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Sunburn for 4.6.17 – The 2017 Legislative Session at the halfway mark

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

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

A MOMENT OF PAUSE

The Easter break is coming at just the right time in the 2017 Legislative Session. We all need a deep breath. Whether we find any (legislative) Easter eggs is another matter.

Some known knowns (“things we know that we know”): At the halfway mark, the House and Senate budgets are pretty much set up to go to conference, as is this year’s gambling legislation.

At least one high-profile bill, the alimony overhaul, has been effectively killed and isn’t coming back this year.

Here’s a known unknown (“things that we know we don’t know”): The “whiskey and Wheaties” liquor-separation repeal effort, which flew through the Senate, is hung up in the House and hanging on by a thread, lobbyists say. Maybe sponsor Bryan Avila can pull off a Hail Mary.

So policy-wise, what’s been accomplished?

Er … well … Gov. Rick Scott signed a bunch of what’s known as “repealer” bills.

According to an email, the Governor signed six bills into law Wednesday, a ho-hum assortment of pro forma measures that, among other things, “delete statutory provisions that have expired or become obsolete.”

Yay?

It doesn’t seem like much. Why, by this time in the previous regular session … well, never mind. We were kind of at the same place.

Still, last year, big leadership bills passed in the first week:

— A water protection bill that then-House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted;

— A bill favored by then-Senate President Andy Gardiner that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and

— Another that increases their educational opportunities.

And yet, and yet … the Senate this week struck a deal on a water storage plan to cut down the “guacamole water” coming out of Lake Okeechobee.

And just maybe, the state will finally compensate the twin brother of Nubia Barahona for the Department of Children and Families’ mistakes.

The 10-year-old former foster child was killed in 2011 and her body was then mutilated with caustic chemicals at the hands of her adoptive father.

Now we’ll worry about the unknown unknowns, “the things we don’t know we don’t know.” Let’s hope they don’t lead to a special session.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 21; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 28; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 28; MLB All-Star Game – 96; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 149; Election Day 2017 – 214; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 252; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 276.

IS THE SENATE ON THE RIGHT PATH ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA? via Peter Schorsch for Florida Politics

The Senate, with the revised version of SB 406, appears to be on what is a fairly balanced means of implementing Amendment 2.

Is that my opinion? Maybe.

But, as of yesterday, even the intrepid Ben Pollara sent an email saying (and I quote), “The Senate bill puts Patients First…” while most parties in attendance at the recent committee hearing waived in support. Not all, but most. That’s a far cry from where this was a few short weeks ago.

Good job senators.

But there is one provision that made it into the bill that will likely create (yet another) firestorm of lawsuits while unnecessarily jeopardizing patient safety. If enacted, this one provision and the resulting litigation conflagration will delay more licensees from entering the field of play or allow some substandard players with untested methods to slide into the market.

That provision should warrant another glance.

Here’s the deal … the bill (SB 406) as it left the committee allows — nay, requires — the Department of Health to issue five new licenses by Oct. 3 — of this year!

To clarify, these licenses must be completed and issued by Oct. 3.

Why should this freak some people out?

First, it is important to recognize that the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) has only a handful of employees who are already up to their eyeballs in regulating the current crop of licensees, managing physician, and patient registries, handling complaints, issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers, etcetera. Second, it is also vital to understand how complex these new license applications are statutorily required to be. Last round, they averaged well over the 1,000+ page range.

Keep in mind that applicants must rush in these applications and then OCU must review, evaluate, score and award them (thousands of pages worth) – IN LIGHT SPEED.

They must do this, keep in mind, while issuing new patient and physician ID cards, implement sweeping new legislation, monitoring existing operations and do everything else they already do. Whew!

What could possibly go wrong?

With lots and lots (and lots!) of dollars on the table, and tens of thousands of pages to be scoured, there will certainly be at least a handful of aggrieved losers who will take their loss to the courts. We have danced this dance before.

SB 406 began its journey like most bills in the process; with a patient threshold (and not an arbitrary date) as a trigger to begin the process of awarding new licenses. It seems to make the most sense as it not only aligns the Senate bill closer to the House version, it relies on a logical progression based on actual users.

Why the change? Why the ultra-short window? Why take this chance?

This same body spent years designing a system to ensure the safety of patients. Um, where did that go?

CANADIAN MARIJUANA COMPANY APHIRA BUYING INTO FLORIDA’S MARKET via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – Aphria, a publicly traded firm based out of Ontario, plans to invest $25 million in a shell that will purchase most or all of the assets of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the Alachua nursery that operates CHT Medical. … That placement, at $2.08 a share, implies a market cap of $177 million and suggests Aphria’s investment — which includes a 3 percent royalty on sales, plus shares — is worth $67 million, according to an analysis by Canadian investment dealer Eight Capital. … The pending agreement offers the most complete information to date on the value currently associated with Florida’s limited medical marijuana licenses, despite their current lack of income under a restrictive system. Chestnut’s CHT Medical, which won its license through a competitive process, has only been in operation since January, but the business has an implied value as the state’s number of eligible patients begins to expand following the November passage of Amendment 2.

TWEET, TWEET:

THE PANHANDLE GETS A MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY AS TRULIEVE OPENS FOURTH OUTPOST via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Trulieve, the first company to dispense medical marijuana in Florida, opened its fourth medical cannabis dispensary in the state Wednesday morning, this time in Pensacola. “We are proud to open our fourth dispensary and our first in the Pensacola area. And this opening is especially exciting because we maintain our headquarters in the panhandle and are deeply committed to our patients here,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “We also have our statewide home delivery program and will have more dispensary locations opening this year.”

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VOTERS SAID YES, BUT FLORIDA MAY CHANGE CLASS SIZE LIMITS via The Associated Press – The House voted 95-22 for a bill (HB 591) that would change the way class sizes are calculated. If the bill became law, then schools would measure class sizes by a schoolwide average instead of measuring it at the classroom level. A similar bill is moving in the Senate. Voters in 2002 first approved class size limits and rejected an attempt to change those limits in 2010. Those limits cap core classes between 18 and 25 students depending on the grade level.

MIAMI LAWMAKER: ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN IS ‘SEPARATE BUT UNEQUAL’ via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay TimesKionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools. “This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018. The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.

JOE HENDERSON: RANDOLPH BRACY’S HEART MIGHT HAVE BEEN RIGHT, BUT HIS NUMBERS WERE WRONG via Florida Politics – We all know what a firestorm Ayala created when she decided not to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott came down on the side of outrage and in a stunning turn he ordered that the case go to another prosecutor … That prompted state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, to blast Scott in an op-ed published in The New York Times. He was making strong arguments why the governor’s actions are wrong, at least up to the point where he wrote this paragraph: “As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly over-represented on Florida’s death row.” Fact check, please! Actually, there are 143 black males on death row compared to 214 white males. And when it comes to the total number of executions carried out since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas is the runaway leader with the number of people put to death with 576. Florida is fourth (behind Oklahoma and Virginia) with 92.

HOUSE SENDS BACK SENATE’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ BILL via Florida Politics The House on Wednesday OK’d the Senate’s fix to the state’s “stand your ground” law to streamline claims of self-defense—with one change. The House version changes the measure (SB 128) to switch the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to overcome self-defense. Members voted 74-39 for the amended bill, sending it back across the rotunda. The Republican majority in the Legislature wants to shift the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. A state Supreme Court decision had put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

DEMOCRATS DECRY CHANGE TO ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAW via Florida PoliticsA critic of the state’s “stand your ground” law Wednesday said a change to the law now moving through the Legislature will “make it easier for people to murder other human beings.” Lawmakers now are considering shifting the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called that making “a bad law worse.” He appeared with several fellow Democrats at a morning press conference in the Capitol. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

JACK LATVALA ARGUES REVISED LAKE O. PROJECT DEFANGS ITS CRITICS via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – If House leaders really oppose special interests they’ll support the Lake Okeechobee plan the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday, Latvala said following the vote. “When you hear their stated objections that they’ve made publicly, it’s always had to do with losing jobs or the amount of bonding involved,” Latvala told reporters. “We’ve pretty much removed those stated objections. Now it’s just going to have to come down to whether they’re going to follow the will of the special interests that are involved.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL OKS CHANGES TO NURSING HOME FUNDING via Ryan Benk of WJCT – … that includes a new formula for reimbursing nursing homes. Opponents say the proposal would cut Medicaid dollars for top performing homes, while proponents argue it’ll result in a more equitable distribution of state funds. With 60 percent of nursing home residents on Medicaid, a lion’s share of the long-term care facilities depends on state reimbursement to stay afloat. Right now, nursing homes are funded retroactively after they submit expense reports. Officials audit those payments annually to make sure taxpayers aren’t overpaying. The Senate proposal would instead pay nursing homes a predetermined amount up front based on a specific formula.

STATE CONSIDERS ISSUING CERTIFICATES AFTER MISCARRIAGES via The Associated Press – The House voted 115-1 for what’s called the “Grieving Families Act.” At a parent’s request, the state would issue “certificates of nonviable birth” to women whose pregnancies end after nine weeks and before 20 weeks of gestation. Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths and death certificates must be issued. Parents can also request a birth certificate in such cases.

BILL TO HELP FOSTER CHILDREN GET DRIVERS’ LICENSES HEADS TO GOV. via The Associated Press – … under a bill heading to Gov. Scott. The House unanimously passed the bill that would make permanent a pilot program that began in 2014. The program reimburses foster parents or children for driver’s education, license fees and insurance. The idea is to help children in state care become more independent. The cost of the program is $800,000.

NEW HOUSE WORKERS COMP AMENDMENTS GO TOUGHER ON ATTORNEY FEES via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – The House Commerce Committee will take up a workers’ compromise amendment package Thursday that takes a more aggressive approach to attorney fees than did previous versions of the legislation. The amendments to HB 7085 retain language allowing deviations from the statutory attorney fee schedule that link trial lawyer’s compensation to benefits secured through claims litigation. But it shrinks the maximum hourly fee from $250 in the existing language to $150. Such awards would be tied to customary fees charged by defense — not plaintiffs — lawyers, depending on jurisdiction.

>>>WHAT ONE INSURANCE INSIDER THINKS: “The amendments will go a long way to help the system. Is it an overhaul that will significantly lower rates? No, but it will help stem the tide of future double digit increases by affecting behavior of claimants attorneys and the judges of compensation claims, along with attorney fee guidelines. The underlying bill addressed hospital costs that will also help. Of course, it could be tweaked and made better, but within the House self imposed parameters, it is a good of place to start as any. Late word is that Associated Industries may be waffling. They think the trial bar wrote it. They are wrong, Trial bar does not like this and will not support, as they would rather have nothing, which by the way is where we may very well end up based on the overall disposition of the Senate.”

TELEHEALTH, NURSE AUTHORITY MEASURE PASSES SECOND HOUSE PANEL via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –-  The House Ways & Means Committee passed contentious legislation allowing advanced nurses who meet extensive education and experiential requirements to practice independently, without the supervision of a physician. A second component of HB 7011 regulates telehealth, allowing in-state and out-of-state professionals to use the technology. The bill also creates a tax credit for health insurers and health maintenance organizations that cover services provided by telehealth. The bill must pass the House Health & Human Services Committee before heading to the floor.

HOUSE PASSES REGULATIONS FOR UBER, LYFT via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Ride-booking companies have been pushing for statewide regulations so that their drivers are not subject to varied laws depending on what county or city they find themselves in. If the Senate passes the bill — up in its final committee hearing — local laws such as those charging fees in South Florida counties, Orlando and other large metropolitan areas around the state would all go away. The state law would demand drivers carry insurance of $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage. Local governments still would be able to keep pickup fees charged by ports and airports, so long as those ports charge taxi companies the same amount. The taxi companies continue to be against the legislation. They argue that what’s good for large cities is not necessarily what’s good for small towns.

HOUSE ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ SPONSOR SAYS BILL STILL IN PLAY via Florida Politics – Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila is keeping hope alive that a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods will garner enough votes for passage. “We had some late issues come up,” he said after Wednesday’s floor session. Lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, this week said the bill would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where booze is sold. But Avila said he disagreed with that reading of the bill and alcoholic beverage statutes. The latest issue came up after other critics raised concerns that gas stations would be allowed to sell distilled spirits under the measure. “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill,” Avila said.

USED NEWS – “Florida gambling bills with billions at stake are likely to come down to session wire” via Alexandra Glorioiso of the Naples Daily News on April 5; “Will lawmakers walk away from gambling?” via Jim Rosica on March 31.

STATE COULD OPEN UP ATHLETIC BOOSTERS AND FOUNDATIONS via The Associated Press –  The Florida House is moving ahead with a measure to repeal a state law that now allows university groups to keep most of their records private. If the bill becomes law athletic boosters and university foundations could only keep confidential information on the names of donors. The legislation would also prevent colleges and universities from using taxpayer money to pay for people who work for direct support organizations, which usually raise money to help pay for athletics and other university operations. The House this year started scrutinizing university spending and requested private records that showed how much university foundations spend on travel and salaries.

STATE MAY SPEND MONEY TO BOOST SECURITY AT JEWISH SCHOOLS via The Associated Press – House and Senate budget committees voted to set aside money for security in spending plans being drawn up by the Legislature … The amounts that legislators set aside range between $254,000 and $500,000. Rep. Randy Fine says the money would go to pay for security upgrades at day schools now serving around 10,000 children. Budget documents say part of the funding go to fences and installing bullet proof glass. Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to a report issued late last month by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

WTF? This remake is guaranteed to be funnier than the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart original. We can hear Rene Garcia saying, “Too tight. Too tight!”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Health & Human Services Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7) that would eliminate the state’s certificate of need program when it meets at 8 a.m. in 17 House Office Building. The Judiciary Committee will tackle a proposed committee bill dealing with the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The committee will also discuss a bill (HB 1335) calling on the Legislature to acknowledge and apologize for the abuses at the reform school. The Commerce Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7085) dealing with workers’ compensation reform when it meets at 1:30 p.m. in 212 Knott. Over in the Senate, the Appropriations Committee will take up several proposals when it meets at 8 a.m. in 412 Knott. The Rules Committee will take up a bill (SB 340) to create statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft when it meets at 10:30 a.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. Greyhound doping is on the agenda when the Regulated Industries meets at 1 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: County commissioner from across the state are expected to speak out against proposals that would strip local governments of their home-rule authority during a Florida Association of Counties press conference at 9:30 a.m. on the fourth floor by the Senate Chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Consumer Protection Coalition will address the growing abuse of assignment of benefits during a press conference at 12:30 p.m. in front of the House Chamber doors.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Elizabeth Porter and Sen. Rob Bradley will hold a joint press conference to announce joint resolutions to designate April 2017 as “Springs Awareness Month” at 1 p.m. in Room 333 of The Capitol.

HAPPENING TODAY – FAMU DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Get ready to see a lot of orange and green in the Capitol on Thursday. Why? Well, it’s FAMU Day at the Capitol. Students, alumni, staff and administrators will use the day-long event to advocate on behalf of Florida A&M University and thank lawmakers for their support. The FAMU Student Government and FAMU National Alumni Association will provide free shuttle services to the Capitol throughout the day. Go Rattlers!

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will stop by the 2nd annual Build Tamp Bay, a technical career fair for high school students, at 9:15 a.m. at Port Tampa Bay – Cruise Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Drive in Tampa. He’ll then head to Gainesville for a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 3:30 p.m. at Optym, 76000 NW 5 Pl.

RICK SCOTT’S SEARCH FOR AGENCY LAW FIRMS WITH LEGISLATIVE CONNECTIONS COMES UP EMPTY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Hunting for what it calls potential conflicts of interest, Scott‘s office asked every state agency to disclose a case in which it employs a law firm that has a state legislator on its payroll. More than 30 agencies responded, but none said it has such an arrangement. Only the Department of Corrections appeared to hedge somewhat, telling Scott’s office that “it does not appear to have any current contracts with a law firm that employs a current Florida legislator.” Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal, asked agencies to respond after learning that Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has received more than $235,000 in legal work from Enterprise Florida since 2014. A top Corcoran priority is to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he has repeatedly cited as an example of waste and “corruption” in state government.

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UNIVERSAL ORLANDO STEPS INTO CAPITOL BEER BATTLE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Universal Parks & Resorts is stepping into the middle of a bar fight between beer makers and distributors over legislation that would allow brewers to sponsor rides or events at major theme parks. The bill (SB 388) seeks to carve out an exemption for theme parks to a Prohibition-era law, known as “tied house evil,” that bans brewers from giving gifts or special deals to retail sellers. In Britain, a “tied house” is a bar required to sell beer from a particular company. The law is intended to keep brewers from creating monopolies and pushing out the competition by preventing rival beers from being sold. Supporters of the bill think the law is an unnecessary relic. “It’s got to be close to the most archaic, anti-competitive, heavily regulated regulatory statute on the books,” said Universal lobbyist Mac Stipanovich. Under the bill, brewers would be able to acquire sponsorships at theme parks with at least 25 acres and 1 million visitors per year. It would apply to Universal and Disney theme parks, but not connected areas such as City Walk or Downtown Disney.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association; Pinch A Penny, Inc

Robert Beck, Adams Street Advocates: Quidel Corporation

Travis Blanton, Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: PP+K

Christian Caballero, Foley & Lardner: Blue Head Land & Cattle Co., LLC

Kevin Cabrera, Southern Startegy Group: Miami Downtown Development Authority

Jon Costello, Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: Heartland Education Consortium

Claudia Devant, Adams Street Advocates: The Children’s Forum; DataLogic Software, Inc.

Chris Dawson, GrayRobinson: Accelerated Learning Solutions Florida

Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: ExamWorks

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Argo Partners; SkyMed International (Florida) Inc.

Michael Harrell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association

Corinne Mixon, Jessica Janasiewicz, Mixon & Associates: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates

Toni Large, Uhlfelder & Associates PA: Orange County Medical Society

Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Rural Economic Development Association

Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: Beer Industry of Florida, Inc

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Crystals Corporation

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – PERSONNEL NOTE: CYNTHIA HEFREN NAMED CFO OF VISIT FLORIDA via Florida PoliticsHefren is coming home: She will be VISIT FLORIDA‘s next chief financial officer, President & CEO Ken Lawson announced Wednesday. Hefren most recently was Assistant State Audit Supervisor for the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor. But she’s a Florida state government veteran, previously serving as Director of Auditing for the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, and several other positions. She starts next Monday.

