Peter Archives - Page 6 of 106 - Florida Politics

Why is a pro pot lawyer advocating a denial of access to medical marijuana?

If you are part of the NORML crowd, you probably know Mike Minardi.

He is kind of a thing in the world of weed and, frankly, being a pro-marijuana attorney has become his calling card.

Minardi is on the board, listed as “Legal Director,” of NORML of Florida. He is part of CannaMoms and the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” are ALL OVER his firm website.

Heck, the site is even colored green.

So, what’s the deal with Minardi now?

Last week he was speaking at the Florida Cannabis Coalition Green Carpet event in Sarasota (see, I told you he is a big deal) and Mike — the pro-pot, pro-legalization lawyer who is even pushing a constitutional amendment to make the stuff 100 percent legal — is now advocating that we stop the sale of medical marijuana in Florida.

Crazy, right?  His exact words were: “I do support moratoriums. Um … moratoriums are good for us right now …”

Say what?  Right NOW? Is there some business advantage you see in stopping the sale of medical cannabis?

His logic, if you can call it that, appears to be that by stopping access to medical marijuana now that somehow it will give him and his unnamed but repeatedly mentioned “clients” some unspecified advantage later.

What about the people he supposedly wants to help have access to marijuana? Why stop them from having access?

I don’t understand where he is coming from.

Here is more from Minardi:

“ … we can be able to go in there and have an equal opportunity to these nurseries that can open up as many dispensaries as they want throughout the state right now, in order to have that equal access, because they’re not going into areas where there are moratoriums right now and opening places up …”

OK, I still don’t really understand, but those are his exact words; I wouldn’t want anyone to think I took him out of context.

Are his clients the other license applicants who did not make the cut? (Shame on him.)

Are they people who don’t qualify under Amendment 2? (Way to sell out sick patients who sure could use a break.)

Does it matter?

It is blatantly disingenuous (IMHO) for someone who hails himself — often and loudly — as a pro-marijuana advocate to publicly support shutting down access to patients who desperately need access to medical marijuana.

But it gets worse.

This is the same Minardi who went on ABC Action News in Tampa and blamed the board of medicine for — I swear he said this — “continuing to prevent access for patients in Florida who are suffering and dying.”

It’s kind of like those evil doctors support a moratorium or something.

Sunburn for 3.2.17 – Putnam, Latvala post monster $ totals; Legg not running; CRC picks; Poll has Scott up on Leg.

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

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

ADAM PUTNAM, JACK LATVALA POST MONSTER MONTHLY FUNDRAISING TOTALS

The shadow campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is well underway.

With 544 days until the August 2018 primary, it’s still might be a little too early endless handshaking, baby kissing and everything that goes into retail politicking. (Well unless you are Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the only person officially in the Governor’s race so far.)

But it is never too early for the oft-mentioned likely contenders — including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala — to begin testing the waters, raising a little campaign cash along the way.

And that push to see who can raise the most has already begun, something clearly evident this week when both Putnam and Latvala released February fundraising figures ahead of the March 10 deadline.

In an email Wednesday, Florida Grown chairman Justin Hollis told supporters the political committee, which is expected to fuel Putnam’s gubernatorial bid, raised more than $2.25 million in February. If accurate, that would be one of the largest monthly fundraising totals posted by the committee since it was created in 2015.

Florida Grown does post contribution data on its website; and according to the site, the committee raised at least $538,170 between Feb. 1 and Feb. 16. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, the committee hadn’t listed contributions covering the final 12 days of the month.

Latvala’s committee is also touting a strong February. According to contribution data posted to its website this week, Florida Leadership Committee raised at least $870,083 during the one-month period. Campaign insiders expect the sum to be more than $1 million when final numbers are calculated and reported to the state later this month.

A prolific fundraiser, the February numbers would also mark one of the largest month fundraising totals the committee has reported since 2013. By comparison, the committee raised $487,625 in February 2015.

If Putnam and Latvala can raise this much money in just 28 days, how much can they pull in as the months get longer and the anticipation greater?

HOW ANDREW GILLUM’S ROLLOUT PLAYED – Palm Beach PostTallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum: ‘I’m running for governor’ – “Gillum posted on Facebook … with a link to his video, which stresses his upbringing as the son of a municipal bus driver.” Washington PostThe 2018 Florida governor’s race just got its first serious candidate– “Gillum plans to pitch himself as the progressive in the primary race.” South Florida Sun-SentinelAndrew Gillum declares candidacy, Donald Trump gives coherent speech – “’Bring it home’ … one part biography, one part inspiration and a complete attempt to hit sentimental voters right in the feels.” Sunshine State NewsAndrew Gillum Officially Declares Run for Governor – “Gillum’s campaign has already faced bumps in the road, since the video was professionally produced before he officially filed for governor … Under Florida law, candidates cannot accept potential contributions until they’ve opened a campaign account.” Orlando SentinelAndrew Gillum says he’ll run for governor in 2018 – “But Gillum, who was elected mayor in 2014, comes from the state’s isolated capital city, nestled in a sparsely populated news media market.”  Orlando WeeklyTallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is running for Florida governor – “Nothing about my background suggest[s] I should even dream, let alone think about running for Governor. And yet, here we are.” Miami HeraldTallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum to announce for Florida governor – “Gillum … has been viewed as a rising star in a party that is clamoring for relevance after Donald Trump’s win in November.”

GILLUM’S LAUNCH VIDEO (Click on the image below to watch the vid):

RGA DEMANDS GILLUM DISCLOSE ENTIRETY OF IMPROPER CAMPAIGN EMAILS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The Republican Governors Association wasted no time in its counterstrike on Tallahassee Mayor and new Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gillum … after it was discovered he used city email to conduct campaign business … the RGA hit back at Gillum, filing a public records request to find out just how many times Gillum had improperly communicated using a campaign email address on taxpayers’ dime. The request comes after the Tallahassee Democrat reported that Gillum had used city tax dollars to blast out emails for his newly-minted gubernatorial campaign. One email included Gillum’s campaign logo and campaign post office box address. Another included an invitation to an event featuring former Vice President Joe Biden in Tallahassee.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine will speak at the Palm Beach Democratic Party Meeting at 7 p.m. at the S. County Civic Center, 16700 Jog Road in Delray Beach.

SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES OPPOSE LENNY CURRY FOR CFO JOB OVER LGBTQ PROTECTION via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – The Florida Family Policy Council … told its members to call Gov. Scott and demand he stop considering Jacksonville Republican Mayor Curry for the CFO’s job … Their opposition has nothing to do with financial experience. The council has advocated loudly against rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Florida, and that’s why they oppose Curry’s possible appointment. As mayor, Curry last month allowed an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents to go into effect in Jacksonville. But there’s more to the story than just that. “Lenny’s refusal to veto the deceptive and unconstitutional “Human Rights Ordinance” (HRO) in Jacksonville puts women and children in danger by allowing men to use women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms in domestic violence shelters and in other nonprofit charities with residential facilities,” the council, headed by attorney John Stemberger, wrote in a call to action for its members.

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IT’S OFFICIAL: JOHN LEGG NOT RUNNING IN 2018 via Florida Politics – “After 12 years my family and I need a break,” he said. “Also, I am enjoying working on education issues and innovation both national and statewide. I feel like I can make a bigger difference in education right now outside of the Florida Legislature. However, that may change in time.” Many pondered whether Legg was considering in 2018 in Senate District 16, the seat currently held by Sen. Jack Latvala. Legg backed during the contentious leadership battle, and Legg indicated in the past the north Pinellas seat was one of several options he had been considering. But Legg said there is no state race in his immediate future, saying “we are not running in 2018.”

HAPPENING TONIGHT:

DAVID SMITH FILES TO RUN IN HD 28 via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Smith, 56, of Winter Springs, is a retired Marine Corps colonel and former director of the Marines simulation and modeling center in the University of Central Florida’s Research Park. He ran against then-U.S. Rep. John Mica in the 2014 Republican primary, finishing second … Smith is the second candidate to enter the race for [JasonBrodeur’s seat, following 19-year-old Devin Guillermo Perez, a Democrat.

2 PINELLAS REPUBLICANS ANNOUNCE 2018 HD 66 RACES – Pinellas County Republican Party chairman Nick DiCeglie confirmed he will be running for the House District 66 seat in 2018, and will make a formal announcement sometime this spring …  The seat is currently occupied by Larry Ahern, who is term limited out in 2018. The news comes as another Republican, former Pinellas County assistant state attorney Berny Jacques, announced that he is running for the HD 66 seat next year. Jacques works in private practice with the St. Petersburg law firm of Berkowitz and Myer.

VANCE ALOUPIS FILES TO RUN FOR HD 115 SEAT – Aloupis, CEO of The Children’s Movement of Florida, has filed to run for the seat held by Rep. Michael Bileca, who will be term-limited. Aloupis, 33, practiced law for several years after graduating from the University of Miami and the University Miami School of Law … In 2010, he joined The Children’s Movement, where he now serves as the CEO. Through his leadership, Aloupis has built support for smart investments in early education and common sense policies that will ensure a competitive workforce in Florida.

FORMER LAWMAKERS REGGIE FULLWOOD, DWIGHT BULLARD FINED FOR CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS via Florida Politics –The Florida Elections Commission found Tuesday that former state Rep. Reggie Fullwood had committed 17 violations of Florida’s campaign financial disclosure rules and fined him $1,000 on each count. … The case involved failure to disclose more than $17,000 in contributions to Fullwood’s 2014 campaign, and contributions worth more than $13,000.  Additionally, his bank records showed $2,600 in expenditures not reflected in his campaign documents, according to the commission’s legal staff. … Fullwood did not appear during the hearing. On Feb. 7, he was sentenced to time served and house arrest on federal wire fraud and tax charges. Also on Tuesday, the commission imposed a $1,000 fine on former state Sen. Dwight Bullard for failure to file a campaign disclosure form on time. Bullard also skipped the hearing.

***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.***

FIRST ON FLORIDAPOLITICS.COM – RICK SCOTT PICKS CARLOS BERUFF AS CRC CHAIRMAN; JEFF WOODBURN NAMED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR via Florida Politics — Gov. Scott announced Wednesday that Beruff, the Manatee Republican homebuilder who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, will serve as chairman of the Constitution Revision Commission. “My goal for the CRC is to fight for policies that will ensure a strong future for Florida and I know Carlos also shares this vision,” he said in a statement. “As we undertake this historic review, I am hopeful that this Commission will propose policies that build a legacy upon which the families and businesses in our great state will thrive for generations to come.” … Scott tapped​ Woodburn, currently the Policy Director in the Executive Office of the Governor, as the executive director.

HEARING that among Scott’s 15 picks for the CRC will be Tim Cerio, Brecht Heuchan, and former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

ARTHENIA JOYNER VOWS TO FIGHT JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS via Jim Ash of WFSU – On  the Constitution Revision Commission … [RichardCorcoran’s lieutenants are expected to push judicial term limits, but newly appointed Commissioner Joyner will fight it every step of the way. “I have always believed in the three, independent separate branches of government and the court’s job is to interpret the laws and that’s what they do. And I will stand up for that because that’s why we have this great system of checks and balances.”

OFF EMBARGO – POLL: SCOTT MORE POPULAR THAN THE LEGISLATURE – As Gov. Scott steels himself for a Session showdown with the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature, he got some good news from a new poll. A University of North Florida survey shows that, among registered voters in Florida, Scott is more popular than the legislative branch. 46 percent of those surveyed approve of Scott, with 40 percent disapproving. Scott’s strength is with Republicans, according to the UNF poll; 74 percent approve of the Governor, compared to 24 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of NPAs. Meanwhile, the Legislature sees that same mark of disapproval, but only 39 percent approval. The approval numbers for the Legislature, asserted UNF polling director Michael Binder, were a “surprise … a very positive number for them compared to most polling on Congress.”

FLORIDA INSIDER POLL PREDICTS RICHARD CORCORAN TO DOMINATE STATE POLITICS FOR NEXT TWO MONTHS via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – As we head into another legislative session … Corcoran looms over virtually other public official in the state. In a Florida Insider Poll of nearly 180 of the state’s most experienced and plugged-in political players, a whopping 71 percent predicted the 51-year-old Land O’Lakes Republican would dominate the session, while only 12 percent touted Gov. Scott and 9 percent Senate President Negron … Given the overt animosity between Scott and Corcoran and with both men interested in running for statewide office in 2018, the Florida Insiders are highly pessimistic about what’s in store.

SMELLS LIKE AN OPPO DUMP FROM GOV’S SHOP – HOUSE MEMBER OPPOSES STATE BUSINESS INCENTIVES — BUT GOT PUBLIC DOLLARS FOR JOB CREATION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – State Rep. Alex Miller has joined House leaders in opposing Gov. Scott’s push for giving taxpayer-funded incentives for businesses statewide, even though the Sarasota lawmaker’s own company has taken advantage of a county grant for creating a few dozen new local jobs. In 2013, Mercedes Medical, a Sarasota-based medical device company run by Miller, who is CEO, was awarded an economic development grant of up to $111,000 by neighboring Manatee County. Her company is eligible to get the full funding if it achieves certain performance metrics, including the creation of 47 jobs. The company is currently in the middle of that deal, which was finalized in February 2014. “Let me just say, I have no problem with incentives,” she [said]. “I put my business owner hat on and I do what is right for my employees and shareholders, and I will take incentives because it helps my company … When I put my state representative hat on, I have to do what is in the best interest of the state.”

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

SENATE: HIGHER WORKERS’ COMP RATES HERE TO STAY via Jim Ash of WUSF – Republican Rob Bradley of Fleming Island says his goal is rate stabilization. Employer groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce are demanding action after rates soared 14.5 percent in December in the wake of recent Florida Supreme Court decisions. But Bradley says the Senate is unwilling to cut health benefits, and rate reductions are too much to expect. “Our workers’ comp system is kind of middle of the pack when it comes to the rate levels and they’ve been reduced significantly over the years.”

JEFF BRANDES PUSHES FOR SWEEPING BUSINESS DEREGULATION via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Jeff Brandes is trying for the second year in a row to remove or reduce a series of regulations on industries like architecture, interior design and landscape architecture. Under a bill Brandes plans to file this week, interior design and architecture firms would no longer have to re-certify businesses on a biennial basis. Instead, the businesses would be required to report any changes as they occur and remain in compliance with other applicable state laws following staffing changes. Branch offices for yacht and shipbrokers would no longer require separate licensing under Brandes’ bill. Instead, those offices would operate under the company’s license. Another provision deregulates athlete agents and removes penalties for acting as a business agent without a license or permit. The bill would also remove licensing requirements for certain cosmetic services including polishing fingernails and hair or body wrapping.

GEORGE GAINER WARY OF HOUSE TRIUMPH BILL via Tom McLaughlin of the Panama City News-Herald – An amendment to a proposed Florida House bill would eliminate one aspect of oversight for the Triumph Gulf Coast board selected to allocate Northwest Florida’s share of BP funds. But the same amendment, put forth by Rep. Jay Trumbull … would allow the board “to provide grants to Visit Florida to promote tourism.” State Sen. Gainer said he’s been left in the dark by Northwest Florida House members about why a provision added to the proposed bill included any mention of Visit Florida. “Why would Visit Florida not be good enough to receive funding from the state of Florida, but putting BP money into it would be more acceptable?” Gainer asked last week after Trumbull introduced the concept of Visit Florida grants at a Select Committee meeting.

DOROTY HUKILL WANTS STUDY OF SCHOOL FUNDING via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools  – Sen. Dorothy Hukill, who heads the Senate Education Committee, filed legislation that would instruct the Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability to conduct a study of a component of the state’s K-12 education funding formula. The proposal (SB 1394) would require a study of what is known as the “district cost differential” — long an issue in the state’s formula for distributing money to school districts … The district cost differential is designed to consider variances in costs of living across the state, but critics have questioned its fairness.

GREG STEUBE FILES ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION CRIMINALIZATION MEASURE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The bill … would create a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison. The proposal would apply to anyone who “is denied admission to, is excluded, deported or removed from, or who departs the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding and thereafter enters or is at any time found in the state.” It creates an exception for those who can show that the federal government “consents to his or her admission or the person can establish that federal law does not require advance consent,” the bill says.

NURSING EDUCATION BILL STARTS MOVING IN HOUSE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools  – Republican Rep. Cary Pigman and Sen. Denise Grimsley are again carrying legislation (HB 543 and SB 328) to address “problem” nursing programs. When Grimsley was still in the House in 2009, she successfully started a process to increase the number of nursing schools and slots in nursing schools in response to a growing looming nursing shortage with HB 1209. The committee agreed to pass Pigman’s new bill which, among several provisions, prevents nursing programs terminated by the Board of Nursing from reapplying for approval for three years and requires programs put on probation to notify its students and applicants of its status in writing. Grimsley’s similar bill has yet to get a committee hearing.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS:Rep. Bob Cortes; Sen. Victor TorresAnthony Suarez, President of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida and others will convene at Acacia-Centro Borinqueño to announce a joint resolution acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship in 1917. Event begins 1 p.m. at 1865 N. Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando.

***Capital City Consulting, LLC is a full-service government and public affairs firm located in Tallahassee, Florida. At Capital City Consulting, our team of professionals specialize in developing unique government relations and public affairs strategies and delivering unrivaled results for our clients before the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch Agencies. Capital City Consulting has the experience, contacts and winning strategies to help our clients stand out in the capital city. Learn more at www.capcityconsult.com.***

FEDS MAY NOT HAVE APPROVED NEW SEMINOLE COMPACT via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The nation’s top Indian gambling regulator last year told the Seminole Tribe of Florida that the federal government would be “hard-pressed” to approve its new blackjack agreement with the state. The Tribe disclosed the June 2016 letter from Paula L. Hart, director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Indian Gaming, as an attachment to its own letter this week to Gov. Scott and legislative leaders. The Hart letter also confirmed a warning that Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel, gave three years ago. The Interior Department later interpreted the law to mean that a tribe may give a cut to a state in return for exclusive rights to a game, but the amount a tribe pays has to be a “fair value” for the exclusivity it’s getting, he said.

SEMINOLE TRIBE LETTER: BOTH GAMING BILLS STINK via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist – In a letter addressed to Gov. Scott, Senate President Negron, and House Speaker Corcoran, the Seminole Tribe of Florida says that neither the House nor Senate gaming bills are acceptable. “While the Tribe appreciates the efforts that have been devoted to developing these proposals, neither would satisfy the requirements of federal law, nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns,” wrote Marcellus Osceola, Jr., Chairman of the Seminole Tribe … both the House and Senate bills would require “dramatic increases in the Tribes payments” to the state “without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity” that would justify the higher revenue payments. Under the current Compact, negotiated by Governor Rick Scott in 2015, the Tribe agreed to pay the State of Florida up to $3 billion over seven years. But the Florida Legislature declined to ratify that agreement. The letter also asserts that the House bill is “less objectionable” than the Senate bill in that it does not propose any new exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity agreements, and the Tribe claims that the Senate bill represents an expansion of gaming.

TRIBE BUYS FORMER TRUMP TAJ MAHAL CASINO IN NJ via Florida Politics – The Seminole Tribe of Florida is expanding its gambling holdings to the Garden State. Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, Wednesday announced it had bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk from billionaire Carl Icahn. The deal includes two New Jersey investors. The sale comes four months after Icahn closed it amid a crippling strike. A sale price was not disclosed. President Donald Trump opened the casino in 1990 but lost control of it in a bankruptcy filing.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Sadowski Housing Coalition will hold a press conference to call on the Florida Legislature to appropriate all housing trust fund dollars for housing in fiscal 2017-18 at 10:30 a.m. at the Florida Realtors Office, 200 S. Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT BUILDING EIGHT NEW SOLAR PLANTS via Florida Politics – FPL expects plants in Alachua, Putnam, Indian River and DeSoto counties to be completed by the end of 2017, with plants in Brevard, Hendry, St. Lucie counties and a second plant in Indian River County scheduled to come online by March 1, 2018. The company said the new plants will cost $900 million to build and will use 2.5 million solar panels. Once completed, FPL said the plants will generate enough energy to power about 120,000 homes, saving customers an estimated $39 million over their lifetime. The plan was lauded by environmental groups The Nature Conservatory and Audubon Florida as well as from economic development agencies and local politicians from the areas where the plants are being built.

