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Never satisfied, environmentalists should just take the win for Lake O reservoir

Closing the book on 2017, among the most notable political battles centered on Lake Okeechobee water issues.

While lawmakers reached a compromise earlier in the year, this food fight may be far from over.

Last Session, environmental activists, working with Senate President Joe Negron, hammered out a bill that (at one point) called for buying up to 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

But an equally vocal group of Everglades farmers, joined by local leaders and community advocates, strongly opposed the plan, pointing out the negative economic impact that Negron’s land buy would have on the Glades farming community.

What the Legislature ultimately approved – in the form of a somewhat more palatable Senate Bill 10 – was praised by environmental activists, farming interests (including the sugar industry), local and state leaders.

Heralded as a “grand compromise,” SB 10 began the process of building a new southern reservoir, settling the issue once and for all.

Or so many thought.

With a lower price tag than originally proposed, SB 10 called for using only state-owned land, closing the door on eminent domain to take privately-held acreage.

Arguably, it was the most significant victory of Negron’s Senate presidency, paving the way for construction of up to 360,000 acre-feet (an acre of water, 1 foot deep) of water storage, which could help tackle future algae blooms, like those that plagued his district a year earlier.

In June, following a high-profile bill signing on the banks of Lake O, bringing together Gov. Rick Scott, Negron, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg, Glades leaders and others, it seemed as if happy days were here again. With choruses of Kumbaya and hallelujahs ready to break out, construction of the reservoir was about to begin.

Rick Scott visits Lake Okeechobee ahead of the ceremonial bill signing of SB 10, which authorizes a reservoir to collect runoff south of Lake O.

All seemed good, right? Wrong.

Since then, a handful of environmental organizations – the Everglades Foundation, the Sierra Club, Bullsugar among others – began raising concerns over the South Florida Water Management District’s modeling used to develop the reservoir.

They just don’t use enough land, the environmentalists say.

As outlined in SB 10, SFWMD developed four models for a southern reservoir for presentation to the Legislature by Jan. 9. Ranging in cost from $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, each model includes an above-ground storage reservoir on adjacent state-owned land south of Lake O … exactly how the Legislature – led by Negron – first envisioned.

So why now the red flags?

Is it possible that, after a rare legislative success, these environmental groups are seeking further relevance? Or are they so hell-bent on buying land, they will risk a Hail Mary pass to get what they wanted – and lost – in the Legislature?

Perhaps these concerns are less about the survival of the Everglades than they are about the survival of the Everglades Foundation (and its satellite organizations)?

Attempting to quell the rising anger from environmentalist groups, Negron wrote a letter to the SFWMD in early December, asking if it had enough land to construct the reservoir. In response, SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks said that the district indeed has more than enough property to do the job.

To follow SB 10, all SFWMD needs to do is construct slightly higher reservoir embankments. In addition, using state-owned lands set out in the bill will also keep costs down, officials said.

Nevertheless, these environmental groups refused to be satisfied, moving the goal posts by demanding more land.

A recent Facebook post from Bullsugar highlighted concerns of the Friends of the Everglades, which allege, among other things, that the SFWMD’s reservoir models violate federal water quality standards.

 

This tactic is nothing new. Environmentalists have intervened before to block construction of a southern reservoir.

In 2008, the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and others went to court to stop a similar project. The Everglades Trust, led by the late Thom Rumberger, decried that reservoir as “unnecessary and expensive.”

The suit, along with an ill-fated 2008 U.S. Sugar deal struck with then-Gov. Charlie Crist, succeeded in halting work on the reservoir, which is still virtually unused and available. This idle land became a key talking point in the debate over SB 10.

In January 2017, SFWMD officials publicly challenged the science used by the Everglades for a “study” on a southern reservoir. SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde O. Owosina wrote a scathing letter to Everglades Foundation scientist Thomas Van Lent, declaring: “The assumptions you made in the model input were obviously selected to reduce northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage.”

In the end, neither the Legislature nor the SFWMD used the Foundation models – widely denounced as flawed – for SB 10. Instead, they patterned designs after four other district projects, including Scott’s much-heralded Restoration Strategies Water Quality Plan and the C-43 storage reservoir – long supported by environmental groups.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, environmental activists raise these concerns – objecting to the project size and water quality – just as a long-awaited reservoir appears to be finally within reach.

These latest complaints, advanced only six months after signing SB 10, will ring hollow in the halls of the Florida Capitol. And Senate leaders, such as newly-minted Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley (an SB 10 sponsor) will have little interest in revisiting the issue, especially in an election year.

Putting it bluntly, it’s dumb to cast doubt on Negron’s signature policy achievement, but it is also unsurprising for a group not exactly known for its political savvy.

Instead of congratulating Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran for their efforts, environmental groups criticize that it simply wasn’t good enough. Besides showing a great deal of ingratitude, not just to Negron and Corcoran, it’s also a slap in the face to incoming leaders like Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva.

As 2017 winds down, Eikenberg (and others) should consider being a bit more gracious and take the win.

Also, they should be wary of any attempt by rank and file members to pull the football away (like Lucy with Charlie Brown) before reaching the end zone.

Airbnb a key player in record-setting year of Florida tourism

Florida and Airbnb are making an excellent pair, as a new report shows users of the global vacation rental website had a significant role in the state’s record-setting tourism year.

In 2017, nearly 40,000 Florida Airbnb hosts earned a combined $450 million from approximately 2.7 million guests, according to company figures released Thursday. That is a 75 percent increase over the previous year, with each host earning an estimated average of $6,700 annually.

In addition to its regular Florida tourism revenue, Airbnb also played a vital role in the aftermath of September’s Hurricane Irma, as many hosts offered their properties at no charge to evacuees of the storm as part of the company’s Disaster Sponsor Program.

The report’s statewide data suggests the vacation rental community complements — not harms — the state’s hotel industry with strong growth in occupancy rates, prices and revenue throughout 2017. This also indicates the use of vacation rental websites such as Airbnb actually opens Florida to a broader range of tourists, instead of restricting competition, as some in the hotel industry argue.

For example, Airbnb extends options for the nontraditional traveler, such as visitors unable to afford higher-end hotels or those families preferring an affordable vacation, wanting to stay together under one roof.

“We are proud to contribute to Florida’s record-setting tourism by opening up the state to new segments of visitors,” said Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris, President of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (FVRMA). “We are committed to partnering with the Governor and lawmakers to further infuse Florida’s economy with additional revenue and elevate Florida’s status as a global hub for family-friendly tourism.”

Not only do Airbnb hosts enjoy additional personal income renting everything from apartments and homes to villas and tree houses, but the overall expansion of the state’s short-term rental industry generates more money for both the state and dozens of communities where the company has tax agreements.

While Airbnb pays state sales tax on all Florida bookings, it also collects and pays local bed taxes in 39 of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties. This year, the company secured new tax arrangements with Miami-Dade, Broward, Sarasota, Polk, Hillsborough and Leon counties.

Florida’s top Airbnb county for 2017 was Miami-Dade, with more than 667,000 hosts generating $134.6 million, followed by Osceola with $39.6 million from 358,000 rental hosts.

As well as vacation rentals, Airbnb in 2017 developed Experiences, a program that gives users exclusive access to communities and their unique activities as recommended by locals.

Courtesy: Airbnb

Tampa Bay Times’ Florida Trend names Times investor Kiran Patel the “Floridian of the Year”

Few can disagree that Dr. Kiran Patel, Tampa’s prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist, deserves to be Florida Trend’s “Floridian of the Year.”

The announcement came this week and will be featured in the magazine’s January issue.

It should be noted that naming Patel as a man of the year, while well-earned, comes with no small degree of irony.

Patel and his wife Dr. Pallavi Patel are former cardiologists. Kiran Patel is also a real estate developer and executive who made millions investing in health care companies.

In September 2017, the Patels announced they would spend $200-million to build a Clearwater campus for Nova Southeastern University. Over the years, the pair has given more than $240 million for Florida arts, education and health care.

There is no doubt that through their influence and generosity, the couple has made an indelible mark on the Tampa Bay region.

Being a part-investor in the Tampa Bay Times didn’t hurt, either.

In July, the financially struggling Times announced that a group of eight local stakeholders would lend the newspaper $1.5-million each through an entity called FBN Partners. Securing the $12-million loan — which could expand to as much as $15 million — would be a mortgage on buildings and 27 acres of land at the paper’s printing facilities in St. Petersburg.

Afterward, the Times named four of the eight investors, saying the rest wished to stay anonymous.

A few months later, Kiran Patel was revealed as one of those unnamed FBN Partners. He said the investment — suggested by Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash — offered an opportunity to support his local newspaper, which Patel felt is an essential institution in large metropolitan areas.

For Patel, the decision was easy, made “five minutes” after Tash began his pitch.

And now this not-so-secret lender has become Floridian of the Year — by Florida Trend, a magazine owned by the Tampa Bay Times.

While Patel’s honor is indeed deserved, the irony of choosing one of the Times’ investors more than overshadows its complete lack of surprise.

Donald Trump plays ‘Cousin Eddie’ in Florida’s gubernatorial race

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, that modern holiday classic featuring the Griswold family, does not really get going — even with Chevy Chase‘s Clark putting up 250 strands of lights — until Randy Quaid‘s Cousin Eddie shows up on the front lawn, dressed in a robe, his trailer in the driveway.

Florida’s all-important gubernatorial race did not really get going — even with six announced candidates and John Morgan looming over the race — until Donald Trump, the Cousin Eddie of American politics, showed up on Twitter to “endorse” U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis as his choice in 2018.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!,” Trump tweeted the Friday before Christmas.

Of course, Santis‘ campaign team declared the president’s tweet an endorsement. Never mind that DeSantis, who has a campaign account open with the Federal Elections Commission to run again for his U.S. House seat, hasn’t opened an account to run for governor.

Trump’s tweet, like a membership in the Jelly of the Month, is the gift that keeps on giving throughout an entire election cycle.

For DeSantis, it instantly propels him to the top tier of Republican aspirants for the Governor’s Mansion, despite his lackluster performance on the campaign trail for Marco Rubio‘s U.S. Senate seat before the incumbent decided he would run again.

But Trump’s tweet is also a gift for almost every other candidate, too.

First of all, as Democratic political consultant Steve Schale noted, after Roy Moore’s defeat on Dec. 12 to Democrat Doug Jones in a special election for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, Trump’s support may not be all that valuable.

“Based on Trump recent success in picking candidates, this might be the kiss of death,” Schale tweeted.

The tweet should also serve as a wake-up call to Florida Democrats that the stakes involved in this contest could not be higher. If that means making hard choices about the electoral viability of some candidates, so be it. After all, the 2020 presidential race will again run through the Sunshine State; do Democrats really want a Gov. DeSantis in charge of the state’s elections?

Trump’s support of DeSantis is also a blessing in disguise for Adam Putnam, who has been running for governor for most of this year, and Richard Corcoran, who is expected to enter the field after the 2018 Legislative Session.

Even with that, Putnam began December with more than $2.5 million in his campaign account and had more $12.8 million on hand in his Florida Grown political committee, he’s perceived to be “Jeb 2.0” by many red meat Republicans. To counter that, Putnam has tacked hard to the right, declaring himself a “sellout” to the National Rifle Association, among other gyrations.

Enough of that, Putnam should tell his campaign staff. The Trumpers are either going to accept you as who you are — a sensible Republican with arguably the best sense among the announced candidates of what Florida truly is — or they’re going to Make Florida Great Again via DeSantis.

Kissing up to POTUS for the presidential seal of approval is no longer necessary or needed.

As for Corcoran, DeSantis’ rise most likely comes at his expense, so it’s time to shake up the plans and the timeline. Perhaps he shouldn’t wait until late March to enter the race. Maybe he should make official what everyone expects. Or not. But Corcoran must do something to make sure he’s not outmaneuvered by DeSantis, especially since Corcoran’s team was hoping to face Putnam mano a mano and do to the career pol what other insurgents have done to establishment candidates in previous primaries (read: Rubio vs. Charlie Crist).

As for everyone else following Florida’s gubernatorial race, Trump’s tweet has to remind you of the scene from Christmas Vacation when Eddie drains the toilet from his RV into the sewer drain. It’s really the last visual you want to see, just as Trump getting involved in Florida politics is the last thing most Floridians want to see happen.

“Merry Christmas,” Eddie says, “Sh*tter’s full.”

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.21.17

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

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

A defiant Latvala resigns after release of 2 reports detailing sexual misconduct, sex harassment” via Matt Dixon, Alexandra Glorioso and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida: One of the accusers, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, soon filed a Rules Committee complaint against him, triggering one investigation, as Florida Senate President Joe Negron launched a second independent probe to examine the charges raised in POLITICO’s report. The reports, respectively released Tuesday and Wednesday, corroborated the style and tenor of the harassment alleged by Perrin Rogers and the five other accusers who first spoke to POLITICO, with some women saying he implied professional help in return for “sexual favors.” One unnamed lobbyist told investigators that Latvala would often ask her “what do I get?” in connection with her work. “But she perceived that the implication was a suggested quid pro quo for sexual favors based on a steady pattern and constant hitting on her,” read the report.

Attorney: Latvala was blindsided by bribery allegation via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Tallahassee attorney for Latvala said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors. Latvala had “on multiple occasions” offered to vote for bills a certain female lobbyist was trying to get passed if she would have sex with him, according to an investigative report released Tuesday. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.” The new charge, part of a probe into sexual harassment claims against the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, caught many in the The Process off guard—including most of Latvala’s most fervent supporters.

Senate turns over evidence against Latvala to law enforcement” via Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – As part of the investigation, special master Ronald Swanson received testimony and reviewed text messages showing Latvala suggested offering his help in return for “a sexual encounter.” In his report, Swanson recommended those allegations be “immediately referred to law enforcement for further review.” The state Senate followed those recommendations shortly after the report’s release. “Yesterday, the Senate took appropriate action to implement the special master’s recommendation that certain testimony in his report be immediately referred to the law enforcement for further investigation,” Katie Betta, communications director for state Senate President Joe Negron, told POLITICO.

