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Why does Florida use pass/fail for health inspections, not actual grades?

After a local news outlet reported seven Tampa Bay-area Publix grocery stores failed health inspections, the Department of Agriculture pulled all pass/fail grades and inspections from the online database.

“I believe that the pass/fail system is unclear because if it’s a failure, why is it still open?” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam explained to WFTS-TV.

Which raises the question: Why is the state using a pass/fail instead of a simple grading system?

Most regions use either a letter or number grade for restaurant and other health department ratings; restaurants in California and New York are often seen posting “A” scores in full view of patrons and passersby.

Putnam finally decided to kill pass/fail for grocery stores, bakeries and convenience store, which Wendy Ryan of WFTS suggests could be linked to $354,000 in campaign contributions he received from Publix over the past two decades, including flying on the Publix personal jet in 2015.

“Of course not,” Putnam said when asked if the two were connected, “any more than anyone else’s contributions influence. You have to follow the law and do what’s right by the people.”

“I think we need to have a grading scale that is more reflective of the conditions in that store,” he said, “so that the consumers are aware and can make their shopping decisions accordingly.”

It doesn’t help that a transition to a new system will make it difficult for the average consumer to know exactly what is happening at a location. For example, if there happens to be a serious violation, re-inspection or some other discipline, Ryan says, there is now way to know since the state posts no grades anymore.

Nevertheless, Putnam promises the new system will be better. How could it be any worse?

“That’s why the pass/fail system is a failure because an industry leader [which Putnam openly admits is Publix], who has highly trained and highly qualified, nationally renowned food safety standards ought not be mislabeled based on minor infractions.”

The problem is, under the pass/fail system, those Publix violations were not simply “minor infractions.” A grade score could give a better idea of what is going on.

In November, WFTS found through state inspection records that the Publix stores failing in 2016 had significant “priority violations” – including rodent droppings, dangerous food temperatures and other food safety issues.

So how soon will this new (and hopefully improved) grading system be in place?

Putnam’s response: “I’m very aggressive about this, and I’m pushing them to come up with something very quickly.”

Just be glad we aren’t grading Putnam’s performance here – pass, fail or somewhere in between.

Florida For Care ‘web of influence’ raises questions, concerns about recreational marijuana

Florida for Care, the group that led the effort to pass Amendment 2 last year, continues to insist its support for expanding medical marijuana in Florida is in no way related to recreational use.

For marijuana opponents, however, that simply doesn’t cut it.

Their claim is that Florida for Care is trying to find a pathway to recreational use instead of helping those patients who need medical marijuana.

And as justification for their concerns, some point to the Florida for Care website, which features several sponsors looking to encourage marijuana beyond just medical purposes.

Businesses, industry groups, and individuals seeking to expand medical marijuana laws in Florida are all linked to organizations supporting recreational use of marijuana, and all are looking to profit from the industry or make access to cannabis easier.

And at the center of this “web of influence” is Florida for Care, as the main organizing group pushing for expanded marijuana access, including legalization for recreational use, in Florida.

As such, critics of expanding medical marijuana in the state have three questions for Florida For Care.

The first: If Florida for Care has no interest in promoting recreational marijuana, why would the group actively promote a social media platform devoted to just that?

On the Florida for Care website is MassRoots, listed as one of the organization’s “best sponsors.”

MassRoots is a social media platform for marijuana users and was founded for the purpose of allowing individuals to advocate for recreational use in a “semi-anonymous” fashion.

MassRoots had been removed from the Apple app store for violating the company’s policy prohibiting all cannabis apps, only later to be reinstated after pressure from the National Cannabis Association and The ArcView Group.

The next question concerns the Drug Policy Alliance, also considered one of Florida for Care’s best supporters.

The Alliance has actively publicized its involvement in the campaign to legalize recreational use in California. On the Alliance website, the group claims its efforts “paved the way” for “recent victories” in legalization in Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C.

This leads critics to ask: is a connection between the Alliance and Florida for Care actually a vehicle for efforts to, once again, promote recreational use in Florida?

Finally, another of Florida for Care’s chief supporters is Greenspoon Marder, a South Florida law firm with a burgeoning cannabis practice.

With a primary office in Fort Lauderdale, Greenspoon Marder has expanded in the past year to include locations in Denver, San Diego and Las Vegas, all key areas in the expanding cannabis industry.

On its own website, Greenspoon Marder highlights recreational use becoming a major part of its practice. Firm co-founder Gerry Greenspoon has even launched the Organization for Safe Cannabis Regulation (OSCR), a separate group aimed at expanding the marijuana industry in Florida.

This tacit endorsement begs the third question: If Greenspoon Marder stands to profit from recreational marijuana use — beyond that of simply expanding medical marijuana — and it already supports recreational use in other states, isn’t it reasonable to assume they would push licensing to open the door for recreational use?

While the Florida for Care effort has been primarily geared toward helping those suffering from debilitating illnesses, these three questions about its web of influence raise eyebrows as to what is the real end game for marijuana in Florida.

FloridaPolitics.com now the top online-first source for where Florida lawmakers get their news

It’s that time of year when everyone in the process emails around CATECOMM’s annual legislative aide study — even the clients he’s working against. It’s a must-read perennial reminder for advocacy groups and coalitions to not send spam form emails or do other dumb things that don’t work.

Here is the Medium post everyone will be sharing.

But this year, something special happened and Kevin Cate gave me the heads up last night — FloridaPolitics.com is about to overtake SayfieReview.com as the most-read political news website by lawmakers. We tied Justin’s aggregator this year, and we’ve been on a huge curve up since the study began five years ago.

The top five overall go-to news outlets for lawmakers goes like this:

— Local TV News

— Local Print Newspapers

— Local Print Newspapers Online

— FloridaPolitics.com, Sayfie Review, and POLITICO Florida (tied)

— News Service of Florida

To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, compare the 2013 survey results…

… with this year’s results:

And we get our numbers without the benefit of being linked to by Marc Caputo‘s Playbook or Sayfie Review.

The full results will be released Tuesday. Stay tuned for a full recap.

Richard Corcoran selects Darryl Rouson, Tom Lee to constitution panel

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced that Sen. Darryl Rouson, Rep. Chris Sprowls, and Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco will be among his nine picks for the Constitution Revision Commission.

The Land O’Lakes Republican’s selections will round out the 37-member review panel, which meets every 20 years to look over and suggest changes to the Florida Constitution. The panel must be established within 30 days before the regular 2017 Legislative Session convenes.

The annual 60-day session kicks off Tuesday.

“I’ve said it on numerous occasions, I would only appoint Commission Members who understood and respected the role of our constitution and the separation of powers. I believe all these appointees share that respect and understanding,” said Corcoran in a statement. “With that as a foundation, these appointees are diverse, principled, and won’t march in lockstep with anyone. And my only charge to each has been to do what they believe to be right. I am sure that each Member appointed today will do their part to ensure freedom and the rule of law are embodied in our final product.”

Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2016, after serving serving eight years in the Florida House. He’s a former Pinellas County prosecutor, who also served as commissioner on the Tax and Budget Reform Commission.

Sprowls is also a former prosecutor, leaving the State Attorney’s Office over the summer to join Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. First elected in 2014, the Palm Harbor Republican has quickly moved up the leadership ladder, and is in line to become Speaker after the 2020 elections.

Sprowls isn’t the only member of the House leadership team expected to get a spot at the table. Corcoran is also expected to name Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez to panel, according to sources briefed on the Speaker’s plans.

Look for Corcoran to also select Rich Newsome, a long-time friend and attorney who has lobbied on behalf of the state’s trial lawyers; Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate President; John Stemberger with the Florida Family Policy Council; and Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board and the wife of freshman Rep. Byron Donalds. 

 Corcoran’s announcements comes just days after Gov. Rick Scott announced his appointments, which were also heavy on supporters and political allies.

As Governor, Scott selected 15 of the 37 commissioners, as well as its chairman. The Naples Republican selected Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, as chairman.

Senate President Joe Negron also got nine picks, while the Chief Justice is allotted three. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Sunburn for 3.6.17 – Last-minute fundraising; Speaker’s surprise CRC pick; Rick Scott’s new policy director; ‘Get me Roger Stone’

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

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

FIRST IN SUNBURNBill Nelson leads Rick Scott 44 to 38 percent among registered voters, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Laboratory (PORL) at the University of North Florida. Data crunchers will shake a lot of salt on the poll because a) it’s of registered voters and was conducted over thirteen days.

FIRST IN SUNBURN: Sens. Darryl Rouson and Tom Lee and attorney Rich Newsome are among Richard Corcoran‘s nine selections to the Constitutional Revision Commission. As for others, Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News reports that Erika Donalds is another pick, while Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco will be on the commission. As for the other three picks, read this post — “With ‘nice’ picks to CRC, did Joe Negron just hand Richard Corcoran an opportunity” — from a week ago.

LAST MINUTE MONEY — Think of it as the gold rush before the storm. Members of the House and Senate can’t raise money while the Legislature is in session, putting a 60-day pause on fundraising each year. And while that might be good news for their most loyal contributors’ pocketbooks, it also means you can expect a mad dash for last minute fundraising before the clock starts on the 2017 session.

House Majority, the fundraising arm of House Republicans, has a bevy of fundraisers planned for today. All of the events are hosted by Speaker Corcoran, Rep. Jose Oliva, and Rep. Sprowls.

Reps. Cord ByrdClay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer will kick off their fundraising early in the day with a reception at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Yarborough will be back at the Governors Club at 5 p.m. for another fundraising reception, this time with Reps. Thomas Leek and Stan McClain.

The Southern Public House, 224 East College Ave, is the place to be Monday evening from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. That’s where you’ll find a fundraiser for Reps. James GrantMel Ponder, and Halsey Beshears. Rep. Brad Drake will be raising dough a few blocks away at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams Street. His fundraiser is also scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If hanging out at bars aren’t your style, then the fundraising reception for Reps. Cary PigmanMichael GrantBryon DonaldsJoe GrutersRalph Massullo, and Julio Gonzalez might be up your alley. The event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Governors Inn, 209 S. Adams Street.

Senators are also getting in on the action. Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Bill Galvano, Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, and Sen. Jack Latvala will host a fundraiser for Ed Hooper, who’s hoping to replace Latvala in the Florida Senate, from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Governors Club.

Galvano and Simpson are also hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Frank Artiles and Rep. Manny Diaz, who is running for Senate in 2018, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Maddox House, 510 North Adams Street.

And if your dance card isn’t full already, don’t forget the annual Associated Industries of Florida Legislative Reception. The shindig has helped kick-off the 60-day Session for more than 30 years, and AIF officials anticipate thousands of the Tallahassee elite to attend

“AIF is proud to host this event every year as it signals the start of the legislative session,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF, in a statement. “Each year, the event draws a couple thousand attendees from the governor to cabinet members, lawmakers and AIF members and of course Capitol watchers.”

So what does it take to throw a party for 2,000 of your nearest and dearest? Associated Industries of Florida brings in 70 catering staff members to do prep work, cook, clean and wait on guests. And this year, those staffers will be serving up about 200 pounds of steamed shrimp, 30 gallons of pasta, and 15 gallons of ice cream.

The reception starts at 5:30 p.m. at Association Industries of Florida, 516 North Adams Street.

UBER TO OFFER FREE RIDES TO, FROM AIF PRE-SESSION PARTY — Uber is once again partnering with Associated Industries of Florida to offer free rides (up to $10) to and from the AIF pre-session reception on Monday, March 6. The promotion isn’t open to public officials and employees Uber riders just have to enter the promo code AIF2017 to redeem the offer. The promotion expires on March 7.

2017 SESSION PREVIEWS AND THINKPIECES GALORE

— “2017 Legislative Session Preview: Alimony rears its head via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

— “2017 Legislative Session Preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

— “2017 Legislative Session Preview: Sewage, transportation, beer issues face Tampa Bay” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “2017 Legislative Session Preview: Tempered expectations for Duval legislative delegation” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

— “A betting man’s guide to the bills that will rise and fall” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat

— “A look ahead At the Florida 2017 session: what to expect” via USA TODAY

— “A guide to the session players of 2017” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat

— “As legislative session begins, lawmakers should put brawls on the back burner” via the Miami Herald editorial board

— “Big issues facing Legislature as GOP leaders battle” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Combative new Florida House speaker vows contentious session” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press

— “Dismantling Enterprise Florida is a top priority for AFP-FL via Florida Politics

— “Dueling Florida lawmakers face long list of issues” via Gray Rohrer and Dan Sweeney of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Duval delegation ready to roll” via Florida Politics

— “Florida could flip burden of proving ‘stand your ground” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press

— “Florida’s new legislative leaders talk issues, personalities” via the Associated Press

— “For a better Florida: The battle over Florida’s free market” via Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay times

— “Greg Steube leads charge on gun legislation” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Gun bills loaded for 2017 Session” via CBS Miami

— “Guns, gambling and other diversions: Let the legislative games begin” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

— “Here’s how Richard Corcoran stormed Florida’s capital and made some people angry” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

— “Insurance companies have plenty to worry about as legislative session opens” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics

— “Joe Gruters diving right into contentious issues” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Powerful Bill Galvano takes lead on major issues” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Ten big issues to watch during 2017 Session” via the Sunshine State News

— “The road, fast food and Session — all aboard!” via Blake Dowling of Florida Politics

— “This legislative session has the chance to be one of the most significant in Florida’s history” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics

— “Veterans group releases priorities ahead of 2017 Legislative Session” via Florida Politics

— “What to watch and how to weigh in on the legislative session” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

— “Your 2017 bipartisan guide to ridiculous legislation” via Alex Pickett of Creative Loafing Tampa

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Business. Bright House Networks Business Solutions is now Spectrum Business, and we are committed to delivering your business with superior business Internet, Phone, and TV services to help power your success. We offer the best value in business with the fastest Internet for the price, advanced phone with unlimited long distance, cloud-based Hosted Voice and reliable TV – all delivered over our reliable, state-of-the-art, fiber-rich network.  Find out why so many businesses in your area trust their communications needs to Spectrum Business. Learn more.***

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS STRIKE DEAL TO WRITE STATE BUDGET via Florida Politics — Released Friday, the proposed joint rule follows Senate Appropriations Chairman Latvala telling his chamber’s Rules Committee in February that House leaders had agreed to compromise to streamline the process. … The new rule first defines an appropriations project identically to the House Rules. It also stipulates that no appropriations project “may be included in a budget conference report unless the project was included in the House or Senate general appropriations act,” according to a memo to House members from Speaker Corcoran. In the memo, Corcoran goes on to say that the “Senate has agreed to collect and post online specific detailed information on each appropriations project prior to the passage of their proposed general appropriations act.” The new rule further grandfathers in existing recurring projects as long as they do not receive additional funding. New money must be non-recurring, meaning not required in future budgets, and “the project must be clearly identified in the conference report.” … “I think this is a big potential problem that’s been dodged,” said Latvala. “The only thing you have to do in the Constitution during the session is do a budget, and by having a game plan and a joint approach to that before we start out is a big deal.”

GUN BILL SHOWS HOW DEMOCRATS STRUGGLE IN TALLAHASSEE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Sen. Linda Stewart knows her bill banning assault weapons sales won’t pass. But after the Pulse nightclub massacre June that left 49 dead, she’s disappointed it hasn’t even come up for discussion. Her biggest problem: She is a Democrat in a Republican-dominated Legislature. When the legislative session begins Tuesday, it will mark 20 years of total Republican control of both chambers of the Legislature. GOP majorities have grown to near-super majorities in both chambers in that time, leaving Democrats all but irrelevant on most major issues. That means Democratic bills ranging from Stewart’s gun measure to more moderate bills such as requiring a mental health evaluation before someone can get a concealed weapons permit don’t even get hearings. Bills to increase the minimum wage or require equal pay for women also are nonstarters. But highlighting those issues could be the key for Democrats hoping to make gains in the 2018 elections.

HOUSE, SENATE RELEASE DETAILS OF THEIR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LEGISLATION via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Although SB 1582 would eliminate the National Council on Compensation Insurance’s role in proposing rates to the Office of Insurance Regulation, the House would merely allow insurers to deviate from approved rates by up to 5 percent. The fee cap formula, approved by the Legislature in 2003, and tied to benefits won, would remain under both measures. But judges of compensation claims could approve fees of as much as $250 per hour when justified by the degree of difficulty or time involved. And both measures would repeal criminal sanctions against lawyers who accept fees outside the fee structure. Neither chamber appeared interested in an Associated Industries of Florida proposal to require both parties — the worker and the insurance company — to pay their own attorney fees. But both bills do include AIF’s proposal to make petitions for benefits specify the benefits sought and how they were calculated.

JACK LATVALA WANTS FLORIDA’S BEACHES ‘DONE RIGHT’ via Ryan Mills of the Naples Daily News – Saying state leaders are falling behind on their commitment to beach communities, Latvala outlined comprehensive legislation that would overhaul the way Florida manages its eroding shores. The legislation would … increase funding to $50 million annually; require long-term planning; establish a new framework for scoring proposed renourishment projects. “We’ve got tangible evidence that the health of our beaches is a big return on investment,” Latvala said. “Everyone acknowledges that; even the House acknowledges it. We’re fighting over some of the other economic development programs. Nobody is fighting over this … Let’s at least get this done right.”

JEFF BRANDES AMENDMENT WOULD GIVE FELONS GUN RIGHTS via Florida Politics – SB 934, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, would automatically restore all other civil rights, such as the right to vote, when a felon completes their sentence, but specifically carves out the right to own firearms. Thurston argues in the bill that automatic restoration helps felons reintegrate into society and takes some weight off the “cumbersome, costly” process of executive clemency. Brandes’ amendment removes the portion of the bill carving out gun ownership and would automatically restore gun ownership rights so long as the felon was not convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, sexual battery, incest, child sex abuse or human trafficking. Executive clemency is currently the only way felons can have their civil rights restored.

LEGISLATION WOULD HELP FLORIDA CRAFT DISTILLERIES, BREWERIES via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Senator Dana Young‘s craft breweries bill (SB 554) … would allow brewers to directly sell up to 7,000 kegs to bars and restaurants before needing a distributor. In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill allowing craft breweries to sell unlimited products at their breweries. Sen. Greg Steube‘s bill (SB 166) would allow customers to purchase as many bottles of craft liquor that they want. The current law, which was approved in 2013, allows customers to buy only two bottles per label per year. It also allows distillers to sell liquor at one other salesroom located in the same county. Florida is 10th in the nation in number of craft distilleries.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Rules & Policy Committee will take up controversial bills (HB 9 and HB 7005) that would change Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and abolish Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development program, during its meeting at 3 p.m. Monday in 404 House Office Building. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will consider a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to vice body camera footage before writing incident reports during its 1:30 p.m. meeting in 37 Senate Office Building. Also at 1:30 p.m., the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will discuss a bill dealing with parenting time plans and child support when it meets in 110 Senate Office Building. Pharmacy benefits will be on the table when the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets at 4 p.m. The Senate Community Affairs Committee will hear a public records bill that would give judges discretion in deciding whether to award attorney fees in public records lawsuit during its meeting at 4 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building.

CONTROVERSIAL PUBLIC RECORDS BILL TO GO BEFORE ITS SECOND COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – A bill that would give judges discretion in whether to award attorney’s fees in public records cases is set to go before the Senate Community Affairs Committee … Current law allows winners of public records lawsuits to collect attorney fees, but SB 80 would give judges discretion in whether or not they award fees to the plaintiff and would require requests to be made in writing in order to be eligible to collect attorney fees. Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, the bill’s sponsor, and ther proponents say there has been a swath of insincere public records requests where the true aim was to file suit and collect the fees.

AFTER CANCER TREATMENT, DOROTHY HUKILL EYEING TALLAHASSEE RETURN via Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal – Hukill … has not been able to travel to Tallahassee and has had to do the work of a lawmaker, reading bills, setting her Education Committee agenda and consulting with her staff and other lawmakers, from home. She took mild issue with a reporter’s characterization that she has appeared to be missing in action. “Not so much out of the public eye,” she said. “I’ve had certain limitations, obviously. The limitations now would be the type of travel to get to Tallahassee.”

***The State of the Taxpayer Dinner — March 8 (6-9 p.m.) — The one event in 2017 you can’t afford to miss. While the annual State of the State address and opening statements of each legislative chamber cover the accomplishments and future of our elected leadership, none specifically highlight the issues affecting taxpayers. This unique event puts the spotlight back on the taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch and Host Committee Chairman Gov. Bob Martinez present the 2017 State of the Taxpayer, the premier event for Florida’s elected leaders to discuss the issues that will impact taxpayers over the next year. The 2017 event welcomes speakers Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner Adam Putnam, Speaker Corcoran, Sen. Latvala, and Rep. Jim Boyd. Last year’s event sold out and just a few tickets remain for next week’s event – visit floridataxwatch.org/sotd for more info or to purchase tickets.***

ICYMI: PAM STEWART, JIMMY PATRONIS AMONG RICK SCOTT CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW PANEL PICKS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Unsurprisingly, his selections are heavy with friends, appointees and supporters … Scott disclosed the remaining picks, after previously announcing Carlos Beruff as chair and Jeff Woodburn, currently the governor’s Policy Director, as the executive director. In addition to Stewart and Patronis, they are: Dr. Jose “Pepe” Armas,“a distinguished physician and health care executive whose focus on patient-centered care has defined his career;” former state Sen. Lisa CarltonTim Cerio, the governor’s former general counsel now practicing with the GrayRobinson law firm.; Emery Gainey of Tallahassee; Brecht Heuchan, who helps run Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee; Emery Gainey, a “member of the Attorney General’s senior executive management team and currently the Director of Law Enforcement, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs. Marva Johnson, chair of the Florida State Board of Education and regional vice president of state government affairs for Charter Communications; Darlene Jordan, executive Director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, “a nonprofit organization that supports education, health and youth services, and the arts;” Fred Karlinsky, the governor’s go-to man on insurance issues and co-chair of the Greenberg Traurig law firm’s Insurance Regulatory and Transactions Practice Group; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University and past member of the Workforce Florida board of directors; Frank Kruppenbacher, an attorney who has been on the Florida Commission on Ethics, Florida Commission on Sales Tax Reform and others; Dr. Gary Lester of The Villages, its vice president for community relations and a Presbyterian minister; Nicole Washington, state policy consultant for the Lumina Foundation, an educational grant maker.

DAUGHTER OF EVERGLADES FOUNDATION FOUNDER SAYS GROUP ‘BADLY LOST ITS WAY’ via Florida Politics – Daughter of Everglades Foundation founder George BarleyCatherine Barley-Albertini, now a freelance writer in California, says the Everglades foundation has “badly lost its way” from its initial mission of Everglades restoration. “Sadly, his dream of saving the Everglades is slipping away … as that focus has been replaced by the battle pitting coastal environmental groups against agriculture over damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges.” Environmentalism has become “just another special interest” with fundraisers, lobbyists and paid staffers. Barley’s passion was to work with the public and private sectors as well as political leaders to act. “Today’s activists are spreading a message of hate and division … My father would never support a plan to send massive amounts of polluted lake water south to the Everglades when it was already too full … He would consider the issue more comprehensively, balancing the entire ecosystem, north, south and central, while considering the complex and comprehensive effects of the many septic systems as well as the effects of nitrogen, fertilizers, pollution and pesticides from our air and soil.” It may sound simple, Barley-Albertini says, but introducing that much lake water would “destroy what’s left of the Everglades.”

IT MAY BE LEGAL NOW, BUT OPENING A MEDICAL MARIJUANA STORE IN FLORIDA IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times –”We’re trying to change the stigma,” said Monica Russell, a spokeswoman for Surterra, who noted even securing insurance for the company’s fleet of delivery trucks has been a challenge. “We want people to come here so they can have a conversation and see we’re actually a health and wellness company.” Marijuana is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level, despite the 28 states that have legalized it for recreational or medicinal use in recent years. That makes it nearly impossible for banks to fund marijuana distributing companies, which in turn makes it hard to sign a lease for a commercial store or warehouse. “The short answer is, because federal law makes it illegal to possess or distribute marijuana, this is considered money laundering,” said Robert Rowe, vice president and associate chief counsel of the American Bankers Association. “Banks have generally been steering clear of these companies even if it’s legal in their state. It will take an act of Congress at the federal level to change that.”

TOP OP-ED – JOHN SOWINSKI: FINALLY, A SENSIBLE GAMBLING PLAN FOR FLORIDA’S FUTURE via Florida Politics –Leaders in the Florida House have taken a different tack. They have put forth a bill that fixes weaknesses in existing gambling law, closes loopholes that gambling lawyers continually exploit, stops the proliferation of slot machines throughout Florida, honors Florida’s constitutional restrictions on gambling, and respects the will of the people of Florida, who have consistently rejected statewide expansions of gambling. Finally, it provides for an agreement with the Seminole tribe that would achieve the stated intent of the original Seminole compact — holding the line on gambling and creating a firewall to stop the spread of casinos throughout Florida. There are many reasons to oppose the expansion of gambling in Florida. The legislature’s own economists have repeatedly said in presentations that, “some or all of the jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to gambling enterprises may be simply transferred from elsewhere.” This means that money spent in a casino merely cannibalizes existing jobs and businesses. It puts our multibillion-dollar family-friendly tourism brand at risk, and it spreads addiction and dependency that destroys lives and families, at a huge cost to society and taxpayers.

WEEKS AFTER FOSTER TEEN’S SUICIDE, CHILD WELFARE GROUPS SPAR OVER SYSTEM’S DYSFUNCTION  via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – Naika Venant, the 14-year-old foster child whose live-streamed suicide last month became a rallying cry among critics of social media, is taking on another role: poster child for the dysfunctions of Miami’s long-troubled child welfare system. At a meeting of the county’s child welfare oversight board, judges, educators and children’s advocates excoriated the leaders of Our Kids, Miami’s privately run foster care and adoption agency. Board members accused Our Kids administrators of intimidating their critics, and seeking “retribution” against foster parents who challenged them. Typically a tame group, the Community Based Care Alliance generated raised voices and sharp rebukes. The most vocal critic was also one of the most veteran: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, a 20-year mainstay of the child welfare bench.