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JOSE MALLEA RAISES $50K IN THREE WEEKS IN HD 116 RACE via Florida Politics – The Miami Republican announced in March he was running to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. According to Mallea’s campaign, he raised $50,000 since filing to run for office March 9. “We are off to a strong start,” said Mallea.

DAVID RIVERA ETHICS CASE GATHERING DUST ON RICHARD CORCORAN’S DESK via Ann Howard of the Capitolist – With House Speaker Corcoran firmly positioning himself as a no-nonsense leader, taking up the matter of Rivera’s ethics issues should be low=hanging fruit – an easy way to score points and take a fellow Republican to the proverbial woodshed. It remains unclear what, if anything, Corcoran plans to do about it. Over the past two days, Corcoran declined several requests for a comment on the matter. So for now, at least, the ethics case against Rivera remains mothballed on the Speaker’s desk.

OIR OK’S 10,500 CITIZENS TAKEOUTS FOR JUNE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – To assist in depopulation efforts, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved 10,511 policies to be removed from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in June. The takeouts have been approved for Weston Insurance Company. June takeouts bring the year’s total approved takeouts to 68,235. Only 11,399 policies have been removed from Citizens in 2017.

ELECTION SUPERVISOR’S ISLAM PRESENTATION CAUSES ALARM via The Associated Press – The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants an election official in Florida to cancel a presentation on Islam that he’s offering to voters and poll workers … Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis will present what he calls a “history of radical Islam” Thursday night. Stamoulis told the station his speech is an extension of something he calls “voter education.” He says he feels it’s an important issue for both voters and poll workers … CAIR says it’s inappropriate for an official to host such a polarizing event. Some groups are planning to protest the event.

LEGAL DEBATE OVER ARAMIS AYALA’S DECISION TURNS INTO HOCKEY GAME via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A debate in Orlando between former 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton and retired 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. broke down into near chaos at times, with shouted interruptions leading to political accusations, a few insults, a bit of belittling, sarcasm and condescension, and angry protests of unfairness. And most of that wasn’t between the prosecutor and the judge who were officially squaring off, but between Ashton and the debate moderator, Orlando defense attorney Mark O’Mara. “I hoped this discussion would not become political but it almost immediately did,” said an exasperated-sounding Ashton, who lost the JC9 seat to Ayala in a nasty election battle last year, and then took the positions opposing her decision. “I hoped that somebody would show me a case or an interpretation or a rule or a statutory construction. “But all I’ve heard is you two yelling at me that I’m wrong!” “I haven’t yelled at you at all. I’m very soft-spoken,” corrected Eaton, quipping about his reputation on the bench.

MUST READ, PART 1 — WHY COPS SHOOT via Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Times — In September 2014, the Tampa Bay Times asked all of Florida’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies for reports generated any time an officer shot someone between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014. The newspaper analyzed more than 10,000 pages of police records, combed through hundreds of court documents and media reports, and conducted dozens of fresh interviews to build Florida’s most comprehensive database of policy shootings. The top line findings: Florida police shot 827 people in those six years, about one every two and a half days. More than half were fatal. Nearly one-fifth of the people shot were unarmed, or about 156 people. And about half of those were black, in a state where blacks make up just 15 percent of the population. That means unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot as by police than whites.

MUST READ, PART 2 — FLORIDA EMBRACES ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION, EVEN AS POLITICAL DIVISIONS RUN DEEP via Jessica Bakeman of POLTICO Florida — In the first in a multi-part POLITICO series on the policies and politics behind the increasing move toward online education at the state’s public universities, Bakeman looks at the deep divisions among politicians and policymakers about whether virtual courses and degree programs can be accessible, affordable and high quality. The piece looks at Gov. Rick Scott’s push to move to a system of virtual education, while Senate President Joe Negron, one of the state university system’s biggest backers, continues to have a “strong wariness and skepticism” toward online education.

GUITARS OUST MINARETS AS HARD ROCK REDOES TAJ MAHAL CASINO via Associated Press Rock ‘n’ roll and guitars — lots of guitars — are in as the Hard Rock chain re-does Atlantic City’s former Trump Taj Mahal casino. The company owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe on Wednesday unveiled its $375 million plan for the shuttered casino resort, which it bought last month from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and plans to reopen by summer 2018. It will draw on the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia to help brand the new resort, with a decided New Jersey slant … “There will not be one — and underscore the word ‘one’ — piece of design, architecture, minaret or anything left over from the Taj Mahal,” Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. “We are removing it all.”

AMAZON PICKS OFF NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FROM TWITTER via Mae Anderson of The Associated Press – The e-commerce powerhouse will stream NFL Thursday Night games this season via its Amazon Prime video service, replacing Twitter. The live-streams of the games will be available to the estimated 65 million members of Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year and also includes other perks like free videos, books and shipping. That means that technically, the games won’t be free to stream, but they will still be carried by broadcast networks CBS or NBC, as well as simultaneously on the NFL Network … it’s a one-year deal worth close to $50 million … about five times what Twitter paid for the right to stream the games last year.

IT LOOKS LIKE A BERRY GOOD YEAR FOR FLORIDA BLUEBERRY FARMERS via Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times – There’s a sweet spot, after Chilean imports and before the Georgia harvest, in which Florida’s southern high bush berries are not just the only game in town. They’re the only game on Earth. This is not an accident. Scientists have worked with Florida growers for decades developing varieties that will ripen right when there isn’t competition. This year, they appear to have nailed it. In short, it’s an early season, having started near the beginning of March. And the yield is looking strong — maybe 20 million pounds, experts project. According to Alto Straughn, who has 750 acres of blueberries in north Florida and is co-owner of 230 acres in Georgia, this year’s season started 10 to 14 days early. “We picked 100,000 pounds last week,” he said. “That’s unheard of. Prices are really high right now… Last year everything was three to four weeks late.”

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY BUFFET LUNCH MENU Thursday’s Italian Day at the Governors Club with Tuscan white bean soup; Sicilian caprese salad – tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, red onion, chopped parsley & olive oil – Italian green salad – iceberg, romaine, red onion, Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, pepperoncini – seasonal greens; three dressing sections; beef steak pizzaiola; rosemary chicken; potato gnocchi with tomatoes, olive oil and basil; roasted garlic eggplant and grilled vegetables.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Tribune’er Rosemary Curtiss, former Rep. Jim Frishe, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Carolyn Johnston, Chelsea Murphy, and the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeremy Wallace.

Is the Senate on the right path on medical marijuana?

The Senate, with the revised version of SB 406, appears to be on what is a fairly balanced means of implementing Amendment 2.

Is that my opinion?  Maybe.

But, as of yesterday, even the intrepid Ben Pollara sent an email saying (and I quote), “The Senate bill puts Patients First…” while most parties in attendance at the recent committee hearing waived in support. Not all, but most. That’s a far cry from where this was a few short weeks ago.

Good job senators.

But there is one provision that made it into the bill that will likely create (yet another) firestorm of lawsuits while unnecessarily jeopardizing patient safety. If enacted, this one provision and the resulting litigation conflagration will delay more licensees from entering the field of play or allow some substandard players with untested methods to slide into the market.

That provision should warrant another glance.

Here’s the deal … the bill (SB 406) as it left the committee allows — nay, requires — the Department of Health to issue five new licenses by Oct. 3 — of this year!

To clarify, these licenses must be completed and issued by Oct. 3.

Why should this freak some people out?

First, it is important to recognize that the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) has only a handful of employees who are already up to their eyeballs in regulating the current crop of licensees, managing physician, and patient registries, handling complaints, issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers, etcetera. Second, it is also vital to understand how complex these new license applications are statutorily required to be. Last round, they averaged well over the 1,000+ page range.

Keep in mind that applicants must rush in these applications and then OCU must review, evaluate, score and award them (thousands of pages worth) – IN LIGHT SPEED.

They must do this, keep in mind, while issuing new patient and physician ID cards, implement sweeping new legislation, monitoring existing operations and do everything else they already do. Whew!

What could possibly go wrong?

With lots and lots (and lots!) of dollars on the table, and tens of thousands of pages to be scoured, there will certainly be at least a handful of aggrieved losers who will take their loss to the courts. We have danced this dance before.

But that’s not even the worst problem.

And what of these drive-thru applicants?  Will they be properly vetted?  Will their seed-to-sale systems be thoroughly reviewed for safety, purity, and consistency? Will the OCU be able to really ensure safe products?  We are, after all, dealing with some very sick patients who probably don’t need pesticides or other impurities being vaped into their lungs.

Consider that these new applicants must be able to demonstrate a safe and secure system of growing, processing and extracting CBD and THC products. OCU must evaluate, verify and score those systems. The applicants must clearly articulate how they will keep pesticides and other chemical impurities out of the final product. Then they need to develop and explain a failsafe system of tracking and identifying products while diagnosing on-site issues before the drugs leave their facilities. Further, they must also have a method – in writing – to ensure a consistent extraction technique to make sure that a dosage is exactly what it is supposed to be.

All of these safety measures must be carefully reviewed.

It isn’t growing tomatoes in your backyard. This is growing, processing and extracting a controlled substance. A substance that is meant to be carefully administered to very sick people and, I am sorry, but three short months is simply not enough time to ensure the safety of the patients who will be taking these drugs.

I am not disputing the notion of expanding the number of licenses – that’s another conversation for another column – but with such a (hyper) short application to award window, the most likely outcome (from this vantage point) will be years of litigation followed by an onslaught of safety problems.

Here’s what puzzles this writer.

SB 406 began its journey like most bills in the process; with a patient threshold (and not an arbitrary date) as a trigger to begin the process of awarding new licenses. It seems to make the most sense as it not only aligns the Senate bill closer to the House version, it relies on a logical progression based on actual users.

Why the change?  Why the ultra-short window?  Why take this chance?

This same body spent years designing a system to ensure the safety of patients. Um, where did that go?

Amendment 2 isn’t going anywhere, and, as of right now, there are only a few thousand active patients in the registry and far (far!) more than enough active dispensaries who are willing and able to service them. And, in case anyone needs to be reminded, you will be right back here in about 10 short months to evaluate progress.

The state of the market will be a whole lot clearer then, and we won’t have to guess how the system is working. But rushing to open the floodgates before the waters rise, just doesn’t seem like good policy – especially when sick patients’ lives are at stake.

Sunburn for 4.5.17 – Hope has returned to the Florida Legislature

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

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

THERE IT IS.

When the final history of the 2017 Legislative Session is written, it is very possible that Tuesday, April 4, marked the turning point in the annual lawmaking period. Because of what transpired yesterday, it’s much more likely that the House and Senate gavel out on time rather than go in to an extended session or have to call for a special session to hammer out a budget agreement.

With Senate President Joe Negron and Sen. Rob Bradley agreeing to scale back the project’s acreage while still storing between 100 billion and 120 billion gallons of water by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet, it’s now possible to game out how the 2017 Session concludes.

News of the compromise was first reported by the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas. And as soon as her story flashed across the Twitterverse, capital insiders knew a turning point had arrived.

“The amendment is just a recognition, again, of what the No. 1 goal of this legislation is. And that is to have additional southern storage to reduce and, hopefully, one day eliminate the discharges,” Negron said. “That’s the indispensible component of this issue.”

By “discharges,” Negron meant what Bradley calls the toxic, algae-laden “guacamole water” that issued from the lake in June, sickening both people and the tourism economy along waterways.

The total cost of the plan would shrink from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, saving money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state.

Honestly, none of those details are important to anyone not living near the Caloosahatchee River. What is important is that the Senate President appears ready to deal.

Richard Corcoran‘s House should and will go along with Negron’s new plan because it a) does not include any bonding during the first year and b) doesn’t include exercising an option to purchase land from U.S. Sugar.

In exchange, the House should get its top priorities: a lot of funding for charter schools and not much funding for Enterprise Florida or VisitFlorida. The House will also probably get some sort of legislation that puts a hurting on the judicial branch, while both chambers — each led by attorneys inclined to support the trial bar — will back a host of other legislation — AOB “reform,” workers’ comp — that basically favors the folks at the Florida Justice Association over the good people of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, clearing the impasse over the Lake O. proposal may also pave the way for something to be done about gambling. A court ruling on Tuesday — one that could lead to more gaming expansion, if only by default — is the latest reminder that bureaucrats and judges are regulating the gambling industry, not lawmakers. With some extra bandwidth afforded by Negron’s willingness to compromise on Lake O., it’s possible another compromise could be reached on the Seminole Compact, slots, and the so many other issues which have been left unattended by the Legislature.

Horse-trading will abound on any number of issues.

Of course, it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. There are a thousand different ways the 2017 Session could implode.

First of all, Governor Rick Scott says he will not accept a budget that zeroes out funding for Enterprise Florida. His ally in the Senate on this issue, Sen. Jack Latvala, is in charge of one-half of the appropriations process and could be an obstacle. But maybe Latvala goes along to get along with a low budget number for EFI if the House gives in to him on the rest of his budget priorities.

After all, what will it accomplish for Scott if he vetoes the budget only to see a unified Legislature override said veto?

U.S. SUGAR TAKES A VICTORY LAP (without rubbing Negron’s nose in it): “This amendment makes significant progress and demonstrates that the Florida Senate has begun taking seriously the concerns of residents from communities south of Lake Okeechobee. The decision to no longer take 60,000 to 153,000 acres of farmland out of production is a positive step forward. While the amendment improves the bill, there are significant concerns related to the arbitrary timelines for the southern storage reservoir, which appear to conflict with the current timing of the federally-authorized projects in the Integrated Delivery Schedule. We agree with Senator Negron that science should continue to guide this bill, and we look forward to providing additional input on developing science-based solutions that actually will reduce the harmful discharges and build real solutions that work for all of our communities.”

***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***

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 22; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 29; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 29; MLB All-Star Game – 97; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 150; Election Day 2017 – 215; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 253; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 277.

— “After 5 straight losses for governor, Democrats ready to try something new” via Joe Henderson for Florida Politics

— “Gwen Graham will have some explaining to do for Democratic base” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

CHRIS KING VOWS TO BRING ‘PROGRESSIVE ENTREPRENEUR’ SPIRIT TO GOVERNOR’S RACE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – King introduced himself to Florida Tuesday evening as the “progressive entrepreneur” promising to bring bring a head for hard work, return on investment and financial stewardship but also a heart to Tallahassee. King, a 38-year-old Winter Park businessman with no experience in politics, kicked off his campaign for the state’s highest office at an Orlando rally with 400 to 500 people, a musical warmup, several advance speakers and an ice cream truck, in the parking lot of the 11-story Hillcrest Hampton House, an affordable-housing senior tower his Elevation Global Initiative company developed.

King’s 27-minute speech placed him squarely in the center of most Democratic issues and values, from environmental protection [“I would put scientists back in charge of environmental agencies;”] to affordable housing [his business speciality;] from minimum wage increases, to investing far more in public education [“I will be a champion and advocate for public education;”] social and legal equality for all, to expanding health care access and investment in mental health. “If you’ve come here tonight and you are an advocate for public education or environmental protection or housing, or health care, I’m with you,” King said. “I want to be too.”

ADAM PUTNAM SAYS HE WILL PREVENT THE CALIFORNICATION OF FLORIDA via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – In a fundraising letter sent out last week and signed by Putnam from his political committee, Florida Grown, California is described as a “failed big government model” that “powerful and angry special interests” want to apply to Florida. “Unsustainable debt, disastrous environmental regulations, unfunded pensions for public employees, and massive government work projects they can’t afford are a recipe for disaster,” the letter warns its readers. “I will work day and night to prevent that. The crippling left-wing policies of their Golden State must never take root here in our Sunshine State!” The letter never explicitly says in what capacity Putnam would prevent the Californication of Florida. Although Florida Grown has already raised $9.4 million, Putnam hasn’t officially declared to run for governor in 2018.

HOW FLORIDA BECAME GROUND ZERO FOR NATION’S PRESCRIPTION OPIOID CRISIS via Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham of The Washington Post –  Florida’s lax laws, dishonest doctors and unscrupulous pharmacists had turned the state into ground zero for the nation’s prescription opioid crisis. One distributor that caught the attention of the DEA for sending drugs to Florida was KeySource Medical, a regional company based in Cincinnati. In 2010, it sent 41 million tablets of Mallinckrodt-made oxycodone to Florida, documents show. That was nearly 2.5 pills for every man, woman and child in the state. The DEA accused KeySource in June 2011 of trying to conceal the amounts of drugs it was shipping by splitting its orders and told the company to halt its oxycodone shipments. Mallinckrodt’s oxycodone cropped up again when the DEA looked at one of the nation’s three largest drug distributors, Cardinal Health, which was sending vast quantities to four pharmacies in Florida.

PROPOSAL TO DRUG TEST WELFARE APPLICANTS RETURNS TO FLORIDA via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – A divided House panel voted for a bill that would require applicants convicted of a felony drug charge or suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance to undergo a drug screening at their expense before receiving benefits. Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican sponsoring the bill, said it was intended to ensure that people getting state funds are “not using that money for drugs. Under the bill, people applying for temporary cash assistance would have to pay up to $40 for the drug test. The state would not cover the costs, but it would reimburse those who pass the test. “I would assume they can borrow the money from a friend or a family member, but the state is not going to be responsible for paying for their drug test,” Latvala said. Democrats, however, decried the proposal, especially since a broader program had already been struck down by a federal court.

COURT RULING COULD RESULT IN EXPLOSION OF GAMBLING PERMITS via Florida PoliticsAn appellate court’s ruling promises to further muddy the legal landscape of gambling in Florida. A 1st District Court of Appeal opinion released Tuesday reversed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and ordered the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit. The department regulates gambling. Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting. The decision promises to result in an wave of new applications, gambling experts say, and came on the same day the House was scheduled to take up the Senate’s already-passed omnibus gambling legislation for 2017.

HOUSE SEES SENATE ON GAMBLING BILL, RAISES THEM via Florida Politics The House amended the Senate’s gambling measure with its own bill Tuesday, setting up the legislation for conference. The difference between the two chambers’ approach was set up by Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. He said the House effort “erects a firewall against the expansion of gaming in the future,” adding there would be “no more loopholes.” With the Senate OK with some gambling expansion, the stark contrast has led House Speaker Richard Corcoran to call a compromise this year “a heavy, heavy lift” and Sen. Bill Galvano to say he “couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution.”

PANEL APPROVES BILL TO REQUIRE GAMBLING WARNINGS ON LOTTERY TICKETS via Florida Politics – Lottery tickets, and places that sell them, could come with a warning: “Gambling can be addictive,” under a bill approved by the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries. Senate Bill 1370 may go where some Florida lawmakers are uncomfortable to follow, declaring the state’s lottery games to be a form of gambling. As a result, the bill got a few no votes, including one from Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville.

HOUSE AMENDS SENATE’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ BILL via Florida Politics The House on Tuesday began consideration of a Senate bill changing the state’s “stand your ground” law to make it easier to claim self-defense. But the House soon amended the measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The burden would be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

CENTRAL FLORIDA REPUBLICANS KEEP UP CALLS FOR ARAMIS AYALA’S SUSPENSION via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “What happens in all cases in the future that may qualify or may have aggravated circumstances for a death penalty case?” said Rep. Bob Cortes. “Will the governor have to step in and issue executive orders for each case in the future? Is this best serving the interests both of victims, defendants and the residents of the 9th Judicial Circuit?” Cortes said his call for her suspension has to do with respect for the law, not race. “I disagree that this has anything to do with [race]. If the state attorney had been white, black, Hispanic – I’m Hispanic myself so for me to be targeting her race? It has nothing to do with it.”

RICK SCOTT SAYS DECISIONS RELATED TO ARAMIS AYALA ‘NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS’ via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – “State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” Scott stated … When asked, Scott had the following response. “First off, this has nothing to do with politics. It has all to do with — think about the victims. This was about three weeks ago now when the State Attorney in Orlando said that she wouldn’t pursue the Markeith Loyd case to the fullest extent of the law. It just personally bothered me.”

FLORIDA’S VENGEFUL GOVERNOR via Randolph Bracy for The New York Times Scott’s executive orders appear to be without precedent in Florida … meant to punish the state attorney, Aramis Ayala, Florida’s first black elected prosecutor, for announcing she would no longer seek the death penalty because it was not in the best interest of her jurisdiction … Ayala rightly argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, nor does it protect police officers. Instead, it often leads to protracted appeals, and rarely delivers closure to the victim’s family. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly,” she said. “Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” The governor’s action also got ahead of the normal judicial process. Pre-emptively calling the death penalty “justice” wrongly presumes the defendants should be executed without consulting the families of the victims or considering any mitigating evidence about the accused. While I may not agree with Ayala’s decision to reject the death penalty in all cases, I strongly affirm her right to make that choice. As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. Ayala demonstrated leadership when she made her decision. “An analysis of the death penalty must be pragmatic,” Ayala concluded. “It must be realistic and not simply theoretical, impulsive or emotional.”

LAWMAKERS HOLD EMOTIONAL PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT DOZIER LEGISLATION — Sen. Darryl Rouson was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, Rep. Chris Sprowls, Rep. Tracie Davis, former Gov. Bob Martinez, USF Professor Erin Kimmerle, and former students of the Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools during an emotional 30-minute press conference Tuesday morning. The press conference gave former students a chance to tell their stories, and gave members a chance to make remarks and apologize for the abuses that occurred at the reform schools. “Today is the next step for this Legislature to honor their memory and to declare with honesty, conviction and clarity that these types of atrocities and tragedies should never occur again,” said Rouson.

‘SINGLE WORST CASE:’ BILL COMPENSATING BARAHONA TWINS’ SURVIVORS GETS COMMITTEE APPROVAL via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – In a case of two young children who endured torture, sexual abuse, violence, murder and attempted murder by an adoptive family while the Florida Department of Children and Families did nothing, a House committee voted to support a $5 million settlement. The money would go to Victor Docter Barahona, now 16, who survived the physical and mental abuse, torture and attempted murder, and to other beneficiaries including blood relatives of his and his twin sister Nubia Docter Barahona, whose equally-horrific young life ended with her murder at age 10 in 2011. “This is for me the single worst case that I’ve ever seen,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, who sponsored House Bill 6523 along with state Rep. Katie EdwardsJorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, are awaiting trial on first-degree murder and numerous other charges in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The 2011 case led to national outrage and alarm toward, and reforms of, the Department of Children and Families, including reforms pushed by Diaz.

FLORENCE SNYDER: WHY CHILDREN DIE — PART 2; CLUES IN THE CLAIMS BILLS via Florida Politics – Claims bills are the state’s reluctant, belated, grudging way of saying “we’re sorry” for the malfeasance and malpractice that ruined someone’s life. In a functioning system, simple mistakes and honest errors are caught quickly and generally capable of remediation for a sum less than $200,000. That’s the cap on damages that can be paid to an injured person without the legislature’s specific permission in the form of a claims bill. We do not have a functioning system. We have, instead, claims bills for victims who’ve spent years stonewalled by taxpayer-funded lawyers working for “leadership teams” whose political skills exceed their managerial competence. Sometimes, if the publicity gets bad enough, the state will admit wrongdoing, spare the victim a jury trial, and support (or pretend to support) a claims bill.

BILL GALVANO DROPS SUPPORT FOR ANTI-HAZING PROGRAM HIDDEN IN STATE BUDGET via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily NewsGalvano, who chairs the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was seeking more taxpayer money for the Educational Management Services’ anti-hazing program in next year’s budget. The program, based out of the Miami office of lobbyist Fausto Gomez, received $1.5 million this year tucked inside Florida Polytechnic University’s $34.5 million budget, a secret appropriation that was not identified in the state budget. But Galvano said he was withdrawing the budget request after learning … the program didn’t serve as many students as a similar anti-hazing program. “I reviewed the information we have on the program with staff,” Galvano said in a text message. “It does appear to have a very limited impact.”

GREG STEUBE’S BOOKING PHOTO PUBLISHING BILL CLEARS SENATE FLOOR via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – SB 118 … would require booking photos to be removed within 10 days if the subject of the photo requests its removal. An amendment was adopted on the floor that would allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to “administratively seal the criminal record of a person found not guilty or where the charges against that person have been dismissed,” according to Steube. The provision is in lieu of court-ordered expungement allowed in previous language.

HOUSE GETS ONE STEP CLOSER TO PASSING STATEWIDE REGS ON UBER, LYFT via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNC) in Florida advanced on its second reading through the Florida House. The bill sponsored by Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. Although critics say that the measure should include Level II federal background check requirements, Sprowls said that database is smaller than the one that Uber and Lyft will have to use in Florida. “The National Certified Background check has up to 500 million records,” he said. The proposal would prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

DEMOCRATS FORCE LGBT RIGHTS VOTE ON HOUSE FLOOR via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Rep. David Richardson tried to add language to a bill regulating rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft (HB 221) that would prevent the companies from discriminating against drivers and riders, specifically listing “race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Democrats forced a recorded vote on Richardson’s amendment, which failed 70-44. “It’s not going to give me as a member of the gay community protection and afford me the opportunity to use a transportation network company,” said Richardson, one of two openly gay members of the Legislature. Sprowls said he was working with other lawmakers to require ridesharing drivers follow the same nondiscrimination laws as taxicabs and other public accommodations. However, those laws do not outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

VOTING ACCESS BILL WATERED DOWN AFTER REQUEST FROM DUVAL ELECTIONS CHIEF MIKE HOGAN via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Absentee ballots would be accepted at early voting sites under a proposal that has received unanimous support in two House committees and is scheduled for a floor vote in that chamber … But the measure was watered down in the Senate after a last-minute maneuver linked to Duval County Supervisor of Elections Hogan, who won election by defeating the legislator sponsoring the House bill. Sen. Aaron Bean said that at Hogan’s request he filed an amendment to Senate Bill 726 that allows supervisors of elections to opt out of the practice of accepting vote-by-mail ballots at early voting sites.

‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ MEASURE POSTPONED AGAIN via Florida PoliticsA bill that would allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods was temporarily postponed for the second time on the House floor Tuesday. Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, who’s carrying the measure (HB 81), didn’t stay on the floor for questions after the daily session. As one lobbyist involved with the issue explained later, “The vote’s just that close.” A companion measure already has passed the Senate. It’s a top priority for Miami-Dade Republican Sen. Anitere Flores and big-box retailers, including Walmart and Target. But it’s opposed by Publix and a raft of independently-owned liquor store owners across the state. Dozens of them were in the Capitol this week, wearing T-shirts saying, “Save Jobs & Small Businesses: Vote No.”

CORRECTION: Tuesday’s Sunburn incorrectly reported Auburn University license plates, authorized in Senate Bill 1374, was approved by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. In fact, an amendment removed the plates. The item also said state Sen. Dennis Baxley for presenting the bill. The bill was actually presented by Doug Broxson. We regret the errors.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

OPHTHALMOLOGISTS RELEASE NEW VIDEO IN EYEBALL WARS – A Facebook video produced by Florida Society of Ophthalmology president Dr. Adam Katz counters recent testimony from Florida Optometric Association chair Ken Lawson supporting HB 1037, the House Bill seeking to allow optometrists to perform laser surgery. The minutelong video disputes the optometrists’ claim that the “noninvasive” laser they seek only “stimulates” the eye. Katz then uses the laser to pop a balloon. “There are no minor procedures when it comes to the eye,” the caption says.

TWEET, TWEET:

PSC APPROVES $62 MILLION RATE COMPROMISE FOR GULF POWER CO. via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The Public Service Commission bestowed its blessings upon a rate settlement that will allow Gulf Power Co. to raise prices by nearly $62 million per year, but give the utility less of a return on investment than it wanted. Gulf Power originally sought to charge its customers in Northwest Florida an additional $106.8 million. “I do believe the settlement represents a very fair balance of interests,” Chairwoman Julie Imanuel Brown said. “This settlement is rational and reasonable and, on balance, in the public interest,” Commissioner Donald Polmann agreed. The vote was unanimous.

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org***

HAPPENING TODAY — GATOR DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Grab your orange and blue, and be on the lookout for Albert and Alberta Gator: It’s Gator Day at the Capitol. The annual event brings together University of Florida students, alumni, faculty, and administration to advocate on behalf of the university. There will be displays throughout the second and third floor rotundas and in the Capitol courtyard, and a “Gator Pride Spirit” contest. Want to participate? Wear your orange and blue and share a photo on Twitter with the #GatorDay hashtag.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Appropriations Committee will discuss its proposed $81.2 billion budget when it meets at 9 a.m. in 212 Knott. The Senate Appropriations will take up its proposed $83.2 billion spending plan when it meets at 10 a.m. in 412 Knott. The Senate only has the appropriations meeting on its schedule Wednesday, but the House has a few other things scheduled. The Ways & Means Committee will chat about fantasy sports when it meets at 9 a.m. in 17 House Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: LeadingAge Florida and nursing home advocates will hold a press conference to urge caution with a proposed prospective payment system plan at 8:30 a.m. in Room 333, the Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Florida Health Care Association will hold a press conference support the proposed payment plan at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will attend the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Commemoration ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Cabinet meeting room at the Capitol.

ASSINGMENT EDITORS: Rep. Robert Asencio and Muslim leaders will hold a press conference to celebrate religious freedom and encourage civic engagement at 12:15 p.m. on the fourth floor outside the House chamber.

HAPPENING TODAY – ANNUAL RED MASS CELEBRATED — Catholic leaders from across the state will converge on Tallahassee to celebrate the 42nd annual Red Mass at 6 p.m. at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 900 W. Tennessee Street. Participants are expected to include Reps. Kathleen Peters and Danny Burgess, as well as the state’s bishops and archbishops.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: Circles of Care

Kenneth Bell, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: ASI Insurance Group

Jim Boxold, Andrew Ketchel, Ron LaFace, Capital City Consulting: Metro Development Group

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: Evolent Health

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: Second Sun

Marnie George, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association; Pinch A Penny

Michael Harrell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Pinch A Penny

Lauren Claire Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: Multistate Assoc. Inc. o/b/o Consumer Technology Association

Ron Pierce, Natalie King, RSA Consulting: Goldcoast Eagle Distributing; Suncoast Beverage Sales

Paul Mitchell, Monte Stevens, Southern Strategy Group: ExamWorks

Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: The Stacole Company, Inc. d/b/a Stacole Fine Wines

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Knowledge Services

JAMES BUCHANAN BLOCKBUSTER FUNDRAISING FOR HD 71 BID Buchanan brought in a monstrous $138,000 haul in his first month in the race to replace termed-out Republican Rep. Jim Boyd. Buchanan’s campaign says more than four-fifths of that money came from inside the district, which covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties. “One month into our campaign and the amount of support from every corner of our community has not only been encouraging, but overwhelming and humbling,” Buchanan said in a press release. Buchanan, whose father is U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, is going up against Bradenton attorney Will Robinson in the Republican Primary for the right-leaning seat. Robinson loaned his campaign $100,000 in February and has not yet reported March numbers.

JIM ROSICA TALKS SESSION, FAKE NEWS AND LEGAL BACKGROUND via Patrick Slevin of SL7 Consulting — Rosica, a statehouse reporter for FloridaPolitics.com, chatted with Slevin about everything from the 2017 Session to fake news, and how Rosica’s legal background helps him on the job. On how having a working knowledge of law helps him: Early on, maybe 2012, I was in a gaggle with a lawmaker about some bill and he was saying something that didn’t ring true. He then spouted the old saying, “I’m not a lawyer, but…” I had to pipe up and say, “Well, I am a lawyer, and…” That didn’t go over well. Bottom line: It does help me figure out the signal from the noise. …On favorite legislative issue:  I tend to like booze bills. There was the growler bill a few years ago, and now the fight over free beer glasses. For the record, I’m more of a brown liquor guy. But there’s craft distilling bills up this year too, so I’m covered. And of course, I may have been the first reporter to cover the whiskey and Wheaties bill when it was first filed back in 2014. On fake news: So really, the “fake news” thing is the agitation by some who don’t like a particular story or line of coverage. Reporters have always dealt with accusations of bias, fair or not. But I honestly don’t think we deal with it as much in Tallahassee as the D.C. reporters do. I know I don’t worry about it, and it doesn’t sway how I write any given story.”

RUTH HERRLE DEPARTS NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA via Florida PoliticsHerrle and the News Service of Florida have parted ways, according to those with knowledge of the separation. She had been publisher of the Capital-based news provider since 2008, her LinkedIn profile says. It’s owned by the same company that runs State House News Service in Boston. “Her leaving was a Boston-thing,” said one insider, in reference to the holding company, Affiliated News Services. The company previously announced it was “reorganizing its management structure and welcoming Will Galloway, founder of The Capital Steps tracking, to supervise further growth.”

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

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Wednesday’s Governors Club lunch buffet comes from the Pacific Northwest with Washington State salmon bisque; Washington trio apple salad – chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, celery, red delicious apple, Fuji, green delicious – spinach pear salad – spinach, pears, tomatoes, red onion, sunflower seeds – seasonal greens; three dressing sections; Oregon herb rubbed tri-tip; California drunken chicken; potatoes & wild mushroom au gratin; lime asparagus and broccoli & cauliflower au buerre.

BABIES ROMEO AND JULIETTE MAKE DEBUT IN FLORIDA HOSPITAL via The Associated Press – Two sets of new parents were surprised to learn their babies were part of a Shakespearean connection at a Florida hospital just two weeks after another pair of infants premiered as Romeo and Juliet on the same day at a hospital in South Carolina. Juliette Crouchwas born Friday morning at Leesburg Regional Medical Center, northwest of Orlando. Hours later, Romeo Kidd made his debut down the hallway. “I was completely shocked by it,” Marie Crouch said, adding that she’d heard about the babies born March 19 in a Hardeeville, South Carolina, hospital. Baby Juliet in South Carolina is spelled as Shakespeare wrote the name. “I had no clue the same thing was going to happen to us,” Marie Crouch said. In spite of the hospital rules, the two central Florida families began searching for each other. “I was going to walk down the hallway and say, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?'” Justin Crouch, Juliette’s father, said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith, and Pinellas Co. Property Appraiser Mike Twitty.

Ruth Herrle departs News Service of Florida

Ruth Herrle and the News Service of Florida have parted ways, according to those with knowledge of the separation.

Ruth Herrle
Herrle

Herrle had been publisher of the Capital-based news provider since 2008, her LinkedIn profile says.

It’s owned by the same company that runs State House News Service in Boston.

“Her leaving was a Boston-thing,” said one insider, in reference to the holding company, Affiliated News Services.

The company previously announced it was “reorganizing its management structure and welcoming Will Galloway, founder of The Capital Steps tracking, to supervise further growth.”

Galloway now serves as vice president of operations.

“With the largest Capitol bureau in the state, our six full-time reporters’ work is distributed to newspapers, television stations, radio stations, lobbyists, legislators, state agencies, universities and others who need access to fast-breaking news,” reads the News Service’s own reporting of Galloway’s promotion.

“We have now expanded the resources we provide to include ‘live’ bill tracking by Bill Tracking of Florida, whose mobile app greatly simplifies the user experience.”

Developing…

Sunburn for 4.4.17 – Chris King launches; Gov. & Spkr.’s dueling op-eds; Packed day at Capitol; Brian Ballard upped

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

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

CHRIS KING TO LAUNCH GUBERNATORIAL CAMPAIGN TODAY

After more than a month of silent campaign building since he filed to run for governor, Orlando Democratic businessman Chris King is ready to come out into the limelight,

King announced he will be holding his campaign kickoff at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hillcrest Hampton House in Orlando. That is a senior affordable housing community his company renovated.

He is one of two Democrats to announce their candidacies to run for governor in 2018, along with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. But the silent mode of King’s campaign staff building since he filed his paperwork in February has left him behind three other potential candidates, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, and Orlando attorney John Morgan, when it comes to introducing himself, his views and his plans to Florida.

An advisory released by his campaign Monday morning says he “will call for a new kind of leadership, and movement of people ready for a new direction to ‘rise up so Florida can lead again.’”

That is consistent with the few remarks the developer of affordable and senior housing projects has made in the past.

“As many of you are probably aware, next Tuesday I will be launching my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and I look forward traveling all around this state getting to know so many of you,” King stated in a video presentation provided to a gathering of statewide Democrats Saturday night at the Florida Democratic Party’s DCCA Retreat.

“We can win this race in 2018, and I want to be the type of candidate that makes that possible and gets you excited again about what is possible in Florida,” King said.

King, founder and CEO of Elevation Financial Group, a private equity real estate investment company, characterized himself as a “progressive entrepreneur” in his video to the Democrats’ retreat.

In tweets he posted last week, he declared, “I’m running for Governor of Florida because politics as usual isn’t working.” He also tweeted, “Florida should lead the nation, but today we’re falling behind on jobs, wages, education, health care, and hope.”

So far, he’s putting together a team that includes Charlie Crist‘s former campaign manager Omar Khan to serve as his senior adviser, as well as adding other Barack Obama alumni Jeremy Bird, Hari Sevugan, Larry Girsolano, and Isaac Baker to his team.

— “Chris King looks to stand out in Democratic field for governor” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel

FIRST LOOK: The Chris King campaign kickoff video, “Rise and Lead, Florida,” combines testimonials with a hint of King the family man. The Democrat’s pitch includes creating more jobs paying higher wages. The video also highlights his work in affordable housing. Here’s a look:

THE REST OF THE FIELD 

With King’s planned announcement today, we thought it a good time to check-in with the rest of the 2018 hopefuls — or likely hopefuls, as the case may be:

Gillum has spent the last month trying to boost his name recognition across the state, including hosting a roundtable about the Affordable Care Act in South Florida on Friday. Although the Tallahassee mayor has spoken at a few Democratic gatherings throughout the state, such as the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida in Tampa in early March, he didn’t attend the Florida Democratic Party’s County Chair Association Meeting in St. Petersburg this weekend. On Twitter, Gillum’s spokesman said he was getting “inducted into the FAMU Hall of Fame” and that was why he wasn’t at the event.” Although Gillum was first out the gate, he continues to be plagued email problems. Just last week, the Tallahassee Democrat reported another overtly political email sent from Gillum’s office surfaced, this time inviting people to a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party.

— When is Graham going to make her decision? Soon, or at least that’s what the former congresswoman has been saying for the past few months. During a meet-and-greet in Miami Beach in mid-March she said was going to make an announcement soon and wanted to make sure “everything is methodically planned out.” During a breakfast in Quincy last week, she said she was “in the planning stages right now, and we’ll have an announcement very soon.” So what does that mean? Well, the Tallahassee Democrat recently launched Our Florida, the state political committee expected to fund a 2018 gubernatorial run, and transferred $250,000 from her congressional coffers to the state committee. The committee is chaired by Stephanie Toothaker, an attorney with Tripp Scott who served as special counsel for Bob Graham, the former governor and U.S. Senator (and Rep. Graham’s dad). Now, the only thing left to do is wait for “soon” to roll around.

 Levine seems to be taking this idea of a listening tour seriously, traveling the state to attend several local Democratic meetings in recent weeks. In March, the Miami Beach Democrat traveled to the Manatee, Hillsborough, Pasco and Palm Beach counties to meet with Democrats and talk about issues important to them. He also sounded off on Airbnb’s attempts to flood the South Florida market, and shot back against state lawmakers looking to deregulate vacation home rentals. But … then again you have to wonder how much Levine is listening, when he’s reportedly blocking critics on social media. And he’s getting a bit of a Trumpian reputation for his off-the-cuff remarks on social media.

— Speaking of someone with a “yuge” social media presence: John Morgan hasn’t said yes or no, but he sure seems like he’s having a lot of fun considering it. The Orlando attorney has been toying with the idea of running for months, and a few weeks back even retweeted a story about former Sen. Jeremy Ring saying he planned to wait until after the 2017 Session to decide whether he’ll run for CFO saying “the feeling is mutual.” But Morgan, who backed the 2014 and 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendments, is getting a lot of press for someone who is just thinking about thinking about running. Last month, he was featured in a New York Times article about some folks pondering a run in a post President Donald Trump world.

But does all this early hype really matter? Sure, early announcements and shadow campaigns mean the potential to raise more dough and name recognition. But with 19 months until Election Day, the voters don’t really seem to give a hoot about the governor’s race.

A new poll from — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found 36 percent of Democratic voters said they were uncertain who they would vote for in the primary. The survey also showed many voters were still “uncertain” in several hypothetical head-to-head general election showdowns.

The poll found 24 percent of Democrats said they would pick former Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary; while 23 percent said they would pick Gillum. Morgan received 9 percent support, followed Graham with 8 percent support, and Levine with 1 percent.

As for Republicans, they didn’t do much better: 63 percent of Republicans said they were uncertain who they would vote for in their primary. The poll found 21 percent GOP voters said they would pick Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, while 5 percent support went to former Rep. David Jolly and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Sen. Jack Latvala received 4 percent, followed by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker with 2 percent.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gillum will continue his campaign for Florida governor with a speech to the Florida General Baptist Convention, 10:30 a.m. at the Main Ballroom, Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South, 4955 Kyngs Heath Rd, Kissimmee.

— “At County Chairs Retreat, Florida Dems plan to wage war with GOP in 2018 via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News

CAN A MODERATE ‘OLD WHITE GUY’ BEAT CONGRESSWOMAN STEPHANIE MURPHY? via Peter Schorsch Florida PoliticsDavid Simmons, the 64-year old Seminole County state Senator, is considering his first congressional run at an age when most Americans are considering retirement. Simmons’ candidacy likely appeals to NRCC operatives who may be inclined to overlook his rather bland, dull, and prematurely aged look in light of his hefty bank account. However, can Simmons’ compassionate voting record withstand a bruising primary campaign likely to favor conservatives? In 2014, the Florida Legislature did something I thought impossible: It granted in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Simmons was an unapologetic “yes” vote. That will make it tougher for Murphy to attack Simmons as anti-immigrant, but harder for Simmons to survive his primary. Similarly, Simmons backed Medicaid expansion in the Senate — effectively enlarging and entrenching Obamacare — a move that’s unlikely to endear him to conservatives but may insulate him from Murphy’s attacks … policy similarities offer Simmons a fighting chance — if he can make it out of the GOP primary.

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – ZUCKERBURG’S IMMIGRATION REFORM GROUP LAUNCHES FLORIDA CHAPTER via Florida Politics FWD.us, founded by Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates among others, is gathering a coalition of business, community and faith leaders to push for immigration reform. The group favors equipping law enforcement with the tools necessary to stem further illegal immigrants from coming into the U.S. so they can focus on more dangerous criminals and security threats. The group also wants an overhaul for the legal immigration system so top-flight talent can come to the states and make the country more competitive in the global market. FWD.us is also looking for lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country without a criminal history. Their plan would give immigrants who pass a criminal background check, pay fines and go through a probationary period the opportunity to apply for full citizenship years down the line.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 23; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 30; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 30; MLB All-Star Game – 98; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 151; Election Day 2017 – 216; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 254; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 278.

RICK SCOTT OP-ED: REPUBLICANS CANNOT GIVE UP ON HEALTH CARE via USA Today — Repealing the failure of Obamacare and replacing it with a plan that actually provides affordable and quality health care for families is something that I focused on long before I became Governor. In 2009, when I was a private citizen, I launched Conservatives for Patients’ Rights because I was concerned about the ramifications Obamacare could have for our nation. And, what I fought hard against immediately came true. Under Obamacare, costs have skyrocketed and families cannot keep the doctors they like.  Obamacare was sold on a lie, plain and simple. In the wake of the demise of the House Republican health care reform effort in Washington, some are saying we should quit trying to do anything about our nation’s health care system. Abandoning the effort to improve our nation’s health care system is not an option. … While efforts like tax reform are important to strengthening our national economy, our country will never see the kind of growth we need as long as Obamacare is in place. Our businesses and entrepreneurs will never fully thrive as long as they are burdened by the costs of Obamacare. Washington needs to stop worrying about getting a grand bargain done, and start delivering on their promise to help American families by repealing Obamacare.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 10 a.m. Florida State College in Jacksonville’s Advanced Technology Center, Room T140, 401 W. State Street in Jacksonville. He’ll then highlight job growth at 2:15 p.m. at Boston Whaler, 100 Whaler Way in Edgewater. Media interested in attending should contact Susan Haywood from Boston Whaler at 386-428-0057 or susan.haywood@whaler.com.

RICHARD CORCORAN OP-ED: SCOTT IS ‘A GOVERNOR WHO WON’T HELP US’ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – “We’ve got problems in the Senate, and we’ve got problems with a governor who won’t help us take this burden off the backs of our small businesses,” Corcoran told the Times/Herald. “If the governor would get more active and start traveling the state, talk about the stuff that’s really going to cost us jobs.” Repeating a familiar theme, Corcoran said: “Handing over million-dollar contracts to Pitbulls and Emerils and the insider dealing that goes on is not how we bring tourism here.” After placing Enterprise Florida on the political chopping block, Corcoran now criticizes Scott for trying to rescue the program. Scott’s office issued a response that focused mostly on Corcoran’s effort to abolish Enterprise Florida. “It is important to know that the bills fast-tracked through the Florida House have been job killers and detrimental to Florida’s active military, veterans and their families by eliminating the Florida Defense Alliance,” the statement said.

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide you with a quick update on the breakdown of bills that have been heard in committee as we kick off Session tomorrow morning. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As we reach the halfway point of session, GOP sponsored bills make up 77.33% of the total bills that have been placed on the calendar for a hearing in the Florida House.“

PAM BONDI’S OFFICE TO EMILY SLOSBERG: LOCAL GOVERNMENT CAN’T OUTLAW TEXTING WHILE DRIVING via Florida PoliticsThe Legislature can’t create an exception for Palm Beach County to make texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense there, Attorney General Bondi’s office said in a recent letter. The answer came in response to a question from state Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat elected last year. The letter, dated Feb. 3, was part of an Attorney General’s Opinions Digest released Monday. Slosberg wanted to know “whether the Legislature may provide express authority for the Palm Beach County Commission to pass an ordinance making ‘texting while driving’ in a school zone in Palm Beach County a primary offense.” Nope, said Lagran Saunders, director of Bondi’s Opinions Division. (It’s now a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to be pulled over for something else first.) “To enact legislation granting authority to Palm Beach County to solely enact an ordinance making texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense would be contrary to this express legislative intent of a uniform system of traffic regulation and would violate the Florida Constitution,” the letter said.

LEGISLATURE COULD ERASE PART OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TESTING LAW via The Associated Press – State senators crafted the proposal together amid arguments over how much testing should be allowed in the state’s public schools. The Senate Education Committee voted for the bill … The measure (SB 926) would eliminate four end-of-year exams that are now required in civics, United States history, geometry and Algebra II. The legislation would allow school districts to use pencil and paper tests instead of requiring students to take tests online. The bill also pushes back the date of when the state’s high-stakes test is given to the last three weeks of the school year. Florida’s main tests are now given anywhere from late February to early May.

LEGISLATORS PUSH FOR MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO AID ANTI-ABORTION GROUP via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – The Florida Pregnancy Care Network is a private, nonprofit tax-exempt organization created in 2006. It has supported clinics across the state that, according to a Senate bill, offer an array of “wellness services” intended to help pregnant women “improve health or prevent illness and injury.” The programs supported by the network do not include abortion referrals or adoptions … Now lawmakers want to carve out a special place in state law for the program, guaranteeing its funding each year and tucking it in a state agency for oversight. “If you are pro-abortion, you don’t like this bill,” said bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean. “If you are pro-life, you like this bill.” The Legislature approved $4 million for the network in the current budget.

SENATE PANEL PASSES MEDICAL MARIJUANA PLAN via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – With more dispensaries and more options for actually consuming cannabis, the plan approved by a Senate panel could be more in line with Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment than the far more restrictive House plan. The bill sponsor, state Sen. Rob Bradley said his bill “fully implements the will of the voters and does so without playing games or being cute.” But getting the House and Senate to come together and agree on a single version will be difficult. Even getting the Senate to a single version wasn’t easy. Five senators filed bills to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry, but Bradley’s bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Health Policy Committee, incorporated many ideas from the other bills in a flurry of amendments.

BOTTOMS UP: BEER, BOOZE BILLS CLEAR SENATE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics Let freedom pour: Bills aimed at changing beer and booze regulations in Florida have cleared their latest review panel. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee OK’d measures that would allow beer distributors to give free branded beer glasses to bars and restaurants, authorize beer companies to advertise in theme parks and let craft distillers sell more bottles directly to consumers … Now, it’s capped at “two bottles per person per brand per year at one location” … GOP Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota told fellow senators, “You can go to Wal-Mart and buy as many shotguns as you want. I just think the government telling a business how many pieces of product they can sell is archaic. It’s not good public policy.”

SENATE AOB REFORM BILL BARS INSURERS FROM CHARGING LITIGATION COSTS TO CUSTOMERS via Florida Politics — A Senate committee voted Monday to give the insurance industry more control over contractors operating under assignment of benefits agreements, but also to prevent them from factoring their litigation costs into the premiums they charge. HB 1218 would leave alone Florida’s one-way attorney fees, which requires insurance carriers to cover policyholders’ legal fees if the latter prevail in a legal challenge over a claim. But the bill would tighten regulation of the agreements, also known as AOBs. Banking and Insurance chairwoman Anitere Flores expressed disappointment that the bill’s many critics offered no amendments to make it better. She said she no longer was willing to accept insurers’ guarantee that their approach would reduce rates. “This is the issue du jour that property insurance companies have said is the rate driver. We went through sinkholes, we went through a variety of different issues. And as we have fixed those issues, the only people who  have been hurt have been consumers, and those who have benefitted are others,” Flores said.

— “Anitere Flores slams insurance industry for “smearing” her” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times

SENATE PANEL OKS WORKERS’ COMP BILL OPPOSED BY INSURANCE INDUSTRY via Florida Politics – The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-1 Monday to approve legislation that would require workers’ compensation carriers to compete on price rather than propose premium levels through a common ratings agency, and that would allow workers to pay attorneys hourly rates if they take insurers to court.The ‘No” vote was by Sen. George Gainer, a Republican from Panama City. The next stop is the Appropriations Committee. SB 1582 by Rob Bradley … also would change the way compensation judges award attorney fees in litigation over claims. Attorneys could receive as much as $250 per billable hour. Bradley argued the measure would strike the best balance possible between workers and employers and insurers. “The old system cannot work anymore because the (Florida Supreme) Court said it’s unconstitutional. So we have to find another system,” Bradley said.

CLOCK RUNS OUT ON VACATION RENTAL BILL, BUT ITS ONLY TEMPORARY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – With nine minutes left in a two-hour hearing Monday, senators finally got around to the only bill that drew a crowd. The lack of time guaranteed that the meeting would end with no vote on the vacation rentals bill (SB 188), sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube that pits private property rights against local home rule in a tourist-friendly state that’s a big market for Airbnb and HomeAway vacation rental platforms. … Steube appeared to have no better than a 5-3 vote in the eight-member Senate Community Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Lee.. While that’s enough to keep the bill moving, it falls short of a resounding endorsement. Lee said the bill would be rescheduled for the week of April 17, with next week’s abbreviated schedule devoted to the budget. “It will be back,” Lee said.

LIONFISH TAGGING, HUNTING PYTHONS, DESIGNATING REEFS: BILLS PASS HOUSE COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – If anyone has ever tried to insert a passive integration transponder tag into a lionfish, they may have an idea of how seriously the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee is viewing control of invasive species. Under House Bill 587, lionfish become one of three invasive species animals, along with python snakes and tegu lizards, the state would seek to better control through a pilot project that includes state-sponsored hunting and fishing, and the requirement that pet shop owners tag any of the animals they sell. While Florida’s efforts to control pythons and tegu lizards are well-known, long-standing, and likely to use most of the $300,000 this bill would set aside for invasive species hunts, lionfish, native to Pacific Ocean coral reefs, are a different challenge altogether. Once released from someone’s aquarium, lionfish tend to make their way to the Great Florida Reef, where they attack and decimate native species of fish.

WHAT KEVIN CATE IS READING – AUBURN LICENSE PLATE PROPOSAL PASSES COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Senate Bill 1374 chiefly focuses on efforts to honor veterans in Florida with various highway designations and license plates. It also includes a provision giving legislative approval of an Auburn University specialty license plate. The bill, touted for its veterans’ angles and with nary a word spoken about the Auburn plate during [its] committee meeting, was unanimously approved by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. If the measure goes all the way through the Florida Legislature and gets signed by Gov. Scott, Auburn would become the first non-Florida college or university to get authorized for commemoration on the rear ends of Florida-registered cars and trucks.

JOE GRUTERS LAUNCHES AD TO HIGHLIGHT LEGISLATIVE WORK — The Sarasota Republican is has released a new advertisement aimed at highlighting some of the work he’s done during the 2017 Legislative Session. The 30-second spot focuses on his proposal to require employers to use the e-Verify system; bills dealing with abortion; and a proposal dealing with campaign finance reform. First elected in November, the ad features pictures of Gruters with his family, as well as a shot of Gruters with President Trump, who he was an early supporter of during the 2016 presidential election. Click on the image below to watch the video.

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

KEITH MILLER: FLORIDA’S SMALL BUSINESSES NEED PROTECTIONS IN STATE LAW via Florida Politics – Florida cannot continue to lose our small businesses, their investments, or risk taxpayer dollars due to unfair corporate franchisor practices. It is an all-too-common story where local business owners are at the mercy of the more powerful corporations and are taken advantage of. In this instance, the California-based corporation was issuing directives to the Florida owners based on California demographics and sales patterns which simply did not fit the Florida locations. When these locations were unable to comply with the unreasonable demands, and sales goals, they were left with no choice but to walk away from their businesses, leaving behind millions of dollars in property, equipment and supplies. Owning and operating a successful business is challenging enough without the constant stress and fear that everything you’ve worked for can be taken away in the blink of an eye. 23 other states have already enacted laws to provide greater protection for small business franchise owners and Florida should do the same. Similarly situated businesses in Florida, such as automobile dealers, agricultural equipment dealers and beer distributors are protected under Florida law.

FACT-CHECK: IS HOUSE ‘SANCTUARY’ BILL UNLIKE ANYTHING ELSE IN THE COUNTRY? Via Allison Graves of PolitiFact – Rep. Larry Metz sponsored a proposal (HB 697) that would require county and local law enforcement agencies to comply with and support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties. The bill has moved along party lines in a couple of House committee hearings. It needs a full vote in the House and approval in the Senate, where it has not been heard at all, before it can reach Gov. Scott’s desk and become law. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has raised strong objections. “It will be the only law of its kind in the nation,” Smith said. Several states have come up with bills targeting so-called sanctuary cities. Among them, HB 697 in its current form is indeed unique in terms of the severity of the prohibitions and penalties against state and local entities that choose not to comply with federal immigration detainer requests. The Texas Legislature appears to have the next-closest version of this legislation. We rate this statement Mostly True.

MAYORS TO LEGISLATURE: HANDS OFF OUR CITY HALLS via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times – “I have never seen the assault on local government on all fronts — our ability to self-govern, our ability to pass laws that are appropriate for our communities — as I have in this legislative session,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told a crowd of about 300 at an Economic Club of Tampa lunch. Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said bills pending in the state House will eliminate the ability of cities use community redevelopment funds to promote growth in blighted areas, as well as the ability of local governments to address gun violence or protect the rights of LGBT residents. Speaker Corcoran has said city and county officials have allowed the proliferation of “runaway regulations.” Local officials and the state also have clashed over efforts to pre-empt cities from regulating vacation rentals.

HOSPITALS ORDERED TO PROVIDE SALARY AND LOBBYING DATA TO HOUSE via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – The House has advanced an $81.2 billion budget that would reduce payments to hospitals by more than $600 million next year. In what may be an attempt to bolster its political case for those cuts, the House is seeking information on hospital executives’ salaries and lobbying contracts. The deadline for hospitals to respond is by the close of business Friday, April 7. The request comes from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s chief budget-writer, Rep. Carlos Trujillo. In emails sent out late last week by Trujillo’s staff director, JoAnne Leznoff, hospitals, including all members of the statewide Florida Hospital Association, are asked to provide extensive financial data, including: “Compensation received for all executive and administrative staff earning in excess of $200,000. Please provide the salary for each individual and associated job title.

SAFETY NET HOSPITALS DECRY MEDICAID SPENDING CUTS PLANNED FOR FLORIDA via Florida Politics – The cuts would undermine the state’s investments in training doctors, alliance members argued outside the Senate Office Building in Tallahassee.  Under the Graduate Medical Education Startup Bonus Program launched by Gov. Scott two years ago, teaching hospitals draw $100,000 bonuses for every residency they add in key specialties. New residencies totaled 313 this year. “We cannot train tomorrow’s physicians when every year our hospitals must re-evaluate their budgets,” said Lindy Kennedy, vice president for government relations for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance. … The pressure on hospital budgets is coming from all sides —Scott’s proposed budget would cut $929 million from the Medicaid share formula, paying 58 cents for every dollar the hospitals spend, alliance members said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Safety Net Alliance of Florida will hold a press conference to applaud trauma teams at Orlando Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital, and Broward Health Medical Center for their heroic efforts in saving lives during recent mass casualty incidents at 10:30 a.m. in 231 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: First Lady Ann Scott and other state leaders will help launch Prevent Child Abuse Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at 10 a.m. at the Governor’s Mansion, 700 North Adams Street. She’s expected to be joined by Sen. Audrey Gibson, Rep. Al Jacquet, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll, Surgeon General Celeste Philip, ACHA Secretary Justin Senior, DJJ Secretary Christina Daly and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

HAPPENING TODAY — COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Government Operations & Technology Subcommittee will discuss a bill (HB 7071) that would revamp electric utility regulation when it meets at 8 a.m. in Morris Hall. The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a series of claims bills, including on (HB 6523) that would lead to paying $3.75 million in the settlement of the case involving Nubia and Victor Barahona when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The Senate Judiciary Committee committee will consider a proposal (SR 1440) that would apologize for abuse that occurred at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Jackson County during its meeting at 9:30 a.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will discuss a bill (SB 1370) that would require warning labels be placed on lottery tickets when it meets at 4 p.m. in110 Senate Office Building.

HAPPENING TODAY – FSU DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Pull out your garnet and gold, it’s FSU Day at the Capitol. The annual event will celebrate Florida State University’s preeminence and “all things garnet and gold.” The university will have displays and information tables set up on the plaza level, and second and third floor rotundas from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a pep rally from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Capitol plaza between the old and new Capitol. The event will feature FSU President John Thrasher, performances by the FSU cheerleaders, members of the Flying High Circus, and a pep band.

HAPPENING TODAY — FLORIDA POLY DAY AT THE CAPITOL — The Phoenix are taking on Tallahassee! Florida Polytechnic University students, faculty, students and leaders will head to the state Capitol for Florida Poly Day. The day-long event is meant to focus on promoting the state’s newest university, and school officials will set up display booths from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Portico.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Environment Florida Research & Policy Center will release new data ranking Florida and other cities for installed solar power at 8 a.m. The report will be available at EnvironmentFloridaCenter.org.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Bob Cortes will hold a press conference on State Attorney Ayala at 8:45 a.m. in 333 House Media Room. He’ll be joined by Reps. Mike Miller, Rene Plasencia, Scott Plakon and Jennifer Sullivan.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Tracie Davis will hold a press conference to discuss their resolutions to acknowledge the abuses at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys at 11:30 a.m. on the fourth floor between the House and Senate chambers. They’ll be joined by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, former Gov. Bob Martinez, and former students of Dozier and Okeechobee Reform Schools.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Paul Renner will hold a press conference to highlight military-friendly bills from the 2017 Legislation at 12:30 p.m. in the 333 House Media Room. He’ll be joined by several members of the Legislature, including Sens. Jeff Brandes and Greg Steube.

HAPPENING TODAY – STACEY WEBB ARTS FOUNDATION HOSTS INAUGURAL SESSION FUNDRAISER — The Stacey Webb Arts Foundation will host its inaugural session fundraise at 5:30 p.m. at the Southern Public House, 224 East College Ave.,  n memory of Webb, who died in 2015. All proceeds directly fund arts education for economic disadvantaged children. The foundation recommends a $30 donation.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION MEETINGS IN SOUTH FLORIDA MOVED TO LARGER SPACE via Florida Politics Carlos Beruff, chair of the panel that is reviewing the state’s governing document, says he’s bumped this week’s meetings to bigger rooms “to maximize public participation.” The commission’s Thursday meeting will be at the Florida International University (FIU) Student Academic Success Center in Miami at 5 p.m. and the Friday meeting is now at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Acura Club (located in the FAU Stadium) in Boca Raton at 9 a.m. Full details are on the commission’s website. Additional public hearings will be announced soon. All hearings will be live-streamed by The Florida Channel.

FPL TO ADD ANOTHER 1,500 MEGAWATTS OF SOLAR OVER THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS via Florida Politics – The new power plants are in addition to the eight new solar facilities expected to come online by early 2018 and FPL said the new plants could save customers more than $500 million. The roadmap for the new facilities was filed with the Public Service Commission as part of the company’s 2017-2026 Ten Year Site Plan, which included the first-ever projection that solar power will outpace coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by 2020. Details on where the newly announced plants will be located haven’t been finalized, though the company said a Miami-Dade plant looks promising for 2019.

PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION TO CONSIDER GULF POWER RATE HIKE – The Florida PSC will meet to discuss Gulf Power’s March 20 request for a proposed settlement reducing its rate hike to $62 million, down from an initial amount of nearly $107 million. Florida Industrial Power Users Group agreed to the settlement, and the Sierra Club announced it will not oppose it. The meeting begins 9 a.m. at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way in Tallahassee.

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APPOINTED: Colonel John Domenech and Sheldon Suga to the District Board of Trustees of the Florida Keys Community College.

BRIAN BALLARD JOINS NATIONAL GOP FINANCE TEAM via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald Ballard, who helped finance Trump‘s upstart campaign in Florida, has joined the national ranks of the Republican Party … he was named one of the Republican National Committee’s regional finance vice chairmen. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel appointed Ballard and several others to top finance positions. “Together this team will employ their extraordinary talent and understanding of Americans across the country to maintain and build upon our unprecedented fundraising success,” she said in a statement.

SAVE THE DATE: Longtime Marco Rubio friend Jose Mallea is holding a fundraiser Monday, April 10, in his bid for House District 116. Special guests include the Hon. Andrew H. Card, Jr. and Rev. Kathleene Card. Event begins 6 p.m. at Mission DuPont Circle 1606 20th St. NW. in Washington D.C.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, opponents continue to line up against Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy land South of Lake Okeechobee. Gomes explores the role of agribusiness in Florida’s economy with the University of Florida Extension Scientist Alan Hodges. Plus, a possible budgetary food fight in the Legislature is expected over a plan to change how nursing home facilities get Medicaid reimbursements. Gomes interviews Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association about his efforts to improve the quality of the state’s nursing homes.

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Tuesday’s Governors Club lunch buffet offers a touch of the Old South with she crab soup, remoulade slaw, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, traditional potato salad with bacon, fried chicken with whiskey BBQ sauce, herb roasted pork loin, macaroni & cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, succotash and broccoli & cauliflower casserole.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dave DeCamp, my fraternity brother turned great lawyer Jorge Gutierez, Dan Pollock, Mike Synan, and Kevin Sweeny‘s much-better half, Beth.

GONDOLAS COULD BE DISNEY’S NEXT NEW RIDE via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – A construction notice has given more fuel to the rumor that Walt Disney World is planning to build a gondola system connecting Epcot, three Disney resorts and Hollywood Studios. An official notice of commencement filed in Orange County for the construction of “foundation and building infrastructure” at six different locations could be the gondola’s route … Walt Disney World remains mum on the rumor. The proposed gondola would connect Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation and Pop Century resorts. It would help relieve an overloaded system of buses that transport guests around Walt Disney World Resort.

Can a moderate ‘old white guy’ beat Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy?

We cannot even get to the halfway point in the Legislative Session without turning to future 2018 races — especially with one Orlando congressional seat poised to become one of the most hotly-contested in the country.

Why?

Orlando is emblematic of Democratic hopes for their party. For the better part of the last few decades, the area has been represented by typical conservative white guys — Bill McCollum, Tom Feeney, John Mica, Ric Keller — and a gerrymandered African-American from Jacksonville (Corrine Brown).

Now, Central Florida has three Democrats: an African-American woman, Val Demings, who was Orlando’s first female police chief, former state Senator Darren Soto, who while born in New Jersey his father is Puerto Rican, and the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress, Stephanie Murphy. This is the Obama coalition, the so-called “coalition of the ascendant,” led by women, minorities, and young people (both Murphy and Soto are in their 30s).

So, what is the GOP answer?

Frank Torres at the Orlando Political Observer reports that David Simmons, the 64-year old Seminole County state Senator, is considering his first congressional run at an age when most Americans are considering retirement. The move would position Simmons to collect three government pensions: one from Social Security, one from the State of Florida and another from the federal government.

Small government is for suckers.

Simmons’ candidacy likely appeals to NRCC operatives who may be inclined to overlook his rather bland, dull, and prematurely aged look in light of his hefty bank account (Simmons is a multimillionaire, by the way).

As it happens, I like a good Republican, particularly of the Jeb Bush type. Every year, I support about as many Republicans as Democrats.

However, can Simmons’ compassionate voting record withstand a bruising primary campaign likely to favor conservatives?

In 2014, the Florida Legislature did something I thought impossible: It granted in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Simmons was an unapologetic “yes” vote. That will make it tougher for Murphy to attack Simmons as anti-immigrant, but harder for Simmons to survive his primary.

Similarly, Simmons backed Medicaid expansion in the Senate — effectively enlarging and entrenching Obamacare — a move that’s unlikely to endear him to conservatives but may insulate him from Murphy’s attacks.

While I think the personal contrast between the 30-something Murphy and the 60-something Simmons couldn’t be starker, policy similarities offer Simmons a fighting chance — if he can make it out of the GOP primary.

OK, enough politics, I’m back to an exciting committee meeting with your elected leaders debating whether the University of Moscow can have a vanity license plate.

Lawmakers looking to give boost to Florida’s local franchise business owners

For the Republican-dominated state Legislature, helping the business community is a high priority.

So, it’s not surprising that this Session, new protections for small-business owners are capturing legislators’ attention.

Tomorrow, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries will hear SB 750, known as the Protect Florida Small Business Act. This bill, sponsored by powerful appropriations chair Sen. Jack Latvala, outlines several measures directed toward some of the questionable business practices of out-of-state franchisors in their relationships with Florida’s local franchise business owners.

The critical need of this legislation stems from the many stories that have emerged of abuses in the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Under current law, corporations have the power to terminate franchisees without any justification. This leads to incidents like in 2010, when a Vietnam veteran living in Miami invested $500,000 to open a franchise, only to have his store terminated after only six years. He subsequently opened an independent retail business, but the franchisor corporation moved to enforce an onerous noncompetition clause to prevent him from going out on his own.

Further corporate abuses include preventing the transfer of a business, even in the event of an owner’s death, refusing to renew a franchise agreement, and restricting resale with the intention of a return on investment. Examples of these abuses are found throughout the state. A Tampa couple was forced to shut down their after-school tutoring franchise—and lose $75,000—before they could sell their business to a qualified buyer. An Orlando woman recently had her pre-school franchise terminated without cause after reporting being the victim of domestic violence.

The protections proposed by the Protect Florida Small Business Act seek to provide a stable and fair foundation for local franchise owners to conduct business with corporate franchisors. This would give the franchise owners more security and encourage them to continue to invest in the Florida economy. Interestingly enough, these protections are not new to Florida. Several industries in the state, such as agricultural equipment and automobile dealers, are already offered these protections – this bill would simply extend them to the franchise business industry.

The public has spoken – and Floridians are overwhelmingly in support of taking care of these small-business owners who invest in their communities. A recent poll conducted by Mason-Dixon reported that 71 percent of Floridians think that the state should provide protections to franchise owners. This is an impressive statistic, but also easy to believe when you consider the more than 40,000 franchised businesses in Florida that employ over 400,000 Floridians.

This bill is a product of these stories of young upstarts, family business owners, and veterans losing their livelihoods due to the unchecked power of corporations. With the support of the majority of Floridians, Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur, who are sponsors, hope to extend protections to these local franchise owners and promote their continued growth and investment in the state.

Sunburn for 4.3.17 – All eyes on Carlos Trujillo; WSJ dings Anitere Flores; House T-shirt non-con; David Simmons for Congress; Volunteer Month; King Arthur trailer

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica, although today we’re giving Gary Fineout of the Associated Press the lead…

DIVIDED OVER DOLLARS: LEGISLATORS SPLIT ON SPENDING

With about a month left in the regular session, the Republican-controlled Legislature is on a major collision course over spending.

This past week the House and Senate released rival budgets for the coming year that reveal a wide divide between the two chambers on everything from taxes to schools to state worker pay raises.

The two sides don’t even have the same bottom line: The Senate’s overall budget is more than $85 billion, or roughly $4 billion more than the House proposed. The current state budget is nearly $82.3 billion.

Part of the reason for the disparity is that House Republicans sought aggressive budget cuts, aimed largely at hospitals and state universities. But the House budget also sets aside money for roughly $300 million in tax cuts, including a reduction in the tax charged on rent paid by businesses.

House leaders say they pushed ahead with deep spending cuts to help the state avoid possible shortfalls that are projected over the next two to three years by state economists. In describing the need for cuts, House Republicans have referred to a budget “deficit” even though state tax collections are actually growing.

“We have to make informed decisions, and we have to make tough decisions,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and the House budget chairman. “We can’t be all things to all people.”

A big sticking point between the House and Senate will be over money for public schools.

The Senate is recommending a nearly $800 million increase for day-to-day operations that would boost the amount spent on each student by close to 3 percent. That contrasts with the House’s proposal that would increase the per student amount by 1.25 percent.

“The budget meets the needs of our growing state in a manner that reflects the priorities of the constituents who elected us,” said Senate President Joe Negron.

But a large portion of the Senate plan relies on an increase in local property taxes triggered by rising property values. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has vowed to block any proposal that relies on higher taxes.

Corcoran and other House Republicans have proposed steering large amounts of money into contentious programs, including an ambitious $200 million “Schools of Hope” plan that would offer money to charter school operators that set up schools near failing public schools.

Another wide area of disagreement: Money for economic development programs and tourism promotion that has already pitted House leaders against Gov. Rick Scott. The Senate has kept intact the state’s economic development agency known as Enterprise Florida and agreed to keep spending on tourism marketing close to current levels. The House is proposing to shutter Enterprise Florida, while slashing the state’s tourism ad budget by roughly $50 million.

“Over and over again, politicians in the House have failed to understand that Florida is competing for job creation projects against other states and countries across the globe,” Scott said this week about the House proposal.

The House and Senate also differ on the need for across-the-board raises for state workers. The Senate is offering a raise of $1,400 to all employees making $40,000 or less, and $1,000 to those who earn more than $40,000. The House is recommending targeted pay raises to corrections officers and state law-enforcement agents.

The Senate is also proposing to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms. House leaders have said they are opposed to borrowing money this year but have not rejected the Senate plan.

ANITERE FLORES BETS ON WASHINGTON INTERVENTION IN HEALTH CARE BUDGET via Michael Moline of Florida PoliticsFlores has built a health care budget around $600 in federal money for indigent care that she concedes might never arrive. “If it doesn’t happen, look, we’ll have to reassess the situation,” Flores said this week during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. “This is just the Senate’s version. There’s a whole other version that’s going on in the House,” she said. Pending negotiations with the House and Gov. Scott, “I think it’s important for us as a Senate to take a stand and day, ‘We’re going to do whatever we can to help our hospitals help make their case to the federal government,’” Flores said. “If we simply do nothing — if simply say, ‘Well, let’s just not even include it,’ that may not send the right message to Washington as far as the state’s commitment to hospitals and to Medicaid re-imbursement.”