Latvala resigns … but is quid pro quo for donations next?” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – The once-powerful Clearwater Republican has more to worry about than saving his long career in Florida politics. Like how soon the authorities will turn up at his door to arrest him on charges of public corruption, extortion or similar, and lead him away in handcuffs. If, as a Latvala accuser testified, the senator “expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying” … if that is so, then how long before the investigation moves from sex to money? How long before investigators look at the $4.7 million Latvala has stashed in his Florida Leadership Fund? I can hear them asking themselves, if the Senate appropriations chair can trade a policy favor for a cuddle, then was he also shaking down lobbyists and lawmakers for money? Are we going to find Florida Leadership Fund donors coming forward to report publicly what so many of them have complained about for years – that if you want a bill passed, you’d better dig out your checkbook.

Denise Grimsley donates Latvala money to anti-domestic violence group” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Grimsley’s move sets a challenge to dozens of other elected officials and political groups that have received money from Latvala’s primary financial tools of power, his Florida Leadership Committee and other political committees, which have been among the most active and generous backers of Republicans and Republican-leaning political committees in recent years. “I believe Senator Latvala has done the right thing in resigning from the Florida Senate today,” Grimsley, the Zolfo Springs Republican who is a leading candidate for Florida Agriculture Commissioner said … “given the seriousness of the allegations and the findings in the reports, I have directed my campaign and political committee to make a sponsorship donation in the amount of $50,000 from Saving Florida’s Heartland, as well as $12,000 from my Agriculture Commissioner campaign account to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence … These amounts are derived from contributions received from the Florida Leadership Committee, Sawgrass PAC, Twenty-First Century Florida Committee, and from Senator Latvala.”

Whatever happens next with Latvala’s district, this much is clear: The voters lose” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times – According to the Florida Department of State, a special election is required to be held if a state senate seat becomes open before the end of a term. But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Democrat, acknowledged that the session will be over by the time anyone is seated. “There are no good answers,” Welch said. State law requires 45 days for absentee voting before special elections, which could include a separate primary and general election. If the qualifying period is included, that would push the final election to at least 90 days from now and well past March 9, when the legislative session ends. Welch said he thought Democrats could wage a strong effort to capture the seat, which covers northern Pinellas and western Pasco counties, but cautioned the district’s next senator needs to follow Latvala’s lead in fighting for local interests.

Tweet, tweet@ChuckTodd: Changing the Tallahassee culture was long overdue. Kudos to Politico for exposing a disgusting atmosphere. Sorry it’s taken so long for FL lawmakers to police themselves. But it’s why the media exists. Hold these folks accountable. Actually draining a swamp.

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

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Bill would create a fair system for Florida’s early learning funds” via Ryan McKinnon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – The Office of Early Learning’s method of dishing out hundreds of millions of school readiness funds has been described by auditors as both “outdated and unexplained,” and it is not based on current demographics. Attempts to establish a needs-based formula in the past have been stymied by legislators from areas enjoying the benefits of the outdated system. Sen. Greg Steube wants to change that. Steube has filed legislation to require that the state’s Office of Early Learning develop a funding formula to allocate more than $600 million to the state’s Early Learning Coalitions. Under the current setup, each county’s slice of the pie remains the same. Even a massive change in the number of poor families will not alter the portion a county receives. That has resulted in Miami-Dade and a handful of other counties being overfunded, while counties like Sarasota and Osceola consistently don’t get their fair share … Steube’s legislation would require all funding to be based on the level of need, but it faces significant challenges from the Miami-Dade area lawmakers.

Workers’ comp bill headed to House floor” via Lobby Tools –  Members of the House Commerce Committee agreed to file its proposed committee bill during a November public hearing. The plan was refiled in HB 7009 and sent to the House floor. Florida courts have recently found parts of workers’ compensation law to be unconstitutional, and House Republicans say the bill would address the rulings. Injured workers would be allowed to pay for their own attorney under the bill, which was previously prohibited. The temporary wage replacement benefit would be increased from 104 to 260 weeks. And it would “fill the gap” between temporary and permanent wage replacement benefits for some workers. Attorney fees, a major point of contention, would remain as a percentage of what they obtained for a client, but the bill allows a judge to award hourly fees as an alternative. In some cases, the percentage-based fee is too low to fairly compensate an attorney, so allowing a departure in certain instances ensures workers can find an attorney, the House majority argues. The bill also allows insurers to decrease premiums uniformly up to 5 percent, in the name of creating competition for consumers.

Needle exchange program proposed for Palm Beach County” via the News Service of Florida – Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon filed a proposal that would expand a pilot needle-exchange program into Palm Beach County. Pointing to the need to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by intravenous drug users, lawmakers in 2016 approved a pilot needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County to be run by the University of Miami and its affiliates. Braynon’s proposal (SB 1320) – and a similar bill (HB 945), filed last week by Rep. Wengay Newton – would allow the university to also run the program in Palm Beach County.

***Nursing home care is better in states with a Certificate of Need process, because it ensures seniors have access to the right type of care where in the areas they need it most. The best way to ensure a high-quality long-term care sector that balances the need for nursing home care and home and community-based services is to preserve Florida’s Certificate of Need process. That’s why everyone who cares about Florida’s elders should reject the Constitution Revision Commission proposal to eliminate Certificate of Need in Florida.***

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Tweet, tweet: @ElectionSmith: Florida to go from 27–>29 Congressional seats according to latest Census population estimates

Rick Scott to headline fundraiser for Diane Black” via The Associated Press – Scott is headlining a fundraiser for Republican Black’s gubernatorial campaign in Tennessee. According to an invitation to the Jan. 11 event in Franklin, it will cost a $1,000 donation to the Black campaign to attend. Black’s campaign has criticized gubernatorial rival Randy Boyd for holding a fundraiser featuring another onetime Florida governor, Jeb Bush.

New poll shows Brian mast trailing hypothetical Democrat in 2018” via Florida Politics – Mast is on thin ice with voters in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, especially after his vote in favor of the GOP’s tax reform plan. A survey from the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling found Mast had a 40 percent approval rating and 45 percent disapproval rating in the district, which puts his net favorability only a few points ahead of President Trump, who garnered a 45 percent approval rating and 53 percent disapproval among CD 18 respondents.

Josie Tomkow qualifies for HD 39 by petition” via Florida Politics – … for the special election to replace former Rep. Neil CombeeTomkow was the first candidate to file for the seat after the announcement, and she quickly earned Combee’s endorsement. The Auburndale Republican reiterated his support of Tomkow, 22, after some reports questioned whether she was too young for the job. Also running for the seat is fellow Republican Jennifer Spathand Democrat Ricky Shirah, a perennial candidate for the Lakeland City Commission who stands little chance of victory in deep-red District 39.

Anna Eskamani qualifies for HD 47 ballot by petition” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Eskamani qualified by collecting more than 1,400 petition signatures. Eskamani, an Orlando-based executive for Planned Parenthood, faces Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican, in the 2018 race. They seek to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress. The deadline to qualify for the 2018 election is in June 2018.

Danny Burgess draws 2018 challenger” via Lobby Tools – No-party candidate John David Hayes has filed against Rep. Burgess in the 2018 election cycle. The incumbent has more than $90,000 raised for his re-election to the GOP-leaning seat while Hayes has not reported raising any money.

Democrat challenges Rene Plasencia in HD 50” via Lobby Tools – Democrat Pamela Dirschka has filed to run for House District 50 in the 2018 cycle. She says her background is “quite varied” but includes working as a teacher, community activist and owning a small business. Dirschka is running against Rep. Plasencia … who has a voter registration advantage in the district and has raised more than $100,000 for his re-election effort.

— STATEWIDE —

Children’s health program funding in jeopardy” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida – With money for Florida’s subsidized children’s health-insurance program due to run out in a matter of weeks, the state has not warned the parents of roughly 200,000 children that they could soon lose coverage. Florida’s decision contrasts with other states that have decided that they can no longer wait to see if Congress restores money for the 20-year-old Children’s Health Insurance Program … Federal funding for the so-called CHIP program ran out in September, and while there have been promises to restore it, a final deal has not emerged from Congress. State officials have verified that funding for Florida’s program – which is operated primarily through the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. – would run out at the end of January. Twenty-four other states are also projected to run out of money at the same time. The funding shortfall does not impact the roughly 2 million children who are in Florida’s Medicaid program – but instead affects those children whose families are just above the poverty line.

Grand jury report into death of Andrew Coffey skewers FSU’s fraternity culture” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat – A scathing Leon County grand jury report released in the wake of the death of Florida State Pi Kappa Phi pledge Coffey denounced the fraternity system and the lengths its members went to obstruct the investigation. It also condemned Pi Kappa Phi’s “tradition” of attempting to skirt Florida’s broad hazing laws as a new way to get around an old problem. The abuse of alcohol was alarming and egged on by older fraternity members, grand jurors wrote. Nearly everyone, including members and prospective members, drank straight from liquor bottles to the point of extreme intoxication … what was more startling, grand jurors, FSU administrators and national hazing experts say, was the participants’ delay in seeking medical help and their lack of cooperation with investigators as they tried to protect the fraternity.

Imported citrus numbers continue to grow in Florida” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida – An increase in imported orange juice is anticipated by the Florida Citrus Commission to offset a decline in tax revenue from the state’s hurricane-battered growers, who await congressional action on disaster relief. The commission … agreed to shift $556,147 from reserves to help cover the Department of Citrus’ budget for the current fiscal year, with the transfer leaving a $682 negative balance. Taxes on citrus pay for the department’s operations. Christine Marion, commission secretary, said continued demand by Floridians for orange juice is expected to increase the need for citrus to be imported, which – because it is taxed like citrus grown in the state – should offset the negative balance. Unlike in past years, imported citrus now accounts for more than half – currently topping 55 percent – of the citrus taxed by the state.

Union workers reject Disney’s wage proposal” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel – Walt Disney World union members overwhelmingly rejected a new contract that would give them a raise of at least 50 cents an hour, as some argued they deserved a bigger salary increase. About 93 percent of dues-paying members who voted turned down the two-year contract. The nearly 10,000 votes cast was the highest turnout in the history of labor votes for the Service Trades Council Union, the coalition of six unions that represents about 36,000 Disney employees … Union members cheered and chanted, “Union!” “Fight!” “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” after union leaders announced the election results at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The next move is for union leaders to regroup in February.

Judge backs proposed Pinellas trauma center” via the News Service of Florida – An administrative law judge said the Florida Department of Health improperly rejected a proposal to open a trauma center at a St. Petersburg hospital. Judge Robert S. Cohen issued a 46-page ruling that said Northside Hospital had met criteria to win approval for a trauma center. The Department of Health, which decides whether to approve trauma centers, denied Northside’s application May 1, saying it found three deficiencies. Under administrative law, Cohen’s ruling is a recommended order that will go back to the Department of Health for a final decision. Bayfront Health-St. Petersburg and Tampa’s St. Joseph Hospital, which have long operated trauma centers, have opposed Northside’s proposal to open a trauma facility.

A tax collector trying to play traffic cop? Another reason to ax this political post” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel – For years, I’ve argued that we don’t need to waste time, energy and money electing tax collectors in this state. Collecting taxes doesn’t require a politician. It requires a competent office administrator. The only time tax collectors usually make headlines is when they’re doing something stupid … Seminole County has proven this twice in a row. Seminole County leaders — either the charter review commission or the county commission — should look at eliminating it as an elected office. Either group could ask voters to make the final call. The same thing should be considered in Orange, where we know an elected collector isn’t needed, because the last one rarely showed up to do his job.

Venus Williams fatal crash: no one is to blame, police say” via Tonya Alanez and Erika Pesantes of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “Based upon this investigation and relevant Florida state statutes, no charges will be filed in this case,” according to an 18-page traffic homicide investigation released by Palm Beach Gardens police. Jerome Barson, 78, was a passenger in a 2016 Hyundai Accent driven by his wife, Linda Barson, 68. The car T-boned Williams’ Toyota Sequoia as she waited in an intersection in Palm Beach Gardens. Jerome Barson died 13 days after the June 9 wreck. Barson and his wife drove into the intersection when the light turned green, hitting Williams’ SUV. The tennis star was not injured. In the aftermath of the crash, Williams explained to an officer that a dark-colored car turned left in front of her, trapping her in the intersection when her light turned red and before she was T-boned by the Barsons’ Hyundai. The investigative report concluded that neither Barson nor Williams violated the other’s right of way.

Assignment editors – The “grand reveal” of the Tiny House Project that the Brevard Schools Foundation is hosting in partnership with The Able Trust is today at 9:30 a.m., at Bayside High School in Palm Bay. State and local leaders have been invited to the debut.

— OPININION —

Latvala resignation should not be last word on toxic Legislature” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board – Latvala made the correct decision to resign from the Florida Senate following a special investigator’s conclusion that there is reason to believe he verbally and physically harassed a Senate staffer and a former lobbyist. The behavior described in the report would be intolerable in any public or private workplace, and his colleagues likely would have expelled the Clearwater Republican if he did not leave voluntarily. It’s a bad day for Florida and for the Florida Legislature, which has lost all credibility following a series of resignations involving sexual misconduct and other misbehavior … None of the good work that Latvala did excuses the inexcusable sexual harassment described by his accusers. Latvala made the right decision to resign from the Senate. Now the Florida Legislature should make the right decision to root out other misconduct and regain some of its credibility and public trust.

— MOVEMENTS —

Georgia Ackerman named new Apalachicola Riverkeeper” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – A veteran of North Florida environmental battles is the new executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper … Ackerman will succeed Don Tonsmeire as the Apalachicola’s leading spokesperson and advocate, after the New Year. Tonsmeire intends to retire but will remain long enough to ensure a smooth leadership transition. Charley Kienzle, the newly elected president of the Riverkeepers’ board, said he’s delighted Ackerman is willing to take on the challenge of growing local, state and federal support for the protection and restoration of the iconic panhandle waterway. “Her leadership and deep involvement in this organization’s efforts to effectively address the long-term health of the Apalachicola River basin will be critical as we build upon the work of Dan and his predecessor,” Kienzle said.

Douglas Bell, Metz Husband & Daughton: Florida Health Organization

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Whiskey Creek Civic Association

Carole Green, Capitol Strategies Consulting: Lee County Public Schools

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: Southport Financial Services

— ALOE —

Congratulations:

Mar-a-Lago hikes New Year’s Eve party ticket prices” via Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO Florida – Ticket prices for the annual Dec. 31 bash at Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida are going up to $600 for dues-paying members and $750 for their guests, according to members of the private Palm Beach club. Last year’s tickets went for $525 for members and $575 for guests. The lavish party in the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom and the surrounding grounds has plenty of perks, including a red-carpet entrance, a multi-course meal, a popular cover band and the chance to meet celebrities … as well as the president himself. Bobby Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, said in an interview that while he had not been consulted about the Dec. 31 event, he wasn’t bothered by the arrangement. “I personally don’t see any issues that are raised,” he told POLITICO. “It’s not a campaign event. It’s a normal business New Year’s Eve party.” And, he said, an increase in ticket prices also shouldn’t be a surprise. “In this economy, we’re seeing prices for a lot of things go up,” he said.

