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Jacksonville Bold for 2.24.17 — Resistance emerges

Donald Trump resistance emerges — A month into the Donald Trump administration, Northeast Florida residents are starting to manifest their opposition into action, reports Matt Soergel in the Florida Times-Union.

Chapters of the Indivisible movement, which aims to pressure local legislators to resist Trump, have cropped up from Palm Coast through Nocatee and Clay County and up into Nassau County. Veterans of the Women’s March on Washington continue to meet to plot their next steps. Established progressive groups say their numbers are growing and their members are re-energized. Large crowds have swelled the Duval Democratic Party’s business meetings,” Soergel writes.

How meaningful will it be? That remains to be seen.

UNF Poli Sci professor Michael Binder says these actions matter. But the reality is that virtually every 2018 race has been decided by district maps.

On the federal level, Al Lawson and John Rutherford are locks to go back to Congress (assuming Lawson isn’t primaried). State House races are likewise locked down for eight years in most cases.

This tempest, in other words, may be sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Fox News follies — The Fox News Channel wanted significant advance coverage for its immigration town hall in Ponte Vedra Tuesday.

But the channel didn’t want press inside, reports The Florida Times-Union.

The star power for the event: Rep. Ron DeSantis, whose district once encompassed Ponte Vedra, but was moved south in the latest round of redistricting.

The big takeaway from the event, reports FNC: that travel ban from seven majority Muslim failed states, a ban that outraged so many on the left will be back, according to Trump adviser Stephen Miller.

Al Lawson talks HUD reform — U.S. Representative Al Lawson visited Jacksonville this week, and one of his stops was at Eureka Garden.

Lawson, who had described the troubled Section 8 complex as “that place Marco Rubio visited” during his campaign last year, was a bit more specific when on-site.

Lawson lauded the new management company for changes made, even as tenants complained about issues in their specific units, including mold problems that continue to plague residents.

Rubio was not far from Lawson’s mind.

Lawson asserted that Rubio, who said on many occasions that GMF had a “slumlord” approach to property ownership, committed to continuing work on HUD reform.

“We want to make sure that they take care of residents,” Lawson said, and “make sure HUD has proper oversight” by “working jointly with HUD to make some changes.”

Lawson’s leaky ship — As we exclusively reported this week, Lawson dodged a scheduled public appearance with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — and managed to create two weird news cycle days in a row for Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

On Monday, Lawson went to Eureka Garden — instead of Tuesday, when an advisory said he was headed to Eureka with the two Jacksonville politicians.

On Tuesday, Lawson said he would do a community walk with Curry in Arlington, but canceled on the Mayor with just hours’ notice — and no good reason for the cancellation.

Lawson needed this trip to work out.

Word is Audrey Gibson (mostly, Dennis’ patron) and Alvin Brown haven’t ruled out running.

Of course, Alvin has also said that if Curry becomes CFO, he’d be happy to be Mayor again.

Sports Council supports HRO expansion — Though the Jacksonville Sports Council avoided public comment during the process leading up to the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, after the fact they expressed relief that the deal was done.

Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union asserts that “the JSC knew its mission of bringing sports events to Jacksonville would be severely hampered without the HRO passage.”

“I don’t think it’s the NCAA’s job to take positions on social and societal issues, but we have to abide by their ground rules. It’s clear that would hurt our ability to bring sporting events here,” JSC CEO Rick Catlett said.

“Bidding for NCAA championships, there’s five boxes you have to check, and one of them is ‘do you have an anti-discrimination law in your city?’ I’m glad we can check yes.”

The Sports Council might be happy. But First Baptist Church is not.

They lay the blame at the feet of the mayor and the city council.

Meanwhile, Curry has been accused of flipping on the issue for not vetoing the super majority of the council, in a rare instance of the mayor skewing left of his base — and getting lit up for his trouble.

Jax Council VP race is on — Jacksonville City Councilman Scott Wilson told us first about his run for VP of the council.

The VP role is typically a springboard for the presidency, and races for VP are often more contentious than those for the presidency.

2016’s race had as much drama as a season of Big Brother, with candidates flipping on each other and betraying each other, up until the deciding vote was cast.

Wilson, who never has a bad word to say about anyone, wants to keep the race clean and positive.

The next few months — and the inevitable competition that emerges — will tell the tale as to whether that comes to pass.

No THC and SJC — St. Johns County has close to 200,000 people, yet chose the Podunk approach to medical marijuana.

Flouting the will of voters, who supported Amendment 2 resoundingly, the St. Johns County Commission waited until this week to issue a moratorium on MMJ dispensaries, Action News Jax reported.

SJC has seldom met a housing development project it didn’t like, yet caution is the watchword with the plant that once grew wild on reclaimed swampland.

“Commission members want to ensure that future dispensaries aren’t near children and they want to develop secure protocols before patients start buying their medicine. The board authorized staff to continue zoning implementation, researching regulations and looking into the cost associated with these new protocols.”

With plenty of unincorporated land in St. Johns County, one wonders how long this process can actually take.

Changes at CSX — The Jacksonville railroad company is expected to lay off 1,000 management-level employees by the end of next month, yet the company is still moving forward with its CSX of Tomorrow strategy, a technological advance designed to make the railroad run leaner and meaner.

Moving into the presidency: Frederik Eliason, excited about the “dynamic and important time” at CSX.

Efficiency and savings are the watchwords, report the Florida Times-Union. With turnaround expert Hunter Harrison in a position to run the company, expect belt-tightening and force reduction.

The question now: how Jacksonville will the Jacksonville railroad be at the end of the process?

JTA launches TryTransit Challenge — The Jacksonville Business Journal reported last week that the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is launching an initiative to promote an economical and sustainable alternative to driving in Jacksonville.

The initiative will feature will feature several campaigns and strategically positions advertisements designed to get customers to leave their cars at home try JTA.

JAXPORT announces Auto Supply Chain panel members — The 2017 JAXPORT Logistics & Intermodal Conference announced the participants for its Complexity in the Finished Vehicle Supply Chain panel. The panel will be moderated by HUB Group EVP Steve Rand and will feature Scott Cornell of Hyundai Glovis, David Sellers of AVP Automotive, Charles Franklin of American Honda Motor Co. and Heather Gilhuly of Volkswagen of America. The panel will discuss challenges in the industry, including offering insights into current events surrounding the auto supply chain between the U.S. and Mexico. The JAXPORT conference is set for March 20 through March 22 at the World Golf Village Resort in St. Augustine.

Jacksonville Police officer recognized for lifesaving technique — TraumaOne and UF Health Jacksonville honored Terrance Hightower of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for the correct use of a tourniquet after a shooting victim at the Downtown Jacksonville Art Walk suffered a life-threatening arterial injury. “It is almost without a doubt, that if it weren’t for the quick-thinking and heroic actions of Officer Hightower, this individual would have died at the scene or while being transported to the hospital,” said David Ebler, M.D., a trauma surgeon at UF Health Jacksonville. Sheriff Mike Williams said the office has supplied tourniquets to officers since 2012 and that he is “very proud of Officer Hightower for his heroic work.”

Manatee Critical Care Center opens at Jacksonville Zoo — Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced this week that its Manatee Critical Care Center has opened after a year of construction. The $2 million center is the fourth of its kind in the state and will serve to rehabilitate manatees that become entangled, get cold stressed or are struck by boats. The center also includes a public viewing tank, though manatees will only be released into that portion of the center once they are stable enough to be viewed. Previously, injured manatees in the Jacksonville area had to be transported to Tampa, Miami or Orlando.

Hospice of Northeast Florida picked to expand service — The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration picked Community Hospice of Northeast Florida to provide hospice services in Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Putnam and Union counties. Currently, the group offers services in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau and Baker counties. “Community Hospice looks forward to providing our high-quality hospice and palliative care to the communities in the service area,” said President Susan Ponder-Stansel. The decision could face appeals from other applicants or the two other hospice providers already operating in the area, Haven Hospice and Hospice of Citrus and the Nature Coast, though Ponder-Stansel said the group “will move rapidly” and set up offices once all barriers are cleared.