STATE AGENTS ARREST INSURANCE COMPANY MANAGER FOR ALLEGED $1M FRAUD via Florida Politics – An investigation by the state Division of Investigative and Forensic Services has resulted in the arrest of an insurance company manager for allegedly defrauding her employer of more than $1 million. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater identified the accused as Jennifer Summerlott, an accounts-payable and commercial lines manager for Fairway Insurance Group LLC of Fort Lauderdale. … Summerlott used fake invoices to generate checks tied to Fairway’s company account, which she diverted to her private account, Atwater said.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Thur., 3/2/17 Gainesville Infant Circumcision Protesters”

***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.***

FIRST IN SUNBURN – 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.

APPOINTEDJose “Ernie” MartinezThomas DeLillaAndree AubreyFrank CherryRobert CoxSara GaverTasha TurnerNicole Attong and Whitney Harris to the Florida Independent Living Council.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Anita BerryMatt BlairMichael CorcoranJeffrey JohnstonAmanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Southeast QSR, LLC

Taylor Patrick Biehl, Capitol Alliance Group: Codio Ltd.; Medishine Resources LLC, Made in Space Inc.

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Florida International University Foundation

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Galt View Apartments, Inc; Regency Tower Association, Inc.; Shore Drive Apartments Inc.

Dean Cannon, Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: The Florida Bar, Tax Section

James Card, Larry J. Overton & Associates: DentaQuest

David Childs, Hopping Green & Sams: Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida

Jon Costello, Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: The Humane Society of the United States

Carlos Cruz, Cruz & Company: Association for Accessible Medicines

Angela Drzewiecki, Peebles & Smith, Inc: City of Mount Dora; The Trust for Public Land

David Ericks, Ericks Consultants: Quidel Corporation

Christopher Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: Arcadia Healthcare Company; Florida Harbor Pilots Association, Inc.; Veyo

John Forehand, Kurkin Brandes: Pompano Imports, Inc; South Motor Company of Dade County

Thomas Griffin, Smith BryAn & Myers: Health Network One/HN1

James Hamilton, HBEC Group: Florida Association of School Administrators; Santa Rosa County School District; School Board of Escambia County

BILL Helmich, Helmich Consulting: OUR MicroLending

Doug Holder, The Legis Group: Duke Energy Florida, Inc.

Jessica JanasiewiczGary Rutledge, Rutledge Ecenia: Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects

Frank MayernickTracy MayernickRob Johnson, The Mayernick Group: Columbia Care, LLC

Seth McKeel, Southern Strategy Group: City of Lakeland; Dex Imaging Inc.

Georgia McKeown, GA McKeown & Associates: Global Automakers

Chris Moya, Jones Walker: Florida House Experience

Jack Eugene Nicholson, Catastrophe Risk Consultings: Florida Chamber of Commerce

Peter Murray, Colodny Fass: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

Ron PierceEdward BriggsNatalie King, RSA Consulting Group: Mobilitie Services, LLC

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: Renovate America, Inc.

Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: Dex Imaging Inc.

William Rubin, The Rubin Group: Acadia Healthcare Company, Inc.; Argus Dental & Vision, Inc.;

Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: City of Hollywood

Robert Schenck, The Legis Group: DeLucca Enterprises

Jeff Sharkey, Capitol Alliance Group: Made in Space; Medishine Resources LLC

Chris Snow, Snow Strategies: All American Kids PPEC, LLC

James Randolph Spratt: CAS Governmental Services: Florida Federation of Fairs

Craig Deron Varn, Manson Bolves Donaldson: Plants of Ruskin

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Collective medical technologies

SPOTTED: #SuitsForSession collection boxes starting to pop up at agencies and associations downtown to collect clothing in preparation for the big day on March 15. Learn more here and don’t forget to donate on March 15.

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

SPEAKING IN TALLAHASSEETIMOTHY GEITHNER SEES POLITICAL GRIDLOCK AS A THREAT TO THE UNITED STATES via Florida Politics – The biggest danger to the United States and its economy is the breakdown of the political system in Washington, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in Tallahassee Wednesday. “Nothing is more important than improving the quality of the decisions you get in Washington,” Geithner told members of the Economic Club of Florida during a luncheon. … “We have no capacity to think about those other threats from outside without taking care first of that fundamental part of the American system,” he said.

BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS THE OLD ATTRACTIONS OF FLORIDA, DISAPPEARING FAST via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s version of Stonehenge, the Airstream Ranch, was being torn down. The Airstream Ranch, a line of shiny silver travel trailers buried nose down in the dirt like the famed Cadillac Ranch out west, was one of those classically kitschy Florida attractions. Now, Matt Strollo of RV Superstores, which owns the property, says it’s time to replace the Airstream Ranch with a 17,000-square-foot Airstream dealership. The dealership’s footprint, says Strollo, made saving the display impossible. A few of the old classics are still around, like the Monkey Jungle in Miami and Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. Some became state parks, such as Weeki Wachee Springs, which makes Florida the only state where the list of government jobs includes “mermaid.” With the price of Disney tickets skyrocketing, maybe we’ll get some of the old ones back soon.

SEAWORLD POSTS $12 MILLION LOSS AMID ATTENDANCE DROP via the Tampa Bay Times – The Orlando-based company lost $11.9 million in the last quarter of 2016, up from $11 million lost in the fourth quarter of 2015. Overall, fourth quarter attendance was down by about 30,000 visitors, or just under 1 percent, with the company attributing the decline to the impact of Hurricane Matthew in October and a drop in international attendance.

STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL KICKS OFF via Jon Wilson of the Tampa Bay Reporter – Running through March 12, the festival will once again be held on the event’s property at  2209 Oak Ave. in Plant City and feature 24 headline entertainment artists, a midway, youth livestock shows and plenty of strawberry shortcake. Gates will open daily at 10 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. with admission costing $10 for ages 13 and over and $5 for children ages 6-12. Children under five get in for free with a paid adult admission. Festival-goers can purchase discounted admission tickets in advance at select Publix grocery stores. The theme for this year’s festival is “We’re Playing Your Song” and Drew Knottswill serve as the 2017 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Florida Hospital’s David Christian, smart guy Ralph Lair, Adrianna Sekula, Sally West, and our contributors Roseanne Dunkelberger and Steve Kurlander. Celebrating today are Rep. Manny Diaz and our courageous friend and fraternity brother James Miller.

With push to legalize marijuana, teens get false impression on pot safety

A push to decriminalize marijuana could prove a slippery slope, by giving kids the false impression on the safety of a drug increasingly legal nationwide.

Some believe a similar problem could happen in Florida, especially after voters passed Amendment 2, which began the process of legalizing medical marijuana throughout the Sunshine State.

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found as more states legalize the drug for adult use, a greater number of teenagers think it is safe. This is leading to concerns by doctors and other medical professionals that teens are underestimating the risks of marijuana use.

“Marijuana is not a benign drug for teenagers because it affects their developing mind. Teenagers are at a critical time of brain development and they have lifelong impacts from marijuana during adolescence,” Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University Medical Center told Chris Martinez of CBS New York.

In “Counseling Parents and Teens About Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana” the report outlines dangers of portraying pot as acceptable, safe and therapeutic.

For example, in California and the 28 other states (including Florida) allowing either medical or recreational marijuana use for adults over 21, pediatricians are worrying that parents using the drug think it’s OK for kids.

However, research shows that is not the case. Teenagers who use marijuana face higher risks of changes in the brain regions that affect both memory and IQ.

These concerns have now reached Washington D.C., as newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to marijuana use after a meeting with the Nebraska attorney general, who expressed concerns about marijuana flowing in from Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012.

Huffington Post reports that Sessions offered an ominous warning about state-level marijuana legalization efforts, suggesting such policies would open states to “more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

For years, Nebraska has pushed back against its neighboring state’s marijuana laws.

In 2014, Nebraska joined Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit against Colorado to invalidate its emerging laws permitting the sale of recreational marijuana; both states claim those laws have increased trafficking of the drug in their states.

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

Last week, Sessions’ comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who hinted there would be a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana in the Trump administration.

Spicer noted concerns by marijuana policy reform advocates, saying there would be a possibility of “greater enforcement” of federal laws.

Health advocacy group Smart Medicine for Florida sees a similar problem emerging in the Sunshine State, after the passage of Amendment 2.

“There’s been significant national focus and reports all over the country this week about the danger of unrestrained marijuana expansion,” says Smart Medicine for Florida spokesman Brian Hughes. “This includes serious warnings from doctors to parents about the effects of marijuana on their teenagers, and the perception that teens now have that marijuana is safe due to broad legalization efforts across the country.”

Smart Medicine for Florida is urging state lawmakers to “proceed cautiously” when implementing Amendment 2 statewide.

“Some voices are pushing for rapid expansion at the risk of Floridians — especially young people,” Hughes says in a statement. “It’s nothing more than a bait and switch — Floridians voted for medical marijuana with proper safeguards, but proponents are pursuing a goal to see Florida become a ‘recreational use’ state. “

Smart Medicine warns of those who have a dream to turn Florida into California or Colorado — places with legal recreational marijuana — with a pot shop on every corner.

That would be “dangerous,” Hughes says, “and not what voters supported.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Maybe a little bit better?

It’s a favorite question in the Capitol around week 2 of a Legislative Session: When are we getting allocations?

For the uninitiated, allocations are the large portions of money that go to each budget subcommittee to fund the various parts of state government.

“We’re in the early stages of session,” Senate President Joe Negron said this week. “I know that we’re getting to a point where we can start making those decisions. But I don’t think we’ve made a decision on timing yet.”

He added that the Senate is “going to have a tax cut package,” including his plan to cut the communications service tax and pay for it by repealing a tax subsidy to insurers.

But Friday’s newest revenue estimate was cold comfort to 2017-18 budget writers: There’ll be roughly $115 million more than previously forecast — not a lot in the context of an $80 billion-plus state budget.

“They’re going to end up maybe a little bit better than what we were contemplating in September,” legislative chief economist Amy Baker said. “But it’s not materially different.”

Meantime, the House released its “bad-case and worst-case scenarios” also this week.

As Florida Politics’ Michael Moline reported, the state could “pay hospitals less to treat poor people. The state would build less affordable housing. There’d be fewer prosecutors and public defenders. (And) museums, historical preservation, and economic development would be slashed.”

That sure ain’t rosy. Stay tuned…

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:

Death penalty debate — State Attorney Aramis Ayala created an uproar this week when she announced her office would no longer seek the death penalty in cases, including the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd. The reaction was swift, with lawmakers and law enforcement officers alike criticizing her for her decision. Rep. Bob Cortes said he was outraged and said she owed the people “an explanation for this appalling decision.” Gov. Rick Scott called on Ayala to recuse herself, saying she “made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.” When Ayala didn’t recuse herself, Scott yanked her from the Loyd case and reassigned it to Lake County State Attorney Brad King. The incident came just days after Scott signed the 2017 death penalty fix into law.

Ad war — Gov. Scott’s battle with the Florida House is coming to a television screen near you. The governor’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, released a 30-second TV ad this week, hitting “politicians in Tallahassee” over their decision to go after Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. “The politicians are wrong,” the Naples Republican says in the advertisement. “There’s not a job that’s expendable. Every job’s important. Florida will compete.” The ad, which is expected to start running statewide next week, was released as Scott took part in a roundtable discussion with business, economic development and tourism leaders in Sarasota about the importance of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Earlier in the week, Scott held a rally at the Florida Capitol to call on lawmakers to fully fund Visit Florida.

Stand Your Ground — The Florida Senate voted 25-15 to approve a bill this week that shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors during the pre-trial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases. Sen. Rob Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, said if prosecutors don’t have the evidence to “prevail at this immunity hearing … the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial.” But the bill drew criticism from Democrats who worried about the consequences of the bill. It’s now up to the House to decide whether the change should move forward. The House measure has already cleared the same committee that killed it during the 2016 Legislative Session, and only has one more hearing before it heads to the House floor.

Big bill milestones — A proposal to create statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft got a boost this week when it passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. The passage marked a major milestone for the legislation, which stalled in the upper chamber for the past two sessions. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, includes minimum insurance standards and background check requirements. The Senate Appropriations OK’d a bill requiring school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A similar bill stalled in the Senate during the 2016 Legislative Session. Also this week, the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee overwhelmingly approved a proposal that would make state attorneys and public defenders eligible for impeachment under the governor’s power.

Graham 2018? — Gwen Graham appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid. The Tallahassee Democrat told Miami Beach voters this week that she plans to announce her decision on a gubernatorial run soon, saying she is “making sure everything is methodically planned out.” In February, Graham moved $250,000 from her congressional account, Graham for Congress, to Our Florida, a state political committee. Records show the committee’s chairwoman is Stephanie Toothaker, served as special counsel for former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, the former congresswoman’s father.

What do you do when a basketball legend comes to the Capitol to lobby on HIV/AIDS?

Challenge him to a game of one-on-one, obviously.

That was case this week when Magic Johnson met with Florida lawmakers this week on behalf of Simply Healthcare Plans. The Basketball Hall of Famer is an investor in the company, whose contract is up for renewal. And while Johnson met with House and Senate members to talk about the importance of testing and HIV/AIDS awareness, lawmakers took some time to snap photos, get his signature and bask in the five-time NBA champion’s shadow.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson signs autographs after meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus this week.

Sen. Lauren Book introduced her newborn twins to Johnson; while he and Senate President Joe Negron chatted about baseball (Johnson is the co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Negron is an avid Atlanta Braves fan).

Members produced balls to sign, and Sen. Randolph Bracy, a basketball standout at College of William and Mary, asked Johnson if he was ready to hit the court.

“I told him I wanted to get a game of one-on-one,” he said.

Johnson chuckled, saying they wouldn’t “have enough time” for game this visit.

You might want to call him Professor.

Sen. Jack Latvala gave advocates of economic development in the western Panhandle a quick lesson in legislating during a meeting of the Commerce and Tourism Committee this week.

Warren Yeager, a former county commissioner who oversees development projects in Bay County financed by the BP oil spill settlement, spoke in favor of allotting a percentage of the money to each county.

That seems to be where the House is headed, but the Senate bill doesn’t provide for it.

Latvala moved to salve any fears. He said he’s seen as many as five House bills on the topic, adding that it’s early in the session.

“Part of that process is to negotiate with those folks down at the other end down there. If you give them everything they want right up front, then there’s no reason for them to negotiate,” Latvala said. “So, as you express your concerns, just understand that some of us have been around doing this for a while, and we’re going to be prepared to represent your interests.”

Come on, get happy, Florida.

According to a new report from WalletHub, only one Florida city ranked in the Top 50 happiest places to live in the United States. The report, which compared 150 of the largest cities in the United States across 30 key indicators, ranked Cape Coral as the 44th happiest place to live in 2017.

The Southwest Florida city was ranked 28th when it came to “community and environment” and 43rd when it came to “emotional and physical well-being.”

Orlando earned a place in the No. 57 spot, followed by Port St. Lucie in the No. 60 spot. Pembroke Pines was ranked 65th, while Tallahassee landed in the No. 76 spot on the WalletHub list. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah Jacksonville, Tampa and St. Petersburg were all ranked in the 100s.

According to the WalletHub report, the happiest place to live in 2017 is Fremont, California.

But wait: Floridians are happy!

The annual Gallup-Healthways survey of 189 cities across the country showed the Naples region scored the highest when it comes to community well-being. This marked the second year the Southwest Florida community topped the list.

Naples wasn’t the only Florida community ranked as one of the highest well-being communities in the Gallup-Healthways report. The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area was ranked sixth, while Port St. Lucie came in No. 30.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area was ranked No. 35, followed by Cape Coral-Fort Myers in the No. 38 spot. The Tampa Bay region landed in the 115 spot and Tallahassee was ranked 120th.

According to the annual report, overall well-being reached a record high in 2016.

Florida was ranked 11th overall when it came to the state’s well-being.

The Florida Court & Comptrollers is all about Sunshine.

The statewide association pledged to continue to support open government this week in recognition of 2017 Sunshine Week.

“As Constitutional Officers and public trustees, we hold our offices to a high standard and know that providing citizens access to public information ensures dependability, clarity, and openness in government,” said Nassau County Clerk and Comptroller and FCCC President John Crawford in a statement. “Our recognition of Sunshine Week serves to reaffirm the commitment we have to uphold open government in all of Florida’s 67 counties and defend each citizen’s right to know.”

The Florida First Amendment Foundation honored Brevard County Clerk Scott Ellis with the 2016 2016 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award in recognition of his commitment to open government during its annual luncheon this week.

Call him a champion for Florida’s at-risk children.

Gov. Scott and Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman presented David Eischeid with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award this week.

“Volunteer Florida is proud to recognize David for his tireless commitment to Florida’s at-risk children and underserved families,” said Spellman in a statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to recognize his service to children and families.”

Under Eischeid’s leadership, The Children’s Home Network established a new maternity home for pregnant or parenting teens within the foster care system.

Eischeid served as chairman of The Children’s Home Network’s board of directors from 2013 through 2016. Under his leadership, the organization established a new maternity home for pregnant and parenting teens within the foster care system; expanded its residential programs to serve children and youth needing relocation to other areas of the country; and expanded services into Osceola and Orange counties.

“I applaud David’s commitment to the well-being of Florida’s children and families,” said Scott. “His hard work with The Children’s Home Network has helped improved lives throughout his community.”

Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. is back on the job following an eight-hour surgery and a grueling six weeks of daily radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

His colleagues in the Democratic caucus welcomed back this week him with a big, blue and white sheet cake, and a whole bunch of hugs.

“It was pretty extensive, the surgery,” he said. “I had my last radiation treatment Friday of last week.”

As in three days before the welcome-back fiesta.

“I just couldn’t wait to get back,” he said.

Watson feels “a little weaker than usual,” but was strong enough to attend the caucus meeting where Rep. Kionne McGhee was elected Democratic leader for the 2018-20 term

The surgery was complicated because the cancer had spread to Watson’s nervous system.

“I will have to be tested every month for the next six years or so” — something he said he is “more than happy” to subject himself to.

Since then, he said, he’s been eating well and exercising.

“The best thing to do is move around. And coming back here helps me move around.”

Tallahassee’s springtime pollen storm is doing in Daphne Campbell.

“I’ve been coughing and coughing and coughing,” said the North Miami Beach Democrat.

She’d been suffering all week, Campbell said when asked why she missed a hearing on Sen. Anitere Flores’ bill to swap a tax break for insurance companies for one to aid telephone, cable, and satellite communications customers.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel delayed the hearing because only three of the five members were present.

Campbell also had been held up by a meeting with constituents.

“I was coming, but by the time I called it was already finished,” she said of the hearing.

Does she support the bill? She likes the idea of helping consumers, but hasn’t decided yet.

“I’m still working on the bill to see what is my position,” Campbell said. “I told Sen. Flores this morning the same thing.”

Maj. John Leroy Haynes got a round of applause for his service this week.

Gov. Scott presented Haynes with the Governor’s Medal of Merit during the Cabinet meeting this week. A Marines veteran, Haynes served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

A decorated veteran, Maj. Haynes served in the U.S. Marines during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

“Maj. Haynes possesses every attribute that members of the military strive for; he is the epitome of the American military member,” said Col. Glenn Sutphin, the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in a statement. “Not only has he defended his country in three wars, but he continues to advocate for his fellow veterans through public service.”