HIGHER EDUCATION PROJECTS FAIL HOUSE’S STRICT NEW BUDGET TEST via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The budget — agreed upon in principle, and due in bill form this week — will call for something like $2.2 billion in spending cuts, according to House leaders, for a total expenditure of $81.2 billion. Among the biggest targets — because they rank among the single most significant expenses outside entitlements like Medicaid — is member projects, Rep. Trujillo said … These are programs that members hope to bring home to their constituents, and a lot of them wind up at universities and colleges. “Some of them might be parochial in nature. Some of them might not really have a state impact,” Trujillo said … “We were very aggressive in identifying those and removing them from the budget,” he said. The House is intent on ending the time-honored tradition of sneaking projects into the budget during conference committee negotiations. Rules change forced members to apply early for inclusion in the budget.

HOSPITAL FUNDING CUTS WOULD HIT ORLANDO AND MIAMI FACILITIES HARDEST via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – Both the House panel and Scott recommended cutting supplemental payments to Florida Hospital by $49.9 million. The House health budget committee recommended cutting payments to Jackson Memorial by $28.3 million. The Senate recommended cutting supplemental payments to Jackson Memorial by $34.3 million and to University of Florida Shands in Gainesville by $16.8 million. Hospitals in Collier and Lee counties face cuts that, although smaller, still would have a “profound impact,” one spokeswoman said. These proposed cuts would move the House and Senate closer together, but there are still gulfs between the two chambers in terms of amount and method. The House panel, which is more ideologically aligned with the governor on health care, has proposed cutting $622 million from hospitals, whereas the Senate would cut nearly $260 million.

WHERE DID $1.3 BILLION FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING GO? THE LEGISLATURE TOOK IT. via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – For the 10th year in a row, the Governor and Legislature are proposing to sweep money from the affordable housing trust funds into the general revenue fund to spend on other purposes. Since the start of the Great Recession, that has added up to $1.3 billion. This year, the trust funds will collect about $292 million for affordable housing from the documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions. The draft Senate budget released last week allocates $162.4 million of the funds into affordable housing while the House and Gov. Scott propose spending even less of the proceeds on housing — $44 million. “Housing is definitely a problem, but the issue is we aren’t going to just throw more affordable housing into South Florida,” said Rep. Trujillo, adding that he believes the program couldn’t absorb more than the House will give it. Besides, he adds, “the reality is there’s only a 60-day legislative session. There’s only so many issues you can tackle in 60 days.”

EDITORIAL: DON’T RAID AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST FUND YET AGAIN via the Bradenton Herald –The Sadowski Act, passed into law in 1992, pumps money into affordable housing programs statewide through the documentary stamp tax paid on real estate transactions. But those dollars are basically stolen by Tallahassee politicians more interested in funding their goals — by explaining the money was needed to balance the state budget. This year is like many others. The Legislature has yet to rob the Trust Fund bank, but Gov. Scott has set his sights on the easy money. His budget proposal, which he titled “Fighting for Florida’s Future” to “create opportunities for generations of Floridians,” sweeps about two-thirds — 77 percent — of the lawfully dedicated money supposedly going into the Sadowski fund back into his $83.5 billion state budget plan. Scott’s attempted heist amounts to $224 million earmarked for low-income housing from state and local housing funds this coming fiscal year — for his priorities. The political message is crystal clear. Housing for the poor is not a priority, not even a low one, not by any measure.

LEGISLATURE TO CONSIDER CUTS TO ARAMIS AYALA’S OFFICE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – State Rep. Scott Plakon, the Altamonte Springs Republican who has been extremely critical of Ayala since she announced her no-death-penalty stance. And when he engineered the line-item, $1.3 million budget cut that wound up included in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee he made it clear the cut was a result of that stance. “She’s not prosecuting death penalty cases, so this is essentially the money to be used for death penalty cases,” Plakon said. Democrats and Ayala’s office have blasted that cut and charged that the Orange County Republican members of that subcommittee — Eric Eisnaugle, Mike Miller and Jennifer Sullivan — are putting their own constituents at public safety risk by slashing money for prosecuting criminals. “The impact of cutting $1.3 million and eliminating 21 positions would severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes,” Ayala declared in a public statement.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 24; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 31; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 31; MLB All-Star Game – 99; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 152; Election Day 2017 – 217; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 255; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 279.

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – POLL SHOWS 80% OF FLORIDIANS OK WITH VACATION HOME RENTALS via Florida Politics A new poll commissioned by the vacation home rental giant Airbnb shows that Floridians are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of people renting out their homes to tourists. The poll found 80 percent support allowing Florida residents to rent out their homes through Airbnb and more than half think the rapidly-rising trend is good for the state. And the poll also found that surveyed voters would support taking away cities’ and counties’ abilities to regulate vacation rentals, leaving it up to the state, a question addressing two bills moving through the Florida Legislature. ….

… The key question about home rentals found 80 percent support and 20 percent opposition. And the support was within the margin of error of 80 percent for Republicans, Democrats, independents, and for voters in north, central and south Florida. Republicans and south Floridians offered the least support – 78 percent each. The question of whether the practice is good for Florida showed similar unanimity. Overall, 52 percent of those surveyed said it was good for Florida, 35 percent said it was neutral, and 13 percent bad. Republicans were slightly below those levels, at 49 percent good, 35 percent neutral and 16 percent bad. All other breakouts showed majorities thinking it is good. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they favored having the state, not local governments, registering rental properties; and 64 percent said they would support changing state law to prevent cities and counties from imposing restrictions on vacation homes.

— “Florida residents like vacation rentals” via Denis Hanks of the Sunshine State News

AIRBNBWATCH PUSHES BACK: “As the Senate Community Affairs Committee addresses vacation rentals activity this afternoon, AirbnbWATCH Florida encourages members of the committee to consider the property rights of those who want quiet neighborhoods before rolling back our laws to a time when short-term rentals were just a fraction of the problem they are today. AirbnbWATCH Florida believes it is time for all commercial lodging operators – and the websites they’ve used to enter every corner of our state – to play by the rules. Florida’s homeowners are counting on legislators to get it right.”

BLACK CLOUDS LOOM OVER THIS YEAR’S GAMBLING BILLS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – It’s long been a Capitol cliché, but there are few pronouncements on a piece of legislation as inauspicious as calling something “a heavy lift.” Yet that’s how Corcoran referred to the omnibus gambling bills now on their way to conference. They include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years. “It’s got a long way to go,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said …  Generally, the House holds the line on gambling expansion; the Senate is open to some expansion, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that approved a slots referendum. Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million. “It’s a heavy lift. There’s a reason it hasn’t been passed in decades,” Corcoran said. “But this is the first time, probably that anyone can recall, where you have two bills moving … That puts them in a posture to see where a negotiation goes … But I would still say it’s a heavy, heavy lift … We’ll see how it unfolds.”

DANA YOUNG, ENVIRONMENTALISTS STILL HOLD HOPE FOR FRACKING BAN IN 2017 via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – House members now say the possibility of a fracking ban is dead for the 2017 Legislative Session. Young thinks it’s premature to administer last rites, at least just yet. “You never say never, but now we’re saying it looks like that will be next year,” Rep. Mike Miller [said] about his bill (HB 451) as the first month of Session ended … The reason for the impasse is the desire by some House Republicans for a scientific study to determine the potential impacts of fracking. “What I would say is, move a bill in your chamber that has a study and a ban in it,” Young says, “and then let’s let other members in on that and see where we end up.”

SENATE COMMITTEE GEARS UP TO HEAR BILL TO REGULATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA INDUSTRY via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The Florida Senate Health Policy Committee will take up a proposal to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry … The bill, SB 406, would outlaw smoking medical marijuana and would limit medical marijuana for Florida residents only …  bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley … filed eight different amendments to alter his original proposal. One of the new amendments would create a coalition for medical marijuana research through Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Center and Research Institute, one of the top medical research centers in the state. The goal of the coalition, according to the amendment, is to conduct “rigorous scientific research,” and to “guide policy” for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for medical marijuana.

BEER GLASS BILLS COMING TO A HEAD via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Bills are moving in the Legislature to allow beer distributors to give away glasses from brewers imprinted with product names and logos to bars and restaurants. Now, they have to be sold. The House bill (HB 853) was first OK’d by the Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week on a 10-4 vote. Three Democrats and Republican Julio Gonzalez voted against it. The Senate version (SB 1040) was previously approved in the Regulated Industries Committee 10-zip. It’s up next in the Senate … in the Commerce and Tourism Committee. So what’s the problem? Proponents, including small businesses, say it’ll be a boon to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage. Take the often-cited example of the chalice-style glass for Stella Artois, “designed to release the beer’s flavor and aroma.” Global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev owns that brand. And thus the opposition. Rep. Randy Fine, who supports the measure, nonetheless said the glasses could be “used as an inducement to create anti-competitive behavior, that there will be strings attached.”

JANET CRUZ’S ‘TOUGH HAUL,’ FRUSTRATIONS OF THE DEMOCRATIC HOUSE CAUCUS via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Tampa Rep. Cruz … admits it’s been a tough haul. “I feel like we’re spending so much time on bills that in caucus meetings, we’ve grown to call them ‘dead bills walking,'” she says of how Session is going so far. “These are bills that are simply shots across the bow,” she says, specifically referring to Speaker Corcoran and his campaign to kill Enterprise Florida. The Speaker’s effort comes much to the consternation of Gov. Scott, who continues to travel the state to call out individual Republicans who have voted in support of the proposal to date. “They’re one executive branch taking shots at the other executive branch,” Cruz says. “And in my opinion, it’s all posturing to run for higher office.”

AFTER READING ABOUT ‘GROVELAND FOUR,’ JASON FISCHER FINDS A CAUSE via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-UnionFischer not only has decided he wants to help pass a resolution that could help exonerate and formally apologize to the Groveland Four, he is leading the charge for Republicans to back a bill that is stalled in the House. After reading a book about the Lake County case last weekend, Fischer asked Rep. Bobby Dubose if could join him in sponsoring House Concurrent Resolution 631. Fischer also convinced nine other Republicans to sign on as co-sponsors. “I’m from Florida, and I had never heard the story before,” Fischer said about the case involving four black men accused of raping a white woman in 1949. It resulted in two of the accused being killed by police and two others receiving harsh prison sentences. They died after being granted parole but were never pardoned. The Orlando Sentinel reported that evidence that could have exonerated the men was hidden away for decades.

ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS FIGHT FINALLY COMING TO A SENATE COMMITTEE VOTE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Legislation addressing assignment of benefits abuse comes up in the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee — and it’s not the version insurance and business interests like. The panel will hear SB 1218 by Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial lawyer from Broward County. A rival bill, SB 1038, by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, has yet to be favored with a committee hearing. The Hukill-Passidomo bill would bar third parties holding assignment of benefits agreements from collecting attorney fees if they sue insurers. That’s a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

OUCH –CATEGORY 5 FLORES” via the Wall Street Journal editorial board – Florida homeowners might want to remember the name Anitere Flores when they open their next insurance bill. The South Florida Republican … blocked an effort to stop a plaintiff’s attorney scheme that’s endangering the state’s taxpayer-backed catastrophic insurer and sending premiums skyrocketing. Citizens Property Insurance Corp. spent years building a fiscal surplus after the active 2004-05 hurricane season. Now the momentum is blowing in the other direction … Citizens attributes the red ink to “assignment of benefit” abuse … a practice whereby lawyers and contractors convince homeowners to sign over their right to sue insurers for certain kinds of home damage. Insurers typically settle these claims to avoid protracted and expensive court battles, and thanks to Florida law they’re on the hook for attorney’s fees too. Republican state Senators Hukill and Passidomo introduced a bill in February that would stop AOB abuse by ending attorney fee paydays, among other reforms. But Flores refused to allow the Hukill-Passidomo reform onto the committee’s agenda, effectively killing it for this legislative session. That’s a remarkable political choice given that Sen. Flores’s South Florida constituents are paying increasingly high premiums thanks to AOB abuse.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

HERSCHEL VINYARD: LISTEN TO WATER EXPERTS IN LAKE OKEECHOBEE DEBATE via Florida Politics – In my previous role as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, it wasn’t often I would find consensus on issues involving local water management districts, the state and federal government. But after years of studying the options to best reduce the occurrence of discharges used to lower Lake Okeechobee, those involved in these three levels of governance all agree that buying additional acres of land south of the lake doesn’t solve the problem. Instead, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the state, Florida’s Congressional Delegation, and the Florida leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remain firm on finishing the projects included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP. So, what are the water quality experts responsible for Everglades restoration and fixing Lake Okeechobee saying? Starting at the district level, SFWMD scientists and engineers earlier this month reported district modeling shows that storage north of the lake included in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Planning Project (LOWP) – which includes solutions such as a 250,000 acre-foot above-ground northern reservoir and 110 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells – will “reduce the total discharge volume to the estuaries by more than 60 percent.”

WHY CHILDREN DIE: IF EVERYBODY’S RESPONSIBLE, NOBODY’S RESPONSIBLE via Florence Snyder for Florida Politics – “Foster care kids are our kids. They are our kids,” said Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader in support of legislation making it easier for youth in state custody to obtain a driver’s license. You hear that line a lot — a lot — from “leadership” at the Department of Children & Families (DCF), and from the flacks who wear the skirts behind which “leadership” hides. It means nothing. It means less than nothing. Latest case in point: Lauryn Martin-Everett. The 16-year-old spent half her life as one of “our kids” before hanging herself by the neck until dead in a “children’s shelter” which gets money from the “community-based care” which gets money from the DCF which gets money from the state Legislature to “parent” tens of thousands of infants, toddlers and teens in “out-of-home care.” DCF’s “leadership” is not talking, but thanks to what little is left of Florida’s public records law, we know that the state adopted Lauryn out to some “forever family” that later returned her in a fit of buyer’s remorse. Florida has never paid more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining the kind of highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, be fooled or bullied into letting infamous child abusers like Jorge and Carmen Barahona adopt a goldfish, let alone four of “our kids.”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH – The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that would require high school students to earn a half-credit in personal financial literacy during its meeting at 11:30 a.m. in Reed Hall. The House Higher Education Appropriations Committee will discuss a bill that would require colleges and universities to provide information to students each year about students’ loans during its meeting at 3 p.m. in 212 Knott.  The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that would help juveniles expunge their records after the complete diversion programs for misdemeanor offenses at its meeting at 3 p.m. in Morris Hall. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will discuss a bill that would allow beer distributors to give free branded glassware to bars and restaurants during its meeting at 1:30 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will tackle a bill to revamp the state’s workers compensation insurance program during its meeting at 4 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. Medical marijuana is on the agenda when the Senate Health Policy Committee meets at 4 p.m. in 412 Knott.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK – SAFETY NET HOSPITAL CAPITOL DAYS – The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida will hold its annual Safety Net Capitol Days from April 3 through April 4. The two-day event will include two media events to discuss proposed hospital reimbursement cuts and gains in addressing Florida’s physician shortage. The organization will hold a press conference to discuss Medicaid hospital reimbursement and the physician shortage at 1 p.m. Monday in the Senate portico. Speakers include Steve Sonenreich, chairman of the Teaching Hospital Council of Florida; Dr. Jonathan Ellen, the chairman of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance, and Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. On Tuesday, there will be a media availability to applaud trauma teams at Orlando Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital and Broward Medical Center for their efforts to save lives during recent mass casualty incidents at 10:30 a.m. in 231 Senate Office Building.

FRANCHISE GROUP TWEETS TONE-DEAF OPPOSITION TO ‘FLORIDA SMALL BUSINESS ACT’ via Florida Politics – A couple of months ago, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur announced supporting the “Protect Florida Small Business Act” (SB 750), which seeks to “promote fair business relations between franchisees and franchisors and to protect franchisees against unfair treatment by franchisors” … that hasn’t set well with the International Franchise Association, which took to social media to make its case … A series of tweets on the group’s page (@Franchising411) blasted several lawmakers, calling on them to reject SB 750 and its House companion (HB 1069). But something was not quite right. Behind each image of a Florida legislator was a map of California, not Florida …  it would be reasonable to assume IFA could spring for a staffer with some basic geographic knowledge, or at least hire a person (anyone) who knows the difference between Florida and California. Ironically, the worst of these misguided tweets is one the few that got it right — with Florida in the background, that is. Sent March 30, the tweet in question asked supporters to contact Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill … Who is not in Tallahassee but contending with a more pressing issue — radiation treatments for cervical cancer.

T-SHIRTS CAUSE CLOTHING KERFUFFLE IN FLORIDA HOUSE via Florida PoliticsOn Thursday, members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus wore purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate.” Rules Chair Jose Oliva … soon put the kibosh on the sartorial messaging. Take the T-shirts off, the offending members were told, or turn them inside out. The reason: They violate House decorum. After the session, Florida Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell tweeted a photo of Rep. Lori Berman with, yes, her T-shirt turned inside out. “‘A woman’s place is in the House & Senate.’ But the Sgt at arms says her tshirt is not (forced to turn inside out),” the tweet said.

DAVID SIMMONS 98 PERCENT SURE HE’S CHALLENGING STEPHANIE MURPHY IN 2018 via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – … after meeting with members of the National Republican Congressional Committee and exploring other options. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.” Simmons told the Observer … “I’ve met with the NRCC and I’m 98 percent headed towards a run in the 7th Congressional District.” Simmons was the featured speaker at the Florida Federation of College Republicans Annual Meeting at the University of Central Florida, which is also part of the 7th District. “The first thing this district needs is a Republican Congressperson. I think that’s critical.” said Simmons before referencing the work he was currently doing in the state Legislature to improve the region.

— “Scott Fuhrman seeks rematch against Illeana Ros-Lehtinen” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Hearld

— “Democrats and the state Senate – the 2016 failure and 2018 hopes” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Florida Squeeze

KATIE EDWARDS WON’T RUN FOR AG COMMISSIONER; INSTEAD PUSHES NO TAX ON TAMPONS via Buddy Nevins of BrowardBeat.com Edwards appeared to be positioning for a statewide run when Commissioner Adam Putnam left office next year because of term limits. Instead, she will run for a fourth term in the Florida House and continue to pursue legislation like ending sales tax on menstrual products. Despite representing one of the most urban counties in Florida, Edwards’ resume is stocked with solid agriculture credentials. Before winning office in 2012, Edwards was executive director of the Miami Dade Farm Bureau. She is currently the top Democratic on the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee.