Finally, a note of congratulations to Mark Pudlow, who worked his last day as spokesman for the Florida Education Association yesterday. Before his over 20 years at FEA, he was a news editor at The Tallahassee Democrat. Best wishes upon his retirement.

The Delegation for 12.20.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Another round of budget “chicken”? Florida farmers on verge of disaster relief

With the GOP tax cut/reform bill rolling toward a pre-Christmas enactment, other issues remain to be addressed. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the disaster aid bill (panned by the Florida and Texas delegations) are just two must-pass items.

Lest we forget, the government (again) runs out of spending authority on Friday night. The exercise has become all-too-common during the era of the national debt climbing trillion-by-trillion.

Politics always comes into play in what turns out to be a game of chicken. When Barack Obama was president, Democrats wanted clean spending bills while Republicans sought offsets.

The government funding negotiations; another round of budget ‘chicken?’

The GOP seemingly always wound up as the loser in the games of political brinkmanship. Recently, they had simply nodded “yes” when more spending authority came before them.

As the latest showdown looms, House Republicans seem to be on a path of re-engaging. Their strategy is fraught with peril.

According to The Hill, the GOP is set to pass a spending bill they are almost certain will be rejected by the Senate.  They propose to fully fund military spending for a year while subsidizing the rest of the government for only another month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan knows he is dealing with a large herd of Republican cats on this issue. Rounding them up is always a challenge, but this time the stakes are higher than ever. Depending on what the Senate does, some difficult options remain.

“If the Senate sends back a clean CR, you’d lose some Republican votes. You presumably would get some Democratic votes,” said Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. “But you’re not going to be able to make that call until we go through the motions.”

The dreaded words “government shutdown” are again beginning to make their way onto the pages of talking points for both sides. House Republicans are already set to turn on their colleagues in the Senate if all of this goes south.

“It’s not all worked out. As usual, it all hinges on the Senate,” said GOP Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on Thursday. “They goofed up health care. We’ve had 12 appropriations bills over there for 90 days, and now they’re not ready to go on this. We’re just waiting on, what are they going to do?”

Whether or not one agrees with House Republicans’ strategy, they are doing some good things. On Monday, they unveiled an $81 billion disaster relief package, up from the $44 million proposed by the Trump Administration.

Included in the funding is $26 billion in block grants to states like Florida and Texas, as well as for Puerto Rico, to help in the ongoing recovery. The Florida delegation has pushed hard for dramatic assistance for citrus farmers.

“It’s a big win for Florida’s agriculture,” said Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney.

Will it get caught up in the last minute budget drama? Stay tuned.

Nelson calls for Congress to restore net neutrality

The three-term Democrat has routinely been among the most vocal in demanding the Federal Communications Commission not overturn Obama-era net neutrality rules. It was all in vain as the FCC voted 3-2 to return the internet to pre-2015 rules.

“The Republican-led FCC turned its back on consumers today,” Nelson said in a video statement. “By voting to give internet providers the ability to decide what websites their customers see, how fast they see them, and how much they are going to have to pay for access, the FCC just ended the internet as we know it.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai took issue with Nelson’s characterization.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai takes exception with Bill Nelson’s views on net neutrality.

“This is not going to end the internet as we know it,” he said. “It is not going to kill democracy, and it’s not going to stifle free expression online. We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”

A movement led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, is maneuvering to force a vote in the Senate designed to overturn the FCC decision. He has Nelson’s support.

“Congress needs to fix the mess the FCC has now created with a lasting solution that will fully protect consumers and preserve the FCC’s authority,” Nelson said.

A few among delegation Democrats joined Nelson in decrying the FCC’s action. Among those was St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist, who described the entire process as “deeply flawed” and joined Nelson in the call for Congress to pass legislation “putting the people first and preserving net neutrality.”

Rubio relishes CTC victory; hometown paper — not so much

For those who haven’t heard, the GOP tax bill is poised to pass both houses of Congress this week. For a brief period, Florida’s junior senator was a “no” vote unless an increase in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) was fortified in the final bill.

House and Senate negotiators got the message, sweetened the pot, and Rubio indicated he would vote for the measure.

“The increased Child Tax Credit, along with the strong pro-growth, pro-American jobs provisions already contained in the legislation, makes me an enthusiastic YES vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” he tweeted.

Marco Rubio takes some credit for the Senate-passed version of the GOP tax bill included a doubling of the child tax credit.

He thanked Senate Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Tim Scott of South Carolina, as well as Ivanka Trump for backing the effort.

His hometown paper, the Miami Herald, is giving him some credit but is convinced he will now be voting for a lousy bill.

While commending him for his stance on the CTC, the Herald wrote: “it was a safe bet that he would get at least some of what he was demanding and look heroic while not standing in the way of a tax plan poised to bring immeasurable harm to working — and middle-class Americans anyway.”

Short-lived hysteria grips Capitol Hill on Mueller pre-Christmas firing rumors

Over the weekend, the political world was abuzz that President Donald Trump would be firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigation Russian interference in the 2016 election. California Democrat Jackie Speier said she was hearing rumors to that effect.

If Speier intended to gin up attention for the Sunday shows, it worked. She is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Hysteria abounds in rumors of Robert Mueller’s possible firing.

President Obama’s ethics czar, Walter Schaub, was stocking up on “gear needed for when we take the streets.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted that firing Mueller would cross an “ABSOLUTE RED LINE” that calls for “mass popular, peaceful” demonstrations.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has long warned Trump not to fire Mueller, whose investigation is coming under scrutiny for bias among some of its members.

“When my colleagues refer to the special counsel’s investigation as a ‘coup d’etat,’ it really undermines the rule of law in this country,” he said. “They ought to be careful, they ought to stop it, and they ought to let this investigation proceed for the benefit of the American people.”

On Sunday night, someone got around to asking Trump if he was planning on firing Mueller.

“No, I’m not,” he said before pointing toward another controversy surrounding the way Mueller obtained thousands of emails from the Trump Transition.

GOP tax bill includes incentives for Florida farmers

The hurricane aid package has almost nothing for Florida agriculture, but the GOP tax bill lends a hand to Florida farmers reeling from Hurricane Irma and the deadly citrus greening disease. The bill, expected to pass this week, includes a provision inserted by Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, co-chair of the delegation.

The measure, co-sponsored by every member of the Florida Congressional delegation, provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace damaged trees. It will allow those farmers to tap investors to raise capital for replanting crops instead of bearing the full cost alone, as current law requires for the tax break.

Florida citrus farmers could get a break in the GOP tax bill.

“Immediate tax relief is crucial to help Florida citrus growers rebuild and get back on their feet,” Buchanan said. “I’m pleased that my bill to help farmers recover from Hurricane Irma has been included in this key legislation.”

While citrus greening has devastated citrus farmers over the past decade in Florida, the Lakeland Ledger reported that in August, an industry consultant’s new estimates for the 2018 crop ran 10 percent above production for 2017. These figures, measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, marked the first upswing in output in five years.

Then came Hurricane Irma, which Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calls “a major calamity” for Florida citrus farmers.

Buchanan’s legislation is included in Section 13207 of the final “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” conference report — the product of negotiations between a joint House-Senate conference committee.

In addition to Governor candidates, Graham trolls outspoken Mueller critics

Former Congresswoman and current Democratic candidate for Governor Gwen Graham is looking to make some political hay regarding the Russian collusion investigation going on in Congress. Among her delegation targets are Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis.

Both have advocated looking deeply into the conduct of the FBI in both the current investigation and the one conducted on Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016. Gaetz supports the removal of special counsel Mueller.

Gwen Graham is busy trolling those calling for the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Graham tweeted Gaetz asking him “what are you so afraid of Mueller uncovering? Calls to fire him undermine the fundamental rule of law.”

Not long after, Gaetz engaged.

“Gwen, your opinion on the subject could have really mattered,” he said on Twitter. “But then you left Congress after one term to pursue higher office … I’m gonna stick around awhile and fight.”

Graham decided to not seek another term after redistricting left Congressional District 2 with a more significant Republican majority.

In a release, Graham said: “DeSantis, who  is presumed by many to lead the president’s personal primary, recently flew with Trump to support Roy Moore in Pensacola.”

Dunn lauds training range funding in ‘must pass’ bill

The first-term Republican from Panama City is touting $30 million in defense funding affecting his district. The funds will accelerate improvements to the military training range in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Dunn introduced the amendment providing the funding, which was approved in July. Now it is attached to the legislation under development that would keep the government open past December 22.

Neal Dunn is seeking $30 million in military spending for his district.

“The Gulf Range is a one of a kind treasure that provides our military with a robust training area,” Dunn said in a release. “Nowhere else in the country does our military have the ability and area to carry out testing of state-of-the-art offensive technology. This important funding will ensure that upgrades are made to the Gulf Range promptly, further strengthening our military and national defense.”

The purpose of the funding is to improve test and training data collection on 5th and 6th generation weapons systems in the Joint Gulf Range Complex. According to Dunn, the lack of adequate instrumentation along Florida’s mid and Southern Gulf Coast restricts many missions to the northern portion of the range.

The 96th Test Wing, based at Eglin Air Force Base, estimates that 80 missions annually are not conducted because of airspace and infrastructure congestion.

Rutherford seeks answers from VA over doctor hiring practices

Following a recent investigation from USA Today on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hiring and retaining medical providers who are unfit or not legally authorize to serve, the Jacksonville Republican led a bipartisan congressional letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin requesting information on how the Department oversees and hires its health professionals. Current law prohibits the VA from hiring providers who have had their license revoked in any state, yet reports show the hiring of doctors with histories of malpractice and sexual misconduct.

“The hiring of doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked in any state is already prohibited, and clinical hires must be cleared through professional standards boards,” the letter stated. “However, it appears the laws and regulations establishing that prohibition are not being followed by VA medical facilities.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report this month showing that the VA failed to report 90 percent of problematic providers to their national database designed to prevent doctors found guilty of malpractice from crossing state lines.

 “I am appalled that the VA has hired felons, sexual predators, and medical providers with revoked licensures,” Rutherford said. “Not only does this malfeasance put our veterans in serious medical danger, but this astonishing mismanagement of the vetting process subjects veterans to pain and harm that is completely unacceptable.”

 Among the letter’s 30 signees are Florida Republicans Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist also joined.

 Soto, Mast seek to fund estuary protection

The two Florida lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Ryan urging continued full funding for Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program and the South Florida Geographic Initiative. Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and Mast, a Palm City Republican, stressed the importance of their request in the letter to Ryan.

“Florida’s residents, and the millions of visitors to the state each year, depend on these programs to preserve and clean vulnerable watersheds. Investments in protecting these environments are critical to the health and economy of Florida,” states the letter. “Preserving our environment is not a partisan issue. These programs protect the health and prosperity of all Floridians.”

The National Estuary Program helps clean vulnerable watersheds, while the South Florida Geographic Initiative provides monitoring of potentially hazardous substances that could damage the state’s waters and marine life.

Frankel not accepting Gowdy’s refusal to investigate Trump

The Democrat from West Palm Beach and several of her female colleagues in the House of Representatives want an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Trump. Frankel and the Democratic Women’s Working Group expressed their dissatisfaction when House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Chairman Trey Gowdy declined their request.

Gowdy, a former prosecutor, responded by pointing to the fact “the specific allegations set forth in your letter constitute crimes,” he wrote. “This committee, nor any other committee of Congress does not, and cannot, prosecute crimes.

Frankel was unimpressed and fired back at Gowdy.

Trey Gowdy says ‘nope’ to investigating Donald Trump.

“Our request did not ask for a prosecution, but rather an investigation into serious allegations of sexual abuse by Donald Trump,” she wrote in response. Frankel and her co-signers, Michigan Democrat Brenda Lawrence and California Democrat Jackie Speier, mentioned prior investigations conducted by the committee.

Included among those were the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton, the Fast and Furious inquiry into “gun-walking” allegations, and the investigation into the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

“Importantly, OGR has investigated serious allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and rape at multiple federal agencies,” the letter continued. “We urge you to reconsider our request and await your response.”

Gowdy must not be in a mood for more investigations. On Monday, he declined a request from Trump’s transition lawyers to investigate the manner in which special counsel Mueller obtained transition emails last week.

“These are issues to be briefed by the parties (or others with cognizable legal claims and standing) and decided by the court — not Congress,” said Gowdy’s spokesperson.

This would appear to close the door on Gowdy changing his mind on Frankel’s request.

Wasserman Schultz makes endorsement in CD 26 race.

The Democrat from Weston is supporting fellow Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign for Florida’s 26th Congressional District. Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo currently holds the seat.

“I am proud to endorse Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign for Congress,” said the former Democratic National Committee chair Sunday afternoon in a statement from the Mucarsel-Powell campaign. “Debbie has spent her career working to expand health care access to underserved communities in Miami. From fighting climate change to building an economy that puts the people first, Debbie has a bold vision for our future and will be a strong voice on behalf of the South Florida community.”

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell gets the nod from another Debbie … Wasserman Schultz.

CD 26 runs from Miami to Key West. Curbelo has held the seat since he defeated one-term Democratic incumbent Joe Garcia in 2014. While Democrats have long considered CD 26 one of the ripest seats to convert from red to blue in 2018, Curbelo is raising significant funds to keep his place.

Through September 30, Curbelo had raised more than $1.7 million, ranking him 21st nationally, and had

$1.3 million cash on hand. Mucarsel-Powell reported raising $177,048 in her first quarter of fundraising and reported $161,762 cash on hand.

Ros-Lehtinen’s bill to aid Jordan’s ISIS fight heads to floor

The Miami Republican is making progress on a push to help a key U.S. ally in the Middle East get the upper hand on ISIS. Ros-Lehtinen has seen her legislation, the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act, head to the House floor for final passage.

The bill was launched in May and gained 11 co-sponsors. The first to join was Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. Late last week, it cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

If enacted, the bill continues to make Jordan eligible for weapons support from the U.S. and increased military cooperation between the two nations. A similar bill in 2015, launched in the Senate by Republican Rubio, had similar goals along with helping Jordan handle the tremendous influx of Syrian refugees.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act heads to the House floor.

“On the front lines in the fight against terror and other regional crises, Jordan is one of our closest and most important partners in the Middle East,” she said on Thursday. “A key contributor to the anti-ISIS coalition, Jordan has also taken in over one million refugees from Syria and other neighboring countries, putting a significant strain on the kingdom’s economy, public services, infrastructure, and social cohesion.”

Ros-Lehtinen is the chairman emeritus of the committee and currently chairs the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Deutch is the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Floridian named general counsel at EPA

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Matt Leopold as general counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 2015 Leopold has practiced law with the Tallahassee office of Carlton Fields focusing on environmental, energy and water law.

He previously served general counsel for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and also served with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

“Matt Leopold has tremendous experience in environmental litigation and is committed to the rule of law,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “I want to thank Leader (Mitch) McConnell and (Environment and Public Works Committee) Chairman (Tom) Barrasso for their assistance in ensuring Mr. Leopold’s confirmation, and I look forward to working with Matt to maintain the integrity and lawfulness of the Agency.”

Leopold holds and Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and earned his law degree from the Florida State University College of Law.

“Matt Leopold is superbly qualified to serve as General Counsel for the EPA,” said Carlton Fields President and CEO Gary L. Sasso. “He is an intelligent, thoughtful, and talented attorney with deep expertise from his service to the State of Florida and the Department of Justice. He has been an incredible asset to our clients, and we are sorry to give him up, but we are gratified that he will return to public service in this distinguished capacity. We wish him the very best.”

Merry Christmas

From the staff at Extensive Enterprises Media, merry Christmas and happy holidays. We will resume publishing with the next issue of The Delegation on January 3.

Happy holidays from The Delegation.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.19.17

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

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

First up, before you read anything this morning, take a moment.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford and yours truly will be leading a fundraising charge for Metropolitan Ministries today.

As you know, we did this two years ago after someone stole a trailer full of toys and food donated to Metropolitan Ministries’ annual holiday charity drive.

Hundreds of aficionados of Florida Politics soon responded to the appeal to donate to the Tampa-based nonprofit.

Now, it’s time to open your hearts and wallets once again.

Metropolitan Ministries needs at least 500 toys. Weatherford Partners pledges to match up to $5,000.

You can donate herebut please send us a copy of your gift so we can recognize it, and get the word out for more help.

To paraphrase Isaiah, let’s make a shoot come up from the stump, and make a branch bear fruit.

– SITUATIONAL AWARENESS –

– @AP: Democrats say 3 provisions in GOP tax bill violate Senate rules and will be removed, forcing House to revote Wednesday

– @AdamPutnam: I’m thrilled to see the U.S. House including agricultural assistance in its emergency funding. This is the first bit of good news Florida agriculture has heard in months.

– @GoMeteoric: I am more proud of my wife today than anyone I’ve ever known. She has faced an all-out assault on her character and integrity. She is a warrior for truth and should be celebrated for doing what others didn’t have the courage to do. I love you RPR.

– @ChrisLatvala: I am as proud today to be the son of @JackLatvala as I was yesterday or last month.

– @MCIMaps: Jack Latvala won’t be Governor. I’d be shocked if he was a senator by the end of the year. This report is bad. Then again the man is crazy enough to go down kicking and screaming.

– @JKennedyReports: .@FLSenate’s spesh master prob cause finding on @JackLatvala has a lot of, yep, Rashomon. But also Elevator 13, his fondness for donuts, and other un-id’d women w/similar tales. A defender calls him “touchy-feely.”

– @RosemaryOHara14: Sen. @WiltonSimpson says his aide told him, not long after it happened, that Sen @JackLatvala “had groped or touched her” on an elevator. So what did he do with that information?! Training – and more training – needed to make Florida’s Capitol safe for women.

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

– L’AFFAIRE LATVALA – 

Sen. Jack Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist, according to a report released Tuesday by the Senate, which recommends criminal prosecutors investigate the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker.

The bombshell finding came toward the end of Special Master Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top legislative aide for future Senate President Sen. Wilton Simpson, in which she accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her.

After interviewing dozens of witnesses for more than a month, Swanson found probable cause that Latvala has “inappropriate physical contact” with Perrin Rogers, pushing forward an investigation that could lead to the powerful senator’s expulsion.

“The evidence demonstrated a progression in conduct, over time, from unwelcome comments and nonverbal behavior to unwelcome touching,” Swanson wrote in the report.

Testimony about the votes-for-sex accusation, however, “raises issues of public corruption and ethics violations not within the scope of this report,” Swanson wrote. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.”

Allegations of “quid pro quo conduct (physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for support of legislative initiatives) made by a witness other than the complainant …, appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption,” he added, recommending “these allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

Read the full report here.

What’s next: The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to sit in judgment of Latvala at a hearing in Tallahassee Jan. 11, two days after the start of the annual legislative session.

Latvala is going radio silent until at least the day after Christmas – The Clearwater Republican took to his Facebook page. “The timing of the special master’s report tonight has created some special problems for me,” the 66-year-old senator wrote. “I have a medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow/Thursday after which I have committed to go to Mississippi to see my stepdad and brother for the first time since my mother died this summer, then (I) will go be with my family for Christmas. “If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months, it’s the value of my family, so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics,” he added.

Rick Scott had no immediate comment Tuesday night, but his office said he would have something to say Wednesday. “We are reviewing it,” spokesman McKinley Lewis said.

Adam Putnam calling on Latvala to resign: “Now that the investigation is complete and its findings of probable cause and the referral of the most serious allegations to law enforcement, it is time for Senator Latvala to resign. No person, in any setting — and certainly not in the state Capitol — should be subjected to this behavior.”

Two Tampa Bay state Senators also calling on Latvala to step downDana Young: The findings by the Special Master report are very disturbing, particularly the recommendation that allegations of public corruption be immediately referred to law enforcement. The right thing for him to do at this point would be to step down so that we can focus on the business we were elected to do.” Jeff Brandes: “The content of the report is deeply disturbing, and I find it very troubling. He should seriously consider stepping down.”

Richard Corcoran referred reporters to his comments after the allegations against Latvala first surfaced. “The speaker stands by his past comments,” Corcoran’s spokesman Fred Piccolo said.

The Tampa Bay Times John Romano has a brutal column about Latvala here.

How L’Affaire Latvala is playing: POLITICO, Investigator recommends criminal probe of Latvala for sexual harassment, sexual ‘quid pro quo’ – “One of the most explosive findings in the report is that female lobbyists told investigators that they believed Latvala, one of the state’s most powerful Republicans, wanted sexual favors for help with legislation.” Miami Herald, Investigation concludes Florida Sen. Jack Latvala’s conduct may be criminal – “In a stunning development, however, the special master also referred the case to prosecutors, concluding ‘a witness other than Complainant, and seemingly confirmed in text messages’ from Latvala that ‘appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption.’” WTSP, Report: Inquiry into sexual harassment, corruption allegations against Sen. Latvala can more forward – “The initial investigation, completed by retired judge Ronald V. Swanson and detailed in a Special Master Report to Senate leaders, recommended that ‘the full range of available sanctions should be considered’ … along with sexual harassment training for all senators and Senate staff, a review of Senate culture and an investigation into possible corruption.” Tallahassee Democrat, Special master calls for sanctions against Sen. Jack Latvala – “Swanson also is recommending that allegations of quid pro conduct … be referred to the state Ethics Commission.”The Associated Press, Report: Florida senator likely touched woman inappropriately – “The report will now be taken up by the Senate Rules Committee Jan. 11 … Latvala has said he has been known to tell some women they look “hot” but that he’s never touched anyone against their will.” Miami Herald, Now it’s up to Florida Senate’s Rules Committee to consider penalty against Latvala – “Latvala and his legal team could challenge the constitutionality of the rule in circuit court, a step that could have the effect of postponing any further action by the Senate … ‘In the event of a finding of probable cause, we may have to seek relief in Leon County Circuit Court with regards to due process issues,’ said Latvala’s lead lawyer, Steve Andrews, before the report was released.”

– D.C. MATTERS –

Senate passes tax bill, with Rubio and Nelson splitting votes” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – The U.S. Senate early Wednesday passed the GOP tax plan, with Florida Republican Marco Rubio joining the majority and Democrat Bill Nelson in opposition. The final vote was 51-48. The House already approved the $1.5 trillion deal but must take a final vote later today, handing the GOP and President Trump a major victory, even as the bill is unpopular with the public.

Florida reactions:

Marco Rubio: “If you work hard, pay your taxes and start a family, you are doing immense good for our country in a time when we need stable families more than ever. Including more of the working class in the child tax credit will make the difficult, but deeply important, job of raising kids on a limited budget just a little bit easier. And that is worth doing. It is my hope that by increasing access to the child tax credit I have helped lay the groundwork for an agenda that reconciles conservative goals with the realities faced by working-class American families. Today was the first step in a long journey ahead toward that end. And by voting in favor of this bill, I believe we are taking that step.”

Rick Scott: “It is great news that Washington is following Florida’s lead by cutting taxes for families. In Florida, we have cut taxes more than 80 times saving families over $7.5 billion, and today is an important step to return money back to Americans. It is also great news that the U.S. House of Representatives included Congressman Vern Buchanan’s proposal for tax relief for Florida’s citrus growers. Hurricane Irma decimated this iconic Florida industry, and I have continued to advocate for months for funding to help Florida’s citrus industry fully recover. I look forward to the Senate’s passage of tax relief.”

Matt Gaetz: “Our outdated tax code has thrown a wet blanket over America’s economic growth for decades, and an overhaul was long overdue. American families needed tax relief, and I am proud to have helped deliver it. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowers taxes for American families and businesses and streamlines our burdensome, complicated and outdated tax code. Making taxes lower, fairer, and simpler for all Americans has been a priority of Congress for years, and today, the House took a major step toward achieving this goal. I look forward to the bill passing the Senate quickly, and letting Americans keep more of their hard-earned money.”

Val Demings: “After a year in which Republican leaders have failed to pass a single meaningful improvement to our country, their one act is to bleed the middle class and working families dry, raise the cost of health care for millions of Americans, and hurt the economy. It has become politically incorrect to describe the true human impact of legislation like this, but the facts are clear: health care will become more expensive, taxes will increase for the middle class and working people, and big corporations will pocket the profits. This will lead to preventable deaths, hungry children and bankrupt families.”

Dennis Ross: “Floridians stand a great deal to gain with this tax cut. They will be able to keep more of their money and they will have greater opportunities offered by a stronger economy. We’ve simplified the tax code, made it easier to create jobs, and delivered on a promise, with this bill, to make America great again.”

Ted Deutch: “My colleagues haven’t learned from the last time they tried to pass an unpopular bill – Trumpcare – that the American people expect them to put country over politics. Our job is to strengthen our country and improve the lives of the American people and help them succeed. Taking away health care and adding scores of additional giveaways to lobbyists in a tax code already stacked for the special interests clearly fails this test. I voted no.”

Disaster relief package would help citrus industry” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida – The U.S. House will consider providing $2.6 billion for lost farm crops as part of an $81 billion disaster-relief package, which has been attached to the latest short-term “continuing resolution” needed to keep the federal government open. The overall relief package, nearly double the amount requested in November by the White House to aid communities recently damaged by hurricanes and wildfires, comes after Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said last week there was no “plan B” for the state’s citrus industry without federal assistance. “Today’s announcement of proposed emergency funding for Florida agriculture is the first bit of good news we’ve heard in months,” Putnam said in a prepared statement.

Assignment editors – Putnam will meet with members of Florida’s congressional delegation and House leadership in Washington, D.C., today to discuss the U.S. House’s proposed $81 billion disaster spending bill, which includes $2.6 billion for agricultural assistance.

Rubio, Puerto Rico governor spar over tax reform” via Marc Caputo and Colin Wilhelm of POLITICO Florida – Rubio said he is “disappointed” in Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for calling him out over the new Republican tax bill H.R. 1 (115) suggesting the commonwealth’s leader is blame-shifting because of criticism of his job performance. The disagreement between the two leaders centers on provisions of the new bill that could put companies in Puerto Rico at a competitive disadvantage because they would be treated as if they’re offshore firms subject to higher taxes than mainland-based corporations. Rosselló threatened political retribution when he said he was “very disappointed with the fact Senator Rubio is going to be voting for this tax bill particularly when we had the opportunity to address the potentially devastating effects on Puerto Rico.” Rubio said he was surprised by the remarks because he helped Puerto Rico defeat a “truly devastating” measure in the bill: a tax on subsidiaries designed to prevent corporations from avoiding taxes by stashing money overseas. But a similar provision passed the Senate — albeit with lighter penalties — and Rubio said that Rosselló then shifted his attention to another issue concerning the taxation of intellectual property that negatively affects the island. By that time, Rubio said, it was too late.

***Nursing home care is better in states with a Certificate of Need process, because it ensures seniors have access to the right type of care where in the areas they need it most. The best way to ensure a high-quality, long-term care sector that balances the need for nursing home care and home and community-based services is to preserve Florida’s Certificate of Need process. That’s why everyone who cares about Florida’s elders should reject the Constitution Revision Commission proposal to eliminate Certificate of Need in Florida.***

– CAPITOL INSIGHT –

Supreme Court decides to punt away HB 7069 lawsuit” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – In a 4-3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday handed over a constitutional challenge to a contentious education law to a local court to handle. Without explanation, the Supreme Court transferred the matter (SC17-1996) to the 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered across the street from the Capitol. School Board of Alachua County v. House Speaker Richard Corcoran “involves a challenge to an education bill (HB 7069) passed by the 2017 Legislature,” the case’s official summary says. A group of school boards want the court to block the law, championed by Corcoran.

Debbie Mayfield warns of parallels between Washington train wreck and Florida concerns” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – “I do not want something that  happened in Washington state to happen in the state of Florida and then we go back and say, ‘well, we coulda, shoulda, woulda,’ on state legalization that is our responsibility as state legislators for the safety of our citizens,” Mayfield said. Mayfield has been pushing legislation that would make Florida’s planned private, higher-speed-rail passenger train, Brightline, fall under both state and federal purview for safety requirements. Mayfield was openly wondering whether the federal standards were enough to prevent Monday’sWashington derailment — that Amtrak train’s very first run. At least three people were killed, and nearly all the 80-some other people on the train were injured when it went off the rails, and much of the train off a bridge onto an interstate highway.

Florida may raise tobacco-buying age to 21” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons is sponsoring SB 1288, which would increase the minimum legal age from 18 to 21 to buy cigarettes, tobacco chew and electronic vaping devices and products. “Raising the age limit for smoking to 21 years is essential if we are serious about saving lives and reducing the cost of health care,” Simmons said. “In addition to the tragedy to smokers and their families caused by lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke and emphysema, cigarette smoking burdens America’s health care system by nearly $170 billion annually in direct medical care for adults, according to the Center for Disease Control.” The penalty would be 20 hours of community service for a first offense, and 40 hours for a second offense within a year. Vendors who sell tobacco to underage consumers would be hit with fines of up to $500 for a first offense, and up to $1,000 for a second offense.

With program set to end, Victor Torres, other Democrats seek extension to Puerto Rican housing” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – With the scheduled end coming for a federal emergency housing voucher program being used by Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, state Sen. Torres and several other Democratic lawmakers are urging Puerto Rico Gov. Rossello to ask the federal government for an extension. The program provides temporary housing vouchers for people who’ve fled the island because of the devastation which still plagues Puerto Rico. But housing assistance in Florida is only available to those Puerto Rican evacuees if the governor of Puerto Rico requests it, and his previous request expires Jan. 15. Torres and some other Democrats in the Florida Legislature sent a letter to Rossello urging him to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, and to request other FEMA housing assistance for Puerto Ricans who’ve fled to Florida.

Save the date – State Sen. Travis Hutson and state Rep. Paul Renner, both of Palm Coast, join Farm Share to host a free food distribution Saturday, Jan. 6, at the WE Harris Community Center, 400 Harris St. Distribution begins 9 a.m. and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

– NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL –

Happening tomorrow – Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democratic candidate for Governor, is hosting a community holiday luncheon in Miami for the Overtown community. Lunch event begins 12:45 p.m. at 2215 NW. 1st Pl. in Miami.

Lawrence McClure cruises to win Hillsborough House race” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida – Keeping the seat in Republican hands, Dover businessman McClure captured 54.5 percent of the vote, will replace former Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned from the District 58 seat this summer. Republicans have long represented the eastern Hillsborough County area, and McClure, a partner with the firm Streamline Environmental, Inc., offered a conservative platform, including backing Second Amendment rights, opposing abortion and supporting school choice. McClure topped three other candidates, with Democrat Jose Vazquez receiving 33.8 percent of the vote, unaffiliated candidate Ahmad Hussam Saadaldin receiving 8.5 percent and Libertarian Bryan Zemina receiving 3.2 percent … The election came three weeks before the Jan. 9 start of the legislative session.

Tweet, tweet:

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava endorses Jose Javier Rodriguez for CD 27 – “I have spent more than four decades fighting for families and communities, and to make sure that everyone in Miami-Dade County has a voice,” Cava said in a statement. “Public service and integrity have been core to my work, from my time serving abused children, then leading Catalyst, and now representing you on the Miami-Dade County Commission. Now more than ever we need that same focus on service and integrity in Washington. That’s why I’m endorsing Jose Javier Rodriguez … Jose Javier is a seasoned activist with a track record of service, integrity and success. He’s the real deal. That’s why we need him in Congress.”

Ricky Shirah files to run for House seat” via John Chambliss of NewsChief.com – Shirah, a familiar name to many Lakeland voters, has filed to run in the special election for the House District 39 seat. The Kathleen Democrat has run five times for a Lakeland City Commission seat. He recently lost a race for the city’s at-large district seat. Asked why he keeps running, Shirah, 63, said he feels strongly about serving the public in an elected position. “I really feel passionate about this,” Shirah said. “It’s time for a Democrat to do something, especially in this area.” Shirah was talking about the District 39 seat, which covers portions of Polk and Osceola counties. The special election was sparked when former state Rep. Neil Combee began a new job as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in November.

Democrat Sara McFadden files against incumbent Bob Rommel” via Lobby Tools – McFadden has filed to run for the House District 106 race. She is the first Democrat to run for HD 106 since it was redrawn in 2012. McFadden is a grassroots activist who founded the eight-county Coastal Coalition. In March she was appointed as a vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Save the date – Republican Reps. Travis Cummings of Orange Park and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta are holding a fundraising reception Monday, Jan. 8, beginning 5 p.m. at the Governors Club Library Room, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or katie@kballardconsult.com.

– STATEWIDE –

Delay sought in Morgan & Morgan false advertising case” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Pennsylvania law firm suing the Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan law firm on a false advertising claim is asking a federal judge to postpone a hearing in the case. The Rosenbaum & Associates personal injury firm, which filed suit in Philadelphia, wants more time for its expert to review copies of Morgan & Morgan’s television commercials … The firm Monday asked for a Jan. 4 hearing on its motion for preliminary injunction to be moved to some time in February, court records show. Rosenbaum & Associates alleges that Morgan & Morgan’s well-known ads, found on billboards and buses all across Florida, are “misleading” potential clients in the Keystone State.

State challenged on methadone licenses after campout” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida – Florida officials’ first-come, first-served system for dozens of new methadone-treatment licenses resulted in applicants camping out in tents with sleeping bags, coolers and, in one case, a gun, to be first in line. Pictures of applicants lounging in chairs outside the Department of Children and Families headquarters in Tallahassee are among the documents filed by methadone-treatment providers in a challenge to an emergency rule that resulted in the type of activities usually associated with fans lining up for tickets to a concert or a major sporting event. Instead, the people camped out were vying to be first in line as workers at the state agency unlocked the doors at 8 a.m. Oct. 2, when the application period for the methadone-treatment licenses opened. Three nonprofit treatment providers who lost out on getting some of 49 new licenses are arguing, in an administrative challenge filed Dec. 11, that the Department of Children and Families wrongly created an emergency rule that is unfair to potential vendors and could leave poor drug addicts in the lurch. At least 16 other providers are expected to join the challenge.

PSC asks for more comments on utility storm readiness – The request comes as part of the Public Service Commission’s review of 2017 utility hurricane preparedness and restoration actions. Specifically, the PSC wants to hear about “vegetation management, undergrounding of electric facilities, and utilities’ coordination and communications” during emergencies. PSC Chairman Julie Brown said: “we’re drilling down another level to reach more stakeholders, who can provide an even broader perspective.” Comments are due by Feb. 20 and are limited to 25 pages, excluding attachments.  All comments will be public record and posted to the PSC’s website. For more information, visit www.floridapsc.com and go to “Review of Electric Utility Hurricane Preparedness and Restoration Actions Comments” under Hot Topics.

Grand jury: Enough evidence for charges in FSU pledge death” via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – The Leon County grand jury issued a 17-page presentment order that left the decision about charges up to the state attorney’s office or a future grand jury. It also said evidence still needs to be reviewed in the investigation into Andrew Coffey’s death. … The presentment establishes a timeline and how Coffey died. County Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Flannagan said in testimony that the 20-year old Coffey, who was a junior and a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, died of alcohol poisoning and had a blood-alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy. Coffey died Nov. 3 after he was found unresponsive after a party the night before. The “Big Brother Night” party was held at an off-campus home.

Tweet, tweet:

Tallahassee budget, ethics watchdogs start new political action committee” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – The leaders of a new political committee created to elect city and county commission candidates have a strong conservative pedigree, but they say their new organization is meant to be non-partisan. “We want to attract people from all parties who hold in common the desire to elect candidates, whether Republican, Democrats, or no party affiliation,” said J. Russell Price, a commercial real estate developer who chairs the new group, Moving Tallahassee Forward. “It is imperative that we elect bold individuals who will provide the leadership to re-establish community trust in our local government,” said Price, a commercial real estate developer. “Tallahassee is a great city that deserves great leadership.” Other officers on the committee are J. Brent Pichard, vice-chair and Catherine Baer, secretary-treasurer. Pichard also is president of the Capital Conservatives, a local political group that meets regularly to talk about current topics. Baer is chair of the Tea Party Network and a member of the citizens’ committee that created the Tallahassee ethics ordinance approved by voters in 2014.

Plastic surgery deaths highlight need for specialty board certification” via Florida Politics – With an alarming rise in potentially deadly, yet popular, cosmetic surgeries —  performed by uncertified practitioners — public health officials are urging extra caution before undergoing procedures such as liposuction and the “Brazilian butt lift” (BBL). While all surgery holds some degree of risk, the danger posed by non-board-certified physicians is considerably higher. Board certification serves as an unbiased, third-party verification that a physician has the skill, knowledge, and experience necessary to hold the practitioner out as an expert in specific medical specialties. The American Board of Medical Specialties is the leading not-for-profit organization overseeing physician certification in the U.S. As such, ABMS sets standards for its two dozen member boards for education and professional evaluation, assessment and certification of physician specialists. When selecting a physician, patients should always check credentials — including board certification. One of the best resources is certificationmatters.org, a website maintained by the ABMS. There, patients can see if a physician is board certified by an ABMS board.

– MOVEMENTS –

U.S. Senate confirms Carlton Fields attorney for top EPA legal post” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – The Senate has confirmed Matthew Leopold as general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency. Leopold, who has worked in Carlton Fields’ Tallahassee office since 2015, will serve as the highest ranking legal adviser to the EPA. Trump nominated Leopold in September. Leopold’s handled environmental, energy and water law cases for Carlton Fields. The law firm has a strong presence in Tampa employing dozens of attorneys and legal advisors. Leopold formerly served as General Counsel of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

Ashley Stacell, Capitol Strategies Consulting: Lee County Public Schools

Nick Iarossi, Capital City Consulting: Applied Underwriters

– ALOE –

Florida police ‘elves’ distribute cash during traffic stop” via The Associated Press – … handing out some $4,200 to unsuspecting residents. Ocala police officials said Operation Secret Santa was made possible by 14 anonymous donors. Earlier this month, four officers who were dubbed as “elves” sought out the unlikely suspects. The officers handed out gifts of up to $200 in cash through traffic stops, in parking lots, at bus stops and in parks. In a couple of cases, the connections were “pre-planned” by officers who alerted the “elves” to residents who were going through a difficult time.

#SheSaidYes – Congrats to attorney Ali Hengesbach and Sachs Media Group’s Herbie Thiele on their engagement.

Weekend wedding – Our best to Jenna Simonetti and James Kotas, who were married this past weekend during a sunset ceremony in the Keys before a handful of friends and family.

Happy birthday to one of St. Petersburg’s finest citizens, Greg Holden. Also celebrating today are Kelly Skidmore and Jenn Stutler.

A not-so-fun hypothetical for Joe Negron

So, let’s imagine an imaginary senator—we’ll call him Mack Trackvalla—who gets into a bit of a pickle for some allegedly inappropriate behavior.

There’s an outcry, followed by calls for his resignation, which he laughs at. “I’ll see the place burn first!” this imaginary lawmaker tells news media.

A complaint to the Rules Committee soon follows, then an investigation, which some call a witch hunt, others say isn’t in-depth enough.

No matter. The unthinkable, at least for Trackvalla, happens: The Rules Committee recommends expulsion. Reporters go wild.

The question goes to the floor, and after impassioned debate, Trackvalla is ousted as more than two-thirds of his colleagues vote to boot him out of the chamber.

With a vacant seat, a special election is called.

Then Trackvalla comes up with an ingenious solution and an “F” you to his now-former colleagues: He’s going to qualify to run for his old seat in that special election.

Here’s the thing: There’s no legal bar preventing him from doing so (and I looked).

Trackvalla could tap into his still-loyal contributor network and raise the funds he needs, or he could just spend the MILLIONS he already has in the bank.

Fast forward, and miracle of miracles, he wins. Now what?

Turn to Article III, section 2 of the state Constitution: “Each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications, elections, and returns of its members….”

What’s a Senate President to do? Say, “We expelled you before, and we’re not letting you back in”? He certainly could. And there’s nowhere to go to appeal.

But this is all just the musings of a distracted mind. Still, food for thought.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.19.17

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

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

Residents living in eastern Hillsborough County’s House District 58 will go to the polls today to elect a new representative — three weeks before the start of the 2018 Legislative Session.

Gov. Rick Scott called the special election following the August resignation of Republican Dan Raulerson, who stepped down because of health reasons.

Four candidates are on the ballot: Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin.

Lawrence McClure, Republican consensus favorite for House District 58.

McClure, a Dover business owner, has been the consensus favorite to keep the seat in Republican control following his relatively easy victory over Yvonne Fry in a contentious GOP primary back in October.

He’s crushed his other three opponents in fundraising in the special election campaign, taking in more than $217,000.

Vazquez, a Puerto Rican native, has run for local office several times over the past few years without success. He has raised only $4,677. Saadaldin raised $19,876 in his campaign, while Zemina received $10,728.

HD 58 includes parts of Temple Terrace and Brandon, as well as all of Plant City, Thonotosassa and Dover.

More than 10,000 people have already voted in the race, either by mail or in early voting. Of those, 4,618 were registered Republicans, 4,332 registered Democrats, and 1,461 non-party-affiliated voters.

McClure dominates fundraising in special election” via the News Service of Florida — McClure raised $69,265 from Nov. 7 through Thursday, bringing his overall total to $217,250 … McClure raised and spent part of the total in winning a primary election, but his fundraising still far outdistanced any of his competitors. Democrat Vazquez raised $2,770 from Nov. 7 through Thursday, bringing his overall total to $4,677, a new report shows. Unaffiliated candidate Saadaldin raised $8,217 during the most-recent period and had raised an overall total of $19,876. Meanwhile, Libertarian Zemina raised $3,406 and had an overall total of $10,728.

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

— GWEN GRAHAM TALKS #METOO —

In both Virginia and Alabama, analysts are pointing to the effectiveness of women’s votes.

Don’t think Democratic gubernatorial candidate Graham hasn’t noticed.

During one of her well-known workdays Monday, the former congresswoman went into detail on the effects of the #MeToo movement and the power of activating women voters. Gender, Graham said, brings with it a different kind of leadership.

Gwen Graham talks about being a female candidate in the age of #MeToo.

She considers being a woman an advantage in the race, where she faces the all-male primary field of Phillip Levine, Andrew Gillum and Chris King, with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other potential candidates waiting on the Republican side.

— Graham said she’s capturing bipartisan support because women are engaged. “I go all over the state, and I have women say, ‘I’m a Republican, and I can’t wait to vote for you,’” Graham said.