WHEN HER $90K PAY WASN’T ENOUGH, A STATE WORKER SET UP A JEWELRY STORE — IN HER OFFICE via Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald – Lola Pouncey, who makes more than $90,000 a year as the operations chief of the health department’s division of medical quality insurance, “conducted a personal for-profit business during state work hours and on state property” selling jewelry and fashion accessories, said the inspector general’s report … Although Pouncey “knowingly and intentionally violated laws and agency rules” and tried to thwart the state’s investigation with “evasive and misleading” statements, she wasn’t fired or even suspended, just “counseled appropriately by her supervisor” … She was peddling merchandise for Magnolia And Vine, a fashion company that, like Amway and Avon, recruits its own customers to work as a freelance sales force — a practice sometimes known as pyramid sales or network marketing.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians.  PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

LISA CARLTON NOT RUNNING FOR FLORIDA AG. COMMISSIONER via Florida Politics – Instead, the former state Senator, who co-owns a cattle ranch with her family, will focus on her new role as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. Carlton … changed her mind since January, when she was considering a statewide campaign in 2018 for agriculture commissioner. Last week, Gov. Scott appointed Carlton to the CRC … she wants to spend the next year “traveling the state and hearing my fellow Floridians’ ideas for improving our state’s founding document.”

CONSTRUCTION AT CAPITOL CONTINUES UNDERGROUND via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – “The next milestone for the Senate garage is structural repair as we work to restore that main girder,” said Maggie Mickler, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager. The repair work, started last month, is expected to be completed in April, she added. The Senate garage, in continuous use since 1978, was shut down “in an abundance of caution,” officials said. That meant 210 spaces were no longer available for use, with senators and staffers shunted to other state garages and surface lots downtown.

FIRST ON FLORIDA POLITICS – MEGAN FAY TAPPED AS RICK SCOTT’S DIRECTOR OF POLICY via Florida Politics – The governor announced he had appointed Megan Fay as his new Director of Policy, replacing Jeff Woodburn, who will be Executive Director of the Constitution Revision Commission. Fay has worked for Scott since 2013 as Chief Analyst in the Office of Policy and Budget, Deputy Director of Cabinet Affairs and most recently as Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs. She received her undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Florida and a law degree from the Florida State University College of Law. The new organizational chart for the Governor’s Office is here.

SOUTHERN STRATEGY GROUP ADDS FORMER RICK SCOTT STAFFER via Florida Politics — Amanda Trussell has been brought on board to handle the administrative needs of the firm’s Jacksonville office, and will also work on research projects, marketing efforts and other client-based support activities. Trussell was previously the director of scheduling for Gov. Scott. Before that, she worked as an intern for Sen. Aaron Bean and former Rep. Erik Fresen.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Keith ArnoldBrett Bacot, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Haven Hospice

Patrick Bell, Capitol Solutions: Mary Mifflin-Gee

Edward Blakely Jr., Blue Tusk Communications: Redflex Traffic Systems

Matt BryanDavid DanielJeff HartleyJim NaffAndrea Reilly,  Smith Bryan & Myers: Eagle Eye Intelligence, LLC; South Central Florida Express, Inc; Southern Gardens Citrus Groves Corporation; Southern Gardens Citrus Holding Corporation; Southern Gardens Citrus Nursery Corporation; Southern Gardens Citrus Processing Corporation

Dean CannonChristopher Dawson, GrayRobinson: Dewberry Engineering; Gulf County

Christopher Carmody, GrayRobinson: Dewberry Engineering

Laura Jacobs Donaldson, Manson Bolves Donaldson Varn: Common Rights

Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: GuideWell Group, Inc.

Thomas GriffinLisa Hurley, Smith Bryan & Myers: Eagle Eye Intelligence

Deno Hicks, Southern Strategy Group: GCM Contracting Solutions

Nick Iarossi, Capital City Consulting: VE Group

Ashley KalifehRon LaFaceScott Ross, Capital City Consulting: NeoGraft Solutions

Glenn KirklandJonathan Menendez, Kaleo Partners: F5 Networks

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Patients for Fair Compensation

Kristen Crawford Whitaker, Sachs Sax Caplan: Association of American Publishers Higher Education Division

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here.***

BREVARD COOK DISHES ON POLITICS IN ‘FOOD FOR THOUGHT’ TV SHOW via Suzy Fleming Leonard of FLORIDA TODAY – Lori Halbert wants to bring civility back to politics, one meal at a time. After five years of cooking up tempting topics on her “Political Food For Thought” for Florida television audiences, she’s ready to take the show to Washington … Lori cooked with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the pilot for the new season. Other people from the national political arena have expressed an interest in participating … By combining two of her loves — cooking and politics — Lori wants to open the kitchen to delicious meals as well as bipartisan conversations about issues that affect us all, regardless of party affiliations.

DAVE ARONBERG’S WIFE FILES FOR DIVORCE via Gossip Extra — The wife of Palm Beach County State Attorney Aronberg filed for divorce earlier … citing irreconcilable differences after just 21 months of marriage. Lynn Aronberg, a public relations maven and event planner, confirmed she put in the paperwork …. at the West Palm Beach courthouse. The petition … won’t be made public until Monday. Lynn Aronberg cited two reasons — her desire to have a child and politics — as issues. Dave, 45, and former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Lynn, 36, were engaged while visiting Paris in December 2014. They were married the following May before family and friends on the sand of St. Pete Beach. …Through his spokesman, Dave said: “Lynn is a good person and I wish her a great future, and know this will be resolved privately between the two of us.”

ROGER STONE TO GET NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY via Gregg Kilday of the Hollywood Reporter – A new documentary about Stone, the political consultant and Trump supporter, is heading to Netflix, which will launch it globally this spring. The film, titled Get Me Roger Stone, directed by Morgan PehmeDaniel DiMauro and Dylan Bank, is also scheduled to have its world premiere at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the man who is seemingly everywhere: Stephen Gately.

Single Charlie is back

Some men, after filing for divorce, immediately attempt to catch up for all of the time they think lost while being married.

They buy a sports car, maybe one with a convertible top.

Other men return to a hobby they placed on a shelf after they slipped on their wedding ring. They cast fishing rods and climbs rocks and sail boats and shoot rifles.

Some men, not soon after the divorce papers are filed — or in some cases long before that — feel a need to sow the wild oats that laid dormant during their marriage.

A once-married man will do any number of things once he’s returned to bachelorhood.

For Charlie Crist, a week removed from filing a divorce petition that said his marriage is “irretrievably broken,” he hosted a town hall in downtown St. Petersburg.

Because Crist’s true love could never be a woman. It’s public office.

For the past nine  years, Crist has been married to New York City socialite Carole Rome. For six of these years, Crist – who has served in four different elected positions and ran in twice as many campaign — has been out of office and in the wilderness.

But not more than two months after returning to government, Crist dumped the woman who had been at his side during this period of exile. It’s almost as if Crist wants to forget everything about his lost decade.

So there he was on Saturday, Single Charlie, giving a ‘Springsteenian performance’ as our reporter, Mitch Perrydescribed it. Hundreds of people came for the show at the University of South Florida’s campus in St. Petersburg. Early on in the town hall, Crist said it would be okay if the event went past noon. He ended up staying four hours, embracing constituents with a brand — his brand — of optimism that is endangered in the current political environment.

“It’s not Democrats, Republicans or independents,” Crist said when asked who could bring the greatest pressure on Donald Trump and the GOP agenda. “It’s Americans on Americans, encouraging these people in Washington to get to the truth. The more you do it, the more it’s going to happen.”

Out of any other politician’s mouth, those words would elicit an immediate eye roll. And for some people, Crist saying them will prompt that reaction. But the difference between Crist and most pols, is he really does believe this stuff. He genuinely is angry that there was Russian interference in the presidential election, not because it helped Trump or hurt Hillary Clinton, but because he is such a believer in small-d democracy.

By the end of Saturday’s town hall, Crist had given his personal cellphone number to a local gadfly who says she constantly writes lawmakers, but rarely hears back from them. He brushed off Tea Party activist David McKalip, he previewed his first piece of major legislation he’s sponsoring, and he explained why he thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign.

He received round after round of applause, which is exactly what he needs as he tries to catch up for lost time.

On Saturday, Crist was the Charlie from the Big Catch, the downtown bar he frequented so often during the late 1980s and 1990s. Before a wave of renaissances reshaped downtown St. Petersburg, the Big Catch was pretty much the only decent place on Beach Drive to get a drink. Single Charlie would campaign there like it was a League of Women Voters forum. People loved him for it.

The Big Catch has long since disappeared from the downtown scene, just like the Charlie Crist who once held court there has too.

Yet, ever the optimist and unencumbered by the past and future, Charlie is back.

Boy, did we miss him.

medical marijuana

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Keeping pot pure

Frank Artiles wants pot to be pure.

The GOP state senator from Miami this week filed a 33-page bill (SB 1388) to “require independent third party testing for medicinal cannabis treatment centers,” he said in a statement.

“Medicinal cannabis should be tested just like any other medicine,” Artiles said. “This bill will protect those that have a debilitating medical condition and will be ingesting these products. Safety is our primary concern.”

The bill would “authorize the establishment of medical marijuana testing facilities to ensure that all medical cannabis is tested for potency and contaminants in accordance with the (state’s) quality control program,” it says. 

It also prohibits medical marijuana testing facilities from being owned by those “who also possess an ownership interest in (a treatment center).”

Jeff Sharkey, co-founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association, says he’s recommended the “excellent idea” for the last couple of years.

“For reasons of compliance, quality control and consistency, you do need a third party so the state can insure the product meets its standards,” he says.

Every lab already does its own testing, but having a third party helps avoids the “perception of the fox in the henhouse,” Sharkey adds.

Still, we can’t help being reminded of General Jack D. Ripper from the movie “Dr. Strangelove.”

“It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”

Uh, better purebred than Red? (We tried.)

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.

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

Gov. Scott goes to Washington — Gov. Scott fled the Sunshine State this week, spending several days in Washington D.C., where he met with members of the Florida congressional delegation and the Trump administration. According to his official calendar, Scott met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, before attending the White House Governors Ball on Sunday evening. His official schedule showed another full on Monday, when Scott was had meetings with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Nothing compared to Tuesday, his final day in Washington, when Scott had back-to-back-to-back meetings with members of the Trump administration, members of the congressional delegation and several interviews with the media. According to Scott’s schedule, the governor met with Reps. Gus Bilirakis, John Rutherford and. Mario Diaz-Balart. Scott then jetted over to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to chat with HHS Secretary Tom Price. And if you’re the Republican governor of the third largest state in the country and a pal of the president, there’s only one way to end a trip to Washington, D.C.:  Attend a joint session of Congress.

Gov. Rick Scott meets with HHS Secretary Tom Price to talk about Obamacare during recent trip to Washington, D.C.

More Sunshine in the D.C. — A bye week in Tallahassee can only mean one thing: It’s time for a road trip to D.C. Several legislators — including House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron — traveled to Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings with congressional leaders to talk about federal issues. Among the things discussed this week, was how to best reduce and eliminate discharges from Lake Okeechobee. In a memo to senators, Negron dismissed a proposal to curb discharges by holding more water in Lake O. State lawmakers were also expected to talk about the Affordable Care Act, flood insurance, and tax reform. But legislators weren’t the only ones in the nation’s capital. Attorney General Pam Bondi was in D.C. to take part in the Republican Attorneys General Association meeting with President Donald Trump.

Going bust — Here’s another wrinkle in the effort to approve a new Seminole Compact: The Seminole Tribe of Florida revealed the nation’s top Indian gambling regulator last year told the tribe the federal government would be “hard-pressed” to approve its new blackjack agreement with the state. In a letter to Gov. Scott and Legislative leaders this week, Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola told the state that this year’s gambling legislation “neither would satisfy the requirements of federal law nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns” and called them “not acceptable.”

2018, here we come — Welp, the 2018 gubernatorial race has officially begun. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum officially launched his gubernatorial campaign this week, saying in an email to supporter that he believes “we are a time in our state and our nation’s history that requires not just people who quietly agree on these critical issues we are facing, but people who are going to be champions, who will get out and lead on them.” But within hours of launching his campaign, the Democrat was already under fire for using a taxpayer funded email program to send political emails. Orlando Democrat Chris King launched his gubernatorial bid, while Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine continued on his listening tour. Don’t think Republicans are just sitting by twiddling their thumbs, though. Both Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala posted big fundraising numbers in February, increasing speculation that they’re gearing up for a 2018 campaign.

#SessionIsComing — The 2017 Legislative Session is almost here. The annual 60-day session kicks off Tuesday, when Gov. Scott gives his traditional “State of the State” address around 11 a.m. The Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m., while the House will be called in to session at 10 a.m. Members have until noon Tuesday to file bills that they want to be considered this Legislative Session. But before legislative leaders gavel in the 2017 Session, you can expect a mad dash for last minute fundraising. Several fundraisers are scheduled for Monday, as lawmakers take advantage of the last full day of fundraising before session. And you can bet everyone who is anyone will be at Associated Industries of Florida on Monday evening for its annual pre-session shindig.

USA Today Network‘s “calvary” is on its way.

The newspaper chain’s Florida properties announced the formation of a 7-person capital bureau to cover the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Our coalition of community news sites across the state of Florida gives us the opportunity to cover the Legislature with more depth, and breadth, too – more than we’ve been able to in many years,” said Florida regional editor Cindy McCurry-Ross.

The team will include Arek Sarkissian and Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News, Isadora Rangel of The Stuart News/Treasure Coast Newspapers, and the Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeff Burlew, Jeff Schweers and James Call (a FloridaPolitics.com alumnus).

Rounding out this ‘magnificent seven’ is Bill Cotterell, the Democrat’s not-so-retired columnist and former legislative reporter, who will continue to write his “twice-weekly column on state government and politics.”

Other network newspapers in Florida include the Pensacola News Journal, the News-Press of Fort Myers and Florida Today in Brevard County.

Rep. Amber Mariano wants to make sure military men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty are remembered.

The New Port Richey Republican filed legislation (HB 959) this week that would allow state, county and municipal governments to display the Honor and Remember Flag at state-owned buildings and locations on certain dates. Sen. Tom Lee has proposed similar legislation in the Senate.

Under the proposal, the flag could be displayed on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW-MIA Recognition Day, Veterans’ Day and Gold Star Mother’s Day. The bill also authorizes state and local governments to display the flag on any day “on which a member of the United States Armed Forces who is a resident of the state loses his or her life in the line of duty.”

The Honor and Remember flag is a red and white flag with a gold star in the center. In the center of the gold star is a flame, whose base is a folded flag, which signifies “the final tribute to an individual life that a family sacrificed and gave to the nation.”

According to the Omaha World-Herald, 21 states have laws on the books recognizing the flag. Similar legislation is currently being discussed in the Nebraska Legislature.

Tallahassee is going Tinseltown.

Florida State University’s Film School took a victory lap this week after “Moonlight” won the award for Best Picture at the 89th annual Academy Awards. The film was directed and produced by seven Florida State University alumni, including Barry Jenkins, the director, and Tarrell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” which served as the basis for the film.

“Film Florida congratulates Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski and the entire cast and crew of Florida-produced Moonlight for their historic weekend, which included six Film Independent Spirit Awards including Best Feature and three Oscars including the Academy Award for Best Picture. Moonlight has been a wonderful ambassador for South Florida and all Floridians as they have taken us on this magical ride through award season,” said Kelly Paige, the president of Film Florida in a statement. “Despite recent challenges for our industry in Florida, Moonlight shows the exceptional talent and creativity produced by our colleges and universities in addition to showing the potential of the film industry in our state.”

Oh, Florida.

A recent report from WalletHub found the Sunshine State is the 12th Worst State for Women. To identify the most women-friendly states, the analysts at the personal finance website compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 19 metrics, including median earnings for female workers, women’s preventative health care, and female homicide rates.

According to the report, Florida ranked No. 40 overall, wedged between Arizona (No. 39) and West Virginia.

The best state for women, according to the report, was Minnesota, which also ranked No. 1 for “women’s economic and social well-being” and No. 5 for “women’s health and safety.” The worst state for women, according to WalletHub, was Mississippi, which also ranked in No. 50 when it came to economic and social well-being and No. 48 for “women’s health and safety.”

The Sunshine State didn’t receive high marks in in many areas. The state came in 48th when it came to the female uninsured rate, and 45th to the quality of women’s hospitals. The report also found that Florida was ranked 32nd when it comes to median earnings for female workers, and 33rd when it comes to the unemployment rate for women.

One slightly positive number: The report found when it comes to preventative health care, Flroida ranked 26th in the nation.

Sen. Daphne Campbell wants mental health evaluations added a criterion for getting a concealed carry permit in Florida.

Campbell filed legislation (SB 956) this week that would require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to add a mental health evaluation component to an application for a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm. The Miami Democrat said the state needs to “do more to protect our citizens and prevent gun violence.”

“My bill will require a mental health evaluation to be conducted by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist,” she said in a statement this week. “Too many times, we’ve seen the tragic consequences of the mentally unstable wielding a gun and the innocent victims who have paid the price for the madness. This is a basic measure to determine the mental stability of those seeking to carry a weapon.”

The bill does not have a House companion.

Call them pet defenders.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz and Sen. Dana Young filed legislation (HB 1067 and SB 1270) to provide pet owners a path of recourse in the event of wrongful injury or death of their furry friend. “People who kill or injure someone’s pet should be held accountable for their actions,” said Moskowitz in a statement. “We form emotional bonds with our pets and those who endure the terrible tragedy of losing them deserve a chance at justice. This bill will act as a deterrent to those who work with animals to think about the legal consequences before engaging in negligent behavior.”

Currently under state law, pets are treated as personal property. Because of this, pet parents are entitled to compensation only equal to the fair market value of their pet. The proposal holds defendants accountable for pain and suffering endured from emotional trauma to pet owners, as well as the value of the pet.

“As a dog owner, I know that pets mean so much more — they become a part of the family and form deep bonds with their owners,” said Young. “Through this bill, we recognize this special relationship and provide pet owners with a means of recourse in instances where their pet is hurt or killed through gross negligence.”

Americans for Prosperity-Florida is out with another mail campaign, and all this one is missing is a super hero cape.

The organization dropped a new direct mail piece this week, one week after the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The mailer is meant to educate Floridians that House leaders are stepping up to the challenge and “eliminating failing state programs that go beyond the appropriate reach of government,” according to the organization.

Floridians have rejected policies that enable a rigged system, so eliminating Enterprise Florida and other programs like it that unfairly take valuable resources from taxpayers’ pockets to redistribute them to well-connected industries is the right thing to do,” said Chris Hudson, the AFP-FL state director, in a statement. “As session approaches, we hope that the Senate begins to take steps towards joining their counterparts in the House to eliminate waste, increase transparency, and reduce the size and overreach of government.”

The mailer asks voters “when you’re being pickpocketed by government’s rigged system, who can you count out,” before applauding members who voted for the the measure. It also encourages Floridians to call members to thank them for “voting against corporate welfare” and to continue to support the bill.

Build the reservoir, and the jobs will come.

A new report released this week by the Everglades Foundation showed construction of a proposed Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee will generate more than 39,000 jobs and provide economic benefits of $20 billion.

“To us, the EAA Reservoir represents a solution to an ongoing environmental disaster – the forced discharge of billions of gallons of polluted Lake Okeechobee water into our coastal rivers and estuaries,” said Eric Eikenberg, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation. “However, to 39,000 Florida workers, the project represents a good job that pays a decent wage – and to the business people and homeowners of the affected coasts, it means billions of dollars in economic growth.”

The study was conducted for the organization by Clemson University, and study authors called the south reservoir a “no-brainer.”

“The South Reservoir is clearly a project with benefits vastly outweighing costs,” wrote the study’s authors. “The total benefits are estimated to be over $20 billion. At a construction cost of $2.47 billion, the South Reservoir is a no-brainer.”

Hold up, wait a minute.

Florida Sugarcane Farmers are singing a different tune when it comes to a new report focused on the economic impact of building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The group blasted the report this week, saying it relies on “fake science and fake economics” to make its case.

“It’s only fitting that a group funded almost entirely by out-of-state billionaire special interests has hired an out of state economist to come to the same discredited conclusion being pushed by the Everglades Foundation and its dishonest affiliates,” said Ardis Hammock, owner and operator of Frierson Farms Inc. in Moore Haven. “This study relies on ‘fake science’ and ‘fake economics’ to make a case that neither real scientists nor economists actually believe.

Florida Sugarcane Farmers are part of a $3.2 billion a year industry with 12,500 employees. The group is opposed to Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal to buy up to 153 acres of land to south of Lake O to build a reservoir.

The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida announced its 2017 Legislative Priorities this week, with workers’ comp reform, business tax relief, tort reform and modernizing healthcare on the agenda.

“Remedying the broken workers’ comp system is our top legislative priority,” said Bill Herrle, NFIB/Florida Executive Director. “When the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the cap on attorneys’ fees in workers’ comp cases, small business owners’ rates went through the roof.”

NFIB is also focusing on cutting the business rent tax for small business owners, direct primary care legislation to increase healthcare access, and reducing lawsuit abuses. Click here to read the full agenda.

New degree program, new name.

Rep. Holly Raschein filed a bill (HB 1085) this week that would change the name of Florida Keys Community College to The College of the Florida Keys. The move comes one year after the Board of Education approved the community college’s first baccalaureate degree program.

In January 2016, the state Board of Education unanimously approved the school’s proposal to offer a bachelor of applied science in supervision and management. The program includes coursework in management, finance, marketing human resources, and leadership.  It also includes field experience in supervision and management settings, and builds upon the associate degrees already offered at the school.

“We need this program for the continuance of our strong economy and to reverse the brain drain that plagues our string of islands as our young people are forced to leave to experience a traditional campus,” the school’s president, Jonathan Gueverra, said last year. “In other cases, our adults cannot leave and are sometimes relegated to lower level jobs because they lack the educational credentials for advancement.”

At the time of the approval, school officials indicated they would pursue a name change to “reflect the higher level educational opportunities.”

If approved, Florida will have just three community colleges in the 28 state college system.

Antibiotic resistance isn’t just bad for sick Floridians, it’s also bad for your pocketbook.

A new report from Florida TaxWatch looked at the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB), and the economic impact of ARB infections. The report, released this week, found that more than 2 million U.S. residents are infected with an ARB infection each year, and about 23,000 of whom die as a result.

The report found ARB infections can involve individual healthcare costs, total system costs and societal costs. An infection developed during a hospitalization can add up to $29,069 in costs, and up to nearly 13 extra days in the hospital per case.

When it comes to treating ARB infections, the report found infections may add an additional $20 billion each year to the U.S. healthcare bill. These infections also result in an annual loss of $35 billion that can be attributed to loss of productivity because of illness or death.

“The rise of ARB infections threatens our nation’s health and our economy,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Luckily, policy makers, care providers and healthcare administrators are looking at options to prevent these infections at the source while funding more antibiotic research.”

It could be getting harder to buy a pack of smokes in Florida.

Sen. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Lori Berman have filed legislation (SB 1138 and HB 1093) to raise the state’s tobacco sales age from 18 to 21. The two Democrats say raising the tobacco sales age would have the biggest effect on teens between the ages of 15 and 17; and the National Academy of Medicine predicts that increasing the national sale age to 21 would reduce smoking rates between this age group by 25 percent.

“I am hopeful this bill will prevent our youth from taking up the tobacco habit,” said Berman in a statement. “It is an addiction that causes serious health issues and costs our state a lot of money in the long run.”

If approved, Florida would be the third state to raise the tobacco sales age to 21. More than 200 cities and counties across the nation have enacted similar policies.

“This initiative is about addiction prevention,” said Rouson. “By raising the smoking age to 21 we can prevent not only addiction, but also the dangerous and life-threatening side effects that come along with tobacco use.”

Sen. Linda Stewart has the bears’ backs.

Stewart filed legislation (SB 1304) this week aimed at protecting Florida black bears and their habitat. The proposal, called the Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act, establishes a fund for local governments to purchase bear resistant garbage containers. It also prohibits the sale of “timbering rights to acorn producing oak trees in all state forests and state parks that are identified as including Florida black bear habitat.”

New legislation would create a fund to help local governments buy bear resistant trash cans.

“At a time when Florida’s native black bears are facing several threats to their habitat, it is our obligation to ensure the preservation of the iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods,” said Stewart in a statement this week. “Today, we are setting out to do just that.”

Rep. Amy Mercado is sponsoring the bill in the House.

“By protecting Florida black bear habitats and their food sources, we in turn limit bear-human conflicts and ultimately are closer to ensuring the public’s safety,” she said.

Kudos, Florida State University!

According to a new report from The Education Trust, the Tallahassee university has one of the highest graduation rates among African-American students. The report found 74.5 percent of FSU’s African-American students graduate within six years. Nationally, about 40 percent of full-time, African-American students earn a degree in six years.

“This recognition is a testament to Florida State’s commitment to diversity and student success,” said Assistant Provost Joe O’Shea in a statement. “Underrepresented students are more likely to graduate if they attend FSU compared to nearly any other public university in the country.”

The report identifies top-performing colleges and universities, and presents them as examples that should be emulated. It also looks at underperforming institutions that need to get more serious about improving success rates.

Researchers followed freshmen students who enrolled at an institution in fall 2008 and completed a bachelor’s degree within six years. The 2014 graduate rates are the most recent rates available.

Sen. Tom Lee filed a bill this week to protect senior citizens living in retirement communities.

The Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate President said the “Protecting Florida Seniors from Financial Fraud Act” was aimed at “the conduct of a few bad actors,” including one in his district.

“Current (law) does not adequately protect residents and employees against facility insolvency, loss of provider assets, and loss of resident investments,” he said in a statement. “It’s essential to address these issues to ensure Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) can fulfill their obligations to one of the most vulnerable segments of our population.”

There are 71 licensed communities in Florida serving more than 31,000 residents. The Office of Insurance Regulation is responsible for regulating a CCRC’s financial solvency, residency contracts, and disclosures made to prospective residents.

“So many seniors pour their life savings into the promise of one-stop care during their retirement years—care that CCRCs promise to them,” CFO Jeff Atwater said.

“It’s shameful to see a few bad players misuse and abuse that money and promise, stealing their life savings and leaving them without a viable, long-term alternative,” he added. “These common sense solutions will put added protections in place, and I support this consumer-centric legislation.”