DEMOCRAT DEBRA KAPLAN FILES TO RUN FOR HD 31 via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsKaplan, 64, is a former cable-TV Emmy-award-winning political reporter in Connecticut, and Apopka and former public relations agent, who said she strove to remain politically independent until recently, and then worked on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns. She calls herself a political moderate on most issues due to her life experience, yet an avowed feminist. “I’ve worked in the fields. I’ve worked in factories. I’ve worked in the dietary department of a hospital, pushing trays. I’ve waitressed. I’ve done backbreaking work. And I’ve been a journalist and public relations person and a promotions person,” she said. “I know what it’s like to sit around a kitchen table with a pile of bills when you’re not making a lot of money and trying to make things work. I understand what that feels like.”

ONE FOSTER CHILD HANGING STIRS ANGUISH; THE OTHER IS BARELY NOTICED via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald Lauryn Martin-Everett tied a blue patterned scarf around her neck and hanged herself from a doorway at a troubled Florida Keys youth shelter. In the 13 weeks since Lauryn died, her parents have asked no tough questions about what led the 16-year-old to submit to her sorrow. Her parents have asked virtually no questions at all. Legally, her “parents” were the state of Florida. As a foster child, Lauryn was a ward of the state. A “child fatality summary” by the Department of Children & Families on Lauryn’s short life and unexpected death is less than three pages long. Only four paragraphs are devoted to her eight-year odyssey through the state’s child welfare system. A website DCF developed three years ago to bring transparency to the grim business of child death makes no reference to Lauryn Martin-Everett. DCF released the report … along with a short statement: “We remain deeply saddened by the tragic loss of this child.” Jessica Sims, a DCF spokeswoman, said the agency would not discuss Lauryn’s death, or her many-year history with the department — and will not release her foster care file. Because DCF has determined that Lauryn did not die as a result of abuse or neglect, details of her case cannot be disclosed to the public, the agency said.

POWERFUL READ – ORLANDO FAMILY LEARNS TO FIND LOVE, LIFE, RICHNESS IN DEATH via Scott Maxwell the Orlando Sentinel Roger and Susan Chapin are waiting … for their daughter to die. With hospice nurses present, they have begun the final chapter inevitably associated with Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare degenerative condition denying Blair’s 80-pound body the digestive functions she needs to live. You might expect the house to be filled with mourning. In many ways, it is. But the Chapins also spend their days giving thanks for all the love and light Blair brought into their lives — for how much “richer” they are because of her. That was how Roger described it when telling his younger daughter, Grey — a sophisticated 13-year-old who’s fiercely protective of her big sister — that the end was near. “We cried together,” Roger said. “We talked about her body giving up, how it’s tired and she’s ready to go to heaven. But we also talked about how much richer our lives have been because of Blair.”

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian Bautista, Impact GR: Florida Prepaid College Foundation, Inc

Matt Bryan, David Daniel,  Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff,  Smith Bryan & Myers: Tetra Health Management Florida LLC

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: Boveda, Inc.; Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

Nicole Graganella, Trevor Mask, Colodny Fass: Relating to Relief of C.M.H. by the Dept. of Children and Families

Mike Haridopolos: Union Supply Company, Inc

Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers; Tetra Health Management Florida LLC

Mike Rogers, Southern Advocacy Group: Florida Weatherization Network; St. Johns Housing Partnership, Inc.

Clark Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Florida Prepaid College Foundation, Inc

Herschel Vinyard, Foley & Lardner: Blue Head Land & Cattle Co., LLC

APPOINTED: Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard to the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court; Judge Tanya Davis Wilson to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court; Andrea Watt McHugh to the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court; Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court; Ana Maria Garcia to the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court; Jared E. Smithto the Hillsborough County Court.

APPOINTED: Luke Buzard to the Early Learning Coalition Hillsborough County, Inc.; Kristin Incrocci to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority; Susan Dolan and Douglas Burnett to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District; J.C. Stoutamire to the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, Region Two; Martha Lanahan to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation; Amy Gowder to the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

AT&T, MOTOROLA CHOSEN FOR FIRSTNET, NATIONWIDE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMS NETWORK via Florida Politics – The U.S. Department of Commerce and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has announced AT&T was chosen to build and manage the first nationwide wireless broadband network for America’s police, firefighters and emergency medical services. FirstNet is a federal initiative to create a single platform as the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated exclusively to public safety. Estimated costs for this public-private partnership is as much as $46.5 billion. Through the initiative, AT&T and Motorola — selected over a group of rival providers, including Melbourne-based Harris Corp. — will be called on to deliver an interoperable network for first responders, using upgraded technology for improved communication with each other and across agencies at the local, state and national levels.

MIAMI HERALD CONTINUES TO MAKE STAFF CUTS WITH NO END IN SIGHT via Random Pixels – There are daily indications of the deep trouble now facing the Herald. The paper once employed a staff of more than 30 photographers statewide. But now the Herald and El Nuevo Herald share a combined staff of 7 photographers. A quick check of this morning’s “A” section of the paper shows zero staff-produced photographs. The irony here of course is, that on the same day the Herald publishes a full-page ad asking its readers to #SupportRealNews, the managing editor sends out an email announcing the layoffs of two more staffers. But the Herald’s problems are not just on the news gathering side. After writing this post, I heard from no fewer than three friends who still subscribe to the paper. One is a retired Herald staffer. All three tell me that getting the paper delivered is a hit and miss proposition. Says one: “Of course I haven’t had my paper delivered since March 7 … I’ve had a range of ‘managers’ email me and take calls … I’m about to give up and cancel it … shouldn’t be this difficult to drop a paper on a doorstep.”

VOLUNTEER FLORIDA KICKS OFF FLORIDA VOLUNTEER MONTH WITH #30UNDER30 – As part of Florida Volunteer Month, Volunteer Florida has announced #30Under30, an initiative to recognize Florida volunteers under the age of 30. Through this initiative, Volunteer Florida will highlight one volunteer a day under the age of 30 throughout the month of April. Check out the #30Under30 service leaders here. In partnership with Volunteer Florida, Comcast will air a statewide PSA encouraging Floridians to volunteer in April and throughout the year. Click on the image below to watch the PSA.

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org***

CRAYOLA BOOTS DANDELION FOR BLUISH CRAYON YET TO BE NAMED via The Associated Press –Crayola announced Friday, National Crayon Day, that it’s replacing the color dandelion in its 24-pack with a crayon in “the blue family.” The company says it will leave it to fans to come up with a name for the replacement color. It’s only the third time in Crayola’s long history that it has retired one or more colors, and the first time it’s swapped out a color in its box of 24. Other colors that previously got the boot include maize, raw umber and orange yellow.

HALL OF FAME COACH VS FUTURE HALL OF FAMER FOR NCAA TITLE via Ralph Russo of The Associated PressRoy Williams has been here before. Just last year, in fact. And five times altogether, playing for the NCAA championship. Twice he got to celebrate winning the final game of the season with the Tar Heels, pushing their total to five tournament titles. For Mark Few and Gonzaga, this is all new. Just getting to the Final Four was a first, and now they are one victory from lifting the trophy. If it came down to history, tradition and experience, North Carolina would run away with Monday’s NCAA championship game. If only it were that easy for the Tar Heels. The 66-year-old Williams called Few one of his best friends in coaching and said he was stressed out hoping that his poker buddy would finally break through and reach the Final Four this year. The last time they played each other in the NCAA Tournament was 2009, when the Tar Heels eliminated the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16. Since the Zags graduated from upstart to national power, there have been lots of early exits in the tournament.

INSIDE TWITTER’S OBSESSIVE QUEST TO DITCH THE EGG via Harry McCracken of Fast Company –  A lot has changed since the Twitter egg debuted almost seven years ago. For one thing, the company’s design philosophy has evolved. Quirky is out; straightforward is in … the egg has taken on cultural associations that nobody could have anticipated in 2010 … it’s become universal shorthand for Twitter’s least desirable accounts: trolls (and bots) engaged in various forms of harassment and spam, created by people so eager to wreak anonymous havoc that they can’t be bothered to upload a portrait image. The egg’s unsavory reputation has been hard on Twitter’s image. It also hasn’t done any favors for users who stuck with the default avatar out of innocence rather than malevolence. Some members have grown emotionally attached to their eggs or want to maintain a low profile; others simply haven’t gotten around to changing them, or have had trouble figuring out how to do so … Starting today, however, the egg is history. Twitter is dumping the tarnished icon for a new default profile picture–a blobby silhouette of a person’s head and shoulders, intentionally designed to represent a human without being concrete about gender, race or any other characteristic. Everyone who’s been an egg until now, whatever their rationale, will automatically switch over.

‘KING ARTHUR’: FINAL TRAILER UNSHEATHES CHILDHOOD, DRAGONS AND LED ZEPPELIN via Greg Evans of Deadline Hollywood – We get a once and final look at the once and future king in the latest trailer for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. With Charlie Hunnam in the title role and Jude Law as his treacherous uncle Vortigern, the film hits theaters May 12. This trailer – the final in a series that kicked off at Comic-Con last summer – delves a bit more into young Arthur’s hard-knock boyhood, full of brawls, cobblestone alleys and one pretty bad haircut. After his father is murdered and his Uncle Vort steals the crown, the rightful heir bruises his way to that fateful moment with a sword stuck in a stone.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to two great Floridans, Brian Burgess and Billy Schmidt.

Franchise group tweets tone-deaf opposition to ‘Florida Small Business Act’

A pro tip for anyone seeking to curry favor with the Florida Legislature: get your facts straight — or at least know which state you’re trying to lobby.

A couple of months ago, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur announced supporting the “Protect Florida Small Business Act” (SB 750), which seeks to “promote fair business relations between franchisees and franchisors and to protect franchisees against unfair treatment by franchisors.”

“I want to be sure that there is a level playing field for all business owners in Florida,” Brodeur said. “Whether they are a small independent shop or a franchisee.”

For some reason, that hasn’t set well with the International Franchise Association, the industry’s leading trade group.

IFA has been a vocal opponent of the act, calling it “unnecessary government overreach and intrusion into private contract negotiations.”

So, like any good trade organization, the IFA took to social media to make its case, seeking to pressure a growing number of state lawmakers — including Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Sens. Greg Steube and Lizbeth Benacquisto and others — into opposing the bill.

But something was not quite right.

A series of tweets on the group’s page (@Franchising411) blasted several lawmakers, calling on them to reject SB 750 and its House companion (HB 1069). The tweets asked followers — nearly 12,000 of them — to tell the legislators to “protect franchising.”

Behind each image of a Florida legislator was a map of California, not Florida.

Oops.

Now, IFA is no bush-league organization; the group claims to represent more than 700,000 franchise establishments, 7.6 million direct jobs, billions in economic output for what they say is nearly 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. That’s not small potatoes.

In addition, IFA boasts members in more than 300 different occupations including marketing, law and business development.

Apparently, that list doesn’t include cartography.

With such a vast reach, it would be reasonable to assume IFA could spring for a staffer with some basic geographic knowledge, or at least hire a person (anyone) who knows the difference between Florida and California.

Say, someone who lives in either of those states. That should narrow it down to only 56 million people.

Ironically, the worst of these misguided tweets is one the few that got it right — with Florida in the background, that is.

Sent March 30, the tweet in question asked supporters to contact Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Double oops.

You see, even a cursory Google search would show Hukill is not even in Tallahassee this Session. She is contending with a more pressing issue — radiation treatments for cervical cancer.

Mistaking California for Florida is ridiculous enough; going after a cancer patient in active treatment is not only tone deaf, but also insensitive and mind-numbingly stupid.

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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Will lawmakers ‘walk away’ from gambling?

It’s long been a Capitol cliché, but there are few pronouncements on a piece of legislation as inauspicious as calling something “a heavy lift.”

Saying a bill is “a heavy, heavy lift” sounds even more portending of defeat.

Yet that’s how House Speaker Richard Corcoran referred to the omnibus gambling bills now on their way to conference. They include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

“It’s got a long way to go,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said in a press conference after Thursday’s floor session.

Generally, the House holds the line on gambling expansion; the Senate is open to some expansion, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that approved a slots referendum.

Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million.

“It’s a heavy lift. There’s a reason it hasn’t been passed in decades,” Corcoran said. “But this is the first time, probably that anyone can recall, where you have two bills moving … That puts them in a posture to see where a negotiation goes.

“But I would still say it’s a heavy, heavy lift … We’ll see how it unfolds.”

Another sign: Neither chamber factored gambling revenue share from the Seminole Tribe to the state into their respective budgets, he said.

“I think it’s generally considered an irresponsible budgeting practice to budget money” that you don’t know you have, Corcoran said.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who’s the Senate’s point man on gambling, said any gambling revenue—assuming a deal is struck—”would come in at the back end.”

The Senate passed its gambling package (SB 8) Thursday; the House Commerce Committee cleared its bill (HB 7037) later that day. It’s set to be discussed next Tuesday on the House floor.

Galvano, speaking to reporters after the Senate’s floor session, said getting both sides to ‘yes’ won’t be easy.

Sen. Bill Galvano told reporters this week that getting both sides to “yes” isn’t a sure bet when it comes to gambling this year.

“I told the members here today that I couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution,” he said. The House is “interested in seeing something move …  My conversations with the Seminole Tribe have been positive.”

The Tribe had sent a letter to Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron saying “neither (bill) would satisfy the requirements of federal law nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns” and called them “not acceptable.”

The Tribe’s concern was that it would be financially squeezed by the Legislature’s current proposals without getting enough in return. It offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

When told his warning to his colleagues “sounded ominous,” Galvano said, “I have to manage expectations,” adding the chambers were still “light years ahead of where we’ve ended in the past.”

That is, nowhere. And still in wait is a state Supreme Court decision on whether Florida dog and horse tracks outside South Florida can have slot machines. That could add additional revenue to state coffers, but would cross the Seminoles, who have slots exclusively outside South Florida.

Moreover, a Leon County circuit judge recently ruled that slot-machine looking games known as “pre-reveal” (one example is here) can’t be legally defined as slots.

The Tribe has disagreed, saying such games also violate the existing agreement, the Seminole Compact, between the Seminole and the state. That would entitle them not to pay any more slots money. Galvano said he doesn’t believe the games violate the Compact.

Still, “if we can’t get to where we have the votes in each chamber to pass, then we have to walk away,” said Galvano.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

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

Show us the money — Got plans this weekend? Cancel them. The first drafts of the budget are out. The Senate released its proposed $83.2 billion spending plan on Thursday, while the House released its “leaner” $81.2 billion early Friday morning. The release comes after budget writers spent the week slowly unveiling their plans. Some highlights (or low lights, depending how you look at it): The House has proposed slashing the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, bringing the total cut from hospitals to $621.8 million once the federal match is factored in. The Senate has cutting $99.3 million from the state budget, which would equal a $258.6 million total hit. The Senate has set aside $22.6 million for land acquisition, while the House is suggesting spending $10 million. The Senate also wants to boost Everglades restoration funding to $275 million, while the House would like to spend $166 million on it.

Battle lines drawn —  When it came to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, no one was surprised when House and Senate budget writers unveiled vastly different spending plans for the embattled state agency this week. The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee suggested matching Gov. Rick Scott’s $76 million request for the tourism marketing agency; while the House put just $25 million in its budget. The Senate has set aside $80 million for programs tied to Enterprise Florida, which — in case you’ve forgotten — the House voted to abolish. Scott applauded the Senate and criticized the House, before spending several days on the road hosting round tables focused on military and defense economic development programs on the chopping block.

Floor action — Week 4 brought lots of action, with the House and Senate spending two days this week on the floor passing priority legislation in both chambers. The Senate voted 32-6 to its wide-sweeping gambling bill, sending it over to the House where it will be voted on next week. Over in the House, members voted 73-46 to approve a proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on justices of the Florida Supreme Court and state appellate judges. If approved, Florida would become the first state in the nation to impose term limits on judges and justices. The House also passed a raft government and ethics reforms, including a proposed constitutional amendment to impose a six-year lobbying ban on former elected officials. House members also OK’d a bill that would prohibit sports teams from building or renovating a building on publicly-owned land cleared

Citizens sound off —Hundreds of Floridians turned out for the first Constitution Revision Commission public hearing at the University of Central Florida this week. According to the commission, more than 95 people spoke during the meeting. Speakers included several UCF students, and participants made requests for the commission to look at amendments that would restore voting rights for non-violent ex-felons, require a certain percentage of power be generated from renewable resources; and open party primaries so unaffiliated voters could participate. The commission has already drawn criticism, with the League of Women Voters of Florida holding a rally this week denouncing the commission for discouraging public participation. The group said the CRC rules fail to provide timely notice of meetings, schedules too few public hearings, and lacks safeguards to shield commissioners from undue influence. The next commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at Florida International University.

CRC Chairman Carlos Beruff and other commission members take part in a public hearing at the University of Central Florida.

Bye, bye Bondi? — Attorney General Pam Bondi spent several days in Washington, D.C., once again fueling speculation she’s considering trading one capital city for another. Bondi was in the nation’s capital Monday with football greats Tony Dungy and Derrick Brooks. Bondi and her crew reportedly met with President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson. She also was also tapped to moderate a “women’s empowerment panel” featuring to women in the Trump administration, including DeVos, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Small Business Administration Chief Linda McMahon. And on Wednesday, the White House announced she was appointed to the President’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, headed up by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In a statement, Bondi said she was honored to be chosen and thanked Trump, Christie and many others for caring about this deadly epidemic.”

AG Bondi poses for a picture with President Trump during a trip to D.C. this week.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan flailed a bit when asked to defend her proposed judicial term limits constitutional amendment, against suggestions the policy would crimp the career of conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch if applied at the federal level.

The conservative Florida Justice Reform Institute raised that argument in a letter denouncing the Mount Dora Republican’s proposal. A reporter asked her about it during a House leadership news briefing.