— A shift in balance?: “I think one of the things that’s important about the #MeToo issue is the recognition of imbalance of power. And why it’s so important we elect more women into leadership positions. I think women bring a different leadership approach than men,” Graham said.

— But can her identity topple deep pockets? Levine, the newest major candidate, has shown early robust fundraising and already is using his money to run television commercials to expand his name recognition within and beyond South Florida.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Jay Fant’s Donald Trump ‘supporters’ say what?” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Fant’s camp brought out the knives last week in an apparent effort to slow down the momentum Ashley Moody appears to be gaining in the GOP contest for attorney general. Fant’s campaign, guided by longtime Scott adviser Melissa Stone, then announced that Fant had received “endorsements from Trump campaign county chairs that were instrumental in President Donald Trump’s 2016 win.” Just one problem: Some of the folks on the list haven’t endorsed Fant. Carolyn Otworth, the Clay County chair of the Trump Club, said her name was included on the list without her approval. In an email, Stone said this about the Otworth situation: “After several conversations, she asked not be included on the list at this time. We will update the list to remove her while adding additional endorsements coming in.” But Otworth maintained she had never permitted her name to be included in the endorsement roundup.

Buddy Dyer is the latest Democrat to support Jeremy Ring for CFO.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer endorses Jeremy Ring for Chief Financial Officer — “With Jeremy, Floridians have a real opportunity to transform the way our State does business,” Dyer says in an email to supporters. “His unique business background and his innovative approach combined with a real record of delivering higher paying jobs are exactly what Tallahassee needs right now. As mayor of a major Floridian city, I would be thrilled to work with a CFO like Jeremy. His leadership and vision would help Orlando and communities across our great state thrive, in an economy ready-made for the 21st century.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz endorses Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for CD 26 — “Debbie has spent her career working to expand health care access to underserved communities in Miami. I’ve gotten to know Debbie over the past several years, and I’ve seen how well she understands firsthand, as an immigrant and a mother, the realities so many South Florida families are facing,” said Wasserman Schultz. “From fighting climate change to building an economy that puts the people first, Debbie has a bold vision for our future and will be a strong voice on behalf of the South Florida community.” Wasserman Schultz joins Congresswoman Lois Frankel, EMILY’s List and 15 South Florida elected officials in endorsing Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign for Congress.

First in Sunburn – “Lori Berman crosses $325K raised for SD 31 special election” via Florida Politics — Lantana Democrat Lori Berman has brought in some serious cash for her bid to take over for former Sen. Jeff Clemens in Palm Beach County-based Senate District 31. The fourth term representative had already shown $177,504 raised in October but her next report, due Tuesday, will show another $81,881 in campaign cash and $66,500 raised for her political committee. Those numbers put her far ahead of her her challengers, fellow Democrat Arthur Morrison and Republican Tami Donnally. Morrison showed a $10,040 loan to his campaign and no contributions in his first report, which left him with about $7,645 in the bank after spending, while Donnally reports raising $6,131 and spending $2,728, putting her at $3,403 cash on hand.

Save the date — Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young will be fundraising Monday, Jan. 8, beginning 4 p.m. at the Governors Club Capital Room, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee.

Democrat challenges Bob Cortes in HD 30” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Democrat Clark Anderson has filed against Republican Rep. Cortes for his seat in 2018. Anderson has spent much of his life and career in computers, specifically in cybersecurity for government contractors that have, among other things, sent him to Afghanistan for two years during the 2010 U.S. military surge there. His mother, the late Joan G. Anderson, was a fixture for decades in Illinois politics, holding various offices in and around Chicago and the capital in Springfield.

Clark Anderson is following his mother’s footsteps, seeking HD 30 seat.

***Nursing home care is better in states with a Certificate of Need process, because it ensures seniors have access to the right type of care where in the areas they need it most. The best way to ensure a high-quality long-term care sector that balances the need for nursing home care and home and community-based services is to preserve Florida’s Certificate of Need process. That’s why everyone who cares about Florida’s elders should reject the Constitution Revision Commission proposal to eliminate Certificate of Need in Florida.***

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Hotel taxes — not just for tourism anymore?” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Tourist tax dollars could pay for roads, sewers and other projects under a bill under debate in the Florida Legislature. Currently, taxes on hotel rooms must go to tourism marketing or projects directly related to attracting tourists, such as beach renourishment or facilities such as aquariums and convention centers. Under the proposal, the tax could be used projects that would help tourism-related business. “You can use the tax money to build a convention center, but you can’t use it to build a road to the convention center,” said state Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the House version. “You can improve a beach, but you can’t build a bike path to the beach.” Fine pointed to Brevard County, which he says used tourist tax dollars to build a kayak ramp on the Indian River Lagoon even as 19 million gallons of sewage was spilling into the water. Under Fine’s legislation, that money could be spent preventing such spills.

Assisted living group challenges generator rule via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Attorneys for the Florida Senior Living Association filed a petition in state administrative court arguing that the Florida Department of Elder Affairs overstepped its legislative authority and that the new proposed rule puts requirements on assisted-living facilities that are not authorized in state law. The Florida Senior Living Association, formerly known as Florida Argentum, also argues in the petition that the proposed rule is vague. The group represents more than 350 assisted living facilities across the state. “The proposed rule is impermissibly vague as evidenced by DOEA’s (the Department of Elder Affairs’) inability to answer fundamental questions relating to standards it intends to enforce should the proposed rule go into effect,” one part of the petition says. The proposed rule closely tracks an emergency rule the Department of Elder Affairs issued in September following Hurricane Irma. That provision and one released by Agency for Health Care Administration that affects nursing homes were invalidated in October after a trio of industry groups, including The Florida Senior Living Association, challenged them.

Jason Fischer, a former Duval School Board member, is seeking term limits for those serving on school boards.

School board term limits proposed in Legislature” via the News Service of Florida — The proposal (HJR 1031), filed by Rep. Jason Fischer comes as the state Constitution Revision Commission also considers placing a school-board term limit proposal on the November 2018 ballot. Both proposals, which would need voter approval, would limit school board members to two four-year terms. Fischer’s plan is identical to one (SJR 194) that Sen. Greg Steube filed in August.

On this week’s edition of The Rotunda — In the latest episode of The RotundaTrimmel Gomes takes a closer look at one of the near 900 proposals before the Constitution Revision Commission. Voters could soon decide on a plan by Rep. Jeanette Nunez, House Speaker Pro Tempore, on whether to divert money from anti-tobacco marketing campaigns to the research and treatment of cancer. However, the proposal is facing opposition from public health experts and groups like the American Cancer Society and Students Working Against Tobacco. Gomes discusses the issue with Matt Jordan, government relations director, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

— REST IN PEACE —

— STATEWIDE —

What the Governor’s Office is reading: Florida tops in nation on infrastructure via Ledyard King of News-Press.com — The analysis by 24/7 Wall St, a financial reporting firm, puts the Sunshine State at the top of the heap based on its review of federal records on the conditions of roads, bridges, dams. It also looked at how much each state prioritizes highway spending. Here’s what the report, dubbed “States That Are Falling apart,” concluded about Florida: 3.2 percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition (3rd best in the U.S.); 2.1 percent of its bridges are rated as deficient (also 3rd best); 6.3 percent of the state’s dams are considered at “high hazard risk” (9th best overall); 8.7 percent of Florida’s total government spending is spent on highways (only seven states paid more as a percentage).

Legislative economist – again – tosses cold water on Scott’s rosy economic narrative” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Though she does not mention Scott directly, Baker’s main takeaway has been that the economic rebound orchestrated since Scott took office in 2011 is characterized by a decreasing unemployment rate but lacking in producing coveted, high-paying manufacturing jobs. The latest instance of Baker’s analysis tossing cold water on Scott’s economic optimism came last week during a meeting to discuss numbers related to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and low-income food assistance programs. Baker noted the state’s low 3.9 percent unemployment rate is in large part due to the growth of low-wage hospitality jobs — not the housing boom-driven manufacturing jobs that boosted the state’s economy when the unemployment rate bottomed this low in the mid-2000s. “This unemployment rate compared to the last time we saw this unemployment rate as part of the housing boom are not economically the same thing,” she said.

Rick Scott discusses storm relief with Paul Ryan, Greg Abbott” via the News Service of Florida — Scott tweeted that his calls with Texas Gov. Abbott and U.S. House Speaker Ryan included talk of hurricane relief. “I spoke with @GovAbbott this morning about the ongoing recovery in FL and TX from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey,” Scott tweeted. “We will fight for our states to ensure a full recovery.” Additionally, Scott tweeted, “I also spoke with @SpeakerRyan today to urge him to have Congress act swiftly in approving funding for FL citrus growers to fully recover from Irma. I’m not going to stop fighting for our iconic citrus industry.” A $44 billion disaster-relief package introduced last month by the White House may go before Congress this week or be delayed until January, but state Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have expressed concern the funding leaves Florida short.

Freedom talk: Gov. Rick Scott hosted a roundtable Monday to discuss Florida’s “continued efforts to support freedom and democracy in Venezuela.” Scott has proposed legislation to prohibit state investment in any company that is doing business with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Irma insurance claims near 866,000 as pace slows” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida – Estimated insured losses from Hurricane Irma have topped $6.55 billion, according to information by the state Office of Insurance Regulation. The latest report showed that 865,974 claims from the September storm had been filed with insurance companies as of Friday, with 719,512 involving residential properties. While people have several years to file claims, the numbers indicate a slowing in reported damages, as numbers posted by the state office Dec. 4 showed 853,356 claims with estimated losses of $6.3 billion. Lynne McChristian, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, said Irma could have been “much worse” for homeowners and the industry … state-backed Citizens Property Insurance reported last week it had received 63,500 claims from Irma. Most were in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. Citizens anticipated its number of Irma claims will grow to 70,000, with $1.2 billion in damages, over the next year.

Pam Bondi says firefighter charity is a fraud” via Florida Politics — Attorney General Bondi on Monday filed a complaint seeking to shut down a Florida charity falsely claiming to use charitable donations to provide financial support to families of firefighters lost in the line of duty, according to a news release. Community Charity Advancement, Inc. (CCAI) also is accused of falsely claiming to use donations to provide assistance to breast cancer research organizations and breast cancer patients … According to the complaint, CCAI’s deceptive acts and practices mislead generous donors. “It is absolutely abhorrent to exploit families of fallen firefighters and breast cancer patients to steal from generous Floridians,” Bondi said in a statement.

Florida juvenile justice said it would weed out bad hires. How did this guy slip through?” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — It took just two months for Chris W. Jeffries to get into trouble at his new job as a counselor for delinquent teens with drug or behavior problems … Administrators at the Broward Youth Treatment Center hired him Oct. 9, despite an ominous sign that Jeffries might have an anger management problem — just like many of the kids he’d be supervising. In June 2016, police say, he pulled a gun on his roommate and threatened to kill her after she demanded that he move out of the home they shared. Jeffries’ roommate later changed her mind and declined to cooperate with prosecutors, who dropped the case. It’s the exact sort of red flag that is supposed to trigger an alarm under a stringent new hiring policy designed to weed out youth workers with the kind of criminal backgrounds or unsavory work histories likely to render them unfit to work with hard-to-manage teenagers. But there’s a hole in the state’s new policy: While the beefed-up screening governs how DJJ hires officers for its 21 detention centers, it holds no sway over the private contractors who run the state’s 53 residential programs for youths already adjudicated delinquent. The Broward Youth Treatment Center is one such facility.

John Morgan’s lawsuit on smokable medical marijuana will soon get its day in court.

Judge sets hearing in ‘no smoke’ medical marijuana case” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A Tallahassee judge will hear argument on whether to throw out Orlando attorney John Morgan‘s lawsuit over the ban on smoking medical marijuana. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers scheduled a Jan. 25 hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss … The suit originally was filed in July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved last year. The plaintiffs, who include patients qualified to use medicinal cannabis, “do not even try to claim that the constitutional text … actually states that smoking must be permitted.” Indeed, when Morgan spoke to reporters after filing suit in Tallahassee, he said he included the language in an “intent statement,” but not in the text of the amendment. When asked why he didn’t make it crystal clear, Morgan said the amendment “speaks for itself. Now, if you can’t figure it out, I can’t help that.”

Happening tomorrow — Knox Medical to preview the grand opening of its St. Petersburg dispensary beginning 10 a.m. at the Knox Medical Dispensary at 601 34th St. N in St. Petersburg.

Two Martin County commissioners, one former commissioner face public-records law trials in 2018” via George Andreassi of TCPalm.com – Two Martin County commissioners and a former commissioner will face trial next year on charges they violated the state public-records law … County Judge Curtis Disque set a Feb. 19 trial date for Commissioner Sarah Heard on a non-criminal infraction of failure of a public official to respond to a public-records request. He set a Dec. 10 trial date for Commissioner Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Anne Scott on two misdemeanor charges each of failure of a public official to permit inspection and copying of public records. Their cases stem from the county’s long-running civil lawsuit with Lake Point Restoration rock quarry and allegations that county commissioners destroyed or failed to produce emails pertinent to the case.

Grand jury to question partygoers in FSU pledge’s death” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Dozens of Florida State students crowded the hallways of the Leon County courthouse, each waiting their turn to be questioned before a grand jury investigating the death of a fraternity pledge … the grand jury will examine the circumstances surrounding the Nov. 3 death of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey. Prosecutors, who are working to determine if criminal charges are appropriate following the 20-year-old’s death at an off-campus party, will question about 50 people. Dozens of attorneys accompanied students in two third-floor courtrooms. Tallahassee attorney John Leace said it was difficult to make sense of the volume of testimony expected to be given over two days, but it was likely prosecutors were trying to establish a solid timeline of events that led to Coffey’s death.

Florida nonprofits receive $286k in grants” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics – The top agency for volunteerism in the state is awarding $286,000 in federal funding to 22 nonprofits and service organizations across the state. “Our grantees will put volunteers to work providing education opportunities, helping job-seekers find employment, and teaching financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to Floridians,” said Vivian Myrtetus, the CEO for Volunteer Florida. Each organization is set to receive a $13,000 grant, which they will match with local investments. The money is expected to help the organizations get skills-based volunteers to better serve their communities.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Assignment editors – Conference call to release “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism” from the Trust for America’s Health, which includes a report card for how states scored on 10 indicators of high priority areas and concerns, such as vaccination rates, climate change readiness, public health funding and more. Call begins 11 a.m. at 1-877-879-6203; use passcode 2086176.