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson in the House, requires CCRCs “to retain reserves to protect residents and their families, increases the Office’s authority to prohibit hazardous practices and transactions, streamlines the acquisition process to reduce the burdens on applicants, and creates an ‘impairment’ framework to allow for earlier intervention to prevent harm to Florida consumers and their investments,” according to a news release.

Welcome to the 21st Century, judges.

The Office of State Courts Administrator announced this week it has launched a social media campaign to reach out to the citizens of the state, provide essential news and officer information about the work of the judicial branch. The social media accounts will include allow the court system to do everything from use videos to tell compelling stories on Facebook and post jobs and court education information information on LinkedIn.

“This is the right time to expand into social media,” said State Courts Administrator PK Jameson. “Courts are not early adopters. We do put to use proven methods to help the administration of justice and now is the right time to reach out with these incredible tools.”

The social media initiative will respect that duty and adhere to the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

Want to follow along? You can find the State Courts System on Twitter @Florida_Courts and on Facebook at Florida Courts.

Violate your own board bylaws, pay a fine.

Rep. Joseph Geller filed a bill (HB 1001) this week that would authorize DBPR’s Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes to levy fines and recall board members who knowingly violate Florida law and their own bylaws.

“Those who intentionally violate bylaws are breaking bonds of trust between the condominium association and the unit owners,” said Geller in a statement. “Although these laws are already on the books, they have not had proper enforcement mechanisms, thus rendering them useless to protect the rights of condo owners. Directors and officers have been entrusted to honor the law and their own bylaws, and anyone who abuses the rules should be held responsible.”

Sen. Gary Farmer filed a companion bill (SB 1258).

Pull out the the piggy banks.

CFO Jeff Atwater wants Floridians to start saving their pennies, offering up tips this week for ways to save a little cash during Florida Saves Week.

“The idea behind Florida Saves Week is that everyone can start small and think big,” wrote Atwater in his weekly newsletter. “You may not be able to save 10 percent of your paycheck right away, but perhaps you can toss your loose change in a jar each week and watch how it multiplies over time.”

Toss your change in a jar – or a piggy bank — each week to save a little extra cash.

As for ways to save money, Atwater suggested Floridians shop around for insurance; pack their lunch for a week and move the money they would have spent into savings; and only use cash, no credit or debit cards.

Florida remains dedicated to eradicating New World screwworm.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has checked more than 15,000 animals for screwworm at the Animal Health Check Point at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo. The department checks all animals traveling north out of the Keys for screwworm to prevent the spread of the infestation to the mainland.

“We’re aggressively working to eradicate the screwworm in Florida,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement. “I thank Keys residents and visitors for stopping at the Animal Health Check Point because even the smallest number of flies on the mainland would threaten our livestock industry.”

The checkpoint is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since setting up the animal health checkpoint, agricultural law enforcement officers have assessed animals ranging from camels to parrots.

The James Madison Institute announced it is adding four new members to the board of the 30-year-old organization.

The new board members include Tom Cerio, a Tallahassee lawyer who previously served as General Counsel to Gov. Scott; Frank Kruppenbacher, a partner at Morgan & Morgan and chairman of the “For the Children’s Fund”; Lisa Schultz, the chief services offer and a board member at CNL Financial Group; Joe York, the president of AT&T Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I am pleased to welcome our new board members, and excited about the depth of knowledge and experience they represent when it comes to the issues that affect the lives of everyone who calls Florida ‘home,’” said Robert McClure, CEO and President of JMI. “I look forward to benefitting from their leadership and support as we continue to provide public policy solutions and ideas that advance the principles of the free market, limited government and greater individual liberty.”

The Florida House Democratic Caucus official House website got a facelift this week

“We want the people of Florida to know that when it comes to the House Democratic Caucus, our priorities are your priorities,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz said. “I’m incredibly excited that we’ll now have more ways than ever to connect with our constituents and share our message of economic security for all Floridians. We’re here to do the people’s work and that means listening and engaging with the people on the issues that truly matter to them and their families.”

The new Instagram and Snapchat accounts have the same name as the group’s Facebook and Twitter accounts: FLHouseDems. The caucus also said they are pushing for Floridians to send “their ideas for a better state using the #PriorityBlue.”

Strawberries for everyone — or at least every Duval County student.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced this week that Duval County students will get to snack on Florida grown strawberries for the rest of the growing season. The agency’s Farm to School program helped facilitate Duval County Schools’ purchase of about 8,800 pounds of strawberries from Wish Farms in Plant City.

Wish Farms was started by Harris Wishnatzki in 1900, when he started selling produce from a pushcart. He grew it to a wholesale busies in 1922, and over the last 90 years his family helped Wish Farms evolve by adopting innovative practices.

The program also helped connect Columbia County School District’s distributor with multiple growers in Hillsborough County to facilitate the purchase of more than 650 pounds of strawberries.

Sen. Dana Young wants to to revamp the way administrative law judges are appointed.

Young filed a bill (SB 1352) this week that would give the power to the governor and the judicial nominating commission. The measure sets up an appointment process similar to the one currently outlined for the circuit, appellate and Supreme Court justices.

The proposal also allows the governor the remove administrative law judges for cause during their term.

It’s time to toast the taxpayers.

Florida TaxWatch will host its annual State of the Taxpayer dinner at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8. The event, which comes one day after the annual State of the State address, is meant to put the spotlight on the Florida taxpayers.

“As the trusted eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers for more than 35 years, Florida TaxWatch embraces our responsibility to provide a forum for our state’s elected leaders to speak directly to the interests of the taxpayers,” the organization states on the event’s website. “While the annual State of the State Address and opening statements of each legislative chamber cover the accomplishments and future plans of our elected leadership, none specifically highlight the issues affecting taxpayers.”

Invited speakers include Gov. Scott, CFO Atwater, Attorney General Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam, Senate President Negron, and House Speaker  Corcoran.

March is for museums!

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the inaugural “March of Museums” in the capital city. The month-long event is meant to celebrate the versatility of museums across the state, and the Department of State is working with museums across Tallahassee to offer give visitors unique opportunities to experience museums.

“March of Museums is an event to celebrate the important services museums provide to our communities and will feature the Grand Opening of Tallahassee’s newest museum, The Grove Museum, on Saturday, March 11,” said Detzner in a statement. “Exciting events will also be hosted by the Department’s Museum of Florida History, the Knott House Museum, and Mission San Luis, in addition to events being held throughout the month of March by our partners in Tallahassee.”

 The month-long celebration kicks off Saturday with an event at the Historic Capitol at 11 a.m.; while the Tallahassee Museum will celebrate World Wildlife Day at 10 a.m.

March of Museums is also meant to commemorate Florida Heritage Month, which officially begins March 15 and continues through April 15.  For more information, head to visit FloridaHeritageMonth.com.

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

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The Delegation for 3.3.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Florida is known for its characters, and now it appears a few are heading from one swamp to another.

It’s no secret Floridians played a significant role in getting President Donald Trump elected. The state’s 29 electoral votes gave him an early nudge to victory, and early primary support from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott helped solidify his GOP credentials.

So now that Trump, a part-time Florida resident himself, has taken up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s only natural some of Florida’s finest are making a move from Adams Street to K Street.

The connection between the Beltway and the Sunshine State has not been this strong in decades. That’s one of the main reasons why we launched “The Delegation.” Here are a dozen Floridians shuttling frequently between

— You can bet Alexander Acosta will be racking up some frequent flier miles in the coming years. The dean of Florida International University College of Law was recently nominated to serve as the Labor Secretary. But as a Miami native, Acosta might have more on his mind than the complexity of labor laws. The average low in Miami in January is 60 degrees. The average low in our nation’s capital? 28 degrees.

Brian Ballard, one of Trump’s moneymen in Florida, announced earlier this month he was opening an office in the nation’s capital. Ballard brought on Dan McFaul, who served as Rep. Jeff Miller’s chief of staff and communications director, and former Ambassador Otto Reich. And Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville-based political guru who ran Trump’s Florida operations, will also be making the trek.

— Dr. Ben Carson will know the flight from Palm Beach to D.C. by heart pretty soon, if he doesn’t already. Even after he indicated he wasn’t qualified to run a federal agency, Trump selected Carson to serve as the head of Housing and Urban Development. But Carson was an early supporter of Trump’s, backing him shortly after he announced he was dropping his own bid for the Republican nomination. And the two men are virtually neighbors, Carson lives in Palm Beach Gardens, just about a half an hour away from Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort. If he ever gets tired of flying commercial, maybe he can private plane-pool with Wilbur Ross, who Trump selected to serve as Commerce Secretary. The 78-year-old part-time Palm Beach County resident is the chairman and chief strategy officer of a private equity firm.

— Former Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee Chair Debbie Cox-Roush is now working with the Trump administration in the Department of Education as a special assistant to Secretary Betsy DeVos. Although her LinkedIn page simply says she is serving in the “education field in Washington D.C.,” Cox was part of a group of Dept. of Education staffers announced in late January. Roush served as the Florida state grassroots director for Trump, and then served on his inauguration committee.

— You’ll also find Marty Fiorentino hanging around Washington, D.C., for the next couple of weeks. He’s working with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He’s doing some unofficial consulting work for Chao through the transition period. It brings him full circle in his career: He served as a counselor to her when she was deputy secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

— These fellas haven’t been hired yet, but Reps. Joe Gruters and Carlos Trujillo’s names keep popping up every time anyone talks about Floridians taking jobs in the Trump administration. Another name that keeps cropping up? Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

— After years of being the butt of the joke, Jesse Panuccio may have the last laugh. The former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and an attorney at Foley & Lardner reportedly accepted a position with the Trump administration in the Department of Justice. Panuccio is expected to become the Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General.

— And you can bet, Gov. Scott will be spending a heck of a lot more time in D.C. in the coming months. The Republican Governor’s Association announced Friday the Naples Republican was elected to serve as the organization’s vice chairman for the remainder of 2017, replacing former Gov. Nikki Haley, who was appointed to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The appointment also comes as Scott is rumored to be eyeing a 2018 U.S. Senate run of his own.

#FloridaMan confirmed — The Senate voted 72 to 27 to confirm Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, as commerce secretary Monday. The former banker and investor earned billions of dollars has been dubbed the “king of bankruptcy” because of leveraged buyouts of companies in the steel, coal, textile and banking industry.

The 78-year-old was Trump’s chief adviser on trade policy during the campaign, and was the vice chairman of the 2016 Trump Victory Leadership Team. He’ll play a key role as the president tries to renegotiate NAFTA and attempts to reduce the trade deficit with China.

A Palm Beach County resident, Ross has a home on the Intracoastal Waterway. In November, the Palm Beach Post reported the home, which had a market value of $23 million in Palm Beach County property tax rolls, is located about a mile away from Trump’s second home at Mar-a-Lago.

And on Thursday, the Senate voted 58-41 to confirm Dr. Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Nelson receiving plenty of input on Gorsuch confirmation – Florida’s Democratic U.S. Senator is getting plenty of advice on whether to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. Between now and March 20, the date of the confirmation hearing, Nelson will hear plenty from both sides. Nelson has stated he has not made up his mind.

This week the conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) announced a direct mail campaign urging Nelson to support Gorsuch. “CVA will continue mobilizing our activists to push Senator Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch until the moment Gorsuch is confirmed to the bench,” said the group’s Florida Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri.

On the other side, Democratic State Rep. Shevrin Jones weighed in with an op-ed column in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Jones strongly urges a “no” vote on the nominee. Gorsuch’s “record shows someone who puts his ideological agenda above the Constitution, and wealthy corporate interests above ordinary Americans,” he wrote. “I urge Sen. Bill Nelson to take a stand and defeat this nominee.”

Rick Scott goes to Washington — Gov. Scott fled the Sunshine State this week, spending several days in Washington D.C., where he met with members of the Florida congressional delegation and the Trump administration. Along the way, the Naples Republican found time snag the title of vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association and hang out with the president.

Scott’s whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital kicked off Friday, with a luncheon with Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence, according to his official calendar. That same day, Scott was elected as the vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association for the remainder of 2017, replacing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

On Saturday, Scott met with the president to talk about the Obamacare. The Palm Beach Post reported he and Gov. Scott Walker had lunch with the president, saying the White House called it a “working lunch.” That same night, Benny Johnson of the Independent Journal Review spotted Scott dining with the president at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

There was no rest for this Florida man on Sunday. According to his official calendar, Scott had a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, before attending the White House Governors Ball on Sunday evening. His official schedule showed another full on Monday, when Scott was had meetings with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

But nothing compares to Tuesday, his final day in Washington, when Scott had back-to-back-to-back meetings with members of the Trump administration, members of the congressional delegation and several interviews with the media.

According to Scott’s schedule, the Governor did an interview with FOX News around 10:10 a.m., before meeting with Rep. Gus Bilirakis around 11 a.m. Scott met with Rep. John Rutherford around 12:30 p.m., before a meeting with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart around 1:10 p.m. He squeezed in an interview with the Washington Examiner — yes, his second interview of the day — around 2 p.m., before jetting over to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to chat with HHS Secretary Tom Price. After that was a chat with Martin Lousteu, the ambassador of Argentina; before a meeting with Diane Black, the chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee.

And if you’re the Republican Governor of the third largest state in the country and a pal of the president, there’s only one way to end a trip to Washington, D.C.:  Attend a joint session of Congress.

Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price met with Gov. Rick Scott in Washington about devising “a health care system that works better for” Floridians.

Look who else was in D.C. this week:

Trump pivot gives GOP what it wants, but will it last — Trump finally gave Republicans what they’ve spent months begging him to deliver: a pivot to presidential.

The question now is how long it lasts. Days, weeks, months — or simply until the next tweet?

Just a little more than a month into his presidency, Trump clearly wanted to use his first speech to Congress to reset a chaotic start to his administration.

 Gone was the dark tone that marked his inaugural address, replaced by optimism and pleas for bipartisan support. Standing before lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and military leaders on Tuesday night, the famously unrestrained politician was softer, sober and verged on diplomatic.

“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,” he said, in the opening of his hourlong speech.

But while his prime-time address wrapped his nationalistic politics in more presidential prose, it’s unlikely to overcome the deep divides created by his first few weeks in office.

— “The 12 things that mattered in Trump’s speech” via Jonathan Swan of Axios

The Delegation reax:

Marco Rubio: “I’m more excited than ever about serving in the Senate at this moment in our nation’s history and the opportunity to improve the lives of all Americans.”

Stephanie Murphy: “I continue to be concerned about the President’s undisciplined approach to national security, which undermines rather than enhances our safety.”

Daniel Webster: “The President is right, Obamacare is imploding.”

Gus Bilirakis: “One message was clear: We can keep our promises and do right by the American people if we work together.”

Brian Mast: “I know as well as any that our enemies in the Middle East literally want to destroy our way of life.”

Tom Rooney: “I am optimistic about this important opportunity for Republicans to prove to the American people that they come first and we can get the job done.”

Ted Deutch: “President Trump’s speech was as predictable as it was disturbing.”

Mario Diaz-Balart: “It is extremely disappointing that many from both the left and right extremes are quick to criticize the President’s willingness to work with Congress to fix our immigration system.”

Trump to appeal $5.7 million loss in Florida golf club case via Susanna Nesmith of Bloomberg – Trump National Golf Club Jupiter filed notice that it wants a higher court to review a federal judge’s ruling a month ago that the club breached the former members’ contract by denying them access and failing to refund their deposits within 30 days. The judge also directed the club to pay $925,010 in interest.

Trump, who has bragged about his success in courts in posts on Twitter, is still embroiled in lawsuits that predate his election victory in November. Since becoming president he’s become the target of additional cases over his executive orders on immigration and sanctuary cities.

“We’re confident that we’ll prevail on appeal and protect the judgment,” said Seth Lehrman, attorney for the former club members.

Days until the 2018 election: 614.

Trump, Scott, Marco Rubio expected at GOP donor weekend in Palm Beach via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – A few hundred people are expected at the Republican National Committee event at the Four Seasons. Trump, who will be spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago Club, is slated to speak at a dinner. Scott will speak to a Saturday lunch and Rubio to a dinner Saturday.

Delegation battling against Medicare fraud program — Sens. Bill Nelson and  Rubio are spearheading a bipartisan effort to keep the Medicare pre-claim demonstration project from coming to Florida, reports Christine Sexton of POLITICO.

“Home health is a critical service for our constituents and the approximately 3.5 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare. It plays a vital role in treating patients in a clinically appropriate manner and the location they most prefer — their own home,” write Rubio and Nelson in their letter sent Monday. “These patients are among the most vulnerable. They are typically older of lower socioeconomic status, and more likely to be disabled, a minority, or female than all other Medicare populations.”

In addition to the two senators, all Florida representatives except Reps. Matt Gaetz and Lois Frankel signed on to the letter.

Rubio meets with six state lawmakers in Washington — Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and Reps. Michael BilecaJose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, all Republicans, met with Rubio to discuss health care reform, water and flood insurance.

“I’ve known several of these state legislators for many years and even served with several of them in Florida, and our meeting was intended to strengthen the partnership between Congress and the Florida legislature as they head into the legislative session, where they will be tackling a number of issues that have a federal nexus,” he said.

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top priority” among the issues discussed, followed by funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project and a long-term solution for the state’s flood insurance woes.

Rubio says he wants more details from Jeff Sessions on Russia meetings via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Rubio … wants to speak directly to Attorney General Sessions to ask about Sessions’ two meetings last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., a revelation made late Wednesday by The Washington Post.

Sessions did not disclose the encounters during his subsequent Senate confirmation hearings and says he didn’t meet with the Russians — who are suspected of meddling with the presidential election — over the campaign.

“I need to learn more beyond the media reports,” Rubio told NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Democrats call for Republicans to demand Sessions’ resignation – “Attorney General Sessions lied under oath to Congress and the American people about his contact with the Russian Government during the campaign,” said DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly. “That’s perjury, that’s wrong, and Representatives Mast, Diaz-Balart, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen should demand his resignation.”

Delegation’ers calling for Sessions’ resignation:

Charlie Crist: “As the former Attorney General of Florida, I find Attorney General Sessions’ actions inexcusable, and call for his immediate resignation.”

Kathy Castor: “Lying to a congressional committee while you are under sworn oath is illegal.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign and at the very least must recuse himself from the investigation into illegal collusion between Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.”

Brian Mast gets close to calling for him to step down: “Jeff Sessions needs to immediately clarify his Senate testimony and recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties.  If he cannot commit to ensuring this process is completed with full transparency and integrity, he should resign.  The American people are demanding integrity, they are demanding answers and they deserve an unbiased investigation into the facts.”

Rubio kicked out of Tampa office because of protesters via The Associated Press — Rubio is looking for a new office location in Tampa after the owner of his current space decided not to renew his lease because of constant disruptions from protesters.

The owner of the nine-story Bridgeport Center notified Rubio’s staff Feb. 1 that it would not renew its lease.

Jude Williams, president of America’s Capital Partners, says rallies outside the building have become too disruptive to the other tenants and a costly expense for the company. Rubio’s annual lease expired in December. He had been renting month-to-month since then, and negotiations for a new agreement fell apart.

Happening Monday:

Tweet, tweet:

Delegation’ers address No Labels conference – On Thursday Carlos CurbeloCrist and Darren Soto took part in the No Labels Problem Solvers Conference in Washington. All three briefly spoke to the assembled group with a message consistent with the conference theme of “Fix Not Fight.”

The event, with 800 registrants from all 50 states, was scheduled to take place on the Capitol steps, but a “snafu” relegated the gathering to an open field near the Capitol. Bullhorns replaced microphones.

“This WAS the silent majority,” Curbelo told the assembled crowd, “but it is going to become the active, loud present majority that tells every member of Congress that we want Congress to work for the American people.”

“In the first couple of weeks we have worked to do our best to solve real problems,” said Soto, offering an example of a bipartisan bill “to take on Zika, which has ravaged the state of Florida and we appreciate your support.”

“You hear the things they talk about and the things they don’t talk about,” Crist said pointing toward the Capitol. “We have to work together for the betterment of all of us.”

Gaetz praises early learning group from House floor — Freshman Republican Rep. Gaetz praised the Thirty Million Words Initiative from the House floor last week.

“This unique partnership between our community leaders and parents of our future generation will garner a secure foundation for our children to bring stronger education and allow limitless possibilities,” Gaetz said.

Thirty Million Words is a collaborative effort by researchers from the University of Chicago and Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute that aims to educate parents of children born at Sacred Heart Hospital, Baptist Hospital and West Florida Hospital on the best practices of speech and engagement during the crucial learning stage of 0 to 3-years-old.

Gaetz said in a news release that “Northwest Florida is home to some of the brightest innovators such as Quint Studer of the Studer Community Institute.  Their commitment to our community and our future generations is highly admirable.”

Yoho issues congressional call to action in op-ed — The CD 3 Republican penned an Op-Ed deriding the U.S. Court of Appeals for upholding the restraining order on President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The third-term congressman said the judges must have “bought into the hysteria that the executive order is a ‘Muslim ban’” despite “the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam,’ or even ‘Christian’ or ‘Yazidi’” being written in the order. Yoho argues that when the judiciary oversteps its bounds, as he says it did in this case, that Congress has to act.

“Right now, we are faced with a judiciary that is endangering our country’s national security, and Congress cannot sit idly by and wait for the matter to be resolved by the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “Frankly, it’s not their job — it is the job of the political branches.”

DeSantis sees political risk unless Republicans repeal and replace ACA via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — DeSantis warned that his fellow Republicans would take a political risk in failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and settle for tweaks to the health insurance expansion.

“The system’s architecture is flawed,” the Northwest Florida Republican said during an interview on MSNBC.

“I don’t agree with Obamacare, but I just don’t think that’s going to lead to putting a downward pressure on costs,” DeSantis said. “To the extent you’re doing something that’s not really living up to what you promised, I think that runs into problems with the voters. Because Republicans would not have taken the House in 2010 and they would not have taken the U.S. Senate in 2014 if they had just run on minor tweaks to Obamacare.”

Posey, Mast form Congressional Estuary Caucus via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The caucus has pulled in at least 23 members so far including Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Bilirakis …  Democratic U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen of Washington and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Republican Frank LoBiando of New Jersey are organizing the caucus, all of whom have troubled ocean estuaries in their districts.

Posey has been pushing for help for Indian River Lagoon for years, until recently with the cosponsorships of Democratic then-U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

“Our Lagoon is important to our quality of life, our local economies, tourism, our natural beauty, and provides a critical habitat to many indigenous species of wildlife and plant life,” Posey stated … “This new caucus will help promote and protect our nation’s estuaries like the Indian River Lagoon by giving our communities a platform in Washington to educate our leaders on the important role that our estuaries play.”

Emily’s List already backing Murphy for re-election – A group that raises money to support pro-choice Democratic women candidates wasted no time in endorsing freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy for re-election in 2018.

“Since Day One in office, Representative Stephanie Murphy has been a tireless advocate for women and families in Florida,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List.

Schriock added Murphy was a “true champion for American values,” and pointed to her opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Schriock was also on board for Murphy’s expanding education opportunities and her pro-choice stance on abortion.

“America’s greatness is not an abstract concept to me,” Murphy said in a statement accompanying the endorsement I didn’t discover it from words on a page or lyrics in an anthem. My patriotism is the product of a life lesson instilled by U.S. service members who showed grace to desperate strangers at a time when they needed it most.”

Bilirakis hosts roundtable – The Republican held the meeting in Tarpon Springs Feb. 25 with local doctors, patient advocates, and health care industry experts.

The meeting focused on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and the group discussed priorities including lowering costs for patients, opening insurance markets across state lines and strengthening preventive care.

Gus Bilirakis hosted a roundtable in Tarpon Springs with doctors, patient advocates, and health care experts on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m grateful for their input, and I look forward to returning to work in Washington packed with the ideas and suggestions of Florida’s 12th District,” Bilirakis said after the meeting.

The roundtable follows three public listening sessions held by the congressman, which saw hundreds of frustrated constituents hound Bilirakis over Congressional Republican’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

Crist seeks delegation action on flood insurance — The Pinellas Democrat is talking flood insurance among his colleagues in the Florida Congressional Delegation. He has written to Vern Buchanan and Alcee Hastings, co-chairs of the delegation, requesting the “reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program” soon be a featured item at a delegation meeting.

Along with the usual risks of damage to homes and business from flooding in Florida, Crist pointed out the need to act “made all the more pressing by the threat of climate change and sea level rise.”

The ultimate goal, wrote Crist, is to find “ways we can collaborate to guarantee the final product is affordable, sustainable, and thus a win for all Floridians.”

Tweet, tweet:

Crist hosting first town hall Saturday — The freshman will hold a two-hour town hall meeting at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Student Center on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

“My number one job is to be the voice of the people — hearing from my neighbors on issues of concern, advocating for the needs of our community, and providing updates on my work on behalf of Florida’s 13th district,” the former Florida governor said.  “My constituents are my boss, and this town hall will be an open forum for Pinellas residents to share their views and priorities so I can better serve them in Washington.”

Castor chooses ACA success story as Trump address guest —  Like many of her Democratic colleagues, Tampa’s Castor chose a woman who says her life has been improved for the better because of the Affordable Care Act as her guest for Trump’s joint address to Congress … Kathy Powers, a 60-year old single parent who works two jobs and attends the University of South Florida.

Castor met Powers back in January when she initially told her story of how she was hospitalized for chest pains back in December and had to go to Tampa Community Hospital for a series of tests, where her doctors ultimately realized that she was OK. What wasn’t OK was the bill, which Powers claims were $70,000. With subsidies from the ACA, her share came out to less than $200.

“I met Kathy here over a month ago when we had a day of action to save health care, and I was quite taken aback that we had hundreds and hundreds of people here from Tampa Family health center, who just to speak up and tell their story,” Castor said. “Kathy took the mic and told her story; I told her to tell it again, and tell it to a national audience.”

Happening this weekend – Ross to host U.S. Service Academy Information Day — The Republican will host an event Saturday to educate CD 15 high school students on the appointment process to U.S. armed forces academies.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Trinkle Center at the Hillsborough Community College, Plant City Campus, with the following schools in attendance: U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Florida Southern College Army ROTC.

Buchanan returns from visit to Middle East — Republican U.S. Rep. Buchanan returned Monday from a tour of the Middle East, where he met with top military leaders as well as members of the armed forces from Florida.

“These patriots put their lives on the line, leaving their families and friends for months on end to fight for freedom,” Buchanan said. “It was a privilege to meet service members from Florida and witness firsthand their love of country.”

Buchanan went to Israel, Afghanistan and several African countries during the trip and met with Michael Oren, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister for foreign affairs and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, to talk about strengthening the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Vern Buchanan talks with Michael Oren (second from right).

In Afghanistan, Buchanan was given an overview of Afghan security and the status of counterterrorism efforts and met with Army Gen. John Nicholson, who oversees operations in the country.

During the African leg of the trip, Buchanan met with President Patrice Talon of Benin and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

Mast hosts 4-hour town hall — The freshman Republican hosted a four-hour town hall meeting on veterans’ issues Feb. 24.

The event was originally scheduled to last an hour and a half, but more than 400 people turned up and the South Florida Republican rescheduled this afternoon to hear from each constituent who wanted to speak.

“We may not always agree on every issue, but it’s critical to listen to each other and hear all sides of an issue,” Mast said. “I stayed for four hours today so that everyone who wanted an opportunity to ask a question had an opportunity to have their voice heard.  I strongly believe that there is far more that we can agree on than we disagree on.”

His office also noted that Mast has responded to more than 3,000 questions sent to his office since he was sworn in January.

F. Rooney’s staff screens questions for call-in town hall discussion via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News — Rooney, criticized by some constituents for not planning in-person town halls, held a well-structured, orchestrated call-in session with Southwest Florida residents that aides called a success.

The number of constituents joining the call could not be determined independently, but Rooney spokesman Chris Berardi said about 15,000 people were on the call.

But only a select few questions, screened by Rooney’s staff, were addressed during the call, which lasted about an hour. “How many times can you tell someone about Obamacare?” Berardi said. “You can’t answer the question more than once.”

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F. Rooney holding town halls today — The freshman lawmaker is scheduled to host two town halls in Southwest Florida on March 3, after the Naples Republican took some heat for not holding open town hall-style meeting. Rooney is due to hold a meeting at noon at the North Collier Regional Park in Naples, before traveling to Cape Coral for a second meeting at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church.

“I am looking forward to a civil and constructive dialogue with our Southwest Florida community and hearing your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions,” he said in a statement earlier in the week. “Our Nation is always at its best when we work together to find solutions to our challenges. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants every U.S. citizen the right to freedom of speech.”

Rooney was criticized for initially choosing to hold a tele-town hall, instead of a traditional town hall meeting during district workweek last week. Rooney was in Tallahassee, where he testified before a state House committee on the federal response to Everglades restoration.

Deutch, Ros-Lehtinen help relaunch task force combating wave of anti-Semitism — With the recent rise in anti-Semitic-inspired crimes, Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen have joined with a bipartisan group of colleagues bringing awareness and possible responses to the surge. They are coming together to relaunch the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism in Congress.

More than 90 threats and acts of vandalism have been made across the country since January, prompting the lawmakers to come together. Florida has seen an uptick in bomb scares and vandalism as well.

Both Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen were founding members and co-chairs of the task force when it was launched two years ago. They will again serve in that role in this Congress.

“At home and abroad, we continue to witness anti-Semitism that is both dangerous and complex,” the members said in a joint statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress to find innovative solutions that match the 21st-century face of this ancient bigotry.”

Florida ‘crossover’ congressional districts give Democrats glimmer of hope in 2018 via Florida Politics — Sabato’s Crystal Ball … gives a rundown of the 2016 cycle’s “crossover” congressional seats — districts that voted for one party on the congressional level, and another for president. There were 26 such seats in the 2012 cycle, and 2016 saw an increase to 35.

A dozen of the crossover seats sent a Democrat to Congress and backed Trump for president, while the remainder, including Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, voted a Republican into Congress while backing Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Despite the jump in crossover seats … the Clinton versus Trump election may not be an “accurate gauge” of these seats true partisan leans, and says most of the districts are “more competitive on paper than in practice.”

House Democrats tap new aide for ‘toughest job in Congress’ via Sarah Ferris of POLITICO — Shalanda Young, a 10-year veteran of the House Appropriations Committee, moves into her new role as the panel’s Democratic staff director following the retirement of David Pomerantz.

Young n ground with Republicans, particularly on the programs they helped create: “It’s easy to rail against spending until you realize that’s the Head Start center where your kid goes. That’s the art program your kid gets to go to … It’s a lot different when people see what those cuts mean.”

Young, who has a master’s degree in health from Tulane University, said she never expected to spend her career on federal appropriations, let alone become a self-described “storm-chaser.”

Florida delegation staffers implicated in IT investigation – A potential blockbuster investigation is quietly underway on Capitol Hill involving employees of Florida’s Congressional Delegation. According to Buzzfeed News, the investigation of five House information technology (IT) employees began in early February after officials were alerted to improprieties.

The U.S. Capitol Police began an investigation into possible theft of equipment and unauthorized access to House IT systems without lawmakers’ knowledge. Politico later reported that five individuals were “under criminal investigation” and immediately stripped of their access to House networks.

The subjects of the investigation worked more than 20 Congressional Democrats including Ted DeutchDebbie Wasserman SchultzFrederica Wilson, and Lois Frankel as well as former Representatives Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham.

The Daily Caller reported the “rogue congressional staffers also took $100,000 from an Iraqi politician” while they had access to the House systems.  Some of the targets no longer work for members, while at least one still serves in an advisory capacity.

Some of the staffers have been fired by a few legislators, but the Florida members have only confirmed that one of those implicated, Imran Awan, no longer works for that member (Deutch). None of the current or former legislators are under any investigation, nor are they suspected of any wrongdoing.

The Delegation Interview with Syl Lukis, Ballard Partners proconsul in D.C.

FP: Why did Ballard Partners decide to open an office in Washington, D.C. now?

SL: Ballard Partners decided to open an office in DC primarily because after President Trump won the presidency, we were overwhelmed with requests by current Florida clients with issues in DC to help them there. We were not asked to take over their operations in DC; rather, simply to enhance their lobbying teams there. Many if not most of our Florida clients lacked DC relationships with the Trump campaign. Brian, on the other hand, did. Our clients knew well that he was the President’s longtime lobbyist in FL, his FL finance chairman, and a co-chairman of President Trump’s inaugural committee. The phone started ringing November 9.

FP: What challenges do you think the firm faces as it grows and expands in the nation’s capital?

SL: The challenges that Ballard Partners face in DC are similar in nature to any new business venture: finding the professionals who can ensure a successful enterprise. I believe that we are successful in Florida because our team is substantive, knowledgeable about officials serving in government and experienced in government relations. We are not totally there yet in DC. And we clearly don’t want to be seen as the “Beverly Hillbillies” coming from FL to take over the Nation’s Capitol.

Accordingly, the challenge is to learn our way around the place and not be so bold as to think that we can be all things to all clients. We are a boutique firm primarily providing services to our clients in need of assistance in getting through red tape in the new Trump Administration. Thus, given Brian’s somewhat unique and historic position with the Trump organization and our partner Susie Wiles’ position as the FL campaign manager, our firm is familiar personally and professionally with a significant number of the individuals who will be working in the Trump administration, including several members of the cabinet and their senior staff. Therefore, our focus, at least initially, will be on assisting clients with executive branch matters. Our challenge as we grow is to institutionalize our firm in DC as we are in FL with the capability to provide a full set of legislative and executive services.

FP: When it comes to federal issues, where do you think Ballard Partners can make the biggest impact?

SL: As noted, our biggest impact on behalf of our clients will be with the executive branch. Although we have hired an experienced and well known and respected former Staff Chief to former FL Congressman Jeff Miller, Dan McFaul, our focus remains the administration. Dan was on the Defense transition team and is intimately knowledgeable about those and Veterans issues. He provides the firm with a unique skill set and will be of tremendous help with those agencies. As we grow, Dan will also be a tremendous asset to clients in need of legislative services.

FP: You’ve spent more than two decades representing Florida interests in D.C. How has the influence industry changed over the years, and what impact will the Trump administration have on the industry going forward?

SL: I spent 23 years in DC in my first incarnation there as a lobbyist and lawyer primarily representing South Florida communities. I never liked the word “influence” and always preferred “input”. I saw my role as trying to provide input into government decisions by providing detailed information about the client’s issues and desires. Typically, government workers do not have time to understand the nuances of client issues coming before them. To that extent, I do not believe that things will change that much in the Trump administration. While our firm is new there and has the good fortune of having been on the Trump team and thus may have an advantage in the early stages of his tenure, the established firms in DC will eventually find their sea legs and find their way in the new administration. The lobbying corps there are consummate professionals and exist to advocate on behalf of their clients — as they do in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

Florida House looking for summer interns — Florida’s embassy in the United States capital is now accepting applications for summer interns.

The Florida House on Capitol Hill, the only state embassy in the nation’s capital, offers internship programs for Floridians who are juniors and seniors in college. Interns get to spend six to eight weeks working at Florida House, and one day each week shadowing a Florida congressional office. Students receive a $1,000 stipend for six weeks of their time to help offset the costs associated with living in Washington, D.C.

Interested students are asked to complete an application, and send it — as well as a cover letter, resume, and one or two references — to jordan.pic@floridaembassy.com, with “Intern Application” in the subject line. Applications for the summer program are due April 1.

Florida Seaports meet with Delegation in D.C. – Representatives from seven Florida seaports made a trip to Washington, DC, to meet with the the Delegation and push seaport infrastructure improvements, security policies and freight development to the front of lawmakers’ minds.

“Florida continues to be key player in the global marketplace – there isn’t a type of cargo our seaports can’t handle,” Florida Ports Council Chairman and Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson said. “The importance of continued support of seaport infrastructure at the federal level is crucial to maintaining this momentum.”

Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, JAXPORT, PortMiami, Port Panama City, Port of Pensacola, and Port Tampa Bay each sent a representative to the meetings and were joined by Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Florida Department of Transportation officials.

The group met with Reps. Rutherford, Webster, Mario Diaz-Balart, Dunn, and T. Rooney, and Sens. Nelson and Rubio.

Florida attorney Jordan Blumenthal goes to Becker & Poliakoff – The South Florida-based law firm hired Blumenthal for its Government Law and Lobbying Practice Group in the Washington, D.C. office. He was the senior legislative assistant and counsel to former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democrat who represented the Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“We are pleased to welcome Jordan to our firm as part of our ongoing commitment to align our firm with the industry’s top professionals and meet a growing demand for our counsel in Washington,” said Gary C. Rosen, managing shareholder of the firm.

Blumenthal focuses his practice on federal lobbying, but also has experience in Florida politics.

SpottedChristopher Ruddy, a West Palm Beach resident and CEO of Newsmax, in the Oval Office on the day after President Trump’s joint address to Congress. Ruddy tweeted the president said “Many tell me best speech I ever gave.”

Spotted: Matthew Ubben, the executive director of the Florida Transportation Commission, at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing luncheon featuring Transportation Secretary Chao.

Spotted: Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman, Chair Sam Seevers (former mayor of Destin) and external affairs director Erin VanSickle in D.C. this week. Spellman also serves as Chair of America’s Service Commissions (ASC), based in DC.

Holland & Knight brings aboard Wifredo Ferrer — H&K announced Wednesday that they would bring on U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer as the new head of the Global Compliance and Investigations Team.

“Willy Ferrer is one of the most respected government officials in South Florida. He has an impeccable reputation in our profession,” said Steven Sonberg, managing partner of Holland & Knight. “We are proud that he has chosen to continue his remarkable career at Holland & Knight.”

Ferrer announced last month that he would step down as U.S. Attorney on March 3, a standard move after the White House changes political parties.

The firm said Ferrer will focus on international and domestic investigations for corporate clients, including Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters and will also use his background in health care and financial services regulation to advise companies on compliance with federal and state laws.

Cherry blossom peak bloom this year could be the earliest on record via Perry Stein of The Washington Post — A mild winter means cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin could reach peak bloom in record fashion. Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival announced the blossoms are expected to hit peak bloom between March 14 and March 17. As a result of the early bloom, the monthlong festival will begin March 15, five days earlier than planned. The festival will run through April 16.

Cherry blossoms are seen on a tree in front of the Washington Monument.

The earliest peak bloom in the city is March 15, recorded in 1990, according to National Park Service records. In 2014 and 2015, peak bloom occurred April 10 — the latest the city had seen in a decade.

“Peak bloom” refers to the point when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin are in bloom.

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I’m excited for the Tallahassee Democrat’s expanded coverage of capital politics, but…

The Florida newspapers that are part of the USA TODAY network are trumpeting their plan to offer expanded coverage of the 2017 Legislative Session.

“While some news organizations have pulled back resources from capital coverage,” a story in the Tallahassee Democrat reads, “the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida is investing in focused, in-depth reporting on the Legislature as it fashions laws and policies that will impact the lives of Floridians.”

The plan is for seven veteran reporters from the Democrat, Naples Daily News and the Treasure Coast Newspapers – Jeff Burlew, James Call, Bill Cotterell, Alexandra Glorioso, Isadora Rangel, Arek Sarkissian, and Jeff Schweers – to flood the zone’ during the Legislature’s annual lawmaking period.