The governor also awarded 41 Florida veterans with the Governor’s Veterans Service Medal.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 would have a positive impact on Florida’s economy.

That was the key takeaway of a report released this week looking at the economic impact of tolerance. The report found there would be a significant positive impact on the state’s economy and labor force if it enacted an anti-discrimination law that included the LGBT community.

“The state is graduating some of the most talented students in the country and we need them to stay in Florida to boost the economy,” said John Tonnison, executive Vice President and CIO of Tech Data Corporation, and President of Florida Competes, said in a statement. “Competition is fierce for these future leaders, who look for both an inclusive work environment and a high quality of life. Florida needs to follow the lead of Fortune 500 companies and add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination law.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens and Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene Plasencia have filed bills to create the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. The proposals have 38 co-sponsors, but have not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.

Rep. Diamond has his sights set on beefing up public education.

The St. Petersburg Democrat filed legislation to permanently fund an extra hour of intensive reading instruction for students at Florida’s 300 lowest performing elementary schools.

“Reading is the single most fundamental skill toward building a quality education,” he said in a statement. “By permanently funding an extra hour of reading instruction for these students, we are making an investment in children who may otherwise be left behind. This bill demonstrates our commitment to helping those elementary school students most in need of our assistance.”

Diamond also filed a bill to give early learning coalitions greater local control by allowing coalitions to appoint at-large board members from their community and allow the coalitions to determine service priorities for eligible populations in the school readiness program.

“Local decision making will give Florida’s early learning coalitions the flexibility to better meet the needs of our communities and our children,” said Lindsay Carson, chief executive officer of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County.

For Sen. Kevin Rader, this resolution is personal.

The Boca Raton Democrat filed a resolution calling on the Senate to oppose a United Nations resolution that classifies Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas as legally invalid.

“It is personal because my family lives in Israel and I, my wife and kids constantly go back and forth,” said Rader, whose wife is the founder and executive director of the Neshamah Institute in Boca Raton. “The safety of everyone involved is at stake, not only for my family members but also the people of Israel.”

Filed in January, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to 6-2 to approve the resolution this week. Sens. Audrey Gibson and Perry Thurston voted against the measure. It now heads to the Senate Rules Committee, the final stop before going to the full floor.

There’s a new painting in the collection.

The Museum of Florida History announced this week that the Museum of Florida History Foundation has donated a 1930s painting of St. Augustine’s fort Castillo de San Marcos.

The oil painting on canvas board is by artist Dolly Bee Breitenbaugh, and was completed in 1935. The painting portrays the historic Spanish fort in St. Augustine, the Castillo de San Marcos. An early radio communications tower built on the grounds of the fort is included in the painting, and helps show how the city’s skyline has developed, but retained historical features.

Breitenbaugh painted the scene as seen from the Bridge of the Lions. The Kansas native was trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, and is believed to have painted the scene while on vacation in St. Augustine.

“It is very important for the Museum to collect a wide range of artifacts that interpret Florida’s history,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “Since 2000, we have worked with the Museums of Florida History Foundation to enhance the Museum’s permanent collection and exhibits.”

Welcome back, Sterling Ivey.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced this week that Ivey, a veteran of state government communications, has joined the team as communications coordinator. In that role, Ivey will serve as a spokesman and will responsible for things like coordinating interviews, news releases and internal communications.

Ivey has a long history with state government. He served as the communications director for the Department of Corrections and later the Department of State. He served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s press secretary from 2008 until 2011, and even served a stint as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s press secretary.

Most recently, he served as the vice president of corporate communications for SunTrust Banks.

Add some more land to the state’s inventory.

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet this week approved the purchase of 3,846 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch lands in Polk, Hardee, Martin and St. Lucie counties. The purchases are part of the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which partners with Florida’s farmers and ranchers to preserve active agriculture operations.

“Florida’s population is projected to reach nearly 34 million by 2070, and this growth will put additional pressure to develop more and more of our world-renowned natural spaces,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Partnering with Florida’s farmers and ranchers through conservation easements is a cost-effective way to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations.”

The purchase increases total land preserved through the program to 31,495 acres over 35 conservation easements.

Congratulations, James Stage.

The 23-year-old was presented with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Stage is the CEO of Queralyze, an education platform software company designed to help students improve their research and writing skills.

“I’m proud to recognize James with the Young Entrepreneur Award today,” said Scott in a statement. “His innovative approach to education is helping students achieve their goals and better prepare them for a career. I look forward to seeing Queralyze continue to succeed in Florida.”

Gov. Scott & the Cabinet recognize Jame Stage for his entrepreneurship.

Stage wasn’t the only person to get a kudos from Scott and the Cabinet this week. The governor also presented three educators with the Governor’s Shine Award. The award is presented to teachers and administrators who make significant contributions to the field of education.

“Every day, Florida’s teachers go above and beyond to educate Florida’s students so they are prepared for higher education and careers,” said Scott. “I applaud these educators for their dedication to ensuring the success of Florida’s future leaders.”

Scott recognized Demetria Clemons, the principal of Sealey Elementary School in Tallahassee; Lukas Hefty, the engineering program coordinator at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary School in St. Petersburg; and Brandon Wright, an Advanced Placement teacher at F. W. Springstead High School in Brooksville.

Two Florida colleges deserve a pat on the back

The Florida Department of Education announced this week that Broward College and Indian River State College have been awarded with the 2017 Aspen Prize Finalist-with-Distinction Award.

“I am incredibly proud that out of nearly 1,000 colleges throughout the country, two of our Florida Colleges have once again been recognized as national leaders for access, affordability and student success,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a statement. “This esteemed award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Broward College and Indian River State College students, as well as the faculty and leadership, who have clearly made students their top priority.”

Florida has had a winner or finalist since the inception of the award, which recognizes exceptional student outcomes in student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

“As Chancellor of Florida’s 28 colleges, I am proud of Broward College and Indian River State College for consistently offering an affordable education and achieving top graduation rates,” said Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega in a statement. “These distinctions of excellence further the successes of the Florida College System, which provides access to all Floridians seeking higher education as a pathway to the workforce.”

Government watchdog Florida TaxWatch released a report this week the cost of state education programs beyond the $19.7 billion spent on per student funding each year.

 The group highlights capital outlay, debt service and other K-12 services not included in the per student figure which add another $8.9 billion to Florida education expenditures.

 “Public education spending is a significant portion of state and local budgets and must be spent with care to ensure that taxpayers are receiving the best value for their dollar,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “It is critical that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent and what it is spent on.”

 State officials touted $7,090 in per student funding during the 2015-16 fiscal year, but TaxWatch says adding in other costs brings that figure up to $10,308.

 The group offers charter school’s as an option to save money on education, though it said the lower cost per student in those institutions comes from lower usage of buses, fewer English language learners, fewer children on free or reduced price lunch and fewer students with disabilities.

Give Uber a hand.

Attorney General Pam Bondi recognized the ride-hailing company this week for its “proactive efforts to fight human trafficking.” Bondi said the company’s drivers are uniquely positioned to help identify and prevent human trafficking, and applauded a driver who recently helped save a 16-year-old girl from sex trafficking.

“The company and its drivers, operating in more than 70 countries, are uniquely positioned to help identify and ultimately prevent human trafficking and can play a key role in the fight to stop traffickers across the globe,” she said in a statement.

Uber is putting resources in the hands of its driver-partners to help combat human trafficking.

The recognition came on the heels of Uber’s presentation at the Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. During the meeting, Uber announced human trafficking information and resources were being pushed out to more than 40,000 Uber driver-partners in the state in both English and Spanish.

“We look forward to working more with General Bondi and Florida leaders on this issue,” said Stephanie Smith, the company’s senior manager for public policy. “General Bondi has fought to end human trafficking for years, bringing together government and private companies to help rid the state of this form of modern-day slavery. Her leadership on this issue has been inspiring.”

Gov. Scott is getting top marks from Keep Florida Fishing for his picks to two boards.

Scott announced this week he had recommended Phil Dyskow, former President of Yamaha Motors; Jeff Miller, owner of Millers Boating Center; and Col. James Brown, former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement officer to the Secretary of Commerce for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Scott nominated Chester Brewer; attorney Mike Kennedy; and consultant John Sprague for the open recreational seat on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

“Governor Scott has recommended six highly-qualified leaders to represent Florida’s important recreational interests on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which make critical decisions impacting the health of, and access to, our federal fisheries,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association. “We applaud the Governor’s nominations and commitment to helping maintain Florida’s title as the ‘Fishing Capital of the World.”

Preemption bills could have a big impact on local government.

A new report from the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions showed two bills (HB 17 and SB 1158) would nullify a wide swath of local ordinances that impact commerce, like minimum wage, anti-fracking, wage theft, equality, environmental and consumer protection laws.

“We think it’s important that lawmakers understand the impacts of broad-brush state preemption on local businesses, workforces, and communities,” said Michael Alfano, campaign manager for Campaign to Defend Local Solutions. “We believe innovation and economic competitiveness are stifled when local voices and local government are silenced.”

The report notes that more than 60 percent of Floridians are covered by local human rights and equality ordinances, which would be terminated by the preemption bills. Local ordinances to ban fracking would also be null and void under the proposal, as would a Miami-Dade County wage theft law that has recovered more than $7 million in unpaid wages for workers from 2010 to 2016.

Attention, Rick Perry: Don’t answer your phone if you see a Florida area code.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Costentino, a natural stone, quartz, and recycled surfacing company, was relocating its Americas headquarters from Sugarland, Texas to Coral Gables. The move, according to the Governor’s Office, will create 85 new jobs and invest more than $1 million in the local community.

“I am proud to announce that Cosentino will be relocating their Americas Headquarters from Texas to Florida and creating 85 new jobs for our families,” said Scott in a statement. “This announcement would not be possible without the help of Enterprise Florida and shows the incredibly important role EFI has in out-competing other states like Texas to bring new job opportunities to our state. I am excited to welcome Cosentino to Florida and look forward to their future success.”

A family-owned company from Spain, Cosentino Group is a world-wide distributor of surfaces for architecture and design. The company currently employs 3,700 people worldwide, including 1,200 in the United States.

The company currently has three distribution locations in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Lauderhill. It plans to open a design center in the Miami Design District.

“Miami’s location offers key strategic advantages to continue targeting the Americas,” said CEO Eduardo Cosentino in a statement. “The entrepreneurial and innovative workforce in Miami better positions us to provide new products and designs that are both sustainable and advanced.

Florida TaxWatch as a new team member.

Miranda McLaughlin has joined the research institute and government watchdog as its communications coordinator, the organization announced this week.

“We are very pleased and honored to have Miranda as a part of the Florida TaxWatch team,” said TaxWatch President Calabro in a statement. “We feel she has just the right skills required to foster productive relationships with value-added, and timely information to the taxpayers and the media.”

McLaughlin recently graduated from Florida State University with a double degree in media/communications studies and English. Prior to joining TaxWatch, she held a leadership role at Union Productions/Club Downunder.

The tourism economy keeps Amy Baker awake at night.

Tourism contributes 13 percent of Florida’s sales tax receipts. Sales taxes represent around three-quarters of general revenues.

If anything should happen to tourism —

“That’s what I worry about the most,” said Baker, director of the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

As it happens, tourism is setting records just now, helping to compensate for a sluggish construction industry.

But what if Zika re-emerges?

“We’re just getting back to the point where mosquitoes are coming into the full season again,” Baker said.

There are no clear data on international tourism, but she’s hearing anecdotal evidence that overseas visitors began avoiding the United States since President Donald Trump began blocking travelers.

“We worry about all of that,” Baker said.

It’s official: #SuitsForSession 2.0 was a big success.

Volunteer Florida and Uber announced it collected 3,282 donations of clothing, shoes, belts and other items during the one-day service project at the Capitol this week. The items will be delivered to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee in the coming days.

Majority Leader Simpson and his staff drop off clothes for the 2nd annual #SuitsForSession service project.

“I had a chance to visit the #SuitsForSession display at the Capitol and the amount of donations was remarkable,” said Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson in a statement. “I am proud of those who came together to provide donations for job-seekers statewide.”

According to Volunteer Florida, 195 suits were collected and 75 bags of clothing were donated through the Uber app. Volunteer Florida said 2,072 women’s items were collected, while 1,013 men’s items were donated.

Didn’t get a chance to donate this year? Don’t worry, the #SuitsForSession 2018 is just around the corner.

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

 

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Takeaways from Tallahassee — The “diversity” of John Stemberger

House Speaker Richard Corcoran defended his appointment of conservative activist John Stemberger to the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that reviews and suggests changes to the state’s governing document.

Stemberger, the Speaker explained, was a “diversity” pick.

Corcoran took questions from reporters Friday after the House floor session.

Stemberger, who leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, has opposed same-sex marriage, adoptions by gays and letting gay youth in the Boy Scouts.

Critics have questioned the pick, suggesting it was a sop to the Republican Party’s hard right-wing in case Corcoran decides to run for governor in 2018.

“Listen, I’ve said to you guys all along I was going to appoint people I believed were true conservatives, that recognize the role of the constitution, and how important it is,” he said. “… I had the luxury of seeing who the Governor appointed, who (Senate President Joe Negron) appointed, and I tried to fill in some of the gaps.”

Corcoran noted Stemberger also “is a practicing attorney.”

“Yes, he’s taken stances on different issues, but I’ve said it a thousand times, diversity of thought is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said.

When asked the question about playing to the party’s religious right in advance of running for governor, Corcoran said he’s “known John a long time, he is a friend.”

Darryl Rouson is a friend, Chris Nocco is a friend, Rich Newsome is a friend,” he added, referring to some of his other appointees; in order, a former Democratic House member and now state senator from St. Petersburg, the Pasco County sheriff, and an Orlando-based personal injury lawyer.

“And I don’t agree with all my friends on all issues,” Corcoran added.

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:

In session — The 2017 Legislative Session kicked off this week with Gov. Rick Scott’s annual State of the State address. The Naples Republican used his speech to defend his push for money for economic incentives, calling out opponents. “I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for the families just like mine growing up,” the governor said in his remarks. He also used his remarks to reflect back on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, calling it a terrorist attack and using it as a flash point to request more money for counterterrorism. But his comments about the Pulse shooting upset LGBTQ advocates, who blasted Scott for not mentioning the LGBTQ community, which was largely impacted by the shooting.

Florida Governor Rick Scott gets a round of applause during his remarks on the first day of session.

Scratched — Hours after House Speaker Corcoran used his opening remarks of the 2017 Session to encourage members to “proudly and joyfully go crashing against the special interests and special interests and the status quo,” a Tallahassee judge invalidated the Florida Lotter’s $700 million contract for new equipment. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers issued her 15-page order just one day after presiding over a non-jury trial. In her ruling, Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding. In a statement, Gov. Scott said he disagreed with the ruling and would appeal.

Bad week for EFI — This was not Enterprise Florida’s best week ever. It started Monday, when Chris Hart, the agency’s president and CEO of just two months, abruptly resigned. In a letter to Gov. Scott, Hart said he realized he and the governor did not share a “common vision or understanding of how Enterprise Florida … can best provide value within your administration.” His resignation came hours before the House Appropriations Committee was set to hear a bill to kill the state agency, and sent shockwaves through the capital city. On Wednesday, Corcoran appealed to House Democrats to back the bill, telling them he needed their support for a veto proof majority. Whatever he said must have worked: On Friday, the House voted 87-29 to approve the bill, with more than half of the chamber’s 39 Democrats voting for it. In the middle of all that drama, the board announced Mike Grissom will serve as the interim CEO.

Opposed — A host of gun bills could be stalled in the Senate, after Sen. Anitere Flores announced this week that it is unlikely she will be supporting 10 of Sen. Greg Steube’s gun bills this session. Flores said she and Steube don’t see eye to eye, and she doesn’t support having guns on campus, at airports, or in school zones. The Senate Judiciary Committee did OK legislation this week dealing with carrying concealed weapons at courthouses, a proposal Flores supported.

Priority passage — Senate President Joe Negron saw a priority bill move through his chamber, when the Excellence in Higher Education Act passed the Senate 35-1this week. The legislation, among other things, increases certain scholarship benefits, overhauls how colleges and universities measure progress and attract top professors, and mandates block tuition—a flat rate per semester—rather than by credit hour. But Negron’s name isn’t among the 35 senators who voted in the affirmative during the roll call vote. A miscommunication between Negron and the Senate secretary meant the board locked before he could record his vote. Senate records show Negron voted in the affirmative after the vote. House Speaker Corcoran also saw key priority clear the House this week, when members passed a 6-year lobbying ban on former lawmakers. And a bill to require unanimous jury recommendations before the death penalty can be imposed is now heading to Gov. Scott, marking one of the first bills sent to the governor this session.

Meet the people behind the speech.

Gov. Scott peppered his State of the State speech this week with stories of everyday Floridians, many of whom were sitting in the House gallery as the governor spoke to lawmakers. Guests included an Orlando police officer, a small business owner, an Army veteran, and an entrepreneur.

Scott honored Orlando police Officer Michael Napolitano, who was one of the responding officers to the Pulse shooting in June. During the shootout, he was injured when his Kevlar helmet blocked a bullet, saving his life.

He also gave David Alfandar, the owner of Hot Pandeyuca a shout-out. The Miami factory started with three employees, and has now grown to 30 employees and serves more than 300 clients in the Sunshine State. Sage Offutt, the owner and founder of Sage Paddle Company, also got a hat tip from the governor for starting a paddle boarding rental company in Navarre. This wasn’t her first encounter with the governor, Offutt was presented with the Young Entrepreneur Award back in December.

Scott also recognized Master Sgt. George Vera of Tampa; Nick Cid, a senior business analyst at Hertz, and Linda Cooke, the director of manufacturing operations at HABCO Manufacturing.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill marked the start of the 2017 session from home this week.

The chairwoman of the Education Committee, Senate President Negron told members she is recovering from surgery for cervical cancer, and her doctors wouldn’t let her travel to the state capital. But she’s hardly on the sidelines, staying “completely active during the entire time of her recovery on behalf of her constituents.”

Negron said Hukill is in charge of deciding what bills get heard in her committee and developing policy, and has been in regular contact with Negron and staff.

“In all the conversations I’ve had with her, she talks about us, what’s happening here. And she feels badly about the effects on her constituents and and on the process rather than on herself,” he said “She doesn’t talk about her medical condition, or the challenges or the incredible progress she’s made in overcoming this. That says a lot about her. I know she’s watching this morning, and we look forward to having her back.”

The youngest people on the Senate floor opening day were Kennedy Grace and Hudson Lee Byrnes, twins born to Sen. Lauren Book on Feb. 16.

Book, the Senate’s minority leader pro tempore, presented her bundles of joy to her colleagues, then dashed them away back stage.

“She’s having to do double duty, and do both legislating and parenting at the same time,” said Senate President Negron. “Congratulations on your twins and thank you so much for being here today.”

It so happens that Book is carrying legislation this session to exempt diapers from the sales tax.

Speaking of babies: Gov. Scott had some breaking news during his State of the State address this week, telling Floridians his daughter and son-in-law were expecting twins.

The governor slipped the announcement into his speech during a section about his request to spend $6 million for counter-terrorism efforts in Florida, saying he’s fighting every day because he wants “to make Florida a better place for my grandchildren.”

“In fact, Ann and I just found out that our daughter Allison and her husband Pierre will be welcoming twins later this year,” said Scott in prepared remarks. “This will make Ann and me proud grandparents to six wonderful grandchildren.”

Scott’s daughter Allison lives in Naples, and has three sons. His second daughter lives in Texas and has one child.

And like any father, the governor used the opportunity to make a cringe-worthy dad joke at his daughter’s expense.

“When I started this job, Ann and I didn’t have any grandkids. Now, we will have six,” he said. “Certainly, my daughters were listening when I said ‘Let’s get to work!’”

Recalling his impoverished childhood, Gov. Scott tried to used his State of the State Speech to highlight the importance of jobs to lift Floridians out of economic despair.

But Karen Woodall wasn’t persuaded. Now at the Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy, she’s spent 37 years lobbying in Tallahassee on behalf of the poor.

“Unfortunately, particularly this year, it seems that the conversations about poverty have to do with attacking poor people,” Woodall said.

She pointed to legislation to snatch food stamps away from children, and the cut cash assistance if the recipient misses a single meeting or fails to fill out the right form.

And if politicians in D.C. and Tallahassee block grant Medicaid, it’s going to “severely impact not only very, very low income and vulnerable people in this state, but it’s going to cripple the health care industry,” she said.

“Rather than talking about having been poor at a time when most people were poor, it would be better to take action.”

After the speech, it’s the after party.

Gov. Scott held a reception at the Governor’s Mansion after his big speech this week, inviting the well-to-do in Tallahassee to celebrate the start of the annual session.

Chris Carmody and Robert Stuart at the State of the State reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

The annual event brought out some of the state’s finest, including Chris Carmody and Robert Stuart with GrayRobinson.

“We have great leaders in our state,” Carmody wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott for inviting us to the State of State Reception. Keep up the great work.”

Senate Democrats are gearing up to resist leadership plans to cut spending on environmental, education, mental health, and other programs.

For example, the leadership is considering nearly $352 million in cuts to health and human services spending, including hospitals and programs for people with disabilities, the elderly, and Alzheimer’s care.

Children’s action teams — which provide mental health services to kids in foster care or the juvenile system — would be eliminated in eight counties.

“We have to be very vigilant on these cuts right here,” Democratic leader Oscar Braynon II said. “These are the ones that hit the hardest, I think, and that speak really to what we’ve been talking about we stand for. They’re hurting the least of us with these cuts right here.”

When Richard and Kathleen Marquis needed help with their son — a 300-pound man with schizophrenia, given to violent outbursts — one hospital after another turned them away.

“Nothing available, with one major hospital telling me they had two patients camped out in the waiting room waiting for beds,” Richard said during a news conference in Tallahassee.

Many specialists suggested the family move to a state that provides more support for these treatments.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers appeared at the same news conference to urge that the state do better.

“At the end of the day, we’re 49th (in funding among the states), which means we’ve neglected this for far too long,” said Sen. Rene Garcia.

File early (but not often).

Secretary of State Ken Detzner encouraged Florida businesses to “beat the rush and file their annual reports early before the May 1 deadline.” The reminder comes as Detzner unveiled the state updated its filing website, Sunbiz.org.

“The updated website offers an enhanced user experience with updated features, including a new countdown clock to help business owners remember the upcoming deadline,” he said in a statement. “File Early Florida!”

Annual reports must be filed each year between Jan. 1 and May 1 to maintain an active status with the Department of State’s Division of Corporations.

Be one the lookout for scams.

That’s the message Attorney General Pam Bondi sent to Floridians as part of Consumer Protection Week.

“Whether it’s homeowners victimized by unfair mortgage servicing practices or people being exploited by price gougers during a state of emergency, we work tirelessly to protect all consumers,” said Bondi. “This Consumer Protection Week, I want to thank the hard-working people in my Consumer Protection Division for their unwavering dedication to stopping deceptive and unfair business practices.”

The Consumer Protection Division enforces the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and aggressive pursues consumer frauds. Recently the division has focused on tech support scams, debt relief schemes, robo-calling, travel scams and, during recent storms, price gouging.

Give these volunteers a round of applause.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart honored school volunteers at youth, adult and senior levels from across the state with the Outstanding School Volunteer award. The award is presented each year to volunteers who have exhibited exceptional commitment to quality education in Florida.

“School volunteers supplement the hard work Florida’s educators and school personnel do every day and help to fill the gaps when parents and guardians are not available,” said Stewart. “I hope that the outstanding volunteers we are recognizing today will serve as an inspiration for all Floridians to get more involved in their communities.”

Awardees received a congratulatory letter from Stewart and a mounted certificate. They’re also generally recognized by the school districts where they volunteer.

More jobs are coming to Lee County.

Gov. Scott announced this week Gartner, Inc. is expanding its operations in Lee County and will create 600 new jobs. The information technology research and advisory company is expected to invest more than $21 million in the local community, according to the Governor’s Office.

“This incredible news shows how important it is to continue to make Florida more competitive for job creation wins, and we will continue to fight to make sure our state has all the resources we need to become the job creation capital of the world,” said Scott in a statement.

Started in Fort Myers nearly two decades ago, the company employs more than 1,100 Floridians in Fort Myers. The firm has almost 9,000 associates worldwide, including 1,900 research analysts and consultants, serving clients in more than 10,000 enterprises.

The project, according to the Governor’s Office, was made possible through partnerships with Enterprise Florida, the Lee County Economic Development Office, CareerSource Florida, and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

“I’m proud that Gartner, one of Southwest Florida’s top employers, has chosen to expand its operations in Fort Myers,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida DEO. “While Gartner has offices all across the globe, Florida’s skilled workforce has the talent the company needs to succeed.”

It’s time to celebrate the most important meal of the day.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam celebrated National School Breakfast Week, encouraging schools to “Take the School Breakfast Challenge.”

“Academic success begins at breakfast, and we have worked hard to make sure students start their day with nutritious options,” said Putnam.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services administers the school breakfast program at the state level to ensure schools have the ability to provide healthy, wholesome breakfasts to students each day. Last year, more than 140 million breakfasts were served to Florida’s K-12 students.

A widow got a special delivery from one Florida representative recently.

Rep. Bill Hager presented a Delray Beach widow with a check from the Bureau of Unclaimed Property for a life insurance policy held by her late husband, who died in 2010.

Rep. Bill Hager presents a widow with a check for unclaimed life insurance.

The woman, according to Hager’s office, did not know the policy had been taken out, and because of that she couldn’t request a payment after her husband died. But thanks to a bill passed in 2016, insurers are required to check the Social Security Death Master file to determine if any insured died while the coverage was in-force. If so, insurance companies need to take steps to find the beneficiary to pay.

The Department of Financial Services received the funds on Nov. 4, and notified the widow by mail the following day how to claim her property.

Save Florida call centers, save a job.

Sen. Victor Torres filed a bill this week to reduce outsourcing of call center jobs and protect employees working in Florida.

The bill requires existing call centers planning to relocate outside of Florida, or reducing their staff by more than 30 percent, to notify the Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance of any relocation or downsizing. It also authorizes DBPR to establish an inventory list of call centers and number of employees and create a financial penalty for companies not in compliance with the notification requirements.

Rep. Robert Asencio has filed the companion bill in the Florida House.

“Call center workers often handle sensitive financial, health care and personal information that Floridians have a right to know is secure and protected,” he said. “When that interaction involves state business, it is only proper that their tax dollars are being used to support a secure and professional call center here in Florida. Not only is this about the good jobs that call centers support in communities across the state, it is about ensuring that we are at the forefront of data security.”

Welcome to the task force, Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun.

Gov. Scott announced Calhoun will serve as his designee on the Florida Defense Support Task Force. Calhoun current serves as the Adjutant General of Florida.

“I want to thank Senator Young for her service on the Defense Support Task Force,” said Scott. “She has done a great job serving the people of Florida, and I am confident Major General Calhoun will continue to do all he can to ensure Florida remains the most military friendly state in the nation.”

The Wekiva River Basin Commission has a new member. Scott appointed Charles Henry, a 57-year-old Bradenton resident, to the commission. Henry is a health officer for the Department of Health in Sarasota, and succeeds Gerald Briggs.

Scott also appointed Pamela Kiser-Burch, a 44-year-old Tallahassee resident, and reappointed Hugh Fred Dietrich, a 72-year-old Orlando Resident, and Ransom Hartman, a 37-year-old from Jensen Beach, to the Board of Auctioneers.

The Governor’s Office also announced this week that Scott appointed Latanya Peterson and Diane Goldenberg to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. He also reappointed Gilbert Singer, Rebecca Steele, and Tony Jenkins to the board.

The governor also announced Robert Bramlett and Kathleen Krak have been reappointed to another term on the Electrical Contractors Licensing Board, and Eric Vilkoski has been appointed to the board.

Scott appointed Citrus County Superintendent Sandra Himmel, 62, will serve on the Children and Youth Cabinet to a term ending March 9, 2021.

Hernando County has a new commissioner, at least temporarily.

Gov. Scott appointed John Mitten to the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners this week. He’ll serve during the military leave of absence of Commissioner Jeff Holcomb, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Florida is proud to be the home of so many brave military members, and I am grateful to Commissioner Jeff Holcomb for serving our country overseas,” said Scott in a statement. “We will keep Jeff and his family in our prayers throughout this deployment and I am confident John Mitten will serve Hernando families well until his safe return.”

A 47-year-old Brooksville resident, Mitten is a small business owner with a bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University. His term began March 10, and ends at the completion of Holcomb’s military leave.

Next time you’re looking for a bit of history during your golf game, head to the Wedgewood Golf Club.

Secretary of State Detzner announced this week the Lakeland golf club has been selected as the Florida Historic Golf Trail for the month of March.

Wedgewood Golf Club in Lakeland has hosted some of the greats since its opening in 1931.

Located on the former site of the National National Home of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and the course officially opened on Jan. 1, 1931. Today, the 18-hole, par 70 course features three sets of tees playing from 4,800 to 6,400 yards.

“We are excited and honored to be featured this month on the Florida Historic Golf Trail,” said Sun Shin, president of Wedgewood Golf Club, in a statement. “Wedgewood’s history dates back to the 1920s. The course has hosted golf legends like Hogan, Sarazen, Snead and Bobby Jones as well as Arnie Palmer. Redesigned by Florida architect Ron Garl, this course is still challenging to all levels of players.”

Tip your hat to the municipal electric utilities that got the lights back on after this year’s hurricanes.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association announced its Restoring Communities Awards, which are meant to honor the efforts of municipal electric utilities that worked quickly to restore power following Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. Members were selected based on restoration times, customer communication efforts and the level of aid provided.

“While it had been 11 years since our state’s municipal electric utilities had been tested by a hurricane, the response of Florida’s public power community was strong and swift,” said Clay Lindstrom, FMEA President and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority General Manager. “The moment it was safe, municipal electric crews from across the state starting working to restore power for their neighbors or hit the roads to help other communities in need.”

The 2017 recipients are Beaches Energy Services, City of Alachua, City of Bartow, City of Green Cove Springs, City of Lake Worth, City of Leesburg, City of Newberry, City of Starke, City of Tallahassee, City of Quincy, Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, Gainesville Regional Utilities, JEA, Keys Energy Services, Kissimmee Utility Authority, Lakeland Electric, Ocala Electric Utility, Orlando Utilities Commission, Town of Havana, and Utilities Commission of New Smyrna Beach.

Patients matter, and the Florida Association of Health Plans want legislators to know it.

FAHP launched its “Florida Patients Matter” campaign this week. Throughout session, the group will use videos to highlight how health plans help Floridians and how they collectively provide accessible, affordable and quality health care to patients across the state.

“As the 2017 Legislative Session gets underway and discussion and debate on the health care environment in our state continues, FAHP is launching the ‘Florida Patients Matter’ campaign and video series to showcase how health plans truly have a positive impact on the lives of their patients,” said Audrey Brown, the group’s president and CEO, in a statement. “In the midst of debate, policy questions are often the focal point, but health plans understand that what is really of critical importance is ensuring Florida patients get the best quality health care that is both accessible and affordable.”

Toodles, screwworm.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said this week that no Key deer have died because of screwworm in the last two months. Wildlife officials also said there has been a drop in the number of screwworm infections among the dog-sized deer found in the Florida Keys.

Since the infestation has slowed, officials said they’re planning to remove devices to apply anti-parasite medication to deer stopping at feeding troughs in the National Key Deer Refuge. Individual deer being monitored in the refuge will continue to receive oral medicines.

A new report from The James Madison Institute might appeal to all those fans not-so-patiently waiting the arrival of George RR Martin’s next book.

The report — dubbed “Game of Cronies: Florida’s Taxpayers Lose Out to Crony Capitalism” — looks at Florida’s taxpayer incentive programs, specifically film and stadium incentive programs. The report states four stadium construction projects around the state that have requested public funding, and notes the Daytona Speedway and the Miami Sun Life Stadium have requested a combined $900 million.

The report, according to JMI officials, found what is “sold as a positive return for taxpayers turns out to be the opposite with the only with the only real beneficiary being wealthy sports franchise owners or film production company executives.”

“Sports team owners and film producers do a good job of painting rosy pictures of all the jobs and positive economic impact that will result if they can just get enough taxpayer money to make it work,” said Robert McClure, the group’s president and CEO. “Unfortunately for taxpayers, those schemes rarely, if ever, deliver on their promised benefits.

The Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee unanimously approved the bill (SB 532), which requires companies to notify the state Department of Environmental Protection about the release of any dangerous substance within 24 hours of discovery. The DEP must then publish a public notice within 24 hours of being notified.

“I am grateful that the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee unanimously approved my bill to help ensure that the people of Florida are notified in a timely manner if a spill does occur,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, the bill’s sponsor. “Floridians deserve the peace of mind of knowing they’ll promptly receive information that can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

The bill comes in the aftermath of several high-profile incidents over the past year that led to chemical contaminants possibly leaking into local drinking supplies.

Ever wonder how long it takes to explain a one-word amendment?

If you’re Sen. David Simmons, the answer nearly 10 minutes.

Simmons proposed a short amendment — no really, the amendment removed a lined and added the word “immune” — to Sen. Rob Bradley’s bill to shift the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases. Simmons was a sponsor of the 2005 bill, and used the time given to him to explain his amendment as a chance to give a little history of the bill.

That lengthy explanation led to some gentle ribbing from his colleagues.

“I would ask the secretary to make an official notation in the journal that this is the first time that Sen. Simmons has filed an amendment that is one-word long,” said Senate President Negron, who noted the two men have served together in the Legislature for 14 years. “I do note the brevity of the amendment did not result in a proportionate reduction in the complexity of the explanation.”

Negron then told members to “proceed at their peril” when engaging in questions with Simmons. But the joking didn’t stop with Negron. When he opened the floor to questions, Minority Leader Braynon told Simmons he didn’t get it, and asked him to recap and do it again. Sen. Darryl Rouson then asked how many letters were in his one-word amendment.

“I tell you this, I made …” he started.

“Six,” interjected Negron to a laugh.

The amendment passed.

Gov. Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Putnam visited Collier County this week to tour areas impacted by a 7,500-acre wildfire. The fire, according to the Naples Daily News, started Sunday afternoon and quickly spread through the Picayune Strand State Forest. It threatened hundreds of homes east of Collier Boulevard and south of Interstate 75, and temporarily shut down I-75.

Party on, Florida.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is already gearing up for spring break, inspecting nearly 500 gas stations in popular spring break destinations for skimmers, the devices that steal consumers’ credit and debit card information. The sweep uncovered eight skimmers — four in the Clearwater-St. Pete Beach area, one in the Daytona Beach-Cocoa Beach-Flagler Beach-New Smyrna Beach area, two in West Palm Beach, and one in Fort Lauderdale.

Since 2015, the department has found and removed more than 430 skimmers across the state. If undetected, the department estimates about 100 people are victimized per device, with an average of $1,000 stolen from each victim.

“From Okaloosa County to Miami-Dade County, these skimmers are being placed on gas pumps and stealing from unsuspecting residents and visitors,” said Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. “We will continue to crackdown on these devices – and the criminals responsible for them.”

The doors are finally open.

The Florida Department of State will host a grand opening of The Grove Museum at 10 a.m. Saturday. The event will feature guided tours of the two-story mansion, music, games and food trucks.

 “We look forward to working with our partners in the Tallahassee community to ensure The Grove becomes one of the top heritage tourism destinations in Florida, and in the nation,” Secretary of State Detzner told the Tallahassee Democrat. “Visitors will be able to experience the vision of the governor and Mrs. Collins to make The Grove a place for future generations of Floridians to celebrate our shared heritage, learn about critical moments in history and inspire a passion for public service.”

The event is free and open to the public. The Grove is located north of the Governor’s Mansion on North Adams Street.

Got some spare time this weekend? Consider cleaning out your closet for a good cause.

Volunteer Florida and Uber are once again teaming up for #SuitsForSession, a service project at the Florida Capital on March 15. Members of the Legislature, Cabinet, local nonprofits, private sector and others will collect gently used professional attire for job-seekers in need.

The items will be donated to the Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America in Orlando, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program.

Volunteer Florida and Uber Florida will accept gently worn clothing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 15 at the Capitol. They’ll be accepting blazers and jackets, blouses and shirts, dresses and skirts, pants, and shoes for men and women.

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

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I really don’t know Kevin King

I really don’t know Kevin King, the Chief of Staff to Mayor Rick Kriseman.

I believe — and Kevin can correct me if I am wrong — the last time he and I spoke was in early 2006. It was after my spiral from politics, when I was waiting tables at a now-defunct joint on Fourth Street. If I remember correctly, Kevin was charitable to me, probably feeling sorry for my station in life at the time. He was soon to become, if not already, the go-to Democratic consultant in Pinellas politics.

But even before that, we really didn’t know each other well. I don’t think we ever socialized, even though we were about the same age and doing about the same thing with our lives. We first came across each other when he was managing Kriseman’s campaign for the City Council, and I was advising first-time candidate Bill Dudley. I recall there being this sort of tension because I wanted to service Kriseman’s campaign by selling it collaterals, direct mail and the like. King wasn’t interested, which was perfectly fine, although his rebuff felt more like an I-know-better than just a simple ‘No.’

King and I have certainly not spoken since Kriseman first ran for the Florida House. During that campaign, King’s disputed criminal history came into play after someone mailed information about him to the local media. King thought/thinks I had something to do with that, but I did not. Still, a relationship that was, at best, lukewarm, turned to ice after that. King and I sniped at each other — mostly in private to others — for the next eight years.

Although we never spoke during Kriseman’s mayoral campaign, I did what King could not, namely help take out Kathleen Ford. Once she was out, Kriseman had a clear shot at incumbent Bill Foster, and the rest is local political history.

After Kriseman installed King in a newly created chief of staff position, I came to King’s defense and pushed back against those who wanted to hold King’s disputed criminal history against him. I argued that King absolutely deserved a second chance from those people who had not given him one (King’s career was never derailed, like mine was, by his mistakes; it’s just that no one really cared if King was a legislative aide to a backbench member of the Florida Legislature. King serving in a well-paying, highly visible leadership role in City Hall was really the first time many people were confronted with his history.)

I hate to see the mistakes King made more than a decade thrown into his face every time he is at the center of a controversy, as he is now that the Times’ Mark Puente has reported that King told a City Hall employee to not talk negatively about a transfer out of the mayor’s office.

“In September, Kriseman’s closest aides told the Tampa Bay Times that Lisa Brekke, 32, was moved to fire headquarters as a training specialist to enhance her “professional growth” in city government. At the time, Kriseman chief of staff Kevin King and spokesman Ben Kirby stressed that nothing else triggered the transfer.

But records the Times recently obtained show tension between King and Brekke led her to tell top fire, human resources and legal officials that King intimidated her and left her in tears when a reporter asked the mayor’s office about the transfer.”

The incident with Brekke, in and of itself, isn’t a mortal wound to King, but it is part of a troubling pattern that does not reflect well on his boss.

Increasingly, King is described as “controversial” or a “lightning rod” by the Tampa Bay Times and other local media. King’s role, as well as those roles of others in the Mayor’s Office, may be fodder for the campaign trail.

But you know what? King isn’t going anywhere. Kriseman won’t part with him. And King really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Unless King has committed a documented crime, something I highly doubt, in his execution of the day-to-day administration of Kriseman’s vision for the city, the Mayor is not going to cut off his right-hand man.

As for those who try to throw King’s disputed criminal history in the Mayor’s face, well, didn’t Kriseman know about that when he first hired King? Of course he did. Just as he knew about it when he made King his legislative aide during his time in the Florida House and just as he knew about it when he made King his Chief of Staff at City Hall.

Kriseman made a decision — right or wrong — that the mistakes in King’s past were not relevant to their joint future. And Kriseman has certainly benefited from this alliance, as he has had whip-smart lieutenant by his side for the last 15 years.

But this is also what makes me feel truly sorry for King. And it’s a realization I only recently came to.

Think about it: what does King have, professionally speaking, if he doesn’t have Kriseman? What would King do were Kriseman to lose his re-election campaign?

Fortunately for King, the Mayor has provided steady employment for the last two decades. King’s current position pays him nearly $121,000.

That kind of great job would probably not be in the cards for others once accused of propositioning an underage girl for sex.

That kind of powerful job in politics would probably not be in the cards for others who “tr(ied) to get two female students, ages 14 and 15, to skip school and drink beer with him, and asking one to perform a sex act on him.”

And there’s the tragedy. By Kriseman’s side is the best place King can do for himself even though, given his ambition and talent, he probably could have risen above that station. But where can he go in major league politics where his past would not be made an issue?

I know of what I speak here, having had my own legal issues. I know why I couldn’t make a statewide political campaign. Heck, the Tampa Bay Times spelled it out for me. I know — like King must know — that I will never get to work in The White House or be elected to office.

Realizing all of this, I deconstructed my past, atoned for my sins, and built a new, more entrepreneurial life — one that does not require the public’s trust. I was granted the perspective to understand that if I had not gone through what I had, I would not be where I am today.

Still, don’t think there aren’t moments when I wonder what life would have been like had I taken a right turn instead of a left.

I’m not sure if King realizes all of this or not. I assume he does. But, like I said, I don’t know him very well.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 02.27.17

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

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

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…

It was one of the most awkward moments in the history of the Oscars, of television, in entertainment, heck maybe in American history.

And somehow Warren Beatty, Hollywood’s ultimate smooth leading man, was at the center of it, and the accounting firm that is responsible for the integrity of Oscar voting apologized and was vowing a full investigation.

The producers of “La La Land” were nearly done with their acceptance speeches for Best Picture, the Oscar broadcast’s credits sequence about to roll, when a stir of whispers began on stage. Moments later “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz returned to the microphone and said “Moonlight won Best Picture” and insisting that “this is not a joke.”

 The collective jaw of the crowd at the Dolby Theatre — and of America — remained dropped long after they became convinced it was no joke, but what academy historians later called an apparently unprecedented Oscar error. The accounting firm PwC, formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, said early Monday that Beatty and Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope.

“We sincerely apologize to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture,” a statement from the firm said. “The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”

The statement came several hours after the chaotic ending, which featured Beatty returning to the mic to explain that he had opened the envelope and he was confused when it read “Emma Stone, La La Land.” He had shown it to co-presenter Faye Dunaway briefly, as though he wanted her to read it, which she did, apparently assuming the Emma Stone part was off but the “La La” part correct.

NOW ON TO POLITICS: THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

With just one week until the gavel drops on 2017’s Legislative Session, it is — to use the shopworn expression — the calm before the storm.

No meetings, no committees, no talk; just a lull in the action before regular Session starts next Tuesday.

Before lawmakers assemble to do the people’s business, now would be a perfect opportunity to spend some time with the family, partake in a round (or two) of golf or cross a few things off the honey-do list. Maybe even fly a kite.

Since Spring Training began last week, supported by Florida’s perfect weather for such undertakings (spring is a relative term around here), nobody would fault the legislator who takes in a few ballgames before his or her re-emergence in Tallahassee.

Time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Of course, everyone involved will need this period of rest and relaxation before the inevitable 60-day fracas over issues such as business incentives, gambling legislation and the 2017-18 Florida budget (the Legislature’s one constitutionally-mandated job).

And for those keen observers of The Process — present company included — it is the one week where we might reasonably expect to catch our collective breaths.

That is unless something interesting pops up during the week — which, undoubtedly, it will.

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DONALD TRUMP’S JOB APPROVAL STANDS AT JUST 44 PERCENT AS PARTISAN SPLITS REIGN via Carrie Dann of NBC News – A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal: 44 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 48 percent disapprove … Trump begins his tenure in a dramatically less popular position than any of his predecessors. He is the only president in the history of modern polling to begin his first term with a net negative approval rating — and it’s not close. Compared to Trump’s net negative rating of -4 percent, Barack Obama began his presidency with a net positive 34 percent; George W. Bush and Bill Clinton enjoyed a similar advantage, and George H.W. Bush‘s score of popular goodwill pushed even higher to a net positive of 45 percent.

AFTER TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION ORDER, ANXIETY GROWS IN FLORIDA’S FARM FIELDS via Robert Samuels of The Washington Post – As Trump moves to turn the full force of the federal government toward deporting undocumented immigrants, a newfound fear of the future has already cast a pall over the tomato farms and strawberry fields in the largely undocumented migrant communities east of Tampa. Any day could be when deportations ramp up; that, to them, seemed certain. No one knew when or where. And so the community here is in a state of suspension. Children have stopped playing in parks and the streets and businesses have grown quieter, as many have receded into the background, where they feel safe. “It’s all gringos here,” said Maria Pimentel, owner of the community staple Taqueria El Sol, who said she had never heard so much English in her restaurant in her life. Business had plummeted, she said, because her Spanish-speaking customers were “scared to come out of their house.”

MUST-READ: HERE’S WHY IT’S SO DIFFICULT TO BE A SYRIAN REFUGEE IN SOUTH FLORIDA via Patricia Mazzei, Nicholas Nehamas and Kara Dapena of the Miami Herald – The number of Syrian refugees coming to Florida has spiked in recent years, as the U.S. has started to accept more people escaping the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. But resettling these newest immigrants has proven challenging for aid agencies, charities and volunteers who help the new arrivals. Syrians don’t have a large community of their countrymen awaiting them — or many Arabic speakers with whom they can communicate. “Life without language is very hard,” Kamar Byrkdar, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Broward County five months ago with her husband and two children, said through an interpreter. “We want to be able to improve our English so that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.” … it took three months, Byrkdar said, for anyone to show them how to enroll their kids in school. She and her husband didn’t know how to buy bus fare, much less how to navigate routes. Byrkdar learned where she could sign up for English classes only three weeks ago. Her children remain anxious around the police, whom they associate with war.

ANOTHER MUST-READ FROM THE HERALD: SLAIN SEAL’S DAD WANTS ANSWERS: ‘DON’T HIDE BEHIND MY SON’S DEATH’ via Julie Brown of the Miami Herald – When they brought William “Ryan” Owens home, the Navy SEAL was carried from a C-17 military plane in a flag-draped casket, onto the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, as President Trump, his daughter, Ivanka, and Owens’ family paid their respects. Owens’ father, Bill, had learned only a short time before the ceremony that Trump was coming … “I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,’’ Owens recalled telling the chaplain who informed him that Trump was on his way from Washington. “I told them I don’t want to meet the president” … “I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens said. “Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’

TRUMP TALKS OBAMACARE OVER LUNCH WITH RICK SCOTT, SCOTT WALKER via Jordan Fabian of The Hill – The trio discussed “how best to solve the problems of ObamaCare, with a special emphasis on the states’ role in health care” … The two governors are in Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting. The lunch was not listed on Trump’s public schedule and was closed to the press. What to do about Medicaid has emerged as a thorny issue in the debate over ObamaCare repeal.

RICK SCOTT: I’LL HELP TRUMP ON CUBA POLICY via Aidan Quigley of POLITICO Florida – “I’ve been very vocal that Raul Castro does not believe in democracy and freedom and things like that,” Scott said. “I don’t believe it’s good for our country to be coddling a dictator like that. So I’m going to work with the Trump administration on what’s the right policy.” Scott said he was hopeful Trump would soon renegotiate with Cuba and he sounded confident that Trump would make good on his word. However, the Florida governor didn’t want to specify what approach he would advise the Trump administration to take. “My impression is they’re working on what they are going to do, so I don’t want to second-guess what they’re going to do,” he said. “I want to be helpful.”

IT’S OFFICIAL: SCOTT SELECTED AS VICE CHAIR OF RGA via POLITICO Florida – Scott was chosen as the new vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to lead the organization during the crucial 2018 gubernatorial elections. The RGA’s 11-member executive committee voted Friday in Washington, D.C. to name the two-term governor to the post vacated by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Scott is now the odds-on favorite to take over the chairmanship from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2018, when 36 governor’s mansions around the country are up for grabs.

MARCO RUBIO: I WON’T ATTEND TOWN HALLS FULL OF ‘LIBERAL ACTIVISTS’ via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The Florida Republican said that the much-ballyhooed events organized last week by Indivisible Miami, a group that opposes Trump, aren’t real forums to exchange ideas. “They are not town halls anymore,” Rubio told WFOR-CBS 4 … “And I wish they were, because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as [Florida] speaker of the House.” Indivisible Miami put together several “empty-chair” town halls for Rubio’s constituents last week. The senator was never expected to show up. “These are real people. They are real liberal activists, and I respect their right to do it,” Rubio said of the crowds who showed up to last week’s events, estimating that “80-90 percent” were liberal activists. “But it is not a productive exercise. It’s all designed to have news coverage at night.”

PROTESTERS: CONGRESSMAN BLEW RED LIGHT TO AVOID US via the Tallahassee Democrat – A video has surfaced that protesters say show Congressman Neal Dunn … ran a red light Thursday to avoid talking to them about health care. About 60 constituents had gathered outside of Dunn’s Tallahassee office seeking a meeting. Dunn declined an opportunity to talk to the group and instead left the office through an underground garage. Michael Nair-Collins, a professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine, and others ran to the garage to catch Dunn. They told the Democrat he left with an aide in the Chevy Tahoe caught on video.

BRIAN MAST GETS EARFUL AS HUNDREDS PACK TOWN HALL MEETING IN FORT PIERCE via Wayne Washington of the Palm Beach Post – Mast, a double amputee Army veteran … held the meeting to address the concerns of military veterans, but he got an earful on a host of other issues, particularly the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Most of those in the audience seemed intent on tearing into Mast, though the congressman had plenty of supporters among the nearly 500 people who showed up. Unlike some in his party who returned to their districts, Mast did not cancel the town hall meeting, nor did he lose his temper as angry audience members booed some of his answers or shouted at him in fury.

POTENTIAL GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES LAY OUT AGENDAS IN ORLANDO via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – … occasionally sparring over education and economic development agencies. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all outlined potential platforms in speeches to the Central Florida Urban League. Gillum … spoke at length about the importance of education, drawing on childhood memories of his grandmother telling him to go to school, pay attention, “and one day bring that education home” for the good of his family and community. Corcoran spoke at length about his “battle with the governor” over the Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida development agencies, a priority for Rick Scott. By contrast, Levine, a cruise industry entrepreneur, praised the importance of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida for the power they have to attract businesses and tourists to the state.

LISA EDGAR STEPS DOWN FROM STATE PARKS POST via Florida Politics – Edgar notified Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation … “Gary. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and the Florida Park Service. It has been an honor. Unfortunately, an immediate family emergency requires my full attention. As such, I regretfully must resign at this time,” Edgar wrote. Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, previously was deputy secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and was replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

RICHARD CORCORAN SAYS PHILOSOPHY, FACTS DRIVE HIS EFI, VISIT FLORIDA AXE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – “I’m telling you we’re right. We’re absolutely right,” Corcoran declared in a speech before the Central Florida Urban League. Corcoran described Enterprise Florida as an organization that serves the top 1 percent of companies and most of them did not deliver and belittled VISIT Florida for paying for Pitbull‘s video that he said essentially declared, “Come to Florida and have sex … Here is what we know about VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. First, Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida didn’t exist in this state until the mid-90s. Guess what we had before that? I’m going to shock you. We had visitors. I’m going to shock you. We had businesses that came to this state.” He said he was not offended by Pitbull’s video, saying he went to the University of Florida for three years, “all of them freshmen … That’s not offensive to me. But it’s the philosophy behind that,” he added. “And all of that money that goes to those things that are gratuitous waste of money, is money that could go to education, that could go to infrastructure, or creating a fair and equitable tax structure.”

SENATE COULD VOTE ON HIGHER ED REFORMS DURING FIRST WEEK OF 2017 SESSION via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – The higher education package — formerly two bills now blended into one (SB 2) — includes a variety of reforms intended to elevate Florida’s State University System and its state colleges to a more competitive level, nationally and internationally. “We should be at the very top of our game in our state university and college system,” said Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the higher ed budget chairman who spearheaded the legislation. “We should raise expectations, and that’s what we’re doing.” SB 2 — dubbed the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017” — advanced unanimously out of the Senate’s full budget committee with some additional revisions … the bill will be among the first considered by the chamber during the first week of session next month.

ANITERE FLORES WANTS TO REPLACE ONE TAX CUT WITH ANOTHER via Florida Politics –Flores, the Senate President pro Tempore, said she was filing legislation (SB 378) to swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron …  The move also aligns with Gov. Scott‘s and the Florida House’s appetite for continued tax relief. Flores’ proposal “could provide $300 million in recurring tax relief for families and businesses” … “Florida’s CST is one of the highest in the nation,” said Flores. “In 2015, we made great progress by permanently reducing Florida’s CST by 1.73 percent. This year, we can reduce this burdensome tax even further and provide additional monthly savings to every Floridian with a cellphone or cable or satellite TV.”

BOB CORTES, EX-TOWING COMPANY OWNER, PUSHES BILL TO HELP TOWING COMPANIES via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Cortes … said he doesn’t believe it’s a conflict of interest for him to sponsor HB 193 because he sold Cortes Towing Service last year. Yet, he still owns the property used by the company and receives rent from it. He also is a consultant for the company. “I’m no longer in the business of towing; I sold it last year,” Cortes said. Ben Wilcox, executive director of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog group, said the situation seems like a conflict, but under the letter of the law there is none because the bill doesn’t specifically benefit Cortes or his old company. The bill would nullify local governments’ fees, fines and penalties imposed on vehicle owners when tow truck companies haul away vehicles in relation to various infractions. In Winter Springs, for instance, the city issues a $550 fee on owners of vehicles impounded after they’ve been cited for 12 offenses ranging from prostitution to littering, but the fee can be reduced to $250 if owners waive their right to a hearing.

INSIDE ABC CEO’S STRATEGY FOR DEFEATING BOOZE IN GROCERY STORES via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Charles Bailes III is the CEO of Florida-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits … His strategy for beating the so-called “whiskey to Wheaties” bill is a bit different: appeal to the heartstrings of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas. “I’ve been in the business for 41 years and we work really, really hard to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors,” Bailes said. Bailes points to a trove of articles he’s compiled into a well-cited document. A news report in the Oregonian blames Washington’s privatization on a spike in booster-related liquor sales, where professional shoplifters walk off with sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth of booze and sell it to others. “When I hear these arguments about grocery stores being well-trained in spotting theft, I would say they haven’t read these articles,” Bailes said.

REALTORS AND BUILDERS HAVE BUSY AGENDAS FOR LEGISLATIVE SESSION via Clifford Davis of the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record – Realtors and homebuilder associations are busy laying the foundation for the agendas they’ll promote. The chief concerns in the state’s real estate and construction industries focus on taxes, workforce and regulations. “Workers’ Comp. Workers’ Comp. Workers’ Comp,” said Douglas Buck, the director of governmental affairs for the Florida Home Builders Association. “Any insurance rate increases are a real, direct cost to everyone.” Since 2003, the construction industry has seen its workers’ compensation rates trend downward after the Legislature passed a bill to base lawyer fees in cases on the amount of the defendant’s award. But that changed after an April ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that awarded attorneys an hourly rate for their work.

WORKERS’ COMP JUDGE TOSSED FROM CASE OVER COMMENT CAUGHT ON OPEN MICROPHONE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics –Following a lengthy video teleconference hearing, the 1st District Court of Appeal said in its ruling, Judge Edward Almeyda turned to someone off camera and said, “Was I nice and sweet and patient to let the attorney talk on and on and on ad nauseam?” The attorney overheard the remark and sought to have the judge disqualified. In an unsigned opinion, the court said the motion was “legally insufficient” because the judge “did not specifically single out petitioner’s attorney as the loquacious one.” However, the court pulled the judge from the case anyway, based on an objection the Office of Judge of Compensation Claims filed refuting the motion “by asserting — without any record support — that JCC ‘did not interrupt or raise his voice to counsel’ and that he ‘allowed both sides to fully make their arguments, resulting in what would normally be a five to 10-minute hearing lasting over an hour.”

PRIVATE PRISON DEPRIVED INMATES OF HEAT AND HOT WATER FOR MONTHS, DAVID RICHARDSON FINDS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The 284 women housed in C-dorm at Gadsden Correctional Facility lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste. After state Rep. Richardson demanded action following a series of surprise visits over the past 18 months, the private prison operator that runs the facility — Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah — received approval from the state to repair and replace the water heater, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $10,000. But Warden Shelly Sonberg never authorized the work. Richardson … announced another inspection this month, this time with Chad Poppell, the head of the Department of Management Services, the state agency that oversees private prisons, and two other state legislators. In the two days before they arrived, four work crews descended on the prison and made many of the repairs.

CHILD ABUSE DEATH REVIEW COMMITTEE TO EXAMINE FATALITY EMERGENCY CALLS via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A total of 931 combined child deaths were reported in Florida in both 2015 and 2016, according to the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee (CADR), which met in Tampa to discuss the issue. Broken down, 474 of those reviewable fatalities were in 2015, with another 457 reviewable notifications made in 2016. More than 200 of those are still open cases — 29 from 2015 and 175 from 2016, per graphs compiled in documents by the committee … Among the 20 circuit districts the judicial courts and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offices fall under across the Sunshine State, only three had completed, and closed, all of their investigations in 2015:  Circuits 3, 7 and 18. One, Miami’s 16th Circuit Court, had not completed or closed a single investigation into the deaths of minors, as said in a CADR review.

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— REGIONAL READS —

LENNY CURRY BACKS ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Florida Politics — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Friday that while he recognized that “reforms” of Enterprise Florida were being discussed in Tallahassee, state economic incentives have been good for the city. “We use incentives — local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida — and we use them successfully … Without the state funding, we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed … We use our tax dollars in a way that’s responsible to taxpayers, and we’ve been able to use the state incentives the same way. I hope they can figure out a way to continue to give us the opportunity to have access to state incentives.”

AFTER LIFE ON ORLANDO STREETS, ALOMA CHARTER HIGH GIVES TEEN RENEWED FOCUS via Larry Griffin of Florida Politics – Six months ago, 18-year-old Joseph Tello was homeless and living without much thought or hope for his future. But after finally finding a friend willing to provide him a stable residence and being referred to Aloma Charter High School, his hope is being restored and he is getting back on track to earning a high school diploma and accomplishing aspirations of going on to college. “I would talk to people about my life, and they’d try to provide help,” Tello said. “Someone took me in and gave me shelter, they care about my education and goals.” Aloma High is helping him out in ways his previous schools just couldn’t— a more personal style which suits him. Traditional high school, by contrast (and design), could not accommodate the pressure and stress of Tello’s home life the way Aloma High does. “At Aloma, everyone helps you plan to get somewhere with your education. It’s changed my view on charter schools.”

THE GRIMM TRUTH ABOUT ALBERTO CARVALHO’S ASSAULT ON WLRN via Florence Snyder of Florida Politics – Friends of the First Amendment have their hands full with the War in the White House Pressroom. That may explain why Miami Dade School Superintendent Alberto (Rico Suave) Carvalho thought his attempted hostile takeover of the highly respected and ferociously independent WLRN newsroom might pass unnoticed. Thankfully, fans of the free press have taken notice, and are rallying to the support of the high-quality journalism this public radio station produces with a small staff and a tight budget. The Miami Herald’s veteran columnist, Fred Grimm, explains that “Reporters who’ve dealt with the notoriously prickly Miami-Dade School District … [learned] Carvalho and company can hardly abide critical stories [such as the recent] series of stories exploring problems with the school district’s alternative school for suspended students.”

FROM THE SHADOW OF PILL MILLS, A NEW DRUG CRISIS EMERGES IN TAMPA BAY via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times – We are six years past the peak of the pill mill epidemic, and Pinellas County is going through another killer drug crisis. The statistics are still preliminary but the number of fatal overdoses in Pinellas jumped at least 53 percent from 2015 to 2016. There were 274 confirmed overdoses and, with seven cases still pending, the final tally could eclipse the 280 deaths in 2010 when oxycodone abuse was rampant. This time around, it is being driven by a combination of heroin and fentanyl. The potency is higher and the cost cheaper, and so the results are tragically familiar. “It astonishes me that people are shocked by this,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “We cannot, and we will never, solve this problem at the law enforcement level. This needs to be treated as an addiction problem, a mental health problem. We may have had great success beating back the pill mills, but all that meant is we were going to see a switch to different drugs and different dealers.”

***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***

SENATOR SEEKS PROBE INTO WHETHER LOBBYIST LISA MILLER POSED AS ‘CONCERNED CITIZEN’ DURING CALL via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Sen. Kevin Rader is asking Gov. Scott to investigate whether Tallahassee lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as a “concerned citizen” to mislead participants in a conference call with a company that rates Florida insurers. “I know you understand that matters such as these must be completely in the sunshine and all principals must play by the rules. This is crucial to the integrity and transparency of the insurance market,” Rader wrote in a letter … “The citizens of our state have had a difficult time with their insurance matters over the last decade and they deserve to have a full accounting of this incident. We are talking about peoples’ homes, and it is absolutely critical to get to the bottom of this. Insurers and their rating companies must play by the rules and not orchestrate false or misleading presentations with impersonations of ‘concerned citizens’ intended to deceive government officials and the public.” Miller denied posing as someone named Mary Beth Wilson to praise Ohio-based Demotech Inc. during the call Feb. 10.

PERSONNEL NOTE: SUSKEY CONSULTING HIRES ROB FIELDS FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS VP – Fields joins Suskey as a Florida government veteran with over 20 years of public and private sector experience. He most recently served as a government affairs consultant representing Fortune 500 and other various technology companies before the Legislature and various Florida agencies. Fields served as the Chief Information Officer of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which has primary responsibility for the state’s Medicaid program, the licensure of 48,000 health care facilities, and sharing health care data. Fields then became Chief Information Officer with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles where he oversaw technology operations for the Florida Highway Patrol and the State Driver’s License and Motor Vehicle Registration divisions.

WHERE GEEK MEETS GAIT: ALL CALL FOR LOBBYISTS WITH FITBITS – Sachs Media Group is looking for volunteers who wear Fitbits to participate in a “steps in the day of a Florida lobbyist” data collection project during a typical week of session. Results will be featured in the “Geek Out” section in Sixty Days. For more details, email karen@sachsmedia.com by Friday.

TRIPADVISOR: 7 OF TOP 10 BEACHES ARE IN FLORIDA via The Associated Press – The sand at Siesta Key outside Sarasota was the best rated beach in the nation. St. Pete Beach was No. 3, followed by Clearwater Beach and Panama City Beach. Hollywood’s beach in South Florida was ranked sixth, followed by Pensacola Beach and St. Augustine Beach near Jacksonville. TripAdvisor says the rankings were based on the number and quality of the traveler reviews written on its website.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Joel Brown, Ballard Partners’ Ana Cruz, POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, former Rep. Jerry Paul, Samantha Jane Sachs, editor of Capitol Soup, and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. Celebrating today is our very own Logan McFaddin, Mitch Perry, Rep. Kathleen Peters, Kathleen Haughney Rohrer,

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Quo Warranto

The lawyer for the Florida Lottery says don’t count on any kind of settlement between his client and House Speaker Richard Corcoran in their grudge match, er, lawsuit.  

“It wouldn’t be workable for the Lottery,” said Barry Richard, of Greenberg Traurig’s Tallahassee office, on Friday. “They couldn’t have a deal where they can’t enter into a contract until they first get an appropriation. That wouldn’t work for many agencies.” The Lottery reports to Gov. Rick Scott.

A bench trial before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers is set for March 6 — the day before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Corcoran filed a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action. His suit faults the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

Richard counters that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts because that’s a quintessential executive function.” As he further told the AP, if lawmakers don’t like a particular deal, “they don’t have to fund it.”

The deal in quesiton, worth as much as $700 million, with International Game Technology (IGT) will provide the Lottery with new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

The contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery already exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

Richard is as boggled over this suit as he was over the federal lawsuit lodged by the state against the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which he also represents. Scott sued the Tribe for continuing to offer blackjack despite the expiration of a revenue-sharing agreement. The tribe won; the state is appealing. 

Last month, Richard said about that case, “I don’t recall in my career an opposing party working so hard to keep my client from paying it hundreds of million of dollars.” 

Friday, he added: “The reason for this contract is because (the Lottery) is doing so well that they need more equipment … I don’t understand the (House’s) point.”

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education. The agency this week announced it had “reached the $1 billion mark for this fiscal year (July 1-June 30) earlier than any other year in (its) history,” referring to money it kicks into that fund.

Moreover, under the contract, IGT gets a cut of sales. “The longer the contract is, the lower the percentage is that the state has to pay, because it gives them more security over time, and it locks in the vendor,” Richard said. “So they save about $18 million.”

Speaking of money, Richard agreed to be paid up to $60,000 for a trial, which he doesn’t expect to last more than a day, and an extra $40,000 for an appeal. He’s best known for representing then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election challenge. 

“Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he has been retained at various times as special counsel to the Governor, the Florida Senate, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Attorney General, the Florida Secretary of State, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Department of Insurance,” his law firm bio says.

And sometimes, a case just has to go to court, he added: “That’s how I feed my family.”

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:

Life support — Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs appear to be on life support after the House Appropriations Committee voted 18-12 to approve a bill that would eliminate the state agency. Two Republicans, Holly Raschein and Bill Hager voted against the bill. While the original bill would have eliminated Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, lawmakers amended it this week to put it under strict transparency and accountability rules aimed at increasing oversight of spending. And if the battle between the House and Gov. Scott weren’t enough to drive you to drink, the Senate weighed in this week when Sen. Jeff Brandes filed his own bill aimed at Enterprise Florida.

On the attack — Gov. Scott didn’t take the vote lightly. The Naples Republican released a scathing statement before the final vote was even cast, and later in the week his political committee released a video on Facebook labeling House Speaker Corcoran a “career politician” who trades in “fake news” and “waste(s) your money.” Scott says the video was prompted by Corcoran’s own staff-produced video that slammed the governor for failures of business incentive projects that began before his time in office. The speaker appeared to turn the other cheek, telling reporters this week if Scott reached out and poked him in the chest he “would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

All in — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its sweeping gambling bill, which allows the expansion of slot machines and the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at all of its casinos, this week. The committee approved it overwhelmingly, with just two members voting against it. Over in the House, the Tourism & Gaming Subcommittee OK’d it’s gambling bill, which allows the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines for 20 years, but doesn’t allow for the expansion of gambling to other part of the state. Now the question is: Who folds first?

Cleared for the floor — A bevy of bills cleared their final committee stop this week, meaning lawmakers could have a full plate when the 2017 Legislative Session is called to order on March 7. The House Judiciary Committee this week OK’d a joint resolution to place term limits on Supreme Court justices and appears court judges, a top priority for Speaker Corcoran. The same committee also approved a bill that would create a system that would allow victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and their enablers in state court. House and Senate bills to make require jury unanimity when recommending the death penalty cleared their final committee this week; as did a House bill to ban red light cameras. And the Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Act, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron is now ready for a vote of the full Senate.

Election fever — Can you feel it? Florida’s political class has election fever, but it doesn’t seem to be spreading to the general population. Associated Industries of Florida conducted hypothetical ballot tests for Governor and Cabinet as part of a recent survey of Republican primary voters. The survey found that, in a hypothetical four-way race between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and businessman (and alligator ‘wrassler’Ron Bergerson, 71 percent said they would be undecided. Ouch. But that isn’t stopping us from talking about 2018, especially since it seems like Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are inching closer to an announcement. Gillum said on Twitter this week he was “seriously considering running for Governor so that we can rebuild Florida into a state that works for all of us.” Levine announced he started his own political committee and hired Matthew Van Name, who ran Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign. And Sen. Bill Nelson seems unfazed by the prospect that he might face a primary challenger in 2018, challenging a reporter who asked about it to a push up contest this week. We can tell you one thing, he’s probably got us beat on that one.

Can’t stop, won’t stop us from writing about estoppel.

Yep, that arcane legal issue is back in the Legislature for the third year in a row, still pitting the real estate crowd against homeowner’s associations.

Associations send estoppel letters, or estoppel certificates, for a real estate closing to document any money owed them. More often than not, what’s at issue is unpaid association fees by owners who defaulted on their mortgage.

In previous years, the battle was about cost-shifting between Realtors and title companies and the associations, with neither side wanting to bear the cost of research and preparation. And if associations pay, they say, that means their constituent homeowners ultimately are on the hook through their dues.

How much the letters really cost has been a bone of contention for years. Former state Sen. Gwen Margolis once opined that all the associations do to figure out what’s owed is “punch a button on a computer. (They) never see a problem … until they have to pay … It’s been a ripoff for a while.”

On the other hand, a lobbyist for the statewide association of community association managers has said preparing estoppel letters can legitimately cost anywhere from $15 to $400.

“The legislature has refused to pass a home tax (bill) two years in a row,” Mark Anderson told us. “Unless all sides can agree on something that will not cost homeowners more money as the current bills propose to do, it will be difficult to see how a conservative Florida legislature passes any estoppel bills.”

This year’s bill (SB 398) caps the cost per letter to $200 if nothing’s owed, and an extra 200 bucks if there are unpaid fees or fines. The measure cleared its first committee this week.

In an effort to make the subject the least bit accessible to the public, news media and lawmakers, Tallahassee-based communications savant Kevin Cate last year rebranded the issue as “smashing the home tax.” 

We can only hope we once again get to see lawmakers using sledgehammers to clobber cinder blocks with “home tax” stamped on them.

When it comes to Advanced Placement testing, Florida is No. 1.

According to the Advanced Placement data report released this week by the College Board, Florida ranks first in participation in AP exams during high school. The Sunshine State, according to the report, placed third in the nation when it comes to improvement over the last decade.

“We are thrilled that Florida’s students have once again demonstrated a strong commitment to academic success, and I am confident this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for the graduating Class of 2016,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in a statement. “Support from teachers and school administrators is integral to students on their education journey, and I thank them for the ongoing guidance and support they provide to help their students reach their full potential.”

According to the state Department of Education, the number of Florida graduations participating in AP exams more than doubled over the last decade, increased from 44,893 students in 2006 to 84,986 students in 2016.

College students take note: You better make time for volunteer hours if you want that Bright Futures scholarship.

Sen. Daphne Campbell and Rep. Nick Duran have proposed legislation requiring students to volunteer 15 hours per semester to maintain eligibility for Bright Futures scholarships. The proposal was recently amended, decreasing the required per semester hours after constituents expressed concerns that the original 30 hours per semester was too much for students trying to balance maintaining their grades and paying for school.

“The amended bill gives students the time they need to dedicate to their commitments but still ensures that these students are also giving back to their community. Fifteen hours of community service can be finished in one weekend and is much more feasible for these dedicated, but busy students,” said Campbell in a statement.

The required hours can be completed by volunteering for a variety of organizations, including schools, hospitals and government agencies. Active duty military members are exempt from the requirement.

“An education is not just about what you can learn in the classroom, but also in the valuable life experiences that can be gained from immersing yourself within your community,” said Duran in a statement. “The lower service hour requirement will still add valuable capacity to the diverse efforts across the state while inspiring our young, bright minds.”

Speaking of college: Rep. Bill Hager wants students to know what they’ll make once they’ve got that degree

That’s why the Boca Raton Republican filed a bill requiring Florida colleges and universities to tell incoming students the average wage they can expect for degrees they grant.

Hager said he has seen a split over the past 20 years between “soft degrees” in liberal arts such as psychology and political science and “hard degrees” such as engineering and physics, with STEM degrees often paying more.

“It is not government’s job to tell students what to study – but it certainly is our job to provide fundamental information such as income and employment possibilities matched to degrees.  For us to do anything less is snookering our students,” Hager said.

HB 869 would require any higher education institution receiving state funds to list online the average salary for each degree it grants for alumni who are 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and 20 years after entering the workforce. The deadline for posting the information would be July 1, 2019.

Maybe Zoe Mattina should be a lobbyist when she grows up.

The 3-year-old certainly charmed members of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee when she appeared with parents Ryan and Lara Mattina to support a proposed $500,000 appropriation for early therapeutic intervention for children with hearing loss.

“Thank you, friends,” Zoe told the committee members.

“Zoe even filled out a hearing card,” putting her appearance on the official record, chairman Jason Brodeur noted.

Zoe was born deaf because her mother had been infected with cytomegalovirus, her parents explained. She benefited by early auditory-oral intervention and cochlear implants, and can hear now.

“For Zoe, early intervention services have helped her literally find her voice,” her dad said.

Lara Mattina took the occasion to issue a warning on the virus. Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should avoid kissing people, including toddlers, on the lips, and should wash their hands frequently.

“It is absolutely preventable,” she said. “It is something I think OB-GYNs should be talking to all of their patients about.”

Yippee for manatees!

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported this week a preliminary county of 6,620 manatees in Florida waters. That marks the third straight year of a minimum count higher than 6,000 manatees in Florida water, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Researchers conduct synoptic surveys annually to count manatees that are visible in the water at the time of the survey. They are conducted after a cold front and cover all known winter habitats of Florida’s beloved sea cow. The 2017 count was helped by warm, sunny weather with low winds and good visibility.

“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm water habitat to manatees in Florida,” said Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement. “The FWC will continue to work diligently with our many partners to ensure the long-term viability of these habitats and the well-being of the manatee population.”

Lisa Edgar has resigned as director of the Florida Park Service after less than two months on the job, citing “an immediate family emergency.”

Edgar notified Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, in an emailed note Thursday.

“Gary. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and the Florida Park Service. It has been an honor. Unfortunately, an immediate family emergency requires my full attention. As such, I regretfully must resign at this time,” Edgar wrote.

“I wish continued success to you and the agency.”

Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, previously was deputy secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and was replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

The Florida Board of Bar is looking for a few good lawyers.

The organization is looking for lawyer applicants to fill two vacancies on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. A joint screening committee of the Board of Governors members and Board of Bar Examiners members will recommend six nominees for two lawyer vacancies at its May 26, 2017, meeting.

Attorney members must have been a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years, be practicing lawyers with scholarly attainments and have an affirmative interest in legal education and requirements for admission to the Bar. Appointment or election to the bench at any level of the court system will disqualify any applicant. Law professors or trustees are ineligible.

Want to track information in Florida? There’s an app for that.

The Florida Forest Service released FLBURNTools, a new mobile app this week that is meant to inform the public about drought, wildfire danger, and wildfire activity. The app can also be used by prescribed burn practitioners to plan and submit authorization

“Wildfire activity is on the rise and wildfire danger is expected to increase greatly in the coming months,” said Jim Karels, Florida State Forester. “Floridians equipped with the ‘FLBurnTools’ app can view the locations of nearby wildfires and see up-to-date drought and wildfire danger information.”

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott appointed this week announced he appointed Mark Harden and Rocky McPherson to Florida is for Veterans Inc.

Harden, a 65-year-old Pensacola resident, is the military aid director for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. He has 30 years of military experience and retired from the United States Navy in 2004.

McPherson, a 72-year-old Fernandina Beach resident is the former vice president of Military and Defense Programs for Enterprise Florida, Inc. and a retired Colonel of the United States Marine Corps with over 30 years of military service.

Both were appointed to a term ending July 14, 2020.

Scott also reappointed James Sampey, a 56-year-old Indian Rocks Beach resident, to a term ending July 14, 2020.

Sen. Travis Hutson is getting a thumbs up from the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

The organization applauded the Palm Coast Republican this week for filing legislation that would provide public depository choice for government entities.

“Public depository choice, our top priority during the 2017 Legislative Session, would allow credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities,” said Patrick La Pine, president and CEO of LSCU & Affiliates. “Not only would it allow school boards and local governments, as well as universities and colleges, the opportunity to bank with their local, member-owned credit unions, but it would also allow local funds to stay within the community, spur competition among eligible public depositories, and allow for greater rates, savings and returns to consumers.”

Poor Tallahassee.

A new report by WalletHub ranked Tallahassee toward the bottom of the list of the best state capitals to live in 2017. The personal finance website ranked the 50 state capitals across 42 key metrics, including cost of living, quality of K-12 school system, and number of attractions.

Tallahassee ranked No. 37, with an overall score of 49.12. It was wedged in between Columbia, South Carolina, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When it comes to affordability, Tallahassee came in 39th. It didn’t fare much better in the rankings when it came to the economic well-being rankings, where it ranked No. 48. WalletHub ranked Florida’s capital city 22nd when it comes to quality of education and health and 21st when it came to quality of life.

The worst capital city to live, according to WalletHub, in 2017 is Jackson, Mississippi. The best? Austin, Texas.

Volunteer Florida wants to boost student achievement in rural communities.

The statewide organization announced this week it was giving $100,000 in grant awards to 12 organizations across the state so they can provide important educational programming to students.

“Volunteer Florida is thrilled to announce the recipients of this new grant funding,” said CEO Chester Spellman in a statement. “The Rural Community Assets Fund will broaden our impact and help rural communities meet the needs of local students. We look forward to working with innovative organizations in Florida’s rural areas so that they can more effectively put volunteers to work to serve underserved students.”

The Rural Community Assets Fund allows grantees to recruit, equip and mobilize volunteers in eligible communities across the state to address acute educational needs of underserved children and youth in early childhood education settings or within the K-12 education system.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is hoping to cut costs with a series of bills he filed this week.

Rodriguez filed a series of energy related bills aimed at protecting the environment and protecting consumers’ pocketbooks.

“Consumers in Florida continue to subsidize an outdated energy system in Florida that stifles innovation, shuts out competition and hurts our environment — the bills I have filed will address those issues while giving consumers a much-needed break,” he said in a statement.

Rodriguez filed bills that would allow property owners to generate and distribute solar energy to residents and tenants on their own property; create a mechanism to prevent utilities from passing on to customers the cost of remediating environmental damage the utility caused; create a progressive rate schedule for utilities customers; and repeal advanced nuclear cost recovery in Florida.

Give these heroes a hand.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Channing Taylor was the 2016 Law Enforcement Officer of the year. Bondi recognized Taylor and nine other officers for their dedication to protecting Floridians.

“I am eternally grateful for these nominees and all our brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives daily to keep us safe,” said Bondi in a statement. “We cannot thank these officers enough for the sacrifices they and their families make to protect our communities.”

On June 14, 2015, Taylor approached a vehicle after he noticed a truck being operated without headlights. He asked the driver for her license, when suddenly a male passenger produced a revolver, fired it at Taylor, striking him in the shoulder.

Taylor took cover and drew his firearm. When the suspects tried to flee the scene, he left his covered position to gain a clear line of sight of the vehicle and its occupants and fired his service firearm, striking the male passenger and causing the vehicle to stop.