Did President Trump break a promise to Florida’s Haitian population?” via Allison Graves of the Tampa Bay Times — “Whether you vote for me or you don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion,” Trump said at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Flash-forward more than a year later: Trump ordered almost 60,000 Haitians — many of them from Florida — to leave the United States or adjust their immigration status by July 2019. The Trump administration’s Nov. 20 decision came after a review of the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who arrived after the 2010 earthquake. We can’t say whether Trump “lied” … Trump never explicitly promised to extend the TPS designation for Haitians, but according to those in the community, Trump’s words that September day meant he would defend Haitians’ interests. The Trump administration has defended its decision by pointing to the obvious feature of the status: it’s temporary.

Stephanie Murphy decries ‘disconnect’ between Donald Trump’s foreign policy statement, actions” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Murphy and other leaders of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force declared a “disconnect” between what Trump is doing in foreign policy and what his long-awaited foreign policy statement holds. Murphy, who co-chairs that task force along with Democratic Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Jimmy Panetta of California, decried that Trump’s foreign policy statement’s commitment to diplomacy in world affairs rings hollow, and that, “important partners in Europe and Asia have cause to question the U.S. commitment to our shared security. It is no surprise that confidence in U.S. leadership has fallen sharply among our closest allies.” Those comments came in a news release that she, Moulton, and Panetta issued in response to the president’s National Security Strategy statement sent to Congress, a document required by law to have been presented last spring, and which the task force has been publicly demanding since June.

Some question whether Marco Rubio is genuinely a “longtime champion of the working class.”

Marco Rubio takes victory lap after child tax credit fight” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — “For two weeks, Republican Sen. Rubio fumed that his party rejected his efforts to steer more money to low-income families in the GOP tax plan by making a child tax credit more accessible,” read the beginning of a Wall Street Journal story. “Mr. Rubio got something for his anger.” The New York Times called Rubio, “a longtime champion of the working class.” Critics and advocates for the working class said the moves, while better than nothing, are inadequate and that many families would still get scant benefit. While that debate will continue — Tampa child advocates will hold a protest over the tax legislation and Rubio’s support for it — the Florida Republican achieved a political win. The tax legislation was always going to favor the wealthy and corporations. Rubio focused on the child tax credit, starting in 2015, allowing him to champion everyday people — once again reminding Americans of his working-class parents — and created distance between himself and other Republicans.

Tweet, tweet:

Florida congressmen on front lines of battle over Robert Mueller investigation” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — … with conservative Matt Gaetz calling for an end to the probe and liberal Ted Deutch saying it needs to continue without interference. “When my colleagues refer to the special counsel’s investigation as a ‘coup d’etat,’ it really undermines the rule of law in this country,” Deutch said on MSNBC. “They ought to be careful, they ought to stop it, and they ought to let this investigation proceed for the benefit of the American people.” Gaetz has gotten considerable attention on Fox News for his questioning of the Mueller probe and the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton. “Where in the hell is our attorney general? We need Attorney General Sessions to step up, do his job, seize control of the nightmare that is this investigation and let’s get some unbiased people involved in looking at the facts and it’s time for bob Muller to put up or shut up. If he’s got evidence of collusion let’s see it and if he doesn’t let’s move on and get to the issues can improve quality of life for the American people.”

Matt Gaetz is everywhere – The North Florida Republican will appear on TV starting 1:20 p.m. on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin for MSNBC; 2:05 p.m. on Intelligence Report with Trish Regan for Fox Business and 4:30 p.m. on Your World with Neil Cavuto for Fox News. Before that, Gaetz will be on radio starting 8:30 a.m. with Greg Penglis on 1330 WEBY; 11:06 a.m. on the Alan Nathan Show (Syndicated – 200 radio station, including WEBY AM, Pensacola) and 12:30 p.m. on Fox News Radio with Todd Starnes (Nationally Syndicated – 400 Stations, including WNRP 1620AM Pensacola).

Matt Gaetz seems to be everywhere.

Spotted: The conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) released the group’s top five ethics violators of 2017, including Florida’s own Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings, both Congressional Democrats. Want to find out why? Click here.

Meanwhile … “Federal judge recuses himself from David Rivera campaign cash lawsuit” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Former GOP Rep. Rivera won the latest of his public battles with U.S. District Judge Robert Scola as the veteran jurist recused himself from presiding over Rivera’s ongoing legal fight with the Federal Election Commission. Scola’s decision came one day after Rivera filed a motion in Miami federal court asking for his recusal because of comments the judge made questioning Rivera’s manhood in a related 2014 case. “Because the integrity of the judicial process is implicated when an appearance of impropriety may exist, the court concludes that recusal is appropriate,” read a Scola-signed order. The case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2003.

— OPINION —

Ashton Hayward: residents, tourists alike can benefit from sharing economy” via Florida Politics – For both our community, and our state, a major priority is to not only maintain the current levels of tourism we enjoy, but to attract even more visitors. One key step we can take is to embrace the sharing economy: empowering middle-class residents in Pensacola and elsewhere to provide transportation options through Uber or Lyft or alternative lodging through Airbnb, HomeAway or Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO). By leveraging these exciting new opportunities, which travelers and Florida residents alike clearly love and want, we can make our state an even more appealing destination for both tourism and investment. In Pensacola, I’ve focused on making our city as welcoming as possible to residents who wish to share their homes as short-term rentals. With Airbnb alone, over 300 people in our community share their homes with travelers. In the past year, these local residents welcomed over 25,000 guests and earned $3 million in the process. In turn, these guests spend money at our local restaurants, shops and attractions. I also urge my fellow mayors across the state to consider looking for ways to work with the short-term rental industry, because it ultimately helps bring visitors to our diverse and beautiful communities, infusing cash into the economy and creating jobs for Floridians.

— MOVEMENTS —

Personnel note: Miami Herald’s Elizabeth Koh to cover Legislature” via Florida Politics — The Miami Herald has promoted one of its regional government reporters in South Florida to cover the state Legislature in Tallahassee. Koh, a 24-year-old Brown University graduate, started working at the Herald in May and has written stories ranging from a Puerto Rican baby stuck in medical limbo after Hurricane Irma, to the recent passage of an anti-Semitism ordinance that gives officers in Bal Harbour Village more power to investigate hate crimes. She will now cover policy and politics for the Herald, starting on Jan. 4 – five days before Session begins. She fills the spot left vacant by Kristen M. Clark, who departed the Tallahassee bureau in mid-October.

Personnel note: Kalynn Cook promoted at EDGE Communications” via Florida Politics — EDGE Communications, a Democratic political and public affairs consulting firm, has promoted Kalynn Cook from Senior Campaigns Director to Vice President, the company announced Monday. “Since joining my firm in 2015, Kalynn has been of the strongest hires we’ve made as she brings top-notch work ethic and a passion to serve our clients,” said EDGE Communications founder and President Christian Ulvert … The firm also will soon add a campaign associate to serve clients “across the state and Southeast region of the country.”

— LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS —

Brian Ballard, Monica Rodriguez, Ballard Partners: North Springs Improvement District

Matt Brockelman, Southern Strategy Group: Operation New Uniform

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Peoples Gas System, Tampa Electric Company, TECO Energy

Paul Bradshaw, Southern Strategy Group: M H Corbin

Dean Cannon, GrayRobinson: Pasco County Schools, School Board of Levy County

Allison Carvajal, Sue Mullins, Evan Power, Ramba Consulting Group: Northwest Florida State College Foundation

Rosanna Manuela Catalano, Capitol Energy Florida: City of Key Colony Beach

Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: State Voices

Reginald Garcia: Brisk Coffee Roasters USA

Andrew Hosek: Americans for Prosperity

Ashley Kalifeh, Capital City Consulting: Applied Underwriters

Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: Vault E&S Insurance Company

D. Bruce May Jr., Holland & Knight: Florida Electric Cooperatives Association

Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Dayspring Village

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: Florida Solar Energy Industries Association

John Quackenbush: Associated Industries of Florida

Karl Rasmussen, Meenan: AHIP — America’s Health Insurance Plans, Asurion Insurance services, MetLife

Steve Rumsey: Pioneer Technology Group

— ALOE —

Santa letter company in Sarasota on customers’ naughty list after several complaints” via Jarrod Holbrook of WFTS – Customers say two local men aren’t always delivering on the Christmas gifts they bought for their children. We tried talking to Bill Michelon, owner of Holiday Printables, a Sarasota based company. Michelon snubbed the handshake and walked away. While his house is decorated for the holidays and exemplifies the Christmas spirit, his customers say he’s certainly not delivering it…literally! “I would say they’re horrible,” one customer tells us. They’re all waiting on Santa products they ordered, including a letter from Santa, reindeer food, and fake snow from the North Pole. … Dale and Carie Gruber own Packagefromsanta.com, a company delivering Santa letters and products based outside of Detroit. It’s their 11th season. They have an A+ rating and accreditation from the BBB. Dale tells us the two Sarasota businessmen have been stealing their videos and pictures they produced and are passing it off as their own. “What they’re doing is wrong and it needs to stop. I say stop … in fact we told them to stop from a legal standpoint,” says Dale. Dale and Carie tell us their company has been negatively impacted by Holiday Printables.

Florida gas prices back to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels” via the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Bay gas hit $2.30 per gallon today, while state prices averaged $2.37 per gallon, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. “Gulf Coast refineries have completely recovered from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and are now flooding the market with fuel in anticipation of strong demand during the year-end holidays,” Mark Jenkins, spokesperson for AAA, said in a release. Nationally, gas prices were $2.43 per gallon. GasBuddy.com, a gas price tracker, expects gas prices to remain relatively low as long as demand for gas continues to stay down.

SpaceX Dragon supply ship docks at the international space station.

SpaceX capsule back at space station with pre-Christmas haul” via Marcia Dunn of The Associated Press — NASA astronauts used the space station’s big robot arm to grab the Dragon capsule out of orbit Sunday. “It’s a great day to see Dragon back at ISS again,” Mission Control radioed. SpaceX launched the Dragon from Cape Canaveral … using a previously flown Falcon rocket. It was the first time SpaceX had flown a recycled rocket with a recycled capsule on top, at the heart of the company’s effort to drive down launch costs. The Dragon holds nearly 5,000 pounds of station goods, including lab mice and barley seeds, the latter a Budweiser experiment. The beer maker — eager to serve the first brews on Mars — wants to see how well the 20 barley seeds sprout in weightlessness. As for Christmas presents, NASA isn’t saying, in true Santa style.

Trump to debut in Disney’s Hall of Presidents” via Bay News 9 – After nearly a year of renovations, the Hall of Presidents will finally reopen at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and, yes, Trump will speak. Disney says Imagineers updated the show’s content with the latest in theatrical design and animatronic technology, including upgraded projection, sound and lighting. Trump also recorded remarks exclusively for the Hall of Presidents, something every sitting president has done since the 1990s. Disney says the new animatronic of Trump will have smoother, more lifelike movements.

President Trump has finally arrived at Walt Disney World. And, yes, he speaks.

Happy birthday to great communicator Danielle Alvarez of Mercury LLC and former state House candidate David Singer.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Praying for DACA?

Some send letters to Congress, others pray. When it comes to DACA, some Floridians do both.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is the “government program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation,” as NBC News explains it.

In Florida, the effort to push Congress to pass a replacement for the Obama-era program was bolstered last week by prayer.

Demonstrators protest in front of the White House after the Donald Trump administration scrapped DACA.

About 100 people gathered in collective prayer at the state Capitol, asking God to guide members of Congress to pass a resolution that will protect hundreds of thousands who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

They’re also known as “Dreamers” after the “Development Relief And Education For Alien Minors” bills filed several times by pro-immigration members of Congress in recent years.

“We pray that you will protect approximately 800,000 Dreamers — including 33,000 in Florida — who are currently living and working in the United States but face the imminent threat of deportation,” 60 proponents of the program wrote in a letter Friday to seven U.S. representatives from Florida.

The letter to U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Ron DeSantis, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Francis Rooney, Dennis Ross and John Rutherford was signed by members of the League of Women Voters, Spanish American League Against Discrimination, and Faith in Florida, as well as students, business owners and workers.

“We have enjoyed working with you over the many prior months, but now is the time for a permanent solution that can’t be taken away,” the letter says.

In September, the Trump administration opted to end DACA and put the burden on Congress to pass a permanent replacement. If that doesn’t happen, the protections granted to Dreamers under the two-year permit will start to wither away starting in March.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican whose district has thousands of Dreamers, joined congressional Democrats this week in saying he will not support any funding bill without a resolution for DACA.

If the program is repealed, advocates estimate his district would be hit with a $9.5 million loss to the gross domestic product.

Curbelo wants to have a replacement by the end of the year. Democratic U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson and Ted Deutch also have backed Curbelo.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

But first, a program note: This is the final edition of Takeaways for 2017. We wish you and yours a healthy, happy Holiday Season. We’ll return Jan. 6.

Now, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Harassment settlements under Scott — Sexual harassment has become a pervasive issue in Tallahassee after back-to-back sex scandals rock the Capitol. But while the Rick Scott administration has escaped recent headlines, court records obtained by Florida Politics show that it has not been immune to harassment claims that were investigated and ended without the dismissal of the accused, or settlement payout, which have totaled $413,750. The cases involve women who were sexually harassed by co-workers or supervisors, with abuse that included their vaginas being grabbed, being photographed naked and even beaten. On Wednesday, Scott signed an executive order that would strengthen the reporting and investigating of sexual harassment complaints.

Gubernatorial appointment power unchallenged — The state’s highest court dismissed a challenge to Gov. Scott’s power to appoint three new justices on his last day in office in 2019. The case was tossed in a 6-1 decision with the reason being the issue wasn’t ready for judicial review. The Florida Supreme Court said it couldn’t step into the controversy because the governor hasn’t taken any action yet. The three justices who are retiring and will be replaced, however, took issue with the decision. In the end two of them agreed with the result, but one called Scott’s intentions “blatantly unconstitutional.”

Campaign finance reform tossed — A proposal to repeal Florida’s system of public financing for statewide campaigns won’t make it into the state constitution, at least for now. Frank Kruppenbacher, who was sponsoring the proposed amendment, withdrew his measure from consideration, but he said he intends to press lawmakers to think about reforming the system this year. Kruppenbacher was appointed by Scott, who has supported abolishing public financing for campaigns. In the 2014 election cycle, the state spent over $4.3 million to finance campaigns. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has also been a big proponent of the change.

Marijuana lawsuits pile on — A 238-page lawsuit filed by Joe Redner‘s Florigrown company — replete with references to Encyclopaedia Britannica, ancient Roman medical texts and the Nixon White House tapes — alleges that the state is failing its responsibility to carry out the people’s will when it comes to medical marijuana. The complaint was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court against the Department of Health, its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, Gov. Rick Scott and others. This latest action adds to the growing amount of litigation over medical marijuana, which has state lawmakers concerned it’s interfering with the department’s ability to process vendor licenses and patient ID cards, among other things.

Citrus industry squeezed — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said no “plan B” is available for the citrus industry if Congress does not add funding to the latest disaster relief package. A day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture further reduced a forecast of the post-Hurricane Irma orange harvest, Putnam said there is a need for federal assistance to help the industry. He said the damage from the storm tops $1 billion.

Scott recognizes ‘outstanding’ educators

Scott and the Cabinet recognized seven educators with the governor’s Shine Award, meant for teachers and administrators in the state who make significant contributions to the field of education.

“The educators honored today represent the thousands of great teachers around the state who are dedicated to preparing students for college and a future career,” Scott said.

Rick Scott honors seven outstanding Florida educators. (Courtesy: The Office of Gov. Rick Scott.)

The educators that received the award are the following: Rudy Diaz, a TV Production Media teacher at South Miami Senior High School; Lisa Gault, a veteran educator teaching Adult Special Needs Transition at the Bradford-Union Technical Center; Felecia King, a fourth-grade English teacher at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School; Anne Jones, an Instructional/Reading Coach at Ruth Raines Middle School; Nardi Routten, a fourth-grade teacher at Chester A. Moore Elementary School; Timothy Stevens, a fifth-grade English and social studies teacher at Ochwilla Elementary School; and Dr. Karen P. Welch, an Intensive Reading and Intensive Language Arts teacher at Bell High School in Gilchrist County.

State re-employment tax rate will stay at $7

For the third year in a row, Florida businesses will continue to pay $7 per employee as their re-employment tax rate next year.

The Scott administration said that as a result of the thriving economy, more than 60 percent of Florida employers will pay the minimum tax rate, which is at the lowest it’s been since 2004.

“By keeping the re-employment tax law, we are putting more money back into the hands of job creators, so they can invest in their businesses. This continued low rate is another example of the steps we are taking to make Florida No. 1 in the nation for job growth and opportunities.” Scott said.

The $7 per employee minimum tax rate for 2018 is down from a high $120.80 per employee in 2012, a 94-percent tax reduction that has resulted in savings of more than $4.9 billion.

State business pay the re-employment tax as a percentage of the first $7,000 in wages for each employee.

Instagram of the week

‘Oregon’ is state’s newest canine detective

Scott and the Cabinet held a swearing-in ceremony for the newest member of the Department of Financial Services: Oregon, an 18-month-old German Shepard.

Oregon will be working as an explosive-detecting canine for the DFS’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. His handler, Detective Monty Taylor, has more than 15 years of experience with K-9 dogs and has served for that specific unit for nine years.

‘Oregon’ is Florida’s newest investigator. (Photo: Florida Department of Financial Services.)

Oregon will be taking over for Bella, who recently retired as an explosive-detection canine after more than eight years of service and hundreds of requests for assistance.

The bureau in which Oregon will be working has a 41 percent arson clearance rate. The average national rate is 20 percent.

The week in appointments

Curley moves to circuit court — Scott appointed Gerard Joseph Curley Jr. to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.

Curley, 57, of West Palm Beach, is a shareholder at the Gunster law firm and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and has a law degree from Stetson University College of Law.

He will fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge James T. Ferrara.

Nutt promoted to circuit court — Scott appointed James Nutt to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Richard Oftedal.

Nutt is a 55-year-old Palm Beach Gardens resident and currently serves as Litigation Practice Group Leader of the South Florida Water Management District’s Office of General Counsel.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Oglethorpe University, and his master’s and law degree from Nova Southeastern University.

Albers moves to Correctional Medical Authority — Scott appointed Kris-Tena Albers to be the program director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.

She was appointed for a term beginning Dec. 8 and ending July 1, 2020, and will succeed Joyce Phelps.

Holidays bring more DUI enforcement

The Florida Highway Patrol will join thousands of other law enforcement and highway safety agencies across the nation in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

“In an effort to get drunk and drugged drivers off Florida roads, FHP troopers will aggressively enforce impaired driving laws to ensure motorists and their families arrive to their destination safety,” said Colonel Gene Spaulding, the FHP director.

The department is offering some tips to ensure motorists “arrive alive” to their holiday destination that include finding a designated driver or call a ride-hailing service, adjust speed accordingly and to buckle up. Drivers are also advised to not text, talk on the phone, eat, or adjust the stereo while driving.

Motorists are asked to call FHP at 347 if they see an impaired or aggressive driver on the road.

Dep’t of Education says industry certifications rise

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said this week that industry certification completions among Florida high schoolers have jumped by about from 81,970 in the 2015-16 school year to 102,044 through the 2016-17 school year.

The Florida Department of Education said Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs give students a “school-to-career connection,” and more than 400,000 Florida students are currently enrolled in secondary technical education programs.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says industry certifications are on the rise. 

Career and Adult Education Chancellor Rod Duckworth said the “Industry Certification component of CTE provides students with a business and industry-recognized credential that is another tool in their educational toolbox. We are fortunate in Florida that all 67 school districts in the state have CTE programs as part of their educational system.”

Stewart said such certifications “open the door to high-skill, high-demand career opportunities,” while Scott added that the “great news shows that more of our students are getting prepared for future success.”

Joe Negron named ‘Champion of the Everglades’

Environmental group Audubon Florida presented Senate President Joe Negron with an award this week recognizing his “steadfast leadership” in Everglades restoration.

Negron earned the “Champion of the Everglades” award for a bill he ushered through the legislature earlier this past session that mandated the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent a repeat of the historic and harmful algal blooms that wreaked havoc on Florida waters in 2016.

Senate President Joe Negron accepting Audubon Florida’s Champion of the Everglades Award. Left to right: Audubon Florida Deputy Director Julie Hill-Gabriel, Senate President Joe Negron, and Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate Celeste De Palma.

“President Negron helped secure a much-needed restoration project for America’s Everglades. His tireless efforts responded to an ecological crisis by garnering support for one of the most important wins for Florida’s environment in a decade,” said Audubon Florida deputy director Julie Hill-Gabriel.

Audubon said the award is reserved for “individuals who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to protect Florida’s water and wildlife in the River of Grass.” Past winners of the award include Nathaniel Reed and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Lori Berman marks Sandy Hook anniversary

Five years after children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed by a gunman, State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, said legislators “must do more to prevent these senseless tragedies.”

“One way to do so is to address the crucial need for stronger and better mental health resources,” Berman said. “There is so much to be done and I will not stop advocating for more.”

Rep. Lori Berman memorialized the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Berman, who is running in the special election for Senate District 31, said she is introducing legislation (HB 231) that would allow a family member or law enforcement officer to seek a risk protection order to prevent a person who is at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.

Every year that she has served, Berman said she has “filed legislation to strengthen gun violence protection and prevention and bring attention to mental health issues that need to be addressed more effectively.”

“Unfortunately, many of these bills have yet to be heard in a committee,” she added.

Evan Jenne wants to curtail fundraising

Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne filed a bill this week that would force the governor and Cabinet to play by the same fundraising rules as lawmakers while the legislature is in Session.

Jenne’s bill (HB 707) would put the kibosh on executive branch members soliciting or accepting contributions during the Legislative Session, either for one’s own campaign, one’s own political party, a political committee or an aligned candidate.

Evan Jenne
Evan Jenne seeks to scale back fundraising during Session.

“The Governor and members of the cabinet all have their own legislative agendas each Session and it’s time they abide by the same rules as legislators,” Jenne said.

“It’s in complete conflict with common sense and fairness that those with influence on the legislative process can raise money from special interests and pad their campaign war chests during Session while being bills are being vetted, voted on, and making their way toward becoming law.”

During each Legislative Session from 2011 to 2017, the Governor and members of the Cabinet have collectively raised $16,163,474.87, which averages out to a $2,309,067.84 haul during each sixty-day session.

How many bills are being heard in the House?

Less than a month before Session starts, Florida House members have filed 136 bills on committee agendas for consideration.

According to data provided by the House Democratic Caucus, 94 of those bills are sponsored by Republicans and 21 of those measures are being pushed by Democrats. In addition to those, 21 bills have bipartisan co-sponsors.

CRC announces second statewide tour

The Constitution Revision Commission this week announced its second round of public hearings to be held statewide in 2018.

Carlos Beruff, the CRC chairman, said commissioners will be hitting the road again in 2018 to hear what the public wants to see changed in the state constitution.

Carlos Beruff and the CRC are going on the road.

“This is a public driven process and upcoming public hearing will allow Floridians the opportunity to shape proposed constitutional revisions before they are placed on the ballot,” Beruff said.

The dates, times and locations for confirmed public hearings are below:

South Florida: Tuesday, Feb. 6, 1-7 p.m., Nova Southeastern University, Rick Case Arena at the Don Taft University Center (UC), 3301 College Ave., Fort Lauderdale.

Central Florida: Monday, Feb. 19, 1-7 p.m., Eastern Florida State College, King Center, 3865 North Wickham Road, Melbourne.

Northeast Florida: Tuesday, Feb. 20, 1-7 p.m., University of North Florida, Herbert University Center, 12000 Alumni Drive, Jacksonville.

Northwest Florida: Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1-7 p.m. (Central time), University of West Florida, Conference Center & Ballroom, 11000 University Parkway, Building 22, Pensacola.

Tampa Bay Area: Tuesday, March 13, 1-7 p.m., University of South Florida — St. Petersburg, University Student Center, 6th Avenue S., St. Petersburg.

A venue for Southwest Florida is yet to be determined.

JMI report lauds UF free speech promotion efforts

A report released and conducted by the conservative-leaning James Madison Institute has found the state higher education system is “very well positioned to meet the growing demand for intellectually-serious academic study at an affordable cost.”

But citing room for improvement, JMI President and CEO Dr. Bob McClure said all Florida university leaders should “abolish all ‘speech codes,’ and ‘speech zones.’”

James Madison Institute CEO Bob McClure takes a selfie with leaders fellows in Orlando.

“It would be a mistake to think that Florida’s public universities are in no way threatened by the rise of speech-bullying nationwide,” said William Mattox, the report author and director of JMI’s Marshall Center for Educational Options.

The report, “Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity: How Florida Universities Currently Measure Up,” compiled measures that examined how universities protect free speech, promote a campus culture open to different viewpoints and respond to speech-bullying by those seeking to drown out viewpoints they oppose.

Florida Horse Park gets new director

Jason Reynolds will become the next Executive Director of the Florida Agricultural Center and Horse Park. Reynolds won a unanimous vote of its Executive Committee.

“It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome Jason to this vibrant equestrian community,” said Carol B. Dover, Chair and President, and also CEO of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA).

“We are extremely excited with this selection and I am confident Jason’s strong ethics and diligent work will significantly elevate our efforts,” she added. “Reynolds offers a fresh perspective and possesses the experience necessary to take FHP in the right direction as we enter 2018.”

Reynolds said, “I’m thrilled for the opportunity to cultivate this world-class facility and proud to have been selected to lead this fantastic organization.” He will relocate from Tallahassee to Ocala and start in January 2018.

Reynolds was Director of Public Policy at FRLA for 12 years. He’s been a horse owner for over 15 years and volunteers his time at several horse show facilities in the Tallahassee area.

He has also served on the Florida Agricultural Center & Horse Park Building Subcommittee. Reynolds is a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a member of the Air Expeditionary Force and deployed twice to the Middle East.

To learn more about FHP, visit flhorsepark.com. A full list of events may be found here. For event booking, contact (352) 307-6699 or email events@flhorsepark.com.

FSU maintains ‘most efficient’ streak

Florida State University is once again among U.S. News & World Reports’ list of most efficient universities.

FSU has placed first or second every year since 2013, taking the No. 2 spot this year behind Miami University in Ohio.

FSU named one of the ‘most efficient ‘ universities.

The list is based on the operating efficiency of schools in the top half of U.S. News’ Best College rankings, in which FSU ranked 81st in 2018.

University faculty said the ranking stems from the school’s active effort to streamline operations, reduce costs and review processes. FSU has two committees in place that aim to reduce overall costs.

“We pride ourselves on being careful with every dollar and investing any savings into areas that benefit academic programs for students,” said FSU President John Thrasher. “This has been an enormous campuswide effort that we take very seriously.”

Leon County Commission considers ‘resilience’

The Leon County Board of County Commissioners held its annual retreat earlier this week and considered “ongoing efforts to build disaster and community resilience,” according to a news release.

Commissioners also “reviewed and amended Leon County’s five-year strategic plan through the addition of 15 specific strategic initiatives that direct and align organizational action to advance the County’s strategic priorities related to Economy, Environment, Quality of Life and Governance.”

The board also heard a presentation from Leslie Chapman Henderson, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), reviewed tourism efforts, upgrading or eliminating septic tank systems, and securing Veterans Affairs benefits for local County veterans, among other things.

The strategic priorities and initiatives discussed today will come back before the Board for final approval and ratification in January.

Time for Soul Santa, Elf Night in Tallahassee

There is nothing quite like Santa in a helicopter.

The Tallahassee tradition of “Soul Santa” will touch down Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Walker-Ford Community Center, 2301 Pasco St. Each child up to age 10 will receive a special gift. A parent should accompany children to get registered for a present upon arrival.

After Soul Santa, the jolly man himself will stay in town to make an appearance at Dorothy B. Oven Park, 3205 Thomasville Road, during the 18th annual “Elf Night” Thursday, Dec. 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Santa’s little helpers will provide hot cocoa and cookies while supplies last. Over 250,000 lights will twinkle against the night sky. Visitors are invited to stroll the decorated grounds.

Take note: Vehicles will not be allowed to drive through Oven Park during the event. Public parking will be available next to the park at Thomasville Road Baptist Church, 3131 Thomasville Road.

All events are free. For information, call the city’s holiday hotline at (850) 891-3115.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

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