent local governments or non-profits. … The House’s $81.2 billion budget, roughly $4 billion smaller than the Senate plan, includes about $100 million in what Corcoran deems member projects, a significantly smaller number than the Senate. Though there is not an agreement on the amount of member projects in that proposed spending plan, Corcoran says the upper chamber includes about $700 million. … “$700 million is too much for projects,” he said. “That’s a lot of pork.”

A HIGHER HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION? GOOD FOR HOMEOWNERS, BAD FOR COUNTIES via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – For Florida homeowners, it sounds almost too good to be true: Another break on property taxes in the form of a bigger homestead exemption. For legislators, it’s an easy way to seek favor with voters in an election year because the tax break requires their approval in 2018. But for counties and cities, it’s a disaster in the making that they warn would cut property taxes for some but force higher taxes on businesses and snowbirds or force cuts in basic services such as police and fire protection. In a year when local officials say the Legislature is trying to override home rule as never before, counties are mobilizing to defeat legislation to increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 of the first $100,000 of a home’s taxable value.

HOUSE WORKER’S COMPENSATION PACKAGE EMERGES FROM COMMERCE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The House workers’ compensation package survived hearings before the Commerce Committee Thursday, including business-friendly amendments that would leave injured workers paying their own attorney fees if they pursue meritless claims. One by one, the panel gave voice approval to three amendments offered by House Insurance & Banking chairman Danny Burgess, who has managed the underlying bill’s progress. The final vote on the bill was 20-14. … “I believe this bill does strike a balance between constitutionality and a strong reform,” Burgess said. “I fought tooth and nail to make sure we had a constitutional proposal.” Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw wasn’t sold. “I hope we get to a place that’s fair and balanced, but right now I think we’re way out of whack,” he said before voting “No.”

HOW THE TRIAL LAWYERS FINALLY LOST A ROUND IN THE FLORIDA HOUSE via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

The conventional wisdom has been that trial lawyers are dominating the 2017 Session, flexing their muscle in both chambers.

On the other side, the term “trial lawyer” is anathema, the label that the GOP uses (even though many trial lawyers are Republican) to taint an issue that crosses their friends in the business community.

Whatever you call them, the lawyers took one for the team in the House Commerce Committee Thursday. A succession of business-friendly amendments made it on to the workers’ comp bill.

A big one worth noting is a cap on attorneys’ fees, which is a big win for the business community.

With budget conference still to come, though, anything can still happen. But maybe, just perhaps, Speaker Corcoran—an attorney himself—isn’t as smitten with the lawyers as people think.

INSURANCE INDUSTRY FRUSTRATED BY LACK OF PROGRESS IN LEGISLATURE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – For the last two years, the industry has pressed the Legislature to pass legislation aimed at curbing a spike in lawsuits over disputed water claims from homeowners, particularly in South Florida. But House and Senate versions of what to do are dramatically different, raising the possibility that nothing will ultimately pass this year to address what one Miami area insurance agent called a “growing cancer” … “We are here halfway through the 2017 legislative session and it appears another year may pass without reforms,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick at a rally at the Florida Capitol Building. She said if reforms do not come, consumers are looking at rate increases to offset the cost of litigation. She said Citizens Property Insurance is looking at a 50 percent rate increase “all because the Legislature is tolerating an undeniable problem.”

AOB REFORMERS PRESENT PETITIONS, INSIST NO OFFENSE INTENDED AGAINST CARLOS TRUJILLO via Florida Politics – Advocates of assignment of benefits reform delivered 1,500 petition signatures to Speaker Corcoran’s office Thursday, renewing their campaign against what they consider dodgy lawsuits by unscrupulous contractors and attorneys. … The advocates, operating under the Florida Consumer Protection Coalition banner, blame abusive lawsuits involving AOBs for rising property insurance claims. … The speakers appeared thrown on the defensive by the first question from a reporter. It concerned a list Citizens has published naming the law firms producing the most AOB-related litigation. Fifth from the top is Trujillo Vargas Gonzalez Hevia, a name partner in which is House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo. … (Citizens Insurance chief Barry) Gilway stressed that he was not accusing Trujillo of any scams. “I did not say that or infer it, sir. What I’m saying, basically, is: There are 13 firms that are driving this, from Citizens’ perspective,” Gilway said.

HOUSE MEDICAID RESTRUCTURE INCLUDES ASKING FEDS FOR WORK REQUIREMENTS, ENROLLEE PREMIUMS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Health & Human Services Committee agreed to submit its proposed committee bill restructuring the statewide Medicaid managed care program … PCB HHS 17-03 consolidates the program from 11 regions of the state into eight larger regions, and changes the number of contracted health plans for each region. The Agency for Health Care Administration asked for the changes as it prepares to re-procure plans for the program starting later this year. The bill directs AHCA to request federal approval to require enrollees to work, be searching for work or be in school to maintain Medicaid eligibility. It would come with exemptions for those with disabilities and single parents with infants.

— “Majority of voters in Florida favor Medicaid expansion, survey says” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald

LAWMAKERS CLOSER TO ANSWER ON CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITIES via Travis Pillow of redefinED.org – The state House is pushing ahead with a plan, included in its budget package, that would require school districts to steer some of their local property taxes to charters. A similar effort had stalled in the Senate, but was jump-started this week and won bipartisan approval today from the Appropriations Committee. SB 376 would steer more than $150 million to charter schools statewide, though funding would vary significantly among districts. Before the committee passed the bill, Sen. Oscar Braynon said he wanted to add more protections to head off “private enrichment” in charter school real estate deals. “No one wants to have taxpayer money go to enrich someone, and then when they sell or divest, they make money, and they walk away with taxpayers’ money,” Braynon said. He had proposed an amendment to that effect, but withdrew it for the time being.

KEEP IT SECRET: FLORIDA MAY CLOSE PRESIDENTIAL SEARCHES via The Associated Press – A House panel approved a bill that would keep confidential the name of anyone applying to become head of a college or university. The bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel would also keep confidential the names of people applying for other top positions such as dean or provost. The legislation (HB 351) heads next to the full House. A similar bill has not moved in the Senate. If the measure becomes law, the names of finalists for top jobs would be made public 21 days before there is a final vote to hire someone.

POLLUTION-SPILL BILL RACES TO APPROVAL BY SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The Senate Appropriations Committee wastes little time or comment approving a proposal to make sure the public is notified within 48 hours of a toxic spill. The panel took bare minutes to vote the bill out unanimously. It was the final committee stop on the way to the Senate floor. CS/SB 532, the Public Notice of Pollution Act, requires notice to the Department of Environmental Protection of any spill within 24 hours. The department then would have 24 hours to tell the public. Violations could bring civil penalties of $10,000 per day. Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton filed the bill after an administrative law judge in September threw out a toxic-notice rule imposed by Gov. Rick Scott — who acted after it took three weeks for neighbors of a phosphate plant in Lake Wales to learn that it had spilled millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the aquifer.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 20; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 27; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 27; MLB All-Star Game – 95; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 148; Election Day 2017 – 213; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 251; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 275.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 8:45 a.m. (CST) Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, 210 Harbor Boulevard in Destin. He’ll then head to Pensacola, where he’ll hold a military roundtable at 11:15 a.m. (CST) at the Navy Federal Credit Union, Building 3, 5550 Heritage Oaks Drive.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. until noon in the Acura Club at FAU Stadium at Florida Atlantic University 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton. The meeting is scheduled to go until noon, but ending times are tentative based on attendance and public interest.

CRC HEARING MOVING TO CAPITAL FROM PANHANDLE via Florida Politics – The Constitution Revision Commission is moving its public hearing next Wednesday from Pensacola to Tallahassee “to maximize public input and commissioner participation,” according to a press release. Don’t worry, northwest Florida residents: the CRC “will re-schedule a public hearing to be held in the Florida Panhandle in the upcoming weeks.” The hearing now will be held at Florida A&M University’s Efferson Student Union, in the Grand Ballroom. A map of the venue is here. Free parking will be available, with doors open to the public starting at 4 p.m.. The hearing will begin at 5 p.m. More info is on the commission’s website, at www.flcrc.gov. It’s formed every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document after holding public hearings statewide. Any constitutional amendments it puts forth would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters on the 2018 general election ballot.

BEARS AGAIN ON WILDLIFE COMMISSION AGENDA via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – The agenda for the April 19-20 FWC meeting in Tallahassee, includes a discussion of “bear management,” but the staff is not going to recommend a bear hunt, according to executive director Nick Wiley. “We are not planning to propose anything specific to bear hunting in 2017,” Wiley said in an email. “With that said, there is usually public comment about bear hunting at our commission meetings and I expect that to continue at this meeting. And our commissioners can certainly discuss the topic if they wish. So, I would say the issue is likely to come up given the level of interest we continue to see.”

STATE COULD PUT POLICE LINEUP STANDARDS INTO LAW via The Associated Press – The Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to use the lineup standards to avoid eyewitness mistakes that could lead to wrongful convictions. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement encouraged agencies to adopt the standards, but agencies aren’t required to do so. Eyewitness mistakes are to blame in 64 percent of cases in which defendants are later exonerated by DNA evidence. The current guidelines suggest lineups be conducted by an administrator who does not know the suspect in order to ensure impartiality. Also, witnesses should be told that suspects may or may not be in a photo or in-person lineup and that they are not required to make an identification.

SUPREME COURT TWEAKS ITS ‘SENIOR JUSTICE’ RULE AFTER CONTROVERSY via Florida Politics The Florida Supreme Court no longer will allow its justices to keep working indefinitely on open cases after they leave the bench, according to a new rule released Thursday. After Justice James E.C. Perry officially retired on Dec. 30, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga allowed him to finish work on opinions as a “senior justice,” following decades of court practice. But critics, including Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, cried foul. They complained Perry was displacing his successor, C. Alan Lawson, who started work the next day on Dec. 31. Perry worked for an additional month after that. Lawson—GOP Gov. Rick Scott‘s first Supreme Court pick—is a conservative; Perry most often voted with the court’s left-leaning contingent.

PARENTS CONTINUE CHALLENGE OF FLORIDA’S THIRD-GRADE RETENTION LAW via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – A group of parents from Hernando County and across Florida is asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider their challenge of the state’s third-grade retention law. Their attorney, Andrea Mogensen, filed a request for review Wednesday of a recent 1st District Court of Appeals decision tossing out their complaint. “The decision announces a rule of law that conflicts with and misapplies existing precedent of the Florida Supreme Court on the same questions of law,” Mogensen said. The 1st DCA ruled that the parents should have brought their suit in local jurisdictions and not in Leon County. It also said they did not meet any requirements for injunctive relief. The court further made strong statements in support of the state’s testing and promotion system.

PERRY THURSTON, OTHERS WANT CONFEDERATE STATUE ISSUE RESOLVED via Florida Politics – Former and current black lawmakers took to the Old Capitol steps Thursday to call for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general now in the U.S. Capitol. Led by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and surrounded by alumni members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the group called for passage of Thurston’s bill that would formally approve Dr. Bethune to replace Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, will remain. But Thurston’s bill has yet to have a hearing, and competing legislation calls for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

Perry Thurston

CHRIS KING LONE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE TO SHOW AT FLORIDA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS SYMPOSIUM via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsKing tweeted such, “Honored to talk w/the great leaders at the @FLBlackCaucus Gubernatorial Symposium about how to make our future better than our past.” The other announced Democrat so far is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum … “He’s here. Showing up is half the battle,” caucus chair state Sen. Perry Thurston. “I want to thank him for showing up, thank him for being here.”

‘GROVELAND FOUR’ EXONERATION RESOLUTION PASSES COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – ‘The Groveland Four’ were four young men and teenagers who endured one of the darkest known moments of Florida’s Jim Crow history when they were falsely accused of rape, then all of them were beaten, two of them were killed, and two were convicted and imprisoned on what legal researchers are now convinced was false evidence … the House Judicial Committee unanimously approved a House Resolution 631, declaring the story, which began with a 1949 incident on a Lake County back road outside of Groveland, to have been a “grave injustice.” The bill declares that injustice toward Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, exonerates them and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

STATE MAY SPEND $1.2 MILLION ON REFORM SCHOOL MEMORIAL via The Associated Press – The state Legislature is already considering a bill to formally apologize for abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where nearly 100 boys died between 1900 and 1973. The school was located near Marianna, some 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Tallahassee. A House panel voted to carry out recommendations made last year by a state task force. The bill authorizes creation of a memorial at the state Capitol and one near Marianna. It also calls for reburying victims of a 1914 fire at the school cemetery in Marianna, and to rebury other remains in Tallahassee.

TODAY IN #CLUSTERF*CKS: HOW A SUICIDAL FLORIDA FOSTER CHILD FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – When Lauryn Martin-Everett hanged herself at a troubled Tavernier youth shelter, children’s advocates in the small island community began asking questions. The answers, they were told, were hundreds of miles away. Though the 16-year-old had been sent to live at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key, the responsibility for her care remained in Southwest Florida. Members of a South Florida child welfare oversight board expressed frustration … that the teen had been moved far from home, and no one in her new county was responsible for ensuring her welfare. “We’re a small community down there; we’re not talking about Miami-Dade,” said Alexsa Leto, who heads the Monroe County office of the state’s Guardian-ad-Litem Program, which matches vulnerable children with court-appointed advocates. “And we didn’t know the child was there.”

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PERSONNEL NOTE: STEVE JACKSON OUT AS FDP HOUSE VICTORY POLITICAL DIRECTOR — Jackson is expected to continue with the FDP, serving as the statewide field director, Jackson was hired in 2015 after a nationwide search to serve as the political director for House campaigns. In a statement announcing his hire, then-incoming Minority Leader Janet Cruz said she thought it was important for “House Victory to have our own dedicated political director focused exclusively on electing more Democrats to the House.” A campaign veteran, Jackson got his began his career as a field organizer in Florida during President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, before going to work as the field and data director for the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee. He went on to lead the successful re-election campaign for then Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez in 2014, and spent about a year working as the data and targeting manager for America Votes, before joining House Victory. Look for Jane’e Murphy, a close advisor to incoming Minority Leader Kionee McGhee, to play a key role going forward; although she is not going to be taking over political director role (yet).

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR’S SON JOINS COREY LEWADOWSKI LOBBY SHOP via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Carlos Gimenez Jr., former consultant for Donald Trump and the son and namesake of Miami-Dade’s mayor, is joining the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski, as it drums up business in one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Gimenez said he joined the newly founded firm, Avenue Strategies, to focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology

Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecencia: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates

Jon Kilman, Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association

Toni Large, Steven Uhlfelder, Uhlfelder & Associates: Florida Medical Horticulture

Janet Mabry, Mabry and Associate: Academica

Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology

Bill Rubin, Amy Bisceglia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: St. Petersburg Distillery

Jon Yapo, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association; NeuroTrauma Association of America, Inc.

WEEKEND TV

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

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show will feature new Miami Gardens Police Chief Delma Noel-Pratt, who is also the first woman to lead the city’s police force, and Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include former Democratic State Rep. Ed Narain, Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan Ruth, political writer Joe Henderson and Tampa Republican Women Federated Club VP Terry Castro.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan will be on to talk about the upcoming Day of Love and Kindness for the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, while the show’s Common Ground segment will focus on health care legislation.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will be joined by Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week Kent Justice will bring on Visit Jacksonville President/CEO Paul Astleford, Dr. Sunil Joshi of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, and Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.

***The Senate Prospective Payment System plan will protect Florida’s aging seniors by incentivizing quality care. Learn more about how this reimbursement plan will promote improvement in Florida’s skilled-nursing centers. Learn more here .***

FLORIDA CITY SAYS ‘GAME OVER’ TO INFLATABLE SUPER MARIO  via The Associated Press – A Florida city is saying “game over” to a business owner’s decision to inflate a 9-foot-tall (2.7-meter-tall) Super Mario outside his shop. Scott Fisher owns a video game store in the city of Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville … Fisher filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the town’s ban violates his free speech. Lawyers with the conservative law organization Institute for Justice are representing Fisher. They argue that the city is discriminating by allowing inflatables to be displayed as holiday decorations or creative displays, but not to promote businesses. Fisher says the inflatable Mario helps people find his small store.

OLD-FASHIONED REST STOPS DISAPPEARING IN FLORIDA AND OTHER STATES via Jenni Bergal of Stateline.org – Cash-strapped transportation agencies are shuttering the old ones to save money, or because they don’t attract enough traffic or are in such bad shape that renovating them is too costly. Or, the stops have been overtaken by tourist information centers, service plazas that take in revenue from gasoline and food sales, or commercial strips off interstate exits. Florida, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota are among the states that have closed traditional rest stops in the past two years. But advocates of maintaining traditional rest areas say even if motorists are offered flashier options for pit stops, the ones that sprung up as highways did are still needed for driver safety and convenience … unlike service plazas, rest areas on federal interstate highways are prohibited from selling gasoline or food other than from vending machines, the proceeds of which traditionally go to people who are visually impaired. State transportation departments run the rest areas and are responsible for cleaning and maintaining them. That can take a chunk of their budget, depending on staffing and amenities, officials say.

RIVERS OF LIGHT TO BE SHOWN NIGHTLY STARTING SATURDAY via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will be shown every evening starting Saturday. Since its debut Feb. 17, the show has run at 8:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Rivers of Light is the first evening spectacular at Animal Kingdom and will play a crucial role in spreading out summer crowds once Pandora – The World of Avatar opens May 27. Disney bills Rivers of Light as “a celebration of the beauty, fragility and wild unpredictability of animals and nature told through live performers, animal spirit guide floats, fire, water and projections.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the great crusader, Lori Brown, and the great-at-something-I-just-don’t-know-what, Chris Turner.

HAPPENING SATURDAY — 17th annual Sochoopy Worm Gruntin’ Festival — The annual festival is scheduled for Saturday, and the day-long event includes a worm gruntin’ demonstration with Gray Revell, a professional bait harvester, at 10:15 a.m.; a worm gruntin’ contest open to kids ages 12 and under at 10:30 a.m.; and live music throughout the day.

New wrinkles in Florida’s medical marijuana implementation raise doubts, concerns

I’ve not been shy about expressing my concerns about the implementation of Amendment 2, many of which stem from the fact that I’m the father of a young daughter. From that perspective, it’s imperative to me that Florida exercises necessary prudence and caution while putting in place the mandate from voters on medical marijuana.

I’m not ashamed to say: “Surely, not in my backyard!”

Call me NIMBY. Call me old fashioned. Just don’t call me Shirley.

The existing seven licenses to grow marijuana in Florida have, for the most part, taken a similar stance as I have on a responsible roll out of the new law. They have good reason to do so: a cautious, slowly phased-in, expansion of medical marijuana in Florida is good for their bottom lines.

That may seem greedy or cynical to some, but I don’t think it is. The intersection of philosophy and self-interest tends to be a strong impetus for the creation of public policy, and that’s a good thing.

But self-interest being self-interest you also can’t expect that intersection to remain static on a big piece of public policy, with big dollars at stake, like medical marijuana.

Certain recent events have given me a reason to take a step back on some of these issues and evaluate the philosophical honesty of the approach of Florida’s current Dispensing Organizations, soon to be reregistered as MMTCs under Amendment 2.

Let me start by saying that I accept the basic premise put forward by these DO’s and legislators that they’ve built businesses by a foregone conclusion that our nascent medical marijuana system would expand dramatically – either under Amendment 2’s passage or legislative action. And they have done so at significant expense, without much in the way of return, thus far.

Now, that investment alone doesn’t necessarily justify a policy of abject protectionism in implementing the constitution, but again, as it intersects with the notion of caution and public safety, the case gets stronger to do so.

Except for some new wrinkles.

This week, Canadian mega-marijuana corporation, Aphria Inc., announced a deal to essentially buy CHT Medical outright, one of the seven licensed DOs. They’re doing so with $25 million cash, while launching a $35 million raise, valuing the company at $177 million (!!!). CHT only began selling low-THC marijuana to patients in January, mind you.

As I outlined in my last piece on this subject, there was an intense and rigorous application process to select those current license holders. Particularly in the case of CHT’s apparent wholesale unloading of their license to Aphria, would essentially circumvent that entire vetting process. These investors could be great news for Florida, we just don’t know, since they didn’t go through the process like everyone else.

Second, it strikes me as a tad intellectually inconsistent to argue for sympathy over their investment in the Florida market in one breath, while raising big foreign investment dollars in the next. (And CHT isn’t alone in its fundraising, just the most public. As the Miami Herald has reported, almost all of the licensees are currently raising capital from investors.)

Finally, let’s think about the pitch these companies naturally would have to make to secure these sorts of massive capital infusions. Legal marijuana is big business, to be sure, but it’s also an industry in its infancy that is handcuffed in many ways by the glaring conflicts between state laws and federal law, where marijuana remains a DEA Schedule 1 substance. That’s why you still don’t see traditional money players like Goldman and Citi and their ilk playing in this space.

So why the big investments and insane valuations? The answer lies more in the licenses granted by Florida, and less in the P&Ls of the companies in question.

Under current law, after having gone through the rigorous application process, posting a $5 million bond, building growing, processing and retail facilities, and receiving DOH approvals to cultivate and then distribute medical marijuana, licensees can pretty much do whatever they want.

Most states with some form of legal marijuana require separate applications and licenses for each individual business operation. A grow has its own license, retail dispensaries are individually licensed, etc. Other states with vertical integration, like Florida, allow multiple operations under a single license. In those states, the maximum number of retail facilities that can be operated under a license is limited to 3 or less (except for New York, which allows 4).

In Florida? There is no limit.

That’s right, folks.

What the press corps and I have likewise been derelict in reporting on, is that our present cohort of marijuana growers in Florida can open unlimited retail facilities – “pot shops” in the parlance of this issue – across the state. And that’s precisely what they are planning to do with all of this new capital they are raising by the truckload.

A pot shop on every corner? Without action to fix this glaring loophole (heh), that’s where we’re headed.

Not in my backyard.

The Delegation for 4.6.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

It is no secret that local budgets and resources are stretched when President Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach County. Local officials and members of Congress, especially Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, are asking for more federal help to recover costs.

Things should get really expensive as Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan spend Thursday and Friday in South Florida. Handling the security and other requirements of an American President is one thing, but adding a foreign head of state to the mix makes it doubly stressful. Even the Broward Sheriff’s Office is being called upon to help.

Once everyone is settled in, there is a lot to talk about. Trump apparently removed one item from the agenda recently when he agreed to a “One China” policy in a recent telephone conversation with Xi. The New York Times wins the prize for understatement with their description of the summit as two leaders with “clashing agendas.”

There is ample room for multiple disagreements. From trade deficits, to intellectual property theft, to currency manipulation, to militarizing the South China Sea, there are plenty of issues to cover in two days.

Then there is China’s black sheep stepchild, North Korea. By firing off missiles into the Sea of Japan like they are coming from a Pez dispenser, the rogue nation has the Asian Pacific, and American security officials, on edge. Will Xi commit to a spanking?

There are numerous opportunities to make news to be made over the next 36 hours, hopefully something good. The big question: will there be more photos of Trump and Xi or Melania and Peng Liyuan?

Back in Washington and soon after Xi’s arrival in Florida, the Senate will begin to move on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is accurate, the “nuclear option” will be deployed and Gorsuch will be officially on the Court around the time the Trump/Xi summit concludes.

What an action-packed two days!

Trump refuses to pay out of pocket for Mar-a-Lago visits – As for who is paying for Trump’s nearly weekly visits to South Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports that it won’t be the president. Instead, Trump is donating his first quarter presidential salary to the National Park Service, which will go to support monuments and battleground sites.

“So respectfully, it’s like, at what point does he do enough? White House press secretary Sean Spicer said after presenting a check for $78,333.32 to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “He’s done quite a bit in terms of making a donation to government.”

New Trump ad encourages support for Gorscuch — Florida will be on the front lines for a new digital ad touting the Trump administration’s accomplishments and pushing for senators to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Making America Great is launching the ad a week after a $1 million ad buy pushing President Donald Trump’s agenda. In addition to Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Wisconsin, Maine and D.C. will get boosted spending on the campaign.

“Judge Gorsuch is impeccably qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Some of our Senators’ petulant opposition is not in the best interest of our nation, and is contrary to the wishes of their constituency,” said Emily Cornell, the COO of Making America Great. “We welcome the opportunity to give Gorsuch supporters the megaphone they deserve.”

The ad says Trump is “keeping his promises” and “delivering real change. His choice to nominate Neil Gorsuch is a promise made and kept.”

Education Secretary visiting South FloridaDeVos makes her first trip to South Florida since Trump named her to the post. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reportsthat DeVos will visit two schools and Florida International University, starting in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood at the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary School. After that, DeVos will visit the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at FIU.

DeVos will also visit SLAM charter school in Miami, which specializes in Sports Leadership and Management for students in the sixth through eighth grade. On Friday, DeVos is scheduled to visit Royal Palm Elementary school in Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade College.

Delegation weighs in on Bannon’s removal from NSC — It is not often that President Trump makes personnel moves which generate bipartisan support, but he managed to do that on Wednesday. With the announcement that chief strategist Steve Bannon will no longer serve on the National Security Council (NSC), some in the Florida delegation gave the news two thumbs up…one from each side of the aisle.

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Tweeted that it was “welcome news” and reminded everyone of her opposition on the day Bannon’s appointment was originally announced. She was joined at that time by Democrats, other moderate Republicans and even some in the Freedom Caucus like South Carolina’s Mark Sanford.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy called it “a victory for democracy.” In February Murphy introduced H.R. 804 that would prohibit future political advisors from serving on the NSC. Despite Wednesday’s developments, Murphy intends to push her bill through “so that we never again jeopardize the safety and security of the American people for purely political reasons.”

Tweet, tweet:

Congress seen as not likely to pass tax overhaul quickly via Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press – After their humiliating loss on health care, Republicans in Congress could use a quick victory on a big issue. It won’t be an overhaul of the tax code. Overhauling the tax code could prove harder to accomplish than repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health law. Congressional Republicans are divided on significant issues, especially a new tax on imports embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the White House is sending contradicting signals on the new tax, adding to the uncertainty. House Republicans also can’t decide whether to move on from health care. Ryan canceled a scheduled vote on a House GOP plan after it became obvious that Republicans didn’t have the votes. He said he will continue to work on the issue but one of his top lieutenants on health care, Rep. Kevin Brady says he is now ‘100 percent’ focused on tax reform. Ryan says Congress can work on both at the same time. It won’t be easy.

SCOTUS won’t weigh in on Florida law banning extra credit card charges — The U.S. Supreme Court said it won’t weigh in on a Florida law that bans extra charges for credit card transactions.

The law was meant to allow merchants to tack on an extra fee for card users to cover transaction costs from payment networks, but last year the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was a violation of the First Amendment.

Bondi asked SCOTUS to make a decision on the issue last year, but they declined Monday.

SCOTUS didn’t say why they were skipping out on the case, but they said last week in a decision about a similar law in New York that the surcharges were a form of speech.

That law was sent back to an appeals court which will decide whether it violates the first amendment.

Rubio claims Tillerson’s remarks invited deadly attack in Syria — While fingers are being pointed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the culprit in a suspected chemical weapons attack, Florida’s Republican senator from Miami is also glaring in the direction of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Rubio believes Assad was carefully listening to Tillerson when the Secretary said last week that Assad might be left in power while the U.S. aggressively goes after ISIS. The senator believes Tuesday’s attack is not a coincidence.

On a Tampa Bay radio program, Rubio expressed his concern with Tillerson’s remarks that Assad’s future is ultimately up to the people of Syria. He likened that to “almost nodding to the idea that Assad was gonna get to stay in some capacity.”

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a few days later we see this,” said Rubio.

Rubio introduces bill to help with student loan debt – The Miami Republican introduced a bill alongside Virginia Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner to make income-based repayment the default option for paying back student loans.

“Our current federal student loan program is outdated and often leaves students and college graduates burdened with a significant amount of debt. This bill will ensure that people with federal student loans have affordable payments and stronger borrowing protections,” said Rubio. “As someone who once owed more than $100,000 in student loans, this issue is personal to me, and I will continue working to simplify this complex and bureaucratic student loan system.”

The bill would cap payment plans at 10 percent of a borrower’s income, and would exempt the first $10,000 of wages from that calculation.

Income-based repayment and other protections are already available to federal student loan holders, but many students don’t use them because they aren’t aware of their options or because the enrollment process and paperwork can be confusing and burdensome, the senators said.

Nelson/Rubio-initiated legislation passes Congress; heads to president’s desk — On Tuesday, the Senate passed HR 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, sending the measure on to President Trump for signature. The bill was the House version of legislation submitted by Florida’s senators in the last Congress named the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act.

“I applaud the House for passing the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act, which will help us make needed improvements to our storm tracking,” Rubio said in a statement. “Once the president signs this legislation into law, families, business owners and others will have better, more accurate information to better prepare for approaching hurricanes and tropical storms.”

Also included in the measure was an amendment requiring functioning backups for Hurricane Hunters aircraft in the event of the grounding of another. This occurred during Hurricane Hermine last year.

“When it comes to protecting lives and property, we can’t afford to go without Hurricane Hunters,” Nelson said after the bill’s passage in the Senate. “We need to have a backup plan in place, and I’m hopeful we’ll have one in time for hurricane season.”

On the House side, Charlie Crist and Darren Soto worked with Nelson to insert the language concerning the Hurricane Hunters.

“I thank my colleagues for helping us make this needed change to keep our hurricane hunters in the air to better protect our communities,” Crist said in a statement.

Nelson, Rubio, rest of Delegation team up on bipartisan legislation to fight Zika virus —Florida’s senators are working together to protect Floridians against the Zika virus. The state had multiple cases in 2016.

On Wednesday, Nelson and Rubio – along with Maine Independent Angus King and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr – introduced the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act.

The seven-page bill re-authorizes what was known as the MASH Act, which originally targeted the West Nile virus in 2003. Up to $130 million in grants will be authorized each year in addition to matching funds from state and local governments.

“It is extremely important that states and localities have the tools they need to combat Zika and other illnesses spread by mosquitos,” Rubio said in a joint statement. “This bill is another step toward keeping Floridians and tourists safe.”

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the mosquitos that carry it,” Nelson said. “As we head into the warmer summer months, we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.

As for the House, Rep. Ted Deutch joined Nelson, Rubio and a bipartisan, bicameral group — 47 lawmakers in all – in a letter urging Trump to keep up the federal effort and funding in combating the Zika virus ahead of Florida’s approaching rainy season.

Nelson proposes prescription drug assistance for low-income Puerto Ricans —Florida’s senior U.S. Senator has filed legislation aimed at helping an estimated 400,000 low-income seniors living in Puerto Rico. The three-page bill would make those seniors eligible for the same federal subsidies enjoyed by low-income Americans that help them afford their prescription drugs. Nelson believes that must be changed.

“That is inherently unfair,” he said. “This bill will help seniors living in Puerto Rico better afford the cost of their prescription drugs by simply putting them on the same footing as seniors living in the states.”

Puerto Ricans are technically citizens of the United States, but do not enjoy the full breadth of the benefits of citizenship until residing in the U.S.

Nelson’s bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Nelson has big lead over Rick Scott in 2018 poll — The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found Nelson leads Scott, 52 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would pick.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cellphone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

That 15-point margin represents the largest spread Nelson has enjoyed in early polling. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted on behalf of the Florida Hospital Association showed a much closer race between the two men come 2018, with Nelson at 46 percent to Scott’s 44 percent.

Meanwhile, a poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce released in March showed Nelson had a 6-point lead over Scott, 48 percent to 42 percent.

That margin was similar to one predicted in a UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey released earlier in the month that found Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. A Mason-Dixon survey showed Nelson with a 5-point edge over Scott, 46 percent to 41 percent.

Scott, who was elected in 2010, can’t run for governor in 2018 because of term-limits. He’s been boosting his national profile in recent months, and is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run.

Spotted: Gov. Scott calling the Republican health care proposal a “great starting point” in a new 60-second spot from the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee targeting potential GOP Senate candidates.

Paulson Principle’s: How 2016 results will impact 2018 campaigns

In the 2016 Florida Congressional races, an astounding 13 of the 27 districts were in play and 8 of them were decided by 5 points or less. In addition, 8 of the 27 districts elected new members. Truly amazing and unprecedented!

Why were the 2016 races so close and competitive in comparison to most congressional elections which see little turnover? First, the Florida presidential vote was close and that was reflected in the congressional elections. Second, court-ordered reapportionment led to the redrawing of the districts. Almost half of the Florida districts were impacted by the redrawn congressional map. Volatility was inevitable.

Of the 8 new congressional members, three were due to retiring Republicans who were replaced by new Republican representatives. Matt Gaetz replaced Jeff Miller in District 1; John Rutherford replaced Ander Crenshaw in District 4 in Jacksonville, and Dan Webster replaced Richard Nugent in District 11 in Hernando County.

Three formerly Republican seats were replaced by Democrats. Long-time Republican John Mica was defeated by politically unknown Stephanie Murphy in District 7. In District 13, incumbent David Jolly first announced he was resigning to run for the Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio during his presidential campaign.