Bondi also recognized Officer Christopher Ayala with the Florida Department of Agriculture; Officer David Brady and Officer Jason Hutchinson with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Deputy Emanuel Gonzalez with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office; Officer Niel Johnson with the North Miami Police Department; Special Agent Travis Lawson with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Investigator Jason Newlin with the the State Attorney’s Office for the Second Judicial Circuit; Investigator Jayson Paul with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office; and Deputy Nicholas Worthy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

Call it a success, the folks in charge of the 2017 Florida State Fair sure are.

Unaudited numbers show the fair ended with an 11.4 percent increase in attendance over 2016 and solid gate and midway revenue, fair officials said this week. The final day of the 2017 fair was Monday.

“I am so excited we were able to share the Fair with so many fellow Floridians,” said Cheryl Flood, the executive director of the Florida State Fair Authority, who assumed her position in September. “We placed a renewed focus on family entertainment, booking Shopkins and other kids’ entertainment. We had a huge success the last weekend with a Peppa Pig Meet and Greet.”

The fair featured the largest variety of entertainment ever, including a museum quality exhibit exploring candy in pop culture; the Florida State Fair Championship Tractor Pull; Budweiser Clydesdales; concerts and agricultural exhibits.

“Agriculture is at the heart of what we do. We crowned our new Champion of Champions, Ainsley Peterson, a young lady from Mayo and showcased thousands of youth participants from all over the state,” said Doyle E. Carlton, III, FSFA Chairman. “Our barns and buildings including Salute to Agriculture, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Florida Ranch and Cattleman’s Exhibit and Agriculture Hall of Fame were filled with the best that Florida has to offer and we were delighted to demonstrate our rich agricultural and cultural heritage to so many people.”

Missed the 2017 fair? Don’t worry, planning is already underway for the 2018 fair, which is scheduled for Feb. 8 through Feb. 19.

Looking for a culturally diverse city? Then look no further than Orlando.

A new report from WalletHub ranked the City Beautiful as the ninth most culturally diverse mid-size city in the United States. The number crunchers at the personal finance website compared 501 of the largest cities in the country across three key metrics, including ethnoracial diversity, linguistic diversity and birthplace diversity.

Orlando landed in the No. 9 spot on the list of mid-size cities; but ranked 21st overall. Jersey City was the most culturally diverse midsize city; while New York landed the No. 1 spot when it came to large cities.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) rallied in Tally this week, calling on lawmakers to support $2.6 million for the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

The program provides lifesaving screenings to underserved women between the ages of 50 and 64, whose incomes are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Since it first received state funding in fiscal 2013, more than 132,500 women have received screenings and diagnostic services through it.

Recent estimates from the American Cancer Society show Florida has moved up to second in the United States for the number of new breast cancer cases each year, as well as the number of deaths.

ACS CAN also called on lawmakers to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by at least $1.

“When you consider the toll that cancer takes each year in Florida, it is a moral imperative to ensure we have policies in place that will allow everyone to have the disease detected and treated,” said Dr. Beth Lesnikoski, a surgical oncologist from West Palm Beach, in a statement. “We also have to do everything in our power to protect our youngsters from a future cancer diagnosis and there is no better way to make that happen than to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by at least $1.”

Rep. Emily Slosberg wants to extend a tax break to help struggling Floridians.

The freshman Democrat filed a bill to extend property tax breaks for homeowners with corrosive drywall. Currently set to expire in July, Slosberg’s proposal extends the tax breaks through 2025.

Millions of sheets of tainted Chinese drywall were sent to Florida between 1999 and 2009, severely impacting the market value of the property. Slosberg said “homeowners are being indirectly punished as they lose thousands of dollars in capital and on repairs” and said it was imperative the state extend the tax break to “continue to offer relief to those affected.”

 Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Three Florida organizations have something to celebrate this week.

Gov. Scott announced the Florida Defense Support Task Force has awarded $765,000 in grants to three groups across the state. The Clay County Development Authority will get the bulk of the money, $400,000, to preserve and protect the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center from land development through the purchase of adjoining property.

“We are proud to be the most military-friendly state in the nation and this funding not only supports our military members but the thousands of families that have jobs across the state thanks to our military installations, “ the governor said in a statement. “We will continue to do all we can to recognize the many brave military men and women, and their families, whose service and sacrifice keeps our country safe.”

The Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce will get $265,000 to use on a project to give the Naval Aviation Museum a more direct entrance, while the South Florida Progress Foundation of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce will receive $115,000 to “unite, champion and represent the local defense community” through the creation of the South Florida Defense Alliance.

Millions of Floridians continue to struggle to make ends meet, according to a new report from the United Way of Florida.

The United Way ALICE Report found 29.5 percent of working households are struggling to make ends meeting. Another 14.5 percent earn less than the federal poverty level, according to the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income, Constrained, Employed) report.

Introduced two years ago, ALICE is meant to put a spotlight on the number of residents who are working, earning more than the federal poverty level, but have difficulty affording the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

The report also showed the basic cost of household expenses increased steadily across the state between 2007 and 2015. It also showed households with children are more likely to struggle, particularly those with a single parent.

The 2017 report also shows the so-called “Gig Economy” is moving “more jobs from full-time jobs with benefits to part-time, on-demand or contingent employment.” This, according to the report, creates “opportunities for ALICE to fill short-term gaps in standard employment, but also transfers many costs and risks from employers onto individuals.”

It’s time to clean out your closet for a good cause.

Volunteer Florida and Uber announced this week it will host the second annual #SuitsForSession service project at the Florida Capitol on March 15. Members of the Legislature, Cabinet, local nonprofits, private sector and others will collect gently used professional attire for job-seekers in need.

“At Uber Florida, our goal is to keep people connected and we are proud to support initiatives that give back to the communities we serve,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber General Manager, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, in a statement. “Volunteer Florida’s #SuitsforSession connects people with the tools to be successful and we are excited once again to be an integral part of this year’s effort.”

The items will be donated to the Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America in Orlando, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program.

“It is an honor to sponsor the Second Annual #SuitsForSession service project at the Florida Capitol,” said Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. “As a business owner, I know the importance of having a workforce that is prepared for both the job search and the job itself, and providing professional attire for those in need is a great way to start.”

Volunteer Florida and Uber Florida will accept gently worn clothing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 15 at the Capitol. They’ll be accepting blazers and jackets, blouses and shirts, dresses and skirts, pants, and shoes for men and women.

CFO Jeff Atwater isn’t phoning in his last legislative session.

Atwater released a laundry list of legislative priorities this week ahead of his final legislative session as chief financial officer. Atwater announced earlier this month he was stepping down at the end of the 2017 legislative session to take a job at Florida Atlantic University.

“Since day one, I’ve set out to protect Floridians from fraud, waste and abuse, and this legislative session, I’ve put forward a set of priorities that I believe continue that commitment,” said Atwater. “In addition to enhancing current programs and building in consumer protections, we’re looking at ways to address the growing problems associated with the misuse and abuse of the assignment of benefits tool.”

Atwater’s 2017 legislative priorities include bills aimed at further streamlining the state’s nationally-recognized unclaimed property program; bills aimed at improving processes and honing investigative techniques to combat insurance fraud; and bill designed to streamline the state’s insurance receivership process.

Florida’s economy is cruising right along. Nothing there to change the big picture for legislators writing the next state budget.

State economists who met to crunch the numbers found that growth in tourism and slack housing starts will offset each other as overall growth produces about $31 billion in general revenues.

“Those are going to compensate for each other. So, overall, you end up about where you were, on the same path where we were heading,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“Florida has been moving in lock step in line with our forecasts for several years now. We have not really had any big surprises. I think that will continue to be the case,” Baker said.

“It’s positive, from the fact that we continue to see some strength. But it’s not going to change what they’re facing this year.”

Calling all children artists: Your masterworks are needed.

The organizers of Children’s Week, the annual advocacy event that takes place at the Florida Capitol, are asking families and teachers to participate in the “Give Us a Hand” campaign by helping young children and students create artwork of their hands that will make an impact on legislators during the session.

The artwork is meant to convey a message to lawmakers. Last year, more than 100,000 paper hand cut-outs were collected and transformed into an exhibition.

“The hands show decision makers a visual representation of the vast number of children their decisions affect. We hope that legislators will see the thousands of hands – see the personalization of each one – and envision the children who made them,” said Jason Zaborske, statewide coordinator for Children’s Week.

To have your students or child’s artwork displayed in the Capitol rotunda during Children’s Week, it must be postmarked by March 10 and sent to the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region c/o Children’s Week, 2639 N. Monroe St. Building C, Tallahassee, FL 32303.

The Hanging of the Hands ceremony is scheduled for March 26.

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

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Is Bill Nelson’s re-election race really a “Lean Democrat” in 2018?

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is set for a tough reelection battle next year, but for some reason Sabato’s Crystal Ball decided look past that and peg him as the likely victor in 2018.

The blog post lists Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat as leaning toward the Democrats and even goes so far as to give Nelson “the benefit of the doubt” due to him winning statewide several times.

Sure, that’s true, but if you can’t see the Nelson’s weaknesses and the many paths Republicans could use to take him down, you might need to get your eyes checked.

He’s already under attack by a conservative group for his votes on the ACA, and the National Republican Senate Committee is also smelling blood, recently announcing digital ads showing he has voted in lock step with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time.

While the attacks are certainly fodder for the Republican base, the comparison has a slugger’s chance of sticking during an off-cycle election in a state carried by President Donald Trump.

Nelson’s response to the attacks is baffling as well. In a Monday article from POLITICO, he said the fundraising prowess of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was “the biggest factor” in how he plans to win a fourth term in the senate.

And that’s in spite of weaknesses he didn’t hesitate to point out with theSsenate Democrat’s social media game.

“I am chewing on Senator Schumer everyday about that,” he said. “We just may surprise everybody. After this election, he might be Majority Leader.”

Yes, the New York Democrat brought in $180 million for Senate Democratic campaigns last cycle, but his results were less than stellar

In Florida alone, the DSCC spent $10 million trying to prop up former Rep. Patrick Murphy in his race, but that barely got him within 8 points of a somewhat damaged Marco Rubio.

Imagine how much money he would have to pump in for a race against expected opponent Gov. Rick Scott who also has won statewide and has had no problem spending his own money on top of the mountains of cash he brings in to his political committee.

But sure, let’s give Nelson the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like Democrats didn’t just get the wakeup call of a lifetime or anything.

Introducing FloridaPolitics.com’s latest newsletter: ‘The Delegation’

We admit it; we love a good newsletter.

So with 10 new members in the congressional delegation, a part-time #FloridaMan in the White House, and plenty of Sunshine State connections to the Beltway, we thought it was about time to launch our own newsletter diving into D.C.

Welcome to “The Delegation,” Florida Politics’ weekly roundup of the news from D.C. as it relates to the Sunshine State.

Here you’ll find stories about President Donald Trump, hot takes about Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, video of Congressman Neal Dunn bringing a musket to the Capitol and everything in between.

Send us your tips, your thoughts and suggestions. And please be patient while we work out the kinks. We know the ins and outs of Tallahassee, but we’re still learning the tricks of the trade in D.C.

Donald Trump, Month 2: Talks on health care and tax overhaul via Julie Pace of The Associated Press — White House chief of staff Reince Priebus expects a health care plan to emerge in ‘the first few days of March. Pressed on whether the plan would be coming from the White House, Priebus said, “We don’t work in a vacuum.”

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker now serving as Trump’s top economic adviser, and newly sworn-in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been leading talks with Republican lawmakers and business leaders on taxes. Neither man has prior government experience. …

One of the biggest questions on Capitol Hill is how involved Trump plans to be in legislative minutia. One GOP leadership aide whose office has been working with the White House described the president as a “big picture guy” … he expected Trump to defer to Capitol Hill on health care … Priebus expects Congress to pass both a tax package and legislation repealing and replacing Obama’s health care law by the end of the year. But the White House’s outward confidence belies major roadblocks on both matters.

In Trump’s future looms a familiar shutdown threat via Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press — Add a potential government shutdown to Trump‘s growing roster of headaches.

Beneath the capital’s radar looms a vexing problem — a catchall spending package that’s likely to top $1 trillion and could get embroiled in the politics of building Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a budget-busting Pentagon request.

While a shutdown deadline has a few weeks to go, the huge measure looms as an unpleasant reality check for Trump and Republicans controlling Congress. Despite the big power shift in Washington, the path to success … goes directly through Senate Democrats, whose votes are required to pass the measure. And any measure that satisfies Democrats and their new leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is sure to alienate tea party Republicans.

Bill Nelson’s postelection pep talk — Is Sen. Nelson up for a contested Democratic primary in his re-election bid next year?

“You want to do a contest on pull-ups or push-ups?” Nelson replied to a reporter who asked that question during an informal news conference in Tallahassee Monday.

News reports have mentioned a variety of primary challengers to the 74-year-old Democrat in a year when much of the party base is fired up with anti-Trump fervor.

Nelson visited Tallahassee to speak to STEM students at Florida A&M University and deliver a pep talk to the Senate Democratic caucus. “My message is going to be: It’s worth it to keep fighting for your values.”

He praised Stephen Bittel, the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising ability — not easy, he said, in a state where Republicans dominate government and the lobbying corps. “Stephen, he’ll go around the lobbying corps,” Nelson said. “He’ll go to all his outside contacts.”

Days until the 2018 election: 621

Nelson “on strong ground” to oppose Gorsuch — Left-leaning group Progressive Change Campaign Committee is using the results of a poll they commissioned to test out arguments against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to pressure Sen. Nelson into opposing his confirmation. The poll found nearly two-thirds of Floridians opposed Gorsuch when he told he “sided with big insurance companies, sided with employers who denied wages and retirement benefits to employees and generally protected big corporations from accountability.”

The group said the results show that Nelson “is on strong ground opposing Neil Gorsuch’s nomination” if he sticks to the talking points in the poll. PPP conducted the blended phone/online survey of 326 Floridians from Feb. 3-4. The error margin is plus-or-minus 5.4 percentage points.

Nelson takes action on property insurance ratings — Sen. Nelson has asked the Deputy Director of the Office of Federal Insurance to step in after financial stability rating company Demotech announced earlier this month that it was considering downgrading the stability of Florida companies from an A to a B. The move has the potential to cause thousands of Florida homeowners to default on their loans.

First reported by Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida, Nelson asked in the letter to Steve Seitz that he “take any and all necessary steps to help stabilize Florida’s property insurance market and avoid such a disaster.”

Demotech cited Florida’s assignment of benefits laws and a pair of rulings it said created Florida-specific standards when it made its ratings announcement.

Protesters hold mock town hall meeting in Tampa with cardboard Marco Rubio via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — His face was posted on Popsicle sticks, printed on a life-size cutout and hidden in Where’s Waldo?-styled puzzles. His name was printed on T-shirts and written on posters. But Rubio was thousands of miles away from Wednesday night’s “constituent town hall” meeting held in his honor.

“Why won’t Rubio come to town, or at least address us?” said event organizer Melissa Gallagher …”It’s really disconcerting, especially since he ran a presidential campaign and promised Floridians to protect us and look out for our best interests.”

A spokesman for Rubio said the staff has met with “dozens of these liberal activists,” including a small group of protesters a week earlier. Staff has been “fully accessible and responsive” to all who come with concerns and questions, he assured.

A cardboard cutout of Marco Rubio stood in for the Florida Senator, as more than 500 constituents attended a mock town hall meeting in Tampa Wednesday. (Photo: @DDonovan21/Twitter)

Rubio riding high in Associated Industries of Florida poll — It’s no surprise that Rubio gets top marks in the Associated Industries pre-session survey. The pro-business group had the Miami Republican leading in the U.S. Senate race throughout 2016. The survey of 800 likely Republican primary voters found 69 percent said they approved of the job Rubio was doing, compared to 22 percent who disapproved. According to the polling memo, the second term senator “enjoys a high net approval, but his overall approval is soft with 44 percent somewhat approving of the job he is doing as Senator.”

ONE hires former Rubio staffer as senior director — Sally Canfield will become senior director of U.S. government relations for ONE, the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono, which is fighting to end poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

Canfield previously served as Rubio’s deputy chief of staff and was formerly the senior director of international government affairs for pharmaceutical company AbbVie. She has held a variety of senior positions including deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, counselor to the secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, and senior policy adviser to the Speaker of the House.

In the 2000 campaign, Canfield served as domestic policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush and in the 2008 campaign cycle, she served as policy director for Gov. Mitt Romney.

Op-ed: Florida’s new members of Congress leading the way in civility via Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer for Florida Politics — This past year has seen our country feeling more divided than ever before. The 2016 election took its toll, with candidates up and down the ballot partaking in name calling and disrespectful attacks.

Florida’s newest members of Congress may have the answer … 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats — the Freshman Class of the 115th Congress, signed a Commitment to Civility — both Republicans and Democrats — from red states and blue states, from the north and the south. Florida has much to be proud of, with 9 of their 11 freshmen members (Representatives CristDunnDemingsGaetz, Mast, Lawson, RooneySoto, and Rutherford) signing the letter signaling their commitment to civility.

Florida’s freshmen … Stating what we all believe to be true, the civility statement addresses the “ … coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. One result has been a loss of trust in our institutions and elected officials.” For acknowledging this reality, these congressmen deserve our commendation.

Progress Florida calls out 10 members of the congressional delegation — The left-leaning activist group named 10 members of the Florida delegation who have voted in lock-step with “President Trump’s anti-environmental agenda.” According to the group, Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, and Francis Rooney have supported the White House’s position in each of the 22 environment-related roll call votes in the House. Rubio got the same score for the four votes that have come up in the Senate.

Progress Florida said the votes put each of the 10 lawmakers “squarely out of sync with public opinion in a state where a majority of residents say they are worried about global warming.”

Progress Florida Director Mark Ferrulo added: “The question is, what will it take for our elected representatives to stand up to President Trump and to vote independently, on behalf of all Floridians?”

Gaetz back in Florida Capitol — The CD 1 Republican was in Tallahassee Wednesday to discuss health care reform, including his support for a block grant funding method for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor.

After a structured media availability, the former state representative elected to Congress last year also held a more informal gaggle with members of the Capitol Press Corps. He explained without elaborating that such grants would offer more control over Medicaid to states, repeatedly knocking the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, with Congressman Matt Gaetz behind him, discusses Medicaid block grants at a Wednesday Capitol news conference.

Gaetz calls for Trump tax returns via CNN – Gaetz surprised a roomful of angry protesters Thursday night when he called for President Trump to release his tax returns. But the Florida Republican stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena those returns.

Gaetz has stood by Trump, campaigning with him over the past weekend and closing his raucous one-hour town hall at the Oops Bowling Alley here Thursday night by saying he wanted to “make America great again.” But he surprised the audience when he said, “Absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns.”

Dunn files resolution to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water plan — Freshman U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn announced this week that he filed a resolution to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing their water control plan for the Apalachicola Bay. “This crisis and the fight for our right to river water goes back many years, but the challenge is urgent for us today,” said Dunn, a Panhandle Republican.

Dunn’s resolution would block the Corps’ plan for the water basin that empties into the bay, which has been the subject of a yearslong dispute between Florida and Georgia, which has seen its water needs grow alongside population booms in Atlanta and other metros. “If implemented, this rule would have even more devastating effects on the ecosystem in Apalachicola and the economy in the (2nd Congressional District) than the current water control plan that led to the unprecedented collapse of our oyster fisheries in 2012,” he said.

Dunn brings musket to Capitol office — The CD 2 Republican posted a video last week showing off an antique musket that now hangs on the wall in his Capitol office. The 1777 British flintlock rifle was surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, and Dunn said the firearm is “how I’m reminded to fight for your Second Amendment rights every day.”

Dunn said he “came to Congress to fight for you and to ensure that our Constitution remains the supreme law of the land. We must never forget how precious our Constitutional rights are, and the right to bear arms is one of our most fundamental and sacred rights.” Click on the image below to watch the video.

— “Neal Dunn shuns citizens calling for town hall” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat

Save the dateTed Yoho town hall — The Gainesville Republican is hosting a town hall discussion Saturday, March 4, at Countryside Baptist Church, 10926 NW 39th Ave. in Gainesville. Doors open at 9 a.m., the event begins at 10 a.m.

Rutherford: ‘I thought I was facing death’ via Florida Politics — This weekRutherford addressed a group of young Catholic professionals at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville. Though the speech was about faith, Rutherford also discussed his ongoing recovery from a January medical episode (he collapsed in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives), and how the rosary proved to be the key to his survival.

“I thought I was having a massive heart attack … The panic was off the scale.” Feeling consciousness fading, Rutherford surmised that if he passed out, he might not come to. “I thought I was facing death … But I thought it wasn’t the ending, only the beginning … I was not afraid.” He started saying the rosary, and the pain and hyperventilation subsided.

Schedule confusion characterizes Al Lawson in Jacksonville via Florida Politics — Lawson’s itinerary … was pretty straightforward … the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was to go to Eureka Garden on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

However, the plan did not come together … Lawson called an audible and made his Eureka Garden visit Monday — Presidents Day … Curry was camping with his family … Dennis likewise was busy with personal business. With no local political backup, Lawson spoke in generalities about the improvements on the property, discussing potential collaboration with Marco Rubio on HUD reform. Even so, there was a tone-deaf quality to his remarks.

From “Whenever I get my paycheck, I think of you” to his assertion that Eureka apartments — which made national news for months because of their issues — are “better than apartment in D.C.,” Lawson’s presentation confused media on hand — especially those who have been immersed in the Eureka Garden story.

Posey applauds the return of professional boxing to Palm Bay — The Rockledge Republican praised the City of Palm Bay and Telemundo for working to bring another World Boxing Organization (WBO) sanctioned boxing night to Palm Bay.

“I applaud the efforts of Mayor Capote and the City of Palm Bay for working with Telemundo and All Star Boxing to bring another exciting night of boxing entertainment here to Florida’s Space Coast,” Posey said. “Events such as this help provide a boost to local businesses and raise our profile around the world as a premier travel destination.”

“Palm Bay is excited to have ‘Showdown at the Bay VI’ back here at the Tony Rosa Community Center,” Capote responded. “Attracting top-tier programs and events, such as Boxeo Telemundo Ford, is just a taste of what we plan to do in Palm Bay as the city grows. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner Telemundo with and the event organizers as we continue to bring this event back to Palm Bay.”

Facebook fun:

Murphy unites 150+ Congress members calling for response to Jewish centers threats via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Conference, sent the letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey expressing “deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish Community Centers” and urged them to swiftly assess the situation and advise Congress about what is going on.

She also called for prosecutions and efforts to deter threats and to assist centers to enhance security.

“This is not an idle concern, given that there have been at least three casualty-causing attacks at JCCs or other Jewish institutions in the last two decades,” she added, referring to the shootings in Kansas, Seattle and California. “This is a national problem and, as such, it requires a national solution.”

Trump immigration policy spurs discussion from Demings, Soto via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — With angst rising in immigrant communities, two members of Congress from Orlando on Tuesday met with their minority constituents, who are alarmed by Trump’s immigration-enforcement plan. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings, both Orlando Democrats vocally opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, hosted roundtable discussions at their respective district headquarters.

Hours before the meetings, memos signed by Secretary Kelly revealed further details of the administration’s plan to ramp up deportations.

“My first impression is we have a community in crisis,” Soto said before about 30 people in Kissimmee Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, four local Muslim leaders met with Demings at her MetroWest office to continue a previous discussion of Trump’s ban of immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Happening Sunday: Demings’ town hall — The Rep. will answer questions and concerns about the Affordable Care Act. Event is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Dr. Phillips high school, 6500 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando. More information at www.demings.house.gov.

Webster jeered for declining to answer questions at Inverness town hall via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — The town-hall meeting at the Inverness Government Center didn’t go all that smoothly. Many in attendance appeared upset that they didn’t get to ask questions of the Congressman, who now represents Florida’s 11th Congressional District. GOP House lawmakers were warned last week to maintain “enhanced security awareness” as they return to home districts following several raucous town hall meetings in which angry Democrats dominated the proceedings, upset over plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Tweet, tweet@realDonaldTrump: The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!

Webster returns $460,000 to taxpayers — The Republican congressman returned $460,000 appropriated run his congressional office in a Thursday ceremony in Brooksville. The CD 11 representative said he has returned more than 30 percent of the money set aside to run his office over the past six years, for a cumulative savings of just under $2.5 million.

“Washington operates on the principle that if money is appropriated, it should be spent. During my service in Congress, I have exposed this flawed principle,” Webster said. “If every area of the federal government began intentionally cutting waste, we could get a lot closer to balancing our budget and trimming the massive burden of debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.”

In a cheap-and-proud-of-it-like-your-Dad moment, Dan Webster says he runs his Congressional office on less money that it’s budgeted for, now saving a total of nearly $2.5 million since he was first elected in 2011.

Crist divorcing wife Carole via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – “I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wish all the best for her.” Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service.

Crist asks supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida”Crist sent out an email this week urging supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida.” The former governor and first term congressman extolled the virtues of Florida’s environment, but added that “recklessness and lack of oversight can have devastating impacts” on nature. “As someone who has always had a deep appreciation for the environment and a vocal advocate, the first few weeks of this new administration have been disheartening. Now, I am certain we will need everyone to join in and make our voices heard to protect Florida’s most important resource.”

Crist blasts the Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics  “This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said on Thursday.

Crist to host St. Pete student at presidential address — He has selected an eighth grade student from St. Petersburg to be his guest at next week’s address by President Trump before a joint session of Congress.

Oliver Hess, a student at Shorecrest Preparatory School, is assisting a Syrian family fleeing persecution as part of a school “passion project.” He recently wrote to Crist saying “families being denied a better life and a safe future is devastating to me.” Crist commended the “conscientiousness” of Hess, earning him the invitation. “I look forward to having him join me in Washington next week to bring greater attention to helping refugees in need.”

Castor’s district director retiring after decade in officeChloe Coney is retiring as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district director after a decade of service, Castor’s office announced recently. Before her work with Castor, Coney spent more than 40 years working in housing and urban development. “Chloe’s passion and expertise have served our neighbors, families and businesses well,” Castor said. “She is revered by Tampa’s community for her lifetime of service.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also weighed in on Coney’s retirement, saying that more than almost anybody, Chloe spearheaded the effort to begin the revitalization of East Tampa.”

Marcia Mejia, Castor’s communication director, will take over for Coney, while Steven Angotti will take over communications for the 10-year congresswoman.

At town halls, doses of fury and a bottle of Tums via Trip Gabriel, Thomas Kaplan, Lizette Alvarez and Emmarie Huetteman of The New York Times — During the first weeklong recess of the new Congress, many Republicans have chosen not to hold events at all, wary of protests that might greet them. Others gamely faced the music, including Dennis Ross.

Ross, one of the most conservative members of Congress and an enthusiastic defender of Trump’s, was called a liar by participants in his town hall in Clermont … They held signs reading “Disagree,” “Nyet My President” and “No Pipeline.”

One protester tried to reason with the passionate crowd, urging people to let Ross speak and adding that if they were angry, the correct response was to vote. “But in the meantime, let him talk so we can hold him accountable,” she added.

“This is democracy in action,” Ross said at one point.

Buchanan spends congressional recess overseas — Instead of returning to Sarasota during the Presidents Day break, Buchanan is visiting Afghanistan and other countries, including Israel. While in Afghanistan he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discussing the country’s fight against the Taliban and the U.S. role in assisting this struggle. He reaffirmed the need to maintain “strong alliances with our allies in the fight against terrorism.” Buchanan also met with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the 8,500 American troops in the region. He also visited with several troops from Florida, calling it “an honor and privilege to meet some of the Florida soldiers keeping us safe overseas.”

Vern Buchanan (front row, second from right) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (front row, third from left) and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens (second row, second from left)

Buchanan: Restore USDA animal protection website immediately — The Sarasota Republican is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully restore a site designed to expose animal abuse. Citing “privacy concerns,” the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suddenly removed the online database earlier this month.

A partial restoration was found lacking by Buchanan, who joined more than 100 colleagues writing to President Trump urging a full restoration “immediately.” Buchanan, the co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus in Congress, said “there’s no reason to hold back this vital information. Putting a few documents back online is not good enough.”

The database is used by animal welfare groups and journalists to watch puppy mills, zoos, circuses and research facilities.

F. Rooney gives history lesson to MSNBC host — Republican Rep. Francis Rooney gave MSNBC host Katy Tur a bit of a history lesson Monday when he brought up Barack Obama’s promise to give then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev more “flexibility” after the 2012 election cycle. Though Rooney misremembered the incident as Obama talking to Vladimir Putin, the content was correct and was a major story during Obama’s campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Tur, who said she didn’t know what Rooney was talking about during the broadcast, hit Twitter later in the evening to say “she didn’t touch politics in 2012,” and that she would “rather be honest about what I know and don’t know in the moment.” More from Mediate here.

Protesters heading to Rooney’s office Saturday while he speaks in D.C. via Alexandra Glorioso via the Naples Daily News — Rooney‘s decision not to hold an open, town-hall style constituent meeting … left some Southwest Florida residents feeling that he’s avoiding them.

Rooney … will hold a “tele-town hall” at 4 p.m. Tuesday. To participate, residents of his district must go to his website — francisrooney.house.gov/contact — and send an email requesting an invitation.

On Saturday, local members of the left-leaning national group OurRevolution have scheduled a protest near Rooney’s Naples office as he’s speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. The group will hold the protest at 10 a.m. at the Collier County Courthouse Complex on the same day as other national protests are held against efforts to repeal Obamacare.

P. Rooney celebrates cost cutting for F-35 project — Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney lauded a new deal between Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense that will save taxpayers $728 million on the next 90 F-35 fighter jets purchased by the US. In addition to the savings, the manufacturer announced it would add 1,800 jobs at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility.

“It has always been my top priority to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the latest and greatest technology at their disposal to defeat our adversaries, which for us means the F-35 aircraft,” Rooney said. “I appreciate Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon for swiftly coming to an agreement that equips our military with the most advanced aircraft in the world, while also saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Rooney also worked to strike funding for an alternative engine for the fighter jet back in 2011, which saved taxpayers up to $3 billion.

Florida congressmen demo F-35 at West Palm Beach event — U.S. Reps. Rooney and Brian Mast took to the (virtual) skies in an F-35 fighter jet during a Wednesday demonstration at manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s West Palm Beach engine center. The two congressman and area business leaders were invited to hear an update on the fighter jet project and demo a demonstration unit packed with virtual missions.

Mast and Rooney both spoke at the event and emphasized the importance the project plays in the Florida economy.

Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corporation, said the fighter project “supported over 14,700 direct and indirect jobs and created an economic impact of $3.1 billion” last year in Florida.

Palm County Republican Brian Mast takes control of the F-35 Lightning II cockpit simulator during a visit to the Pratt & Whitney Engine Facility in Jupiter.

Happening today — Mast hosts veterans’ town hall meeting — The Palm City Republican congressman is hosting a town hall in Fort Pierce to “honor our nation’s heroes, ask questions and hear about services we offer for veterans.” The event, which is open to the public, will be Friday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Havert L. Fenn Center, 2000 Virginia Avenue in Fort Pierce. RSVP at masthouse.gov.

— “Mast has first town hall as GOP faces angry crowds” via Isadora Rangel of TC Palm

Frankel faces constituents from both sides of political aisle at West Delray town hall via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Question after question at the 75-minute session concerned what the president is doing: on his court-blocked ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, on his new order calling for more deportations of immigrants who aren’t in the country legally, and about potential conflicts between serving as president and the businesses he still owns.

The crowd at the Kings Point condominium community was largely friendly, unlike what many Republican members of Congress are encountering as they are being pushed by voters to explain their support for Trump and his policies.

At times Frankel had to dial down some of the anti-Trump comments from her constituents, one of whom suggested first lady Melania Trump be deported, and another of whom suggested the president’s attacks on the news media show he’s acting like a Nazi. Frankel immediately rejected the Nazi label. As to the first lady, Frankel said “Hands off the president’s family.”

Deutch tapped for two leadership posts — This week the South Florida Democrat took on two leadership roles in the House of Representatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped the Boca Raton Democrat for the role of Ranking Member on the House Committee on Ethics. Pelosi said Deutch “will be a pillar of ethics and accountability.” Also, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa for the third consecutive term.

Deutch expressed pride in the “bipartisan work” of the subcommittee and the collaborative engagement with the chairman, Cong. Ros-Lehtinen. Besides Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Brian Mast also serve on the subcommittee.

Diaz-Balart calls out human rights record of Venezuela’s Maduro — The District 25 Republican took the opportunity to shine a little light on the human rights abuses of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Following a visit to his Washington office by Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Ledezma, wives of political prisoners Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, Diaz-Balart called for the release of all Venezuelan political prisoners on the third anniversary of Lopez’s jailing.

Diaz-Balart also listed all that is wrong politically and economically in Venezuela with deteriorating human rights, corrupted government institutions and a failing economy topping the list. The Congressman also praised President Trump for “placing tough sanctions on Maduro’s right-hand thug Tareck El Aissami.

Diaz-Balart renames foreign aid as “national security spending” — Is there a better way to describe the term “foreign aid?” During a Miami forum sponsored by the US Global Leadership Coalition, Diaz-Balart said “national security spending” is a more accurate definition of U.S. assistance to other nations.

Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign expenditures, predicted the federal budget “will survive” attempts to slash the $52 billion allotted for foreign assistance. Diaz-Balart and fellow panelists that included retired Air Force General Richard Hawley, discussed why overseas investments and projection of American values are good for the country’s security and prosperity. “The world is safer when the U.S. leads,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz denounces Trump administration immigration changes via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “There’s a long list of pretty terrible things that have happened in the Trump administration so far. This is definitely among the worst.”

She pledged to do everything she could to counter the new policies, including opposing the spending authority Trump would need to hire 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 5,000 new Customs and Border Patrol Agents. “I’m going to fight. I’m going to stand up for the values of this community,” Wasserman Schultz promised.

She rejected the idea that the policy is OK because Trump won the presidency after promising during the campaign to get tough on illegal immigration. “It doesn’t matter whether we should have expected it,” she said. “You have to fight injustice wherever you can.”

Curbelo: Tax reform helps small businesses via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — From his new seat on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee … House Republicans featured Curbelo in their latest “Tax Reform Tuesday” web video.

“Greetings from South Florida. I’m Carlos Curbelo, and I represent this community in Congress,” the South Florida Republican says in the video which was also released in Spanish. “We House Republicans are starting our work on tax reform and tax reform is about people. We want to build a simpler, flatter, and more fair tax code, so that people like these behind me can dedicate more time to their families and can have more resources to get ahead instead of just getting by.”

“So that small business owners like the family who came from Cuba decades ago and struggled to build this wonderful restaurant can invest more in the community, provide better jobs, and pay their employees more.”

Suspicious package flagged at Curbelo’s Capitol Hill office, all OK via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Someone hand-delivered an anonymous envelope … addressed to “Comrade Curbelo,” according to one of the congressman’s staffers. Instead of a return address, it listed, “Kremlin.”

Curbelo wasn’t in the office — he’s spending the congressional recess in the district — but some of his aides were. The Capitol Police checked out the letter “out of an abundance of caution … We were able to clear it without any threat.”

Capitol Police deals with similar situations “on almost a daily basis.”

Spotted: U.S. Reps. Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a POLITICO report about The Partnership for a New American Economic, an advocacy group led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

DCCC Twitter ad targets Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for ACA votes — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Wednesday that it is targeting Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen in a series of targeted Twitter ads.

“Representatives Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen’s reckless vote to rip apart the Affordable Care Act without a replacement is causing widespread backlash at home,” said DCCC Spokesman Javier Gamboa. “These digital ads expose Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for being shameless enough to take people’s health care away and then run scared when their constituents demand answers.”

The ads show a crowd assembled in front of a stage with an empty chair, asking “Where’s Curbelo?” and “Where’s Ros-Lehtinen?” The DCCC will also promote a Spanish version of the ad on the social media platform.

Ros-Lehtinen tells reporters they are not the enemy — The Miami Republican distanced herself from President Trump’s anti-media comments in her first public appearance of the congressional recess.

“To the members of the press, I want to say thank you,” she said to an audience including reporters. “You are not the enemy of the American people.” Ros-Lehtinen, Florida’s most senior representative in the House, added that the media has “a central role in our republic.” The statement is in seemingly in response to a tweet President Trump made last week calling major news outlets “the fake news media” and “the enemy of the American People.”

Ros-Lehtinen, whose son is transgender, calls Trump change to bathroom rules ‘lamentable’ via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Trump administration’s move to lift protections for transgender students, who under Obama-era rules had been allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

Ros-Lehtinen — whose son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, is transgender — noted that in 2015, she introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She has also signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in a Supreme Court case seeking to protect access to public accommodations for transgender students.

“This lamentable decision can lead to hostile treatment of transgender students and studies have shown that bullying and harassment can be detrimental to the emotional and physical well-being of teenagers,” Ros-Lehtinen said …”Evidence has shown that acceptance of transgender students lowers their risk of suicide. SNDA prevent discrimination of transgender young people, and we will reintroduce it because our country benefits when everyone is accepted, and we live up to our nation’s promise of inclusiveness.”

Ex-David Jolly staffer hangs out shingle via Florida Politics — Preston Rudie, who served as Jolly’s communications director, is now a media consultant for state Sen. Latvala.

The Clearwater lawmaker is the most high-profile client for Rudie since he’s gone into the consulting business. He says that with the Catalyst Communications Group, he’ll be working with both private companies and elected officials. Rudie was an award-winning television reporter with more than 20 Emmy’s and 6 Edward R. Murrow awards to his name while working at WTSP 10 News from 2002-2014.

“Preston Rudie was the best Communications Director in Congress,” Jolly says. “Colleagues across the country would often share with me just how remarkable Preston was at his job. His clients at Catalyst, including candidates for regional or statewide office, will find great success working with Preston. Simply put, he’s one of the best in the business.”

Harris CEO Bill Brown meets with Trump via Wayne Price of FLORIDA TODAY – Harris was the only Florida-based company that took part in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council meeting. Brown and the other business leaders first met with Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet members and top aides … Topics of discussion involved deregulation, tax and trade, training and the workforce of the future, and infrastructure.

Others invitees … included top executives from U.S. business stalwarts like The Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co., Johnson & Johnson and the Whirlpool Corp. Also invited was SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Hillsborough County drops long time lobbyists Alcalde & Fay via Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta — Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay lost Hillsborough County as its client after close to 25 years of representing its interests in the Capitol.

The firm’s founder, Hector Alcalde, lived in Tampa for several years, having built strong relations. At one time, he represented most of the region’s local governments, including the City of Tampa. Hillsborough Community College and the Tampa Port Authority still retain the firm. Alcalde is also a partner in Potomac Partners, which represents the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Squire Patton Boggs is the new federal lobbying firm for Hillsborough County. The two-year contract is for $216,000.

Marty Fiorentino assisting Trump administration via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union — Fiorentino is the owner of the most prominent Jacksonville-based lobbying firm in state politics, but he is away from Florida’s Capitol these days. Fiorentino is working in Washington as a consultant for new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Trump appointed Chao, and shortly after Senate confirmation, she asked Fiorentino to come to Washington for a meeting.

He agreed to help her transition. The two are friends who met nearly three decades ago when he was working at the Federal Railroad Administration, and she was Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Fiorentino expects to spend a couple of months helping Chao in her new role before returning to his lobbying work in Florida.

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