“Seven journalists. One mission.” is the initiative’s mission statement.

As an occasional critic of the Democrat’s political coverage, I’m excited about this marshaling of resources. I’m particularly excited to read more from Sarkissian, who has this year turned out several must-read stories about the state’s budgeting process.

Of course this would not be blog post from me if I did not offer just a little snark…

If you’re gonna create a Justice League of political reporters to better cover the workings of the Florida Capitol, couldn’t the art team have come up with a logo that, you know, uses the Florida Capitol instead of the U.S. Capitol?

 

McAlarney

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 03.03.17

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

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

THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE

Session is coming, and Floridians are sounding off on some of the issues lawmakers could be taking up in the days and weeks ahead.

Think Floridians are clamoring for open carry? Think again. Reducing the tax on business rents might be a killer campaign promise, but few Floridians seem to support it. A tax they would like to see disappear? The tampon tax. And most Floridians are giving a thumbs up to proposals prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.

With just one week before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the Universty of North Florida surveyed Floridians on several policy and tax issues likely facing the Legislature this session.

The statewide poll of 972 registered voters was conducted by phone from Feb. 13 through Feb. 26. It has a margin of error of 3.14 percent.

So what did the survey find? Well let’s start with this: Floridians are pretty much split in what they think of the Florida Legislature. The poll found 40 percent disapproved, while 39 percent approved of the work the legislative branch it was doing. Another 21 percent of respondents said they just didn’t know.

So when it comes to the work at hand this coming session, what exactly do Floridians want? Here’s five takeaways from the recent University of North Florida poll:

Divert business rent tax to public universities

Reducing the business rent tax is an oft-mentioned priority for Gov. Rick Scott and many in the Florida Legislature. Florida is the only state in the country that has the tax, and officials say getting rid of the tax would be an economic driver.

It seems like the average Floridian, though, is giving that idea a big, old thumbs down. When asked by UNF pollsters whether they would rather have Florida “reduce the corporate lease tax” or “not reduce the tax and dedicate that money to public universities,” 44 percent of respondents said they would like the money be dedicated to public universities. Another 33 percent of said they would rather the Legislature “not reduce the tax and dedicate that money to improving infrastructure.”

Just 13 percent said they would like to see the corporate lease tax reduced.

End the tampon tax

A majority of Floridians say they support making feminine hygiene products tax exempt, according to the University of Florida poll.

A bill moving through the Florida Senate would make end eliminate the so-called tampon tax, making the Sunshine State one of just a few states in the country to make feminine products tax exempt. The quickly cleared its first two committee stops, and could be heard in the coming weeks in the full Appropriations Committee.

The UNF poll found 60 percent of Floridians supported ending the tax, while 28 percent opposed it. Another 13 percent of respondents said they didn’t know.

Little support for campus carry

When it comes to allowing concealed weapons on college and university campuses, Floridians appear to want lawmakers to just say no.

The UNF poll found 62 percent of Floridians said they opposed allowing licensed individuals from carrying concealed handguns into a college or university facility. Perhaps even more startling: 48 percent of respondents said they strongly opposed the idea. The poll found 35 percent of respondents said they supported campus carry.

Floridians also appear to be opposed to allowing the open carry, except under certain circumstances. When asked how they felt about “allowing licensed individuals to openly carry a handgun in Florida except in police stations, prisons, courthouses, schools, athletic events and establishments that dispense alcohol,” 53 percent said they opposed that idea.

The survey did, however, show that Floridians don’t want to see assault weapon ban put in place, with 50 percent saying they were opposed to that idea. Forty-six percent of respondents supported a ban.

More money for the environment

Show us the money!

That seems to be what Floridians think needs to happen when it comes to spending on protecting Florida’s environment. When asked, 55 percent of registered voters said “Florida should be spending more resources on protecting the environment,” while 27 percent said the state was spending just the right amount of money.

“Despite the fact that Floridians don’t consider environmental issues to be among the most important problems facing the state, a clear majority want the government to allocate more resources to protecting our natural environment,” said Josh Gellers, UNF assistant professor of political science, in a statement.

Four percent of respondents said they thought the Sunshine State should be spending less when it comes to the protecting the environment.

Floridians oppose discrimination based on gender identity

The UNF poll found 50 percent of Floridians said they support efforts to prohibit “employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity.”

That could be good news for backers of the Florida Competative Workforce Act. Filed in February by Sen. Jeff Clemens, and Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene Plasencia, the proposals look to protect people from discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and accommodations. These protections currently exist only on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, marital or disability status.

“By modernizing our civil rights laws, we can protect our LGBT community from discrimination, and make Florida a more competitive state in the global economy,” said Diamond in a statement at the time. “That is good for our businesses, our workers, and for all Floridians.”

According to the UNF poll, 45 percent of Floridians said they opposed prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

***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***

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON OPENLY CARRYING GUNS via The Associated Press – The Florida Supreme Court says there’s nothing wrong with a state law that bans openly carrying handguns. In a 4-2 decision Thursday, the court rejected a claim that the law is unconstitutional because it restricts the federally protected right to bear arms… Florida hasn’t allowed guns to be openly carried in public for decades, although the Legislature is considering bills this year that would grant that right. Similar bills failed last year.

DONALD TRUMP, RICK SCOTT, MARCO RUBIO EXPECTED AT GOP DONOR WEEKEND IN PALM BEACH via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – A few hundred people are expected at the Republican National Committee event at the Four Seasons. Trump, who will be spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago Club, is slated to speak at a dinner tonight. Scott will speak to a Saturday lunch and Rubio to a dinner Saturday.

SCOTT TO INVOKE TRUMP IN FLORIDA HOUSE LEADERHIP FIGHT via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – During a Republican National Committee fundraiser in Palm Beach on Friday, Gov. Scott is set to insert President Donald Trump into his messaging and legislative war with the Florida House over taxpayer-funded incentives given to businesses to relocate to Florida. “I’m sure the biggest surprise President Trump will have in his transition from business life to political life is the same surprise I had — the number of people who treat politics as a game,” Scott will say, according to excerpts provided to POLITICO Florida. “We have some in Florida’s Republican House right now that are trying to get rid of our jobs agency and our tourism agency.”

HOUSE BILL TO KILL ENTERPRISE FLORIDA INCLUDES LESSER KNOWN PROVISION CUTTING NEARLY $300M IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FUNDS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The House bill, HB 7005, includes language that would send $289 million in economic development cash to the state’s general revenue fund, meaning the money could be used for anything — not solely traditional economic development activities. The measure faces a huge hurdle in Scott, a vocal advocate of economic development spending to lure businesses to the state, but underscores the multiple avenues with which House speaker Corcoran can use to try and take a baseball bat to the swath of budget real estate Scott most covets. The biggest shift to general revenue funding comes with the elimination of three trust funds, the most significant of which is the State Economic Enhancement and Development, or SEED, trust fund. The current budget uses roughly $160 million from the trust fund, which at the end of the 2016 fiscal year had a $90 million balance.

COURT SUSPENDS JUDGE CONSIDERED BY HOUSE IMPEACHMENT PANEL via Florida Politics – A North Florida judge used as an example by a House panel looking into impeachment of public officials has been suspended for six months by the Florida Supreme Court. The court’s 46-page decision, released Thursday, also orders 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker to get a public reprimand and pay investigative costs. A judicial misconduct hearing panel had recommended the same, but only a 90-day suspension. Decker had been under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he was elected a judge in 2012. State Rep. Larry Metz, chair of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has been critical of the court for sitting on the case for over a year without taking final action.

***The State of the Taxpayer Dinner — March 8 (6-9 p.m.) — The one event in 2017 you can’t afford to miss. While the annual State of the State address and opening statements of each legislative chamber cover the accomplishments and future of our elected leadership, none specifically highlight the issues affecting taxpayers. This unique event puts the spotlight back on the taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch and Host Committee Chairman Gov. Bob Martinez present the 2017 State of the Taxpayer, the premier event for Florida’s elected leaders to discuss the issues that will impact taxpayers over the next year. The 2017 event welcomes speakers Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner Adam Putnam, Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sen. Jack Latvala, and Rep. Jim Boyd. Last year’s event sold out and just a few tickets remain for next week’s event – visit floridataxwatch.org/sotd for more info or to purchase tickets.***

JOE NEGRON SAYS FEDS WON’T BACK PLAN TO RAISE WATER LEVELS IN LAKE OKEECHOBEE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau — Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday sent a gentle push back against agriculture and other interests who are calling for alternatives to building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce the algae-causing discharges…he said he was in Washington, D.C. on Monday and Tuesday and met with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson… Here’s Negron’s synopsis: “Once the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation is complete in 2024, the Army Corps of Engineers is not committed to storing one more gallon of water in Lake Okeechobee.  The LORS must go through a multi-year review process, with the Corps predicting only negligible modifications to the release schedule.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters will unveil landmark legislation to protect and restore Florida’s beaches during a press conference at 4 p.m. at Lowdermilk Beach Park, 1301 Gulfshore Boulevard North in Naples.

AIF ANNOUNCES 2017 LEGISLATIVE SESSION PRIORITIES via Florida Politics – Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) on Thursday released its “2017 Session Priorities” publication, outlining its legislative agenda on behalf of its members for the 2017 Legislative Session. “As the collective voice of businesses from the Panhandle to the Keys, …we are proud to continue the fight to protect Florida’s job creators,” AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney said. “Each year, Florida’s business community faces a variety of tough issues and this year will be no exception.” … The business lobby expects to see numerous legislative proposals that revolve around Gov. Rick Scott’s $83.5 billion budget proposal for FY 2017-18, including $618 million in tax cuts and $85 million for economic incentives to businesses.

SADOWSKI COALITION SEEKS FULL FUNDING FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN STATE BUDGET via Florida Politics – Affordable housing advocates urged the Legislature Thursday to spend all of the state’s dedicated housing money for its intended purpose, saying that more than 910,000 Floridians pay more than half their income for shelter. Representatives of the Sadowski Housing Coalition … appeared during a news conference to make their case. One doesn’t even need to be poor to have trouble arranging shelter. In Collier County, for example, the rent is too high for some people in well-paying professions including nursing. “If a person is making what you consider to be a good income here in Tallahassee, where they might be able to find housing fairly easily, they’re not able to with that same profession in Collier County,” said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

DEFY ME AND I’LL JAIL YOU, JUDGE IN FACEBOOK LIVE HANGING CASE TELLS LAWYER via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – A Miami child welfare judge is threatening to jail a lawyer for the Florida Department of Children & Families, suggesting in a strongly worded order that agency attorneys lied to her about the welfare of foster children who may have witnessed a teenager hanging herself at their Miami Garden’s foster home. The suicide was live-streamed on Facebook. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia ordered Clarissa Cabreja, the state’s regional child welfare legal director, to appear before her March 8. More generally, the order requires “CLS,” a reference to DCF’s Children’s Legal Services, to appear in court “to show cause why they should not be held in indirect civil contempt of court.” In her order, Sampedro-Iglesia, who heads the court’s child welfare division, wrote that the failure of Cabreja “to appear at the hearing may result in the court issuing a writ of bodily attachment for your arrest. If you are arrested,” Sampedro-Iglesia added, “you may be held in jail up to 48 hours before a hearing is held.” The warning was written entirely in uppercase lettering.

REVIEW OF 250 REPORTS BY DCF INVESTIGATORS ACCUSED OF LYING SHOWS 40 PERCENT FALSIFIED via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Caseworkers at the Florida Department of Children and Families are being forced to shoulder nearly unbelievable workloads, leading some to falsify records … A single child protection investigator in the (DCF) had at one point 32 cases with 77 accompanying children. the average caseload for DCF investigators is currently between 18 to 21. The state agency tasked with overseeing child welfare in the Sunshine State gave the ABC News Channel 9 Investigates team – which carried out an examination of DCF employee record falsifications … records indicating 59 employees had been terminated since sometime in 2014. One former DCF investigator … had 34 cases at one time during a particularly busy point before he was arrested for falsifying reports in portions of some of his investigations. At the time of the arrest, he told Jones, there were 24 open cases involving 36 children.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Jim BoxoldDean Izzo, Capital City Consulting: VE Group

Matt Brockelman, Southern Strategy Group: GCM Contracting Solutions

Donovan Brown, GDB Group, Associated Industries of Florida

Larry Cretul, Kirk Pepper, Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: Gannett Fleming

Brian BallardChris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: Wendover Housing Partners

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersol & Rooney: Universal City Development Partners, LTD dba Universal Orlando

Lisa Hurley, Smith Bryan & Myers: Okeechobee Utility Authority

Corrine Mixon, Mixon & Associates: Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects

Manny Reyes, Gomez Barker Associates: Miami Dade Citizens for Property Rights

HAPPENING TONIGHT – Quorum, the not-too-political happy hour, returns to St. Petersburg. As one of Tampa Bay’s premier casual networking events, Quorum features candidates, operatives, media and political enthusiasts of all stripes. The get-together will start with 5 p.m. hors d’oeuvres at its customary location: Cassis American Brasserie on Beach Drive. More information is on this Facebook event page.

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