Rubio withdrew from the presidential race and was heavily pressured by Republicans to re-enter the senate campaign. He did, and Jolly and other potential candidates withdrew from the race. Jolly returned to defend his District 13 congressional seat and lost to former Republican and former Gov. Charlie Crist by three percentage points.

Webster abandoned his old Orlando based District 10 to run in District 11 in Hernando County. His old seat, redrawn with a large Democratic base, was won by Val Demings, former Orange County Sheriff. The seat was a pick-up not only for Democrats, but also a gain for women and African Americans.

Finally, two congressional seats switched from Democrats to Republicans. Gwen Graham‘s former Panhandle seat in District 2 was redrawn with a much larger Republican voter base. Graham announced her decision not to seek reelection, but to consider a run for governor. The formerly Democratic seat was won by Republican physician Neal Dunn.

In District 18 in South Florida, incumbent Democrat Patrick Murphy announced his retirement in order to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Rubio. Rubio reentered the senate race and defeated Murphy. Murphy’s former senate seat was won by Republican disabled veteran Brian Mast.

The net result of 8 new members of the Florida congressional delegation was one additional Democratic seat. The Republican advantage of 17-10 before the 2016 campaign moved to a 16-11 advantage after the election. A lot of new faces; just not a lot of new Democratic faces.

Looking forward to the 2018 campaign, we know that the volatility of 2016 will lead to more volatility in 2018. The eight newly elected members in 2016 are going to draw strong opposition. Both parties will look for seats to “take-away” from the other side.

Republican Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami will draw the greatest attention from Democrats and Murphy and Crist will be the prime Republican targets. Both Murphy and Crist defeated incumbent Republicans, and both won close races.

Hang on. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Days until the 2018 election: 579.

Gaetz encourages president to focus on Everglades — The freshman congressman took to the House floor this week to encourage President Donald Trump to “remain focused” on Everglades restoration.

The conservative Panhandle lawmaker down played plans for a South Florida land buy, saying “we should get the government out of the real estate business, not deeper into it.”

The congressman instead pushed for finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which he said has bipartisan support, respects property rights and doesn’t meddle with agriculture.

“Finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will ensure that our river of grass will be around for generations to come,” he said.

The Shalimar lawmaker said “the Everglades are Florida” and said they are as iconic as the Space Shuttle and the Orange.

Group to Gaetz: “No health care for illegal immigrants” — The Shalimar Republican is under the watchful eye of the American Security Coalition. Their goal is to keep him from going along with a new health care bill that would include “footing the health care costs of illegal immigrants.”

In a web ad doubling as a fund raiser, the coalition claims Speaker Paul Ryan “is still attempting to ram ‘ObamaCare-lite’ into law.” Activists are urged to “call Congressman Matt Gaetz and tell him to ‘Close the Loophole; No Taxpayer-funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants.’”

The reason to call Gaetz, says the group, is because he “is under so much pressure” and the call could decide whether “Ryan gets his way.”

At the end is an appeal for donations to stop Ryan’s “open borders agenda.”

Gaetz looking into fighter pilot oxygen problems — The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday it has grounded all T-45 Goshawk jet training flights for three days after revelations of instructor pilots were refusing to fly the aircraft citing problems with its oxygen system. According to Fox News, the pilot boycott began late last week and had already grounded hundreds of flights.

This action affects the Naval Air Station at Pensacola.

“Pilots in the United States military should never have to worry about oxygen supply while training or in combat,” said Gaetz, whose district covers Pensacola NAS. “As a member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I will be traveling to Naval Air Station Pensacola next week to meet with command staff, flight instructors and pilots to fully assess potential malfunctions to aircraft oxygenators following the cancellation of training flights on Friday.”

“Histotoxic hypoxia” is the medical term associated with the disorienting disorder which can put pilots’ lives at risk, as well as those of civilians on the ground below.

“It can happen without warning,” one pilot said. “The system doesn’t detect contaminants.

Dunn pushes for legislation to protect against terrorist drone attacks — With the rising use of drones by terrorists, the Panama City Freshman Republican wants to protect military personnel and installations. In a letter co-written with Hawaii Democrat Colleen Hanabusa to the House Armed Services Committee leadership, Dunn urges the committee to help provide legal authority to allow the military to better protect its human and military assets.

“Recent reports indicate that Islamic State fighters are increasingly deploying armed Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) against our men and women in uniform and our allies abroad,” they wrote.

The concern is that with success overseas, ISIS will bring weaponized drones “to our shores for attacks and espionage against the homeland.”

Dunn is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Hanabusa is also a member of that committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Among the six additional co-signers of the letter was Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford. Serving on the Armed Services Committee are two freshman Floridians; Republican Gaetz and Democrat Murphy.

Yoho not backing down from Trump – The Gainesville Republican remains unfazed by Trump’s threats of a fight over health care, reports the Ocala Star Banner. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump tweeted after the failure of the American Health Care Act last week. “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”

“That’s just his style,” Yoho told reporters. “It hasn’t changed my view in any way.”

While a Trump supporter, Yoho – a member of the Freedom Caucus – opposed the AHCA because it did not fully repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yoho wanted a bill that repeals ACA “100 percent,” replacing it with something that that promotes a free market for insurance.

As for Trump’s tweet: “I think it’s a waste of internet space and broadband space.”

Lawson plans April town halls – The Tallahassee Democrat (not the newspaper) announced he’ll hold three town hall events in Jacksonville, Quincy and Tallahassee in April.

Of the three, the one of most interest will be the first one – in Jacksonville on Apr. 12.

With open questions as to Lawson’s commitment to the district, and rumblings of a challenge from former Mayor Alvin Brown, expect provocative questions on what Lawson is doing for Duval – including but not limited to appropriations requests such as TIGER Grants.

DeSantis calls for FBI look into Susan Rice It’s not quite “lock her up,” but Rep. Ron DeSantis told the Washington Examiner that the FBI should look into former Barack Obama National Secretary Susan Rice.

The issue? Requesting the identities of Trump campaign workers caught up in foreign surveillance.

“Congress needs to get to the bottom of this and the FBI should be investigating whether any laws were broken,” he said. “We need to know whether the material gleaned from the Rice unmasking is the material fed to the media in an attempt to do political damage to the Trump administration and, if so, who was responsible for leaking it.”

David Simmons mulling 2018 CD 7 run — The Altamonte Springs Republican said he is “98 percent” sure he will run against Democratic Rep. Murphy next year, reports Frank Torres with the Orlando Political Observer.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought.” Simmons said this week. “I’ve met with the NRCC and I’m 98 percent headed towards a run in the 7th Congressional District.”

A Murphy v. Simmons match-up would pit a political veteran against an incumbent who was virtually unknown a year ago, and would certainly be one of the most-watched contests in the 2018 cycle

Simmons terms out of the Senate in 2018 and has been looking for the next step in his career. In addition to the CD7 run, Simmons is eyeing a campaign for Florida Attorney General or a return to the private sector.

Murphy sets “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events — With Congress set to go into recess until April 25, interaction with constituents will be frequent occurrences for Members of Congress. The Winter Park freshman Democrat is no exception with Murphy scheduling a half dozen “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events around the Seventh Congressional District.

“My job is to listen to the people I represent, take their concerns to our nation’s capital, and fight for them every day,” Murphy said in a release announcing the events. “I’m working with both Democrats and Republicans to get results and to put people over partisanship.”

The first coffee is set for Monday at the Little Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant in Orlando. The final event will take place at the Maitland Public Library on April 17.

Soto unveils new district office; previews trip to Middle East — The Orlando Democrat had a big announcement last week with two items on the subject line. First, Soto unveiled his hew district office directly across from the Veterans Administration Hospital at Lake Nona. In light of all the problems veterans have faced in VA medical facilities, those in Congressional District 9 will not only have a place to go, but a place within walking distance.

“This location is very symbolic because our VA Hospital is across the street,” said Soto. “I’m always concerned that our Veterans have access to our court of appeals here at my office.”

Soto also revealed his whereabouts for the coming week. Joined by Floridians Dennis Ross and Neal Dunn, and other members, Soto is in Iraq visiting Florida National Guard troops.

Soto spokeswoman Iza Montalvo confirmed the group leaves Thursday and returns the following Tuesday. The delegation is also bringing 150,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the troops.

“We have a lot of things going on in Mosul,” said Soto. “It’s a huge opportunity for me in my first term to be able to learn more about the biggest policy issues that we’re dealing with.”

Demings announces open house, Women’s Advisory Council — The Orlando freshman Democrat is inviting constituents to “An Afternoon at the District Officeon Saturday. Those taking her up on the offer can “learn about what constituent services we offer, meet our staff, hear what the Congresswoman’s priorities are, and tell her what you want done in D.C.”

Hours are from 2-5 p.m. The office is located at 2295 Hiawassee Road, Suite 301 in Orlando.

Demings has also launched a Women’s Advisory Council focusing on women in business. The group, consisting of eight business leaders, will provide input “on how federal programs can be improved to improve opportunities for women and girls in Central Florida.”

“This group of women is uniquely qualified, and comes from a variety of diverse backgrounds,” she said in a news release. “I am grateful they will be a part of the Women’s Advisory Council and look forward to taking their expertise and knowledge with me to Washington.”

Demings also plans to establish other working groups in the coming weeks and months.

Demings and Murphy to speak at Central Florida Tiger Bay — The two Democratic U.S. Congresswomen are slated to speak at the April 7 Central Florida Tiger Bay Club meeting.

The pair will give their insights and views from their first three months in Washington during the noon am meeting at The Country Club of Orlando.

Those wishing to attend will need to RSVP to the Central Florida Tiger Bay Club. The event is free for club members, but will cost $40 for guests and non-members.

Bilirakis talks VA reform on House floor — Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis invoked a bit of his Greek heritage pushing for a Veterans Administration reform bill he is sponsoring on the House floor this week.

“In Greek mythology the Gordian knot represents a complex problem that needs out-of-the-box thinking to solve,” Bilirakis said. “The VA’s Gordian knot is its repeated manipulation of key data and overall lack of accountability.”

The bill’s full title is “the VA Guidance for Organizational Reform and Data Integrity for Accountability Needs Key for Necessary and Optimal Transformation Act” – or GORDIAN KNOT for short.

The bill would require the VA to standardize their data recording mechanisms, publish the average wait times for each medical facility, and streamline the agency’s organizational structure as well as hiring and firing practices.

“I believe this bill is absolutely necessary to reform the VA and assist in its mission to care for our true American heroes,” he said.

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Crist appeals to second president on behalf of incarcerated constituent — The St. Petersburg freshman Democrat is taking the case of Crist’s constituent, Michael Morgan, to the President of the United States for a second time. Late last week Crist wrote a letter to President Trump asking the president and his administration to look into the case of Morgan, who is serving a sentence for what a growing number believe, was a crime Morgan did not commit.

Crist describes Morgan’s status as “unjustly incarcerated.” The former governor understands that the sitting governor holds the authority to take legal action in this case, but feels Trump could play a role due to the inaction of Gov. Scott.

“Mr. President, your attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful to drive needed action by our state’s Chief Executive,” he wrote.

Crist began the letter with a call to work together on criminal justice reform, using Morgan as a visual example of the need to get something done. He also touted reforms carried out in Florida during his four years as governor.

Shortly before President Obama left office in January, the newly-sworn in Crist wrote a similar plea on Morgan’s behalf and also extolled the need for reform. In that letter, Crist gave a shout out to Speaker Paul Ryan “who has taken a strong stance on these issues.”

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” he wrote, before chiding Scott for inaction.

Crist raises record $717K in Q! – The St. Petersburg Democrat is reporting a record-breaking $717,000, claiming it was the most raised by any freshman lawmaker during the first quarter in office. Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

Castor reaffirms support for Paycheck Fairness Act – On Equal Pay Day, the point where women must work over and above the previous year to make the same amount as men, the Tampa lawmaker joined her Democratic colleagues to call Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“Equal pay is vital to women, their families and the broader economy. Paychecks for women continue to lag, and it is past time to fix the inequity,” Castor said. The Act would ban employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with each other, impose harsher penalties for pay discrimination and require employers to be able to show that wage gaps between men and women are based on factors other than gender.

To highlight the issue, first daughter Ivanka Trump posted a USA Today infographic on Instagram showing equal pay statistics, which read: “Women earn 82 percent the full-time weekly paycheck of a man. Black women earn 68 percent and Latina women earn 62 percent of the full-time weekly pay of a white man.”

Buchanan talks tax reform with Suncoast business group – The Sarasota Republican spoke to business group the Argus Foundation this week about a bill he introduced to lower taxes on small businesses.

Buchanan’s bill would make sure that no small business in the country pays a higher tax rate than large corporations by removing income earned by passthrough businesses from the individual tax code and treat it income like business income earned by corporations.

Vern Buchanan updates The Argus Foundation on his bill to cut taxes for small businesses.

“It’s time for Washington to stop punishing Suncoast small businesses and start helping them,” Buchanan told the group. “I’m very pleased my bill is building support.”

The congressman said his proposal was picking up steam and had been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Nelson and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins

Bipartisan delegation members tour Holocaust Museum — On Monday, several members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism had a private tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Taskforce co-Chairman Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, was among those taking the tour.

“It’s a very powerful place to stop when you’re in Washington because of what it says about the need to speak out; the need to stand up,” Deutch told Roll Call.

Deutch and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, co-founded the taskforce in 2015. They announced its revival in February and the two will again lead the effort.

Also joining the tour was Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and St. Lucie Republican Brian Mast. Several members of the 2017 freshman class also attended.

“There’s a certain coarseness in the air right now, so it’s important that a group of leaders in the Congress speak up and stand up for folks and try to bring people together and educate them,” Castor said.

Deutch feels those touring the museum will leave with a sense of purpose.

“I think people will be inspired to go out and play a more active role in fighting hatred and bigotry of all kinds,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz mulling over bill to ban guns in checked baggage – The South Florida Democrat is considering introducing a bill that would ban the transportation of guns on airplanes.

The longtime lawmaker met with federal, state and local law enforcement last week to talk about current law, which allows airline passengers to transport unloaded firearms as checked baggage.

Wasserman Shultz is considering the bill in response gunman who killed five people at Fort Lauderdale’s airport earlier this year after retrieving a gun from his checked baggage.

“There is no obstacle I am aware of in the law that prevents TSA from regulating the transportation of firearms,” she said. “I have continued to be in the process of taking a look and seeking input at the best way to address transportation of firearms and whether legislation is necessary. … I want to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the politics of the Second Amendment.”

Curbelo teams up with Oregon Democrat for marijuana tax bill — South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is cosponsoring a bill with Oregon Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer that would make it easier for marijuana businesses to pay taxes.

The bill would allow pot peddlers to claim common deductions and tax credits so long as they are operating in line with state law.

“One of my goals in Congress is to ensure the law treats all enterprises with fairness and equity; giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper,” Curbelo said in a statement. “This bill clarifies our federal tax code for those marijuana businesses operating legally and in compliance with state regulations by providing tax parity.”

Current law doesn’t allow companies that deal in Schedule I or Schedule II substances to deduct even simple expenses such as rent from their taxes. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance.

Former Mica staffer exonerated in college classroom dust up — A onetime staffer in the office of the former Florida Republican Congressman recently at the center of a national story was allowed to return to class after Rollins College lifted his suspension. Marshall Polston, who once served as a part time employee in Mica’s office, was originally suspended after verbal clashes with a professor over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The matter made national news when Rollins suspended Polston on March 24 following verbal exchanges with Prof. Areej Zufari after the latter reportedly told her class Jesus was not crucified. Zufari also said Polston’s presence in class made her “feel unsafe” and accused Polston of “stalking” her.

While Polston was chided by the university for behavior not “consistent with the values we abide by at the College,” he was held “not responsible” for the accusations leveled at him and allowed to return to class.

With healthcare discussions front and center at both the state and federal level, Caitlin Carroll with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has her hands full. Carroll, who recently took on the Sunshine State in her coverage area, said her organization is working to make sure patients have access to innovative treatments and care. We caught up with her to talk about what needs to be done at the state and federal levels to make sure that happens.

FP: Talk to me about what states should be doing to ensure patient access.

CC: I think when it comes to patient access, the most important thing is making sure that patient care is in the hands of the patient and the doctor who knows them best, and that they’re not getting caught up in bureaucratic red tape and the middle man system we see in our current supply chain system. One of the things we feel strongly about is making sure patients have the best options and the most information about their own coverage and their own care as possible. We want to see a level playing field between insurers and doctors and their patients, ensuring patient protections. And part of that means giving more information and a better appeals process by streamlining step therapy and fail-first protocols.

FP: How should federal lawmakers deal with these same issues?

CC: I think overall we are in the middle of having a conversation about how to improve our health care system so that it focuses on outcomes and results and what is valuable to patients, rather than a system where savings and rebates are getting caught up in middle men and aren’t being passed on to patients. From our perspective, we want to have a conversation about moving toward value-based health care that focuses on outcomes, that focuses on results and that allows patients to know that the medicines and the treatments and the cures that they’re receiving are the best ones that are going to work for them, and they’re receiving the best care possible.

FP: What should Florida lawmakers be doing to work with their counterparts in Congress and beyond about this?

CC: First and foremost, we want to make sure any policies that we adopt actually address patient concerns without penalizing innovation that is going to develop the lifesaving medication that they need. Balancing those priorities to make sure we’re ensuring affordable access, that we’re ensuring quality care and we’re also not penalizing the future innovations that are going to improve life expectancy and quality of life over the next decade. We at PhRMA are not only bipartisan, but we are a nonpartisan organization, we are willing to work with anybody and we believe that all solutions have to look at the reality of our current supply chain, and address that reality. and they also need to take comprehensive looks that bring together all health care stake holders. there isn’t just one silver bullet that is going to address improving patient access, it really has to be a comprehensive solution.

Ballard named to RNC finance postAlex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Tallahassee lobbyist secured a spot on the Republican National Committee fundraising team. Ballard served as chair of the Trump Victory in Florida and vice chair of the inaugural committee. He also had roles on the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Save the date — Fundraiser for Florida House candidate Jose Mallea scheduled for Monday — The Miami-Dade Republican, who announced he was running for state House back in March, is headed to Washington, D.C. for a fundraiser hosted by Andrew Card, former President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, and his wife, the Rev. Kathleene Card. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mission Dupont Circle, and the host committee includes Jeb Bush, Jr.

Pinellas transit officials push priorities during D.C. tripBrad Miller is hopeful several days of productive meetings on Capitol Hill will translate into good things for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Miller and Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and Pat Gerard were in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with federal lawmakers about several top priorities for the transit authority, including funding for a rapid transit project. Both Long and Gerard serve on the PSTA board.

“Public transportation, roads, it’s really a partnership between federal, state and local governments when it comes to funding,” said Miller, the transit authority’s CEO.

Miller said one of the PSTA’s top priorities in 2017 is to secure FTA Small Starts funding for the St. Pete to Beach Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. It’s the highest demand transit corridor, and having the project would be a “big boon” for the tourism community.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller, and PSTA members Janet Long and Pat Gerard met with Rep. Kathy Castor to talk transportation issues this week.

Miller said the group also met with lawmakers about changing policy about what type of ridership data can be reported to federal officials. The transit authority has partnered with Uber and Lyft to create first-mile/last-mile connecting service. The program allows people to hail a ride for about $1 to take them to the closet bus stop, and then riders are able to continue their destination.

But those first-mile/last-mile connecting service rides don’t count as transit ridership in the formula currently used to calculate future transit capital funding. So Miller said he and this team met with members about ways the formula could be changed to account for innovation.

The trio met with Reps. Kathy Castor, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist Dennis Ross and Darren Soto. They also met with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations, and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

“They’ve been very, very supportive of these programs,” said Miller. “Transportation investments drive our economy.”

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