“The bill didn’t address the U.S. Supreme Court,” she replied. “I’m happy to answer questions as it relates to what the policy did for the state of Florida.”

“I’m talking about the concept of a guy who’s already spent 10 years on the appellate bench, and under this idea would only be able to spend two more years” on the Supreme Court if confirmed, the reporter continued.

That’s when House Speaker Corcoran stepped in.

“I think they’re reading the bill wrong,” said Corcoran, before explaining separate 12-year terms would apply to stints on the district courts of appeal and the Florida Supreme Court.

Legislation to allow patients to remain in ambulatory surgical centers for up to 24 hours, and to create recovery care centers where they could stay for up to 72 hours, cleared the House floor.

The bill (HB 145) marks“a real victory for patients,” said Rep. Paul Renner, the bill’s sponsor, said following the 79-34 vote this week.

“It increases their access to care and also lowers the cost. At a time — since 2006 —when deductibles have gone up over 300 percent, this is a big step forward,” he said. “Currently, we have a nonsensical rule that requires people who seek elective surgery at an ASC to be out by midnight, whether they’re ready or not.”

Renner dismissed fears among hospitals that the measure would disrupt their business model, saying patients would be screened before treatment.

“If its determined that you need acute hospitalization, you go to a hospital,” he said. “If you need intensive care, you go to a hospital. Critical care or coronary care, you’re not eligible to go to a recovery care center.”

The mosquitoes are coming.

With rainy season just around the corner, Gov. Scott met with public health officials and community leaders in South Florida this week to talk about Zika preparedness.

There have been two cases of locally transmitted cases of the virus this year, and there are currently no areas identified with active Zika transmission. However, Scott said it was “crucial that we … work together to remain vigilant and take precautions to stay ahead of this virus.”

“I urge all Floridians to remember to eliminate any standing water around your homes, businesses and communities, and to wear bug spray to prevent mosquito bites. It is also important to protect yourself if you travel outside of Florida to an area with Zika virus,” said Scott in a statement. “Last year, our aggressive actions helped lift the previous Zika zones in Wynwood, Little River and Miami Beach. This year, we stand ready to once again do all we can to protect Florida’s families, visitors and communities.”

Thank you for your service.

Gov. Scott recognized more than 240 veterans during a visit to the Louie C. Wadsworth Armory in Live Oak this week.

“I’m proud to honor some of Florida’s great veterans for their service to our state and country,” said Scott in a statement. “As a son of a World War II veteran and Navy veteran myself, I recognize the sacrifices our service members make to protect our freedom We must take every opportunity to honor and thank our American heroes.”

Gov. Scott thanked veterans during a ceremony earlier this week.

Scott honored Cpl. Robert Dutton, a World War II veteran, during the event. Dutton was drafted into the U.S. Army in in 1943 and assigned to the 141st Ordnance MM Co. of the 7th Army during World War II. In 1945, he and members of his unit were wounded after entering into a building rigged with bombs. He was honorably discharged later that year. Dutton has received the Purple Heart, two Battle Stars, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal for his service. He was also recognized with the Frances Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government.

Scott also recognized Staff Sgt. John “Jack” Scott, who was drafted into the Army in 1942; Sgt. Rob Sweat who joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1991; and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Graff, who joined the U.S. Army in 2000.

When it comes to taxes, Floridians are getting a pretty good bang for their buck.

According to a new report from WalletHub, Florida ranks third in the nation when it comes to taxpayer return on investment. The number crunchers at the personal finance website used 23 metrics to compare the quality and efficiency of state-government services across five different categories — education, health, safety, economy, and infrastructure and pollution — taking into account the drastically different rates at which citizens are taxed in each state.

Florida ranked 3rd overall when it came to “taxpayer ROI” and “total taxes paid per capita.”

The state, according to the report, ranked 34th in “overall government services;” and 4th when in the “best roads & bridges” category.

Call him a home-rule defender.

During a Facebook Live chat with Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell this week, Sen. Jack Latvala defended local communities’ right to home rule.

“There’s this attitude from a lot of folks in the House that we ought to make all the laws for Florida right here in Tallahassee,” said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“That we ought to preempt and do away with the ability of local cities and counties to do local ordinances, to regulate things, businesses and people’s lives. And I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Several measures have been proposed this legislative session that would limit local government’s home-rule authority. Local government associations have lined up in opposition against these proposals.

“My experience is that people tend to trust the level of government closest to them,” he continued. “So why we would preempt those people from being able to make their own decisions at the local level, and try to co-opt all that decision-making to Tallahassee, is just wrong. … I think they [the House] think they know better than the local elected officials.”

Welcome back to the board, Joseph Brister and Robert Halman.

Gov. Scott has reappointed Brister and Halman to the Immokalee Water and Sewer District in Collier County.

Brister, a 51-year-old Immokalee resident, is the owner of Brister Funeral Home. He received his associate’s degree from St. Petersburg Junior College.

Halman, a 64-year-old Immokalee resident, is a community service deputy for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, and his master’s degree from Clemson University.

Both men were reappointed to a term ending Oct. 1, 2020.

Do Florida students need a lesson in financial literacy? Maybe.

A recent report from WalletHub showed the Sunshine State was the 20th most financially literate state in the nation. The personal finance website looked used a data set of 15 metrics, including the results of the company’s WalletLiteracy survey, to craft a report that looks at financial education programs and consumer habits in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the report, the Sunshine State ranked 49th in the percentage of adults who spend more than they earn. The state ranked 24th when when it looked at the percentage of adults who were only paying the minimum on their credit cards; and 35th when it came to the percentage of adults who borrow from non-bank lenders.

The state ranked 6th in when it came to high school financial literacy.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill has proposed legislation (SB 392) that would require high school students to take a half-credit of financial literacy to graduate from Florida’s high schools. Hukill, a Port Orange Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, has been pushing the legislation since 2014.

The proposal has cleared its first two committee hearings and could be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks.

Sen. Daphne Campbell wants Congress to celebrate the Caribbean.

The Miami Democrat has filed legislation (SM 572) that would urge Congress to enact legislation recognizing Jan. 1 as Haitian Independence Day and May 18 as Haitian Flag Day.

“America is a country composed of immigrants, bound by common values,” wrote Campbell in her newsletter. “Haiti Independence Day is globally acknowledged as an affirmation of equality, freedom, and the abolition of slavery. The Haitian flag is a symbol of pride for the Caribbean nation. The blue represents the former African slaves brought to Haiti by colonial powers, and the red symbolizes a people of mixed ancestry.”

The memorial also calls on Congress to enact legislation recognizing May as Haitian Heritage Month and June as Caribbean American Heritage Month.

The Senate memorial received unanimous support from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Let the children play!

The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee voted unanimously this week to approve a bill (HB 1131) that aims to provide children with access to playgrounds.

Currently, many of the state’s playgrounds and athletic fields located at public schools are closed to the public, in part because of the lack of a shared use agreement between school districts and local government or non-governmental agencies.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Brad Drake, would require the Department of Education to provide technical assistance to school districts to promote community use of shared facilities.

“When we were kids, I lived maybe a mile-and-a-half from our local elementary school, and almost every day, definitely on weekends, we were there playing football, baseball, whatever, and having a great time. It was where we bonded as a community, at least the kids I ran with,” said Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican. “I know in many (places) around the state, the playgrounds you and I utilized … are now behind closed, locked fences. I hope, and anticipate, this will allow these to be open again for kids, like you and I, when we were young.”

The bill also creates a Shared Use Task Force to identify barriers in creating shared use agreements and it make recommendations to facilitate the shared use of school facilities generally and in-high need communities.

“As a former fervent user of recess time as a kid, I have to support this,” said Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican.

Floridians sure do like their specialty license plates.

That much was clear during a House Transportation & Tourism Subcommittee hearing on a bill (HB 1375) that would make it harder to authorize, and easier to scrap, license plates celebrating state universities, trees, sea turtles, Challenger, manatees, and more.

These tags are proliferating — the state offers 120 of them now — but sales don’t always justify their continued existence, said Rep. James Grant, the bill’s sponsor.

His bill’s Section 7 drew special ire. It would shift to a new template bearing small logos, instead of the splashier designs that can cover an entire plate.

Randy Harris, whose Choose Life Inc. sponsors an anti-abortion tag, described letters from women who’d been on their way to the procedure and “saw a message, a billboard,” on the back of a car that changed their minds.

Bump that message down to the size of a baseball card, he said, and, “at three or our car lengths in traffic, those women won’t see that message anymore.”

The existing designs are “sort of iconic Florida highway — they’re part of the landscape,” said Gary Appleson of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The committee approved the bill after Grant promised to fix that section.

“Based on the number of emails I got on Section 7, please change 7. Otherwise, I’m going to have to change my last name,” said Republican Rep. Michael Grant.

Speaking of license plates: The House Transportation & Tourism Subcommittee shot down an amendment by Jacksonville Republican Jay Fant to block tags benefitting out-of-state universities, like Auburn.

Fant objected to Florida tag dollars supporting distant institutions.

Rep. Jamie Grant noted that UF tags sell in Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. And people can buy FSU tags in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

“If he would like to preclude the University of Florida or Florida State University from putting their license tags into play in six or seven other states, respectively, then we will have that conversation,” said Grant, an Auburn graduate.

Fant case the lone vote against the specialty license plate bill.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee delayed a confirmation hearing for Gov. Scott’s picks to head the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health, a move that left some folks scratching their heads.

Is it déjà vu all over again? Nope, says Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who heads the subcommittee. Flores said there was “no nefarious reason” for the delay, and that her committee simply “wanted to get through the budget first.”

Scott picked Justin Senior to head the Agency for Health Care Administration last fall, and Celeste Philip to head DOH in the summer. Both need an affirmative vote from Flores’ committee before they can be confirmed by the full senate.

Last year, Flores was key in blocking the confirmation of former DOH Secretary John Armstrong, who failed to make it out of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections.

Flores said that she thinks both Senior and Philip “are doing OK.”

Anti-smoking group Tobacco Free Florida said the Sunshine State’s smoking rate is at a historic low, but fewer people in Central Florida have kicked the habit than other areas of the state.

Just under 16 percent of Floridians are smokers, though Hardee County shares the title for highest smoking rate in the state with Madison, Union, Gadsden and Okeechobee counties at 21 percent.

Residents in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties are also a bit more inclined to tour Marlboro Country, though only Pasco’s 19 percent rate comes in significantly above the state average.

Tobacco Free Florida said their efforts to stamp out smoking are making “remarkable progress,” though smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease in the state.

Just call us speedy.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Florida had the fastest annual private-sector growth rate of the 10 largest states in the nation, adding 239,800 private-sector jobs last year, the second most in the nation.

“I am proud to announce that Florida is once again leading our competitor states in private-sector job growth and that multiple Florida industries, such as manufacturing, are leading the nation in job creation,” said Scott. “Today’s announcement shows that we are successfully diversifying our economy and we cannot stop now.”

The state’s private sector job growth rate of 3.3 percent outpaces the nation’s rate of 1.8 percent. The Sunshine State has led the nation in over the year manufacturing job gains for the last eight months, according to the Governor’s Office.

““Florida’s strong, diverse job creation is catapulting our state to the top of the nation for economic growth,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Development. “Our economic development and diversification programs are working as a result of our investment in critical programs like Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA.”

Want to live as a write-in? Rep. Joseph Geller wants to make it a little bit easier.

The House Government Accountability Committee unanimously approved a bill (HB 6031) that would repeal a provision of state law requiring write-in candidates to reside within the district of the office sought at the time of qualification.

“In a representative democracy, it’s vital that we have laws which encourage, not burden, citizens from seeking to represent their communities,” said Geller, an Aventura Democrat, in a statement. “Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, repealing this unconstitutional statute was the commonsense move to make. This bill is necessary and important to ensuring that this nation’s great democratic principles are upheld.”

The Supreme Court recently ruled the provision unconstitutional because it conflicts with the residency requirements spelled out in the state Constitution, which requires residency at the time of election or when the candidate assumes office.

Geller’s bill now heads to the floor.

Is it odd for a political party attempting to rebuild from an historic drubbing to shoo away the three statehouse reporters who showed up for the chairman’s speech to Leon County Democrats?

Because that’s what happened when Steve Bittel came to Tallahassee.

James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat (the newspaper) seemed personally affronted at the senselessness when an aide tried to steer Bittel around the small gaggle that formed outside the meeting room following his speech.

She suggested arranging an interview or that the reporters send questions via email. Bittel ended up answering questions as he exited the City Hall venue.

Republicans are going to have their own challenges, he said.

“We want to have a positive message. When we sell hope and they sell fear, we think the people of Florida are going to buy hope every day of the week,” said Bittel.

Rep. Danny Burgess is hoping the third time is the charm for direct primary care legislation.

The House OK’d a proposal (HB 161), sponsored by Burgess, that would allow patients to pay doctors between $25 and $100 per month for a menu of preventative, pediatric, urgent care, and more — none of it overseen by the Department of Insurance Regulation. It marked the third year the House has passed the measure.

“Hopefully, we can get this across the finish line. I know that it’s doing all right in the Senate. We’re hoping to see some good reform get to the governor’s desk this year,” said Burgess, the chairman of the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, following the vote. “The House has really believed in this free-market, innovative approach to health care. It’s a process, and sometimes it takes some time to get through that process. But I believe firmly that this is the year.”

The Senate version of the bill (SB 240), sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, has cleared its first three committees of reference and is now waiting to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

Tardy to Sen. Bill Montford’s committee? That will land you in Saturday morning detention.

Unless, of course, you’re Sen. Latvala.

Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chairman, was late to the Senate Commerce and Tourism meeting this week, forcing the committee to take a brief recess before taking up the final bill (SB 554), on which Latvala had an amendment.

When Latvala arrived, Montford, a former principal, told the Clearwater Republican he would get a “Saturday morning detention for (his) tardiness.”

“But, I know you’re chairman of the appropriations committee, so we’re going to suspend this detention,” continued Montford.

Latvala quickly responded that he was “detained reading all three pages” of Montford’s requests and that “held (him) up a little bit.”

“And that was right after I read all three pages of Sen. (George) Gainer’s requests,” continued Latvala, to laughs from the committee.

“Oh, me,” chuckled Montford.

Latvala went on to say he was held up presenting a bill in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and his sheriff was present and “he had a gun, so I couldn’t leave.”

“We understand there are two or three things you don’t argue with: A man with a gun and a man that is the chair of appropriations,” said Montford.

The Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 6-1 to approve the bill, which would allow a craft brewery with a retail vendor’s license to sell, transport and deliver its owner beer from its brewer to other vendors. Latvala’s amendment — which focused on brew pubs that are part of small restaurant groups — was adopted.

Here’s legislation everyone can get behind: The House voted unanimously to approve a bill that aims to help children testifying in difficult court cases.

The proposal (HB 115) would allow children testifying in court in abuse, abandonment and neglect cases to use therapy animals. It’s an expansion of current state law, which allows therapy animals for victims testifying in sexual offense cases.

“When we go home this summer, and we talk about what we have been able to do for the most vulnerable and those that are the least among us, I think it’s important for us to look at this bill,” said Rep. Jason Brodeur, the Sanford Republican who sponsored the proposal.

Cosmo, an 11 year old border collie service dog rests during a Senate committee meeting in March. The House OK’d a bill this week to allow children testifying in abuse, abandonment and neglect cases to use service dogs.

“Previously statute had said that only those who had suffered a sexual offense could use animals in court, but I think we can all agree when we included the abused, neglected, abandoned and those with limited mental faculties, that is really taking care of the least among us,” he continued. “And certainly, at a time when somebody is the most vulnerable, this will help and maybe bring some of the most vile in our society to justice.”

The bill received no “no” votes in any of its committee stops. Neither has its Senate companion (SB 416), sponsored by Sen. Montford. That bill is expected to be discussed on the Senate floor next week.

Go fish.

No, really. Take some time this weekend to head to your favorite freshwater watering hole to go fishing this weekend. Florida residents and visitors will be able to fish in state freshwater fisheries without having to purchase a license on Saturday and Sunday as part of the eight total license-free fishing days offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission each year.

“We encourage anglers of all skill levels to take advantage of license-free fishing this weekend,” said Kellie Ralson, the Florida fishery policy director of the American Sportfishing Association. “Florida is known as the Fishing Capital of the World, and our beautiful rivers, lakes and ponds are the perfect backdrop for a fishing trip with family and friends.”

Nothing says springtime like a parade.

The Springtime Tallahassee Parade kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and is expected to feature over 100 floats, marching bands and dance groups.

The annual parade starts just south of the intersection of Monroe and Brevard and travels on Monroe past the Florida Capitol, ending at Madison Street. Considered one of the largest parades and craft shows in the southeastern United States, Springtime Tallahassee attracts over 70,000 spectators.

FSU President (and former senator and former House Speaker) John Thrasher will serve as the parade’s graand marshal.

Tip your hat to “Billy the Kid” this weekend.

The Florida Folklife Program and the city of Tarpon Springs will recognize 2017 Folk Heritage Award recipient William “Billy the Kid” Emerson during a ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum. The event is meant to honor Emerson’s contributions as a songwriter and producer, and will include a video presentation.

Born in Tarpon Springs in 1925, Emerson learned to play the piano in church. He joined the Navy in 1943, and after the war returned to the Tampa region and resumed performing with Tampa acts including Ivory Mitchell, the Billy Battle Band, and Alfonso Brown Band. He got his nickname while playing with a band that dressed like cowboys.

Emerson attended Florida A&M, but left to serve in the Air Force during the Korean War. In 1954, he signed a contract with Sam Phillips and wrote and recorded hits for Sun Records including “When It Rains It Really Pours” (later recorded by Elvis Presley) and “Red Hot.”

In 1978, he rededicated himself to his faith and became a pastor. He returned to Tarpon Springs, where he continues to serve his congregation and compose sacred music.

The event is open to the public.

Attention Tallahassee residents: Orchestra Sunday is this weekend.

Trinity United Methodist Church will host its annual “Orchestra Sunday” during its 11 a.m. worship service Sunday. The service will feature 25 to 30 minutes of music by a 28-piece professional orchestra.

The service is open to anyone interested. Trinity United Methodist is located at 120 West Park Avenue.

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

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