Celebrate the world — The 25th annual World of Nations Celebration kicks off on March 3 in Metropolitan Park, 1410 Gator Bowl Blvd. The annual event gives visitors a chance to explore 30 counties in a single visit, without having to leave Jacksonville.

The three-day event kicks off at 6 p.m. March 3 with “Rock the Globe — A Global Dance Party” presented by iHeartRadio. The evening features a performance by Grammy Award-winning artist Shaggy.

The concert is open to adults 21 years old and older, and tickets can be purchased at RockTheGlobeJax.com. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the gate.

The event is open to people of all ages from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 4 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 5. Admission is $5.

Countries participating in the annual event include the Bahamas, Cambodia, China, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Turkey, U.S.A., Venezuela and Vietnam.

UF Health program works to help prevent second heart attack — The Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at the UF Health Cardiovascular Center — Jacksonville is working to prevent a second cardiac event.

“Cardiac rehab is a comprehensive exercise and rehabilitation program for patients that have had a cardiac event like bypass surgery, stent placement, heart failure or heart attack,” said Ken Brannon, exercise physiologist and manager of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

The multidisciplinary rehabilitation team includes UF Health cardiologist and medical director Robert Percy, M.D., registered cardiac nurses, exercise physiologists, registered dietitians, pharmacists and a diabetes educator.

The main focus is risk factor management and then prevention of a second attack,” Brannon said. “A lot of it is exercise, but much of it is behavior modification.”

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 2.24.17

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

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

TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

Even if Gov. Rick Scott reached out and poked him in the chest, Richard Corcoran “would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Yes, those words did come out of the House Speaker’s mouth.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican, seemingly showing signs of fatigue less than two weeks before the start of Session, spoke with reporters Thursday.

That was after Scott’s political committee beat him up in a new video over the Speaker’s attack on Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives.

That video, which refers to him as “Rich Corcoran,” labels him a “career politician” who trades in “fake news” and “waste(s) your money.”

Of course, that was prompted by Corcoran’s own staff-produced video that slammed Scott for failures of business incentive projects that (whoops) began before his time in office.

When asked about the latest video, Corcoran turned on his trademark grin and told a story of how Scott and his wife Ann helped him after his “cataclysmically” unsuccessful 2007 run for a state Senate seat.

The future governor hired Corcoran, an attorney, to do legal work for the Solantic walk-in urgent care centers he then owned.

“There’s too many people in this world who forget what (other) people have done for them” Corcoran said. “Gov. Scott, Ann Scott, I met with them in their house in Naples and they helped contribute to my ability to make money and feed my family.

“To those around him, or their political committees, I would say, for lack of a better phrase, if Gov. Scott poked me in the chest, or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times,” he said. “He’s been a very good man to me and my family.

“That said, we have a position on an issue and we believe in that position and we’ll fight for it,” Corcoran added. “We’ll try to do it as civilly and honorably as we can.”

That must not apply to his film crew. But hey, that’s what surrogates—and staff—are for.

CONCILIATORY RICHARD CORCORAN ANNOUNCES ‘WE’LL GET THERE’ ON A JOINT RULE WITH SENATE ON BUDGET PROCESS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Corcoran said he is open to compromise with the state Senate on his hardline new rules aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the budget process. Senate President Joe Negron has resisted Corcoran’s rules, last week even threatening to sue the House over what he considers an unconstitutional attempt to control the Senate, an independent coequal branch of government. Negron defused the potential legal battle when he said the Senate would not sue but instead would work out their differences over the House rules in closed-door negotiations to come up with a joint rule.

Corcoran believes the rules, which have the support of both the Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House, “have revolutionized the budget process.” Although he taunted the Senate last week, urging them to “sue us,” he sounded more conciliatory this week. “The concepts of transparency and accountability and not hiding things in the budget, if we could get that in a joint rule, absolutely we’ll compromise,” Corcoran told the Herald/Times in a pre-session interview.

— “So I guess Twitter is Florida’s new field of honor” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will be in Washington, D.C. to take part in POLITICO’s 7th annual State Solutions Conference. He’ll be taking part in the afternoon session, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m.

RICK SCOTT THE HEAVY FAVORITE TO BE NEXT RGA CHAIR via Kevin Robillard of POLITICO – Scott is the heavy favorite to be 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 will vote on a new vice chair Friday in Washington, D.C., according to two sources with knowledge of the executive committee’s thinking.

SCOTT TO COURT: THROW OUT LOTTERY LAWSUIT via Associated Press Scott’s administration is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by Speaker Corcoran. A Leon County circuit judge held a brief hearing Thursday over Corcoran’s lawsuit that maintains the Florida Lottery broke the law when it approved a more than $700-million contract with IGT Global Solutions to help run lottery games. Corcoran’s lawsuit contends the contract is illegal because it exceeds the department’s authorized budget.

SCOTT COULD BE BIG LOSER IN FIGHT OVER ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times – All the “So’s your old lady!” bickering between Scott and House Speaker Corcoran makes for lousy government. But it sure is fun watching this Tallahassee pie fight between politically ambitious egos. Sensing perhaps that Scott’s lame duck light is beginning to flicker more brightly, Corcoran is challenging Scott over his pet projects, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida … The speaker sees them as needless, wasteful expenditures of precious taxpayer dollars. This has royally peeved the state’s official hologram. Scott, who would rather bestow public money on swells rather than peasants in need of Medicaid coverage, has flitted about the state trying to save his legacy bureaucracies, most notably by attacking fellow Republicans. Say, there’s a brilliant strategy on the part of a politician who just might need GOP support in 2018 in an expected race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

AMID REPUBLICAN ROW, SOME HOUSE DEMOCRATS VOICE DISAPPROVAL OF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – Several House Democrats joined their Republican counterparts in voicing displeasure with Enterprise Florida. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz even broke ranks and voted with the GOP, although she was the only Democrat to do so … The shared criticism signals an area of bipartisan agreement at the outset of a legislative process that’s sure to entail a contentious and drawn-out process of argument and amendment. Rep. David Richardson was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the taxpayer-funded business assistance organization during a House Appropriations Committee hearing … “I have very little good to say about Enterprise Florida and the way it has been conducted in the past,” he said. The rub, however, is that eliminating Enterprise Florida also would include reducing Visit Florida’s budget to pre-2009 levels under the substitute approved this week, something Richardson said he wasn’t prepared to do. “But if you pull out Enterprise Florida … I’d be happy to kill it for you,” he said.

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL GETS THUMBS UP ON FIRST LOOK via Florida Politics – With its chair saying he wants to “freeze” gambling in the state, a House gambling panel on Thursday cleared that chamber’s overhaul bill, including a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d the measure on a 10-5 party-line vote. But the bill, which isn’t yet assigned to another committee, differs greatly from the Senate’s gambling legislation. Its proposal now is cleared for consideration by the full chamber after a 14-2 vote in the Appropriations Committee, also Thursday.

***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.***

DISMAYED, DCF HEAD MIKE CARROLL EXPLAINS FRAGMENTS OF FACEBOOK LIVE SUICIDE CASE via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009. Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature. “Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.” Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

FEDERALISM MESSAGE ECHOED BY HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBERS via Erin Clark of FloridaWatchdog.org – The House Health Innovation Subcommittee approved sending a memorial to Congress asking lawmakers to consider giving Medicaid funding to the states in the form of block grants. “As you know, Medicaid is supposed to be a partnership. In reality, the federal government is in control,” said state Rep. Frank White who introduced the memorial at the hearing. He argued that the states need flexibility to design programs tailored to their specific demographic and geographic needs. In the public testimony on the memorial, speakers offered a mix of caution and enthusiastic support. “In the redesign of health care, would you like to be in charge, as the state Legislature? Or would you like a bunch of people in Washington to be in charge, dictating terms, creating more requirements, limiting your ability to manage the utilization of your own Medicaid program?” asked U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

FLORIDA TO LEGISLATE FREE SPEECH ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES? via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education heard from conservative academic Stanley Kurtz about the Campus Free Speech Act, a piece of proposed legislation that he says would defend free speech in Florida universities. “When protesters disrupt speakers or break in on meetings and take them over to list demands, administrators tend to look the other way,” Kurtz told committee members as he began his 16-minute address. “Students have come to take it for granted that they will face no discipline for such disruptions, administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow and highly regulated so-called free speech zones. University boards and trustees rarely act to curb these administrative abuses.”

HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO RAISE THE BAR FOR PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS via Florida Politics – A lively debate on governing principles broke out Thursday as a House committee voted unanimously to ask the voters to raise the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution. HJR 321 would require approval by 66 2/3 percent of the voters to change the state’s foundational document. At present, that requires 60 percent approval. Sponsor Rick Roth … acknowledge his proposal would make it harder to change Florida’s basic law. “I watch politics very closely, and have for 30 years, and it seems like it’s becoming, more and more, who has the money to put something on the ballot,” he said  following the 14-0 vote by the Oversight, Transparency, & Administration Subcommittee.

HOUSE PANEL WOULD ALLOW INTEREST PAYMENTS ON NONECONOMIC VERDICTS via Florida Politics – Insurance interests are up in arms about a House committee’s approval of a bill that would allow plaintiffs to recover prejudgment interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering. HB 469 says that plaintiffs who prevail in lawsuits could collect interest — at a rate now set a 4.9 percent, but varying with inflation — from the date of a loss. They could collect against attorney fees and costs, too. … Sponsor Shawn Harrison, an attorney from Tampa, said plaintiffs could not collect interest on punitive damages. … “A person who is damaged by a tortfeasor is just as damaged regardless of whether they have an action in contract or in tort,” Harrison said. “Why should there be a difference?”

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

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND – GOP LAWMAKERS HOSTING ANNUAL ‘MARDI GRAS’ FUNDRAISER via Florida Politics – Ever wanted to ask Senate President Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads? Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser this weekend … the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert. Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:

HAPPENING NEXT WEEK:

BRING ON THE ORANGE JUICE: DENISE GRIMSLEY SCHEDULES BREAKFAST FUNDRAISER FOR MARCH 7 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee. The reception … is hosted by Sens. Aaron BeanDennis BaxleyRob BradleyAnitere FloresGeorge GainerBill GalvanoRene Garcia, Jack LatvalaTom LeeDebbie MayfieldDavid SimmonsWilton SimpsonKelli Stargel and Greg Steube. The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

>>>Interesting that Steube is on the host committee; there has been some reporting he too wanted to run for Ag. Commissioner. Guess he’s staying in the Senate?

ANDREW GILLUM TO MAKE CASE FOR GUBERNATORIAL BID IN ORLANDO SPEECH via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Gillum will all but announce his 2018 bid for governor today, hoping to become the first African-American to win an office that Democrats haven’t held in two decades. Gillum won’t commit outright to running for governor – at least not yet. But his speech this morning to the Central Florida Urban League in Orlando has all the trappings of a campaign stemwinder, replete with biographical references, policy positions and shots at Republican President Donald Trump, according to excerpts shared with POLITICO Florida.

PHILIP LEVINE LAUNCHES POLITICAL COMMITTEE, HIRES MATTHEW VAN NAME via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Levine launched All About Florida and has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union. The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is scheduled to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future. He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

SURPRISE (OR NOT): MICHELLE REHWINKEL VASILINDA JOINS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY via Florida Politics – The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican. Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee … “We are excited to welcome former Representative Michelle Rewinkle Vasilinda into the Republican Party,” said Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

***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.***

AS DONALD TRUMP REVOKES TRANSGENDER STUDENT PROTECTION, FLORIDA LGBTQ COMMUNITY WONDERS WHAT’S NEXT? via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Michael Jones, a well-known entertainer and drag whose stage name is “Meagan Towers,” was in street clothes, sipping on a drink at Pepperz Cabaret in Gulfport … “I think what they’re doing is wrong,” Jones, who works mostly in Naples, said. “I know too, too many trans people that this could affect if (Trump) takes this further.” He and a couple of friends worried whether Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress were poised to do much more, like rescind the right for those in the LGBTQ communities to legally marry. Jones said Trump used to support “the LGBTQ team,” but since becoming president, the shifting winds of politics had taken hold. “Apparently, he’s making it known to all minorities and us that he doesn’t give a damn,” he said, irked.

SPECIAL REPORT: IN HARM’S WAY via Kathleen McGrory and Connie Humburg of the Tampa Bay Times — Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found. To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners. The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours. From 2010 through 2015, the number of kids killed in gun-related incidents rose nearly 20 percent. Injuries from guns jumped 26 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.

SOLARCITY’S QUESTIONABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES A WARNING FOR FLORIDA SOLAR DEBATE? via Florida Politics – A recent New York Times article exposes some of the “diminutive” players in Florida’s solar industry for what they really are – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations which engage in highly questionable business practices to lure consumers. SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea; a 20-year lease for those signing up for its solar panels. Reporters found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered such long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity submitted paperwork to the government … in the past few years, SolarCity lowered its requirements for entry into the program – using a 650 FICO score cutoff, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

WHAT WILL WEATHERFORD IS READING – FLORIDA CHAMBER CEO DELIVERS UNEXPECTED MESSAGE via Janelle O’Dea of the Bradenton Herald – Mark Wilson delivered a somewhat unexpected message to a room of 75 businesses leaders and government officials. “I’m positive that when some of you got the invite for today you asked, ‘What’s the chamber doing looking at poverty?’” he said. Wilson took attendees through a presentation showing how business leaders and their attitudes need to adjust to solve the problems associated with generational poverty. “Generational poverty means you were born into it,” Wilson said. “It is not your fault. If you’re born into poverty, you don’t know anything else.” He recognized that this concept may be foreign to some, especially business leaders who thrive on the idea that if one works hard enough, they can ascend the throes of a life in poverty. It’s not that easy, Wilson explained.

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at protectflbusiness.com.***

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Melissa Akeson, The Rubin Group:  Friends of the Underline; Orthodox Union

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Florida East Coast Industries LLC.; Friends of the Underline

Travis Blanton, Jon JohnsonDarrick McGhee Sr., Johnson & Blanton: Transdev North America, Inc.

Michael Bronstein, Bronstein Consulting LLC: American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Region X of the Appraisal Institute

Lynne Elizabeth Grinsell, Capital City Consulting: Zurich American Insurance Company

Travis Mitchell, Louis Betz & Associates Inc.: 3 Bees Corp

Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Wexford Health Sources

William RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Friends of the Underline

Ryan Sacco, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Dosal Tobacco Corporation; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida Taxi Cab Association; Friends of the Underline

Lane Stephens, SCG Governmental Affairs: Florida Airboat Association

SPOTTED on American Association of Political Consultants’ 40 Under 40 lists: Tim Saler, the vice president of Grassroots Targeting former deputy campaign manager of Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the former deputy executive director for political strategy at the Republican, and Christian Ulvert, president and founder of EDGE Communications.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jessica Ellerman, Matt Farrar, and Susan Goldstein. Belated wishes to my longtime friend, Joel Silver.

Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

Surprise (or not): Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joins the Republican Party

As long expected, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is pulling a reverse Charlie Crist.

The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee Thursday night.

“We are excited to welcome (her) into the Republican Party,” Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power said. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

One person who predicted the move is state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who last year tweeted: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”

She follows the reverse footsteps of former Gov. Crist, who left the Republicans to become an independent, then joined the Democrats.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is the newest addition to join the GOP under the state party’s “Project Majority Red” initiative, “which seeks to increase the number of Republican registered voters throughout our state, in order to overtake the Democrats in voter registration,” Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement.

“Michelle has honorably served her constituents for the past eight years and has a history of siding with Republicans on several issues,” he added. “I believe she has been a great public servant for the State of Florida and led efforts for a more robust economy, lower taxes and an increase in job creation.  We welcome Michelle to the Republican Party and we look forward to working with her.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represented the House District 9 seat now held by Democrat Loranne Ausley, told FloridaPolitics.com last year she had “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.” She once called President Donald Trump “fascinating,” but said she did not vote in the Presidential Preference Primary.

“I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.”

Yet she also has followed her own beat, on one hand supporting a bill to allow guns on college campuses, saying she had used a handgun to defend against an attacker when she was a college student, but on the other filing legislation to get rid of Florida’s death penalty.

“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said in an interview last year.

And current House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, also in an interview last year, surmised that Rehwinkel Vasilinda “has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a New York native who got her undergraduate and law degrees in Florida. She’s now a professor of Legal Studies and Applied Ethics at Tallahassee Community College, and married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.

SolarCity’s questionable business practices a warning for Florida solar debate?

A familiar narrative in the debate over solar energy in Florida follows a “David and Goliath” theme.

Cast as Goliath are the state’s largest utilities; playing David are “little guy” rooftop solar companies trying to make it in the utility’s shadow.

However, a recent New York Times article rejects that account, exposing some of the “diminutive” players in Florida’s solar industry for what they really are – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations which engage in highly questionable business practices to lure consumers.

In one case, these practices echo big bank mortgages from a decade ago, methods which led to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.

SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea; a 20-year lease for those signing up for its solar panels.

Reporters Danielle Ivory and Diane Cardwell found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered such long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity submitted paperwork to the government.

The situation got to the point where Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, an attorney for SolarCity, had to file documents and a New York State court asking for an extension after the company was, as the Times reports, “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”

Later, a statement from SolarCity representatives clarified Gangat’s statement, saying that there were only 139 cases out of “more than 305,000 installed customers.”

Either way, the figures pose a problem: If the attorney (who SolarCity pointed out was not an employee) cited incorrect figures in his filing, he would be subject to ethical disciplinary action. On the other hand, if the number of cases is indeed “in the thousands,” Ivory and Cardwell suggest SolarCity – now owned by automaker Tesla – could face a “threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors.”

To consumers, the basic premise of SolarCity is simple, install solar panels and save on electric bills.

The company offers to pick up installation costs, an average of $25,000 to $30,000, and charge customers a flat rate for electricity produced by the panels, usually at rates 10 to 15 percent below that of utilities.

Customer gets cheaper power, SolarCity gets regular monthly payments.

But in the past few years, SolarCity lowered its requirements for entry into the program – using a 650 FICO score cutoff, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

As Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian, told the Times: “For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point.”

Relying on a single credit score – one that could change for the worse at almost any time – calls into question SolarCity’s business practices, especially considering the expensive hardware that will be sitting on foreclosed homes, which could number in the hundreds (or even thousands).

Adding to the confusion are courts that will have a difficult time determining the true ownership of installed solar panels.

Of course, SolarCity is not the only solar company facing these problems, but it is one of the largest.

“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” Connecticut attorney Christopher McCormick said. After a decade representing banks, McCormick now works with homeowners facing foreclosure.

“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he told the Times. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”

A massive corporation, mired in potentially thousands of foreclosure suits, is certainly not the image groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy want to promote in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida.

James Madison Institute says Lake O land buy could cost economy $695 million

Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee could cost the Florida economy 4,148 jobs and $695 million a year, according to a new report from conservative think tank James Madison Institute.

The report, titled “$ticker $hock,” estimates the land buy would have a direct negative impact of $345 million and 1,915 jobs lost, with an additional $350 million and 2,233 jobs lost indirectly.

Negron’s plan, found in SB 10, would have the state purchase 60,000 acres of mainly agricultural land to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges by building a reservoir. The plan would cost the state $1.2 billion.

The plan is most heavily opposed by U.S. Sugar, which owns most of the land in question. Since Negron made the issue a priority, the company has downplayed the role its operations play in the discharges, and offering up its own studies showing that the allegations are not supported by science.

The JMI estimate includes a statewide loss of nearly $110 million in household income and $42 million in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments.

About 45 percent of the job losses would happen in Palm Beach and Hendry counties, while the same counties would absorb more nearly 60 percent of the economic dip.

The towns surrounding the land buy area – Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston and Pahokee – would be the hardest hit.

The report emphasized the importance of agriculture as one of the “Big Three” economic drivers in the state while also saying that protecting “our state’s most cherished natural treasure, the Everglades, is vital to Floridians.”

The group concluded that this and a JMI previous study “clearly illustrate that using taxpayer dollars to declare eminent domain on 60,000 acres of agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee would not only fail to help address the challenges present, but would in fact have devastating effects on the economies of the local area, the communities that rely on the land for their livelihood, and the state of Florida.”

Sunburn for 2.23.17 – Rick Scott’s sky-high approval ratings; Richard Corcoran says ‘hell no’ to what?; Bill Nelson targeted

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

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

STORY MORE IMPORTANT THAN POLITICS: 7 EARTH-SIZE WORLDS FOUND ORBITING STAR; COULD HOLD LIFE

For the first time ever, astronomers have discovered seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star — and these new worlds could hold life.

This cluster of planets is less than 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, according to NASA and the Belgian-led research team who announced the discovery Wednesday.

The planets circle tightly around a dim dwarf star called Trappist-1, barely the size of Jupiter. Three are in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water and, possibly life, might exist. The others are right on the doorstep.

Scientists said they need to study the atmospheres before determining whether these rocky, terrestrial planets could support some sort of life. But it already shows just how many Earth-size planets could be out there — especially in a star’s sweet spot, ripe for extraterrestrial life.

The takeaway from all this is, “we’ve made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said the University of Cambridge’s Amaury Triaud, one of the researchers. The potential for more Earth-size planets in our Milky Way galaxy is mind-boggling.

Now, back to politics on Planet Earth…

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN HAVE A GREAT FEELING ABOUT THE HOME TEAM

Gov. Scott is enjoying sky-high approval ratings, while Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to be a rock star. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam may have a future in this business.

With just a few weeks until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, Associated Industries of Florida surveyed 800 likely Republican primary voters. The survey looked the direction of the state, the approval ratings of statewide elected officials, and took at stab at gauging public consensus on a couple of key policy debates.

And of course, no survey would be complete without mulling a hypothetical 2018 gubernatorial match-up.

So, what did AIF find? Here’s five takeaways from the February 2017 report:

Scott’s approval rating soars

Being the middle of a high-profile feud with the Florida House might suit Scott. The survey, conducted by phone from Feb. 14 through Feb. 17, showed 81 percent of likely Republican primary voters polled said they approved of the job the Governor was doing.

According to the polling memo, 41 percent of those surveyed said they strongly approved of the job he was doing. “In essence,” the memo reads, “the Governor enters his second to last session with the highest marks from Republicans that we have tracked during his term.”

Bondi is a rock star

As Attorney General, Bondi has received top marks for most of her time in office. And, according to the polling memo, that makes total sense, considering the “among of earned media she has received over her time on the Cabinet.

But after a few months of bad headlines, the news that 54 percent of the Republican base approve of the job she’s doing as Florida’s attorney general must have come as a relief. In fact, Bondi had the third highest job approval rating, behind only Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Speaking of Cabinet members, 38 percent of GOP primary voters said they approved of the job Putnam was doing as agriculture commissioner. AIF didn’t include CFO Jeff Atwater in image testing, since he’s leaving his post at the end of session.

Too early for 2018

We may love covering the horserace, but Republican voters don’t appear ready to start thinking about 2018.

Associated Industries of Florida tested hypothetical ballot tests for Governor and the Cabinet and, according to the polling memo, “low name ID’s are obviously forcing ballots that are largely undecided.”

In a hypothetical four-way race between Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and businessman (and alligator ‘wrassler’Ron Bergerson, 71 percent said they would be undecided. Putnam, however, had an 18-point lead over Corcoran, 22 percent to 4 percent.

No love for land buy 

GOP voters aren’t thrilled about the idea of the state buying private land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

Sixty-four present of respondents said they disagreed with the statement “The state should continue to buy private farmland for environmental purposes and take it out of production, even if that means the state must borrow the money to purchase bonds.”

The poll found 65 percent did not believe the state should use eminent domain to buy privately owned lands for environmental uses.

Under a bill (SB 10) moving through the Senate, the South Florida Water Management District would have until the end of 2017 to find a willing seller of 60,000 acres of land, upon which the state could build one or more water storage reservoirs.

If the water management district can’t find a willing center, the state can decide to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar, under an existing option in a contract signed by the state and company in 2010. The bill, however, does not propose use eminent domain to acquire land.

Incentive debate just too darn complicated

AIF tried to ask voters about the ongoing debate over whether to dismantle economic incentive programs and tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, but concluded the issue was too complicated for voters to comprehend.

“Overall awareness on these debates is low in this survey, regardless of how the question is tested,” said Ryan Tyson, AIF’s Vice President of Political Operations. “Furthermore, the nuances of the policy points used to better describe ‘incentives for job growth’ vs. ‘corporate welfare’ are far too complex for decisive support for either position in this survey.”

AIF said no matter the phrasing, the results for the incentives debate were contradictory “and talking points can easily get a voter to one side of the argument or the other.

RICK SCOTT’S PAC SLAMS HOUSE SPEAKER RICHARD CORCORAN AS “CAREER POLITICIAN” IN NEW VIDEO via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – It’s the latest in the back and forth policy battle between the two Republican leaders over the future of state job incentive programs and the state’s tourism marketing agency. Last week, Corcoran used a closed-door meeting with Republicans to release a video slamming Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as agencies that waste tax dollars. That video specifically highlight two job incentive projects – Sanford Burnham and Digital Domain – approved by previous governors that have since failed, but the ad did not explain that they came before Scott took office in 2011. The Let’s Get to Work video specifically takes on that point, criticizing the video as misleading and saying both projects occurred under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But that also isn’t accurate. The Sanford Burnham project was approved when Gov. Jeb Bush was still in office in 2006.

ON SCHOOL SPENDING, RICHARD CORCORAN HAS TWO WORDS FOR RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA SENATE: ‘HELL NO’ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Corcoran says he won’t compromise on the question of whether the Legislature should write a budget that includes nearly $500 million more in local property taxes from Florida homeowners to hit Scott‘s target of a K-12 spending increase, under a program known as required local effort. Scott and Senate President Negron don’t consider that a tax increase because the property tax rate would stay the same. The extra money would come from rising property values paid by homeowners and businesses. “The governor has in his budget a $450-plus million property tax increase,” Corcoran [said]. “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste. We’re not raising taxes on property owners to give it to business owners. It’s a non-starter. It’s nonsensical.”

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BILL WOULD EXTEND TIME TO SUE ABORTION DOCTORS via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Women who have abortions in Florida would find it easier to sue the doctors who performed the procedure, under a contentious bill now moving through the House. But it’s unclear if the legislation … opposed by some Republicans … will become law since there’s no companion measure moving through the Senate. A House panel narrowly approved a bill that would give women more time to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions. Most legal claims arising from medical procedures must be filed within four years, but the bill would allow lawsuits to be filed for up to 10 years following the abortion. But the legislation is opposed by those who support abortion rights as well as groups that represent Florida doctors.

STAND YOUR GROUND BILL PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Even before the House took a single vote on the bill, which would put the burden of proof on prosecutors to refute defendants’ self-defense claims, 42 members had signed on as primary or co-sponsors. That represents more than two-thirds of the votes needed to pass a bill in that chamber. “The bill places the burden of proof where it belongs, on the prosecution, and is consistent with the foundation of our criminal law that a person is innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Rep. Bobby Payne … one of a trio of Northeast Florida lawmakers serving as the main sponsors of this legislation.

SENATE FINANCE & TAX APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE OK’S ‘TAMPON TAX’ EXEMPTION via Florida Politics — The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee. … If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

BILL WOULD STRIP TRI-RAIL OF FUNDING, CONTRACTING AUTHORITY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118 … would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year. The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

CRAFT BEER DEBATE INCLUDES … CHANCE THE RAPPER? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Senate Regulated Industries Committee cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing. [OscarBraynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.” The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So, I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

HOME RULE FIGHT BREAKS OUT AS PANEL APPROVES REGULATION REFORM BILL via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The bill, HB 17, is sponsored by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, and would not allow local governments to regulate issues that are not already allowed under state statute … He says it comes down to a philosophical approach: increased regulations hurt businesses and job creation. “Regulations, which smother businesses, should be hard to create,” he said. Democrats on the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee were joined by Rep. Shawn Harrison … in opposing the bill. They argued it took too much control away from the elected officials closest to the people and would require any regulatory change to go before the Legislature, which meets far less than local governments. “I think this is simply a bridge too far,” said Harrison, who represents a Democratic-leaning seat.

HOUSE TRANSPORTATION AND TOURISM PANEL BEGINS VETTING MEMBER PROJECTS via Florida Politics – The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee began voting on nearly $500 million in member project bills Wednesday, as its chairman warned that the panel’s approval does not guarantee a project will make it into the final House budget bill. “Our point here is to try to vet these to the extent we can in the time that we have,” Rep. Clay Ingram told committee members. … Ingram said he had sidelined some projects that he knew just wouldn’t fly.

HOUSE WON’T CHANGE NURSING HOME REIMBURSEMENT FORMULA THIS YEAR via Florida Politics – The House won’t pursue a proposal to change the way the state reimburses nursing homes caring for Medicaid patients — at least, not this year. … “Although we like the idea of a prospective payment system … perhaps the calculations that were done in that study don’t meet all the needs,” Jason Brodeur, chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, told members Wednesday. A plan by Navigant Consulting Inc. … would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components. “One of the things I think we could probably do as a committee is maybe commit ourselves to a more intellectually disciplined approach,” Brodeur said.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUDGET CHAIR FAVORS VOCATIONAL TRAINING AS VOTING BEGINS via Florida Politics – The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d eight member requests for state funds Wednesday, including programs boosting technical training … and a veterinary lab at the University of Florida. … Chairman Larry Ahern is particularly interested in vocational projects — apprenticeships, internships, other forms of nonacademic training. … For example, the panel approved $200,000 for a partnership with car dealers to train young people for relatively high-paying jobs in auto shops. … “There is a demand for those jobs, but they’re not able to train enough young adults to fill these jobs,” Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said.

JURY UNANIMITY BILL PASSES HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Bills that would require juries to be unanimous in recommending the death penalty [come] on the heels of a Florida Supreme Court decision came in that lifted a hold on current death penalty cases. HB 527 by Rep. Chris Sprowls passed the House Judiciary Committee 17-1 and will be discussed on the House floor. Sen. Randolph Bracy’s SB 280 was unanimously vetted by the Senate Rules Committee and is now ready to be heard by the full Senate.

LAWMAKERS TARGET CRIMINAL UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, DESPITE CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald –  A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee … but it’s unlikely to advance much further without buy-in from the House. The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses. “What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens … “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

PROPERTY TAX CAP SAILS THROUGH FIRST COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –HJR 21, put forth by Rep. Colleen Burton … would permanently instate a 10 percent cap on non-homestead property assessment increases, a constitutional regulation set to expire in 2019. The bill passed the House Ways & Means Committee 16-1 and has one more committee stop. A similar Senate version (SJR 76) by Sen. Tom Lee … passed unanimously Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax. The cap would not apply to property taxes levied by school districts under the two bills.

STADIUM FUNDING BILL PASSES FIRST HOUSE COMMITTEE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – HB 77, which would prevent sports teams from building or renovating stadiums on public land, passed the House Government Accountability Committee 14-5 … The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila, said the bill “protects taxpayer funds from being used to subsidize already successful businesses.” The bill would also require a stipulation in future contracts between sports franchises and state and local governments that compels franchises to pay any outstanding debt the state acquired for construction on sports facilities if the franchise permanently leaves the facility. Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, who voted against the bill, questioned whether the bill would impede the overall economic boost sports teams create.

— “Senate moves ahead with changes to ‘estoppel’ certificate standards” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida

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ANITERE FLORES PROPOSES COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP FOR 50 CHILDREN OF FARMWORKERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The amendment to SB 2, the Senate’s higher education reform bill which will be up for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, authorizes children of migrant workers who meet the criteria of the award, including meeting the state’s residency requirements, to receive the scholarship annually. The scholarship would be administered by the Florida Department of Education and students would be required to have a 3.5 weighted grade-point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete at least 30 hours of community service. Flores, who as a House member helped establish the First-Generation Matching Grant program a decade ago, expects the annual cost will be about $1 million.

SENATE ADDS BINGO, DOPING, ADW TO ITS 2017 GAMBLING BILL via Florida Politics – On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are: A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races. Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound. In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

SHOULD LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE LESS POWER? SOME STATE LAWMAKERS THINK SO via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Lawmakers are pushing a bill (HB 17) that would prohibit cities, counties and other arms of local government from passing any regulations on businesses unless they have been given specific permission from the state Legislature. The same proposal would repeal existing rules governing businesses in 2020. The stated goal: eliminating confusion for people trying to start a business in multiple cities or counties. “Imagine being someone who wants to try to build their business and doesn’t want to hire lawyers and doesn’t want to hire lobbyists,” said Rep. Randy Fine. “The intention of this bill is to try to make it easier for those folks to do that.” But local elected officials, Republican and Democrat alike, see it as an attack that would limit their power and harm their residents. “Why don’t they just abolish local government?” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn … “This is by a group of allegedly conservative people who during campaigns will say less government is better and the government closest to the people governs best, and that’s local government.”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee will consider its proposed committee bill when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 212 Knott. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee will discuss a bill that revises the list of documents lenders can use as an admission of bankruptcy by defendants in mortgage foreclosures when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee will get a presentation about free speech on college campuses when it meets at 10 a.m. in 306 House Office Building. The House won’t be the only chamber rolling the dice on gambling Thursday. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to discuss its wide-sweeping gambling bill during its meeting at 9 a.m. in 412 Knott. In addition to the gambling bill, the committee is also scheduled to hear his “Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Rene Plasencia will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. outside the Senate Chamber on the 4th floor of the Capitol to discuss the public school recess bills. They will be joined by representatives of the Florida PTA and “recess moms.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The James Madison Institute will hold a press call to release its study regarding current proposals being considered by the Florida legislature surrounding the Everglades Agricultural Area. Call is 9:30 a.m., 800-371-9219/PIN: 9714346.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) at cqrcengage.com/ahcafl/CONProcess.***

HAPPENING TODAY – LAWMAKERS HOST FUNDRAISERS ACROSS TALLAHASSEE — House Majority, the fundraising arm of the House Republicans, will hold a fundraiser for Reps. Danny Burgess and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen at 11:30 a.m. at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams Street. Members of the Senate are also getting in on the fundraising action: Sen. Debbie Mayfield will hold a fundraiser for her Senate District 17 re-election campaign at the Governors Club Boardroom, 202 ½ S. Adams Street; while Sen. Travis Hutson will hold a fundraiser at 5 p.m. at the Governors Club Library. Both fundraisers are scheduled for 5 p.m.

HAPPENING TONIGHT:

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AGENCY FOR STATE TECHNOLOGY AUDIT SCRUTINIZED BY HOUSE PANEL via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee discussed a January Auditor General report about the Agency for State Technology and State Data Center operations. Despite the findings of that report, which included issues with user access privileges, accounts kept active despite being unused, and other such seemingly-exploitable security glitches, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee showed little interest in the kind of specific, drill-down inquiry about remedies for these issues one might have expected … in the House was a different matter. Arthur Hart, audit manager for Information Technology Audits in the Office of Auditor General, addressed the audit. “I think there is reason for some concern about some findings in the audit,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said by way of introducing Hart.

— “DCF files roundup: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics

HOW FLORIDA’S WELL-CONNECTED MEDICAL MARIJUANA CHIEF GOT HIS JOB, DESPITE LITTLE EXPERIENCE via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – In July 2015, former Surgeon General John Armstrong signed off on a memo from current Surgeon General (then deputy health secretary) Celeste Philip asking that the department not advertise the open job for director of the Office of Compassionate Use on the basis that Christian Bax was “the best candidate for the position,” making the assertion that he had “several years of experience in navigating medical marijuana regulations.” But it turns out Bax was the only candidate who applied for the position, and on his job application he claimed to have only about 15 months experience working part-time as a consultant in Boston doing application work for medical cannabis firms in Washington and Nevada. Department spokeswoman Mara Gambinerirefused to address the contradiction. She insists that “based on Mr. Bax’s policy and rulemaking knowledge and experience, the department determined he was the best candidate for the position” — even though Bax was the sole candidate to apply. Soon after Bax was hired in July 2015 as the director of OCU, his office was beset by legal disputes alleging the method for awarding medical marijuana licenses was arbitrary. Now the office is plagued by a growing pile of legal bills.

VISIT FLORIDA’S BREAKUP WITH PITBULL ALMOST COMPLETE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – But when new Visit Florida leader Ken Lawson stood before a Florida Senate committee earlier this week there was a strong acknowledgement that the highly controversial (and for the longest time secret) $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote state beaches will never happen again on his watch. “A great Floridian who’s made his way,” Lawson said of Miami music start Pitbull. “But anytime we use a celebrity or any person, we need to make sure it fits the brand.” Lawson said in the future any use of celebrities would have to “fit our program” and require “commonsense.”

WE TOLD YOU SO; EYEBALL WARS SET TO BEGIN ANEW via Florida Politics – Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists … that fragile peace seems all but finished. Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery … the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of Speaker Corcoran. And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call. “Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time … I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

***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***

ONE NATION LAUNCHES AD CALLING FOR REPEAL OF OBAMACARE — The political organization launched 30-second spots in nine states, including Florida, Wednesday calling on federal lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The advertisements are part of a $3 million ad campaign to take place over three weeks in 11 states, and will be followed by radio, digital, print and mail campaigns. In Florida, the ad calls Obamacare a “failed mess created by Sen. Bill Nelson’s vote” and urges Floridians to “tell Sen. Bill Nelson he was wrong to vote for Obamacare.”


NRSC OUT WITH DIGITAL AD COMPARING BILL NELSON TO ELIZABETH WARREN — The National Republican Senatorial Committee debuted a new digital ad campaign Wednesday to “inform Florida voters of Nelson’s liberal record in Washington to that of the new face of the far left, Elizabeth Warren.” The ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats in states won by President Donald Trump. “Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92% of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

STORY YOU WON’T READ IN SUNBURN – “With N-word sign, Florida man tries to scuttle Tampa mayor’s gubernatorial hopes — but there’s a twist” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida. It’s not that this isn’t a story sure to drive clicks and it’s one that Caputo tells well, but anyone who has been to downtown Tampa has seen these ridiculous, offensive signs. Local media has rightly chosen to ignore this gadfly. Unfortunately, with Caputo’s article, he now has a national platform.

TOM GRADY EYES AG, CFO NOW THAT FGCU PRESIDENT IS OUT via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – No longer in the running to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s president, former Naples’ state representative Grady is eyeing state Attorney General and maybe even the state’s chief financial officer position. And to get either office, he might rely on the help of a friend, his neighbor and former constituent Gov. Scott, who could find himself appointing interim officials to both positions soon. “I speak with the governor often about many things, especially where I have some expertise and can be helpful,” Grady said. He declined to disclose his private conversations with the governor. Grady was not among the finalists announced last week for the FGCU position. The university’s board is in the process of selecting a new president from four finalists.

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at protectflbusiness.com.***

FIRMS RANDOMLY PICKED FOR LOBBYING COMPENSATION AUDITS via Florida Politics  Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports. The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are: Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Buigas & Associates, David R. Custin & Associates, Ericks Consultants, Hopping Green & Sams, Lewis Longman & Walker, Lisa Aaron Consulting, Luis E. Rojas, McGee & Mason, Redfish Consulting, Ronald R. Richmond, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, Smith & Smith, The Labrador Co. The ones picked for executive lobbying are: Andrew J. Liles, Calhoun Management & Consulting, Capitol Insight, Carr Allison, Champion Consultants, Janet Llewellyn, Lester Abberger, Lindstrom Consulting, Pruitt & Associates, T.B. Consultants, TC Wolfe, Wilson & Associates. 

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: National Council of La Raza

Douglas Bell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Preserve Vision Florida

Wayne Bertsch Jr., Civility Management LLC: Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors

Charles Cliburn, New Capitol IT LLC: Gentis Solutions DBA Interlink

Jon Costello, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, Inc.; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Miami Children’s Health System

Jim Horne, Strategos Public Affairs LLC: Academica

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting LLC: Sebastian Ferrero Foundation

Gary Rutledge, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Association of Health Plans; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida East Coast Railway, LLC

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Southern Company Gas

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of our besties, Amanda Taylor.

We told you so; Eyeball Wars set to begin anew

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists.

But with the Legislative Session approaching, that fragile peace seems all but finished.

Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery, a proposal that scientific research suggests may not be a good idea.

Several signs indicate optometrists had become progressively uneasy since April 2013, when a compromise was reached after years of lobbying by the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) and Nova Southeastern University’s College of Optometry, which is one of the largest optometry schools in the nation.

House Bill 239, initially applauded by the industry, expanded the scope of practice by allowing optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and expressly prohibits optometrists from performing surgery “of any kind.,” providing a clear definition of surgery modeled after the guidelines of the American College of Surgeons.

Optometrists also cannot prescribe Schedule I and II controlled substances, and must complete 20 hours of additional training, pass an examination and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors.

HB 239 also required optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents — the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners. Optometrists are also mandated to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.

Over the past year, however, FloridaPolitics.com has noted a growing push to renew the Eyeball Wars. Representatives for optometrists have been increasingly active, especially in the last election cycle.

For example, the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of current Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

According to state lobbying records, Michael Corcoran will represent some of the biggest players in a renewed Eyeball Wars: the FOA, Nova Southeastern and the Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund. Corcoran is only one of a dozen lobbyists working on behalf of optometrists. In contrast, ophthalmologists only have three.

At the same time, new Speaker Richard Corcoran has ushered in a host of changes for 2017, many which could have a substantial impact on a resurgent Eyeball Wars. No longer can House members text lobbyists during official meetings, enter formal business deals with registered lobbyists or fly on planes owned by lobbyists — which some consider an apparent swipe at highflying groups such as optometrists.

Interestingly enough, the greatest clue that Wars will soon heat up is OD-EYEPAC, the political arm of the Florida Optometric Association.

Last year, OD-EYEPAC gave more than $1.1 million to committees and candidates through July 29. The Florida Optometric Association also gave $535,000; while the Florida Optometric Eye Health Care Fund gave $260,000.

And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call.

“Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time,“ Lawson wrote. “I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

After connecting the dots, it appears organized optometry is going against its word and once again attempting to gain surgical privileges in the state of Florida.

Despite the agreement passed in 2013, optometrists have decided to push for unwarranted expansion of their scope through relationships with lawmakers, not by going to medical school, completing the required four-year residency in ophthalmology, and actually completing a fellowship.

That said, one could only assume that they decided it is easier to buy something than to earn it.

Be warned; nothing has really changed — and the Eyeball Wars will soon begin anew.

Sunburn for 2.22.17 – Session is coming; Lyft & Uber bill heads to floor; Negron’s nice CRC picks; press conferences galore

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

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

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

With two more weeks till the 2017 Legislative Session, the battle lines already are being drawn between Richard Corcoran’s House of Representatives and Gov. Rick Scott.

Whoops, there we go again. The press does this every year: Gin up a compelling narrative to lead into the session. Shocker, it usually involves some type of conflict.

Like … Despite the governor’s best attempt to publicly shame lawmakers who support the measure, a House effort to kill Enterprise Florida and many business incentive programs, and strip VISIT FLORIDA down to its financial birthday suit was voted out of Appropriations Tuesday.

The other side of the rotunda signaled it doesn’t want to play along, with Jeff Brandes in the Senate emerging as a voice of reason.

He filed legislation to provide more oversight to the controversial public-private economic development organization, focus on small business, and include the $85 million Scott has requested for incentives.

So where’s the middle ground? Is there any? (See, that’s high-minded concern for compromise and progress.)

“Not that I’m aware of,” House budget chair Carlos Trujillo told the press corps, keeping to his script. “I think philosophically we’re opposed to the notion of the state [cliché alert!] picking winners and losers in economic development.”

Does that mean, heaven forbid, that the chambers and Scott are in “collision course” mode on incentives, with a possibility of “blowing up” Session, to combine another two of the Capitol’s favorite but tired expressions?

“If we pass a bill and the Senate doesn’t pass the bill, then obviously it’s a non-starter,” Trujillo said. “If both chambers agree to pass some substantive legislation, then it goes to the governor’s office and he can make a decision as to the merits.”

Yes, that is the way the system works, in a Schoolhouse Rock sort of way. But c’mon Carlos, ratchet up the drama! We need a story! Should we, say, gird for a special ‘veto override’ session this year? Eagerly awaiting an answer…

SESSION IS COMING — As if we weren’t already thinking the 2017 Legislative Session was going to be interesting enough, the House released a new video Tuesday previewing the upcoming 2017 Legislative Session. The 60-second spot is reminiscent of a “Game of Thrones” advertisement, with ominous music, stormy skies of the Old Capitol and snippets of Speaker Corcoran’s swearing-in speech. Click on the image below to watch the video.

CLICK AND READ THE ENTIRE BLOG POST – HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL TWO WEEKS BEFORE SESSION via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print – On a nice night in northeast Tallahassee, Florida’s two legislative leaders appeared before a modest-sized crowd at Holy Comforter Episcopal School to give their thoughts on the upcoming 2017 session. … While he cracked jokes about his escalating feud with Gov. Scott over the fate of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, Corcoran and Negron did not contradict each other or dismiss each other’s ideas. Corcoran stressed that education – not the demise of economic development programs such as Enterprise Florida – was the “number one priority” for the House this year.

Corcoran, while noting that the “details” may prove challenging, also agreed with Negron that something should be done to reduce the discharges from Lake Okeechobee that led to toxic algae blooms along Florida’s coast. This is noteworthy since the agricultural community and sugar growers are exerting considerable pressure to defeat Negron’s bill to acquire land south of the lake in order to store water. In the past Corcoran had questioned the plan because of its cost and its reliance on borrowing by issuing bonds for the land purchase.

… Negron for his part said he remains an “optimist” that he and other Republicans can set aside their differences in the weeks ahead. He said there were a lot of “large issues”  to sort out and that he thought the instant back-and-forth played out on social media was a disruptive force But he also noted that the three most powerful men in Florida – Scott, Corcoran and Negron – are all lawyers. “We all realize there’s a time and place for debate, there’s a time and place for trying to make your point in a colorful persuasive way, and then there’s a time to get the job done, a time to do what the people sent us here to do,” Negron said.

SPOTTED at Holy Comforter for the panel: Slater Bayliss, Mike Harrell, Paul Hawkes, Emory Mayfield, Paul Mitchell, Adam Potts, Jay Smith

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

BILL TO KILL BUSINESS INCENTIVES, ENTERPRISE FLORIDA CLEARED FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Florida Politics – A House bill that would abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, eliminate a throng of business incentive programs, and strip the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency down to a barebones $25 million budget cleared its second and final panel Tuesday. That means the measure (HB 7005), OK’d by the House Appropriations Committee on an 18-12 vote, is ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. The vote was another hit to Gov. Scott, an advocate of both agencies and economic incentives, which he says create jobs for Floridians … (But the bill) could well be dead on arrival in the Senate. State Sen. Jeff Brandes … filed his own economic development legislation Tuesday. It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

UBER-FRIENDLY RULES IN FLORIDA CLEAR ANOTHER HURDLE via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – The House Government and Accountability Committee voted favorably 21-1 on House Bill 221 by Reps. Jamie Grant and Chris Sprowls … . The proposed rules include level one background checks that don’t require a driver’s fingerprints. Uber and Lyft have both objected to fingerprint background checks. Instead, drivers would have to undergo a background check analyzing multistate/multijurisdictional criminal records, the national sex offender database and a complete driving history.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS, DEATH PENALTY BILLS CLEAR FINAL HOUSE COMMITTEE VOTES via Florida Politics – Bills that would require unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty, and ask voters whether to impose term limits on appellate judges, were headed to the House floor following their approval Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee. … The committee also approved HB 65, which would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators and their enablers in state court; and HB 301, requiring the Florida Supreme Court to report each year to the the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders the number of cases still pending 180 days after oral argument.

FLOOD INSURANCE, HMO LIABILITY LEGISLATION CLEAR SENATE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics -A Senate committee approved bills Tuesday that would encourage Florida insurers to write flood insurance as an alternative to expensive federal coverage, and would allow patients to sue HMOs for declining to cover doctors’ treatment recommendations in bad faith. “Why shouldn’t the HMOs be held liable for the decisions they make and the doctors aren’t making, and people are dying?” said Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican behind SB 262. … Sen. Jeff Brandes sponsored the flood insurance bill — SB 420. “We want more admitted carriers to write,” Brandes said following the 7-1 vote in favor his his bill.

IN MAJOR TALLAHASSEE REVERSAL, MANDATORY SENTENCES CALLED A WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee … voted unanimously for SB 290 that would end minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent offenses like Powell’s. The massive shift in the tough-on-crime bills of the last two decades that filled prisons and created what both liberals and conservatives now believe has been a subclass of lifers in jail and a waste of tax money. The “prison diversion bill” will save the state $131 million in avoided costs and put 1,001 fewer people in jail, said Sen. Darryl Rouson, the bill’s sponsor. The measure allows judges to depart from the 118 minimum mandatory sentences in Florida law but excludes drug traffickers. It restores the Florida Sentencing Commission, which existed from 1982 to 1997, but limits its scope to determining the severity ranking that adds points to an offenders’ record based on certain offenses. Anyone who commits a violence offense, is not eligible for the court’s leniency.

HOUSE LOBBYING BAN EXTENSION CLEARED FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – A measure to increase the ban from two years to six years on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office is now cleared to be considered by the full House of Representatives. The House Rules and Policy Committee OK’d the measure (HJR 7001) unanimously on Tuesday. As its second and final review panel, it’s now available to be discussed on the House floor when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. Extending the lobbying ban is a plank of Speaker Corcoran‘s program to create a “culture of transparency” in state government.

IMPASSIONED MOMS GATHER IN TALLAHASSEE TO RAIL AGAINST GUN BILLS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Some of the bills passing through this year’s legislative session would lift “gun-free” zones for concealed carry permit holders and allow them to carry their weapons in places like airports and public schools. Other bills would allow CCW permit holders to bring their firearms to public meetings and on college campuses and another would shift the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases. Moms Demand Action, a wing of the Everytown organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, intends to send a message to state lawmakers and big time gun lobbyists that these laws could have dire consequences on public safety. “The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” said Florida chapter leader Michelle Gajda. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight.” Florida gun groups criticized the group for their statements, calling Everytown’s attempt to assume the mantle of a grassroots organization taking “hypocrisy to new heights.”

— “’Arnold Palmer Expressway’ designation gets committee nod” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Bill to make Miami-Dade County Sheriff an elected position advances in Florida Senate” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “Funding for St. Johns River, Keystone lakes gets initial nod in the Senate” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

— “Linda Stewart bill would extend homeowner protections from bad drywall projects” via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer

— “Senate committee OK’s 3 bills: job protection, veteran IDs, emergency management” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics

SHOULD FOOD STAMPS BE USED TO BUY SODA AND CANDY? A TAMPA BAY LAWMAKER SAYS NO via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto … an industrial engineer and a dermatologist, says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children. “The fact that we’re allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease,” Massullo said … “I don’t want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don’t want government making us sick.” Massullo filed House Bill 593, which would add soft drinks and candy to the list of items that cannot be bought with electronic benefit transfer cards issued as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, along with alcohol, gambling, slot machines, commercial bingo halls and adult entertainment. It’s a public health issue but it’s also about the extent to which conservative, free-market Republicans want to control behavior.

TOUGH QUESTIONS FOR POLITICIANS BLOCKING TOUGHER TEXTING & DRIVING LAWS via Noah Pransky of WTSP – With public support overwhelmingly in support of tougher texting-while-driving laws … 10Investigates took tough questions to Florida’s leading lawmakers, including those described by Tallahassee insiders as “roadblocks” to toughening the state’s weak texting laws. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and State Sen. Jeff Brandes both listed a litany of reasons Floridians probably shouldn’t expect any changes to the texting law in 2017, but three themes stood out: 1) Concern that texting bans may not make roads safer; 2) Concern over civil liberties; 2) Concern over civil liberties. When asked why it was any different from the state’s seat belt ban, Brandes had trouble explaining. “The major difference…is people (get pulled over for not) putting on their seat belt. But (with texting),” Brandes said, “(officers) can just pull you over because they see you have a phone in your hand.”

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at protectflbusiness.com.***

PREPARING FOR AN EFFECTIVE CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION via Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte for the Tampa Bay Times – If the legislative leadership is interested in having a productive commission process, they can do three things: Appoint a diverse commission, free from instructions and able to listen to suggestions from the public. Provide adequate resources for the commission to operate and communicate. Use the Legislature’s joint resolution power to clean up useless and outdated language in the Constitution even before the commission makes its proposals. Finally, the Legislature can begin cleaning up the Constitution before the commission meets. Over the years, the document has accumulated numerous outdated sections and much useless language. In three articles, the Constitution allows the two chambers to eliminate useless language by adopting a joint resolution, requiring no action by the governor or the electorate. This can begin with the 2017 Legislative Session.

WITH ‘NICE’ PICKS TO CONSTITUTION COMMISSION, DID JOE NEGRON JUST HAND RICHARD CORCORAN AN OPPORTUNITY? via Florida Politics – This will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels. Of the nine picks, former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are the most notable. Undoubtedly, the great orator Gaetz will be one of the loudest voices on the CRC. Yet, for the most part, Negron’s selections were greeted with shrugged shoulders by most of the capital crowd. ‘Who?’ was asked more than once as the names were read out … But, as has been proven this year by the Speaker’s willingness to filet any number of Tallahassee sacred cows, it’s likely Corcoran has more radical ideas for the CRC. And because Negron did not put on the CRC a full slate of loyalists – Don Gaetz’ loyalty lies with Don Gaetz; Chris Smith is a Democrat – Corcoran should appoint a block of like-minded thinkers, including himself.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will discuss legislation to shift the burden of proof to the state in “Stand Your Ground” cases when it meets at 8:30 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee will discuss legislation that could change local government’s ability to regulate businesses during its 1:15 p.m. meeting in 212 Knott; while the House Health Innovation Subcommittee will consider a proposed committee bill on “Medicaid Block Grants” when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 306 House Office Building. The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss ending the so-called “tampon tax” during its meeting at 10 a.m. in 401 Senate Office Building. Craft beer — and how it is distributed — is on the agenda when the Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building; and the Senate Rules Committee will take up the unanimous jury decisions when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: About 100 cancer survivors, patients and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) volunteers will hold a brief rally at 9 a.m. at the Florida Heritage Fountain at Waller Park on the west side of the Florida State Capitol to kick off ACS CAN’s annual Advocacy Day event.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Florida Chamber of Commerce will host a conference call at 10:30 a.m. to announce the launch of Floridians for Ridesharing, a coalition advocating for a consistent statewide framework for ridesharing services. The conference call will include David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Kim Galban-Countryman, executive director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend; Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The conference call line is 888-392-4560, and the access code is 1005794.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. David Santiago will take part in a news conference in which the United Way will release a report about the number of people who earn more than the federal poverty level but have a hard time affording necessities. Availability begins 12:15 p.m., fourth-floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Ramon Alexander and Rep. Shevrin Jones will hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. outside the House chambers on the 4th floor to discuss their efforts to “Ban the Box.” Both men have proposed legislation that would ban employers from inquiring about criminal histories on an initial employment application.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Congressman Matt Gaetz and members of the Florida Legislature will hold media availability at 3 p.m. in House Room 333 to discuss health care reform and block grants.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Matt Caldwell and U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney will hold media availability around 4:30 p.m. in House Room 333 to answer questions about Everglades restoration and the continuing state and federal partnership. Both Caldwell and Rooney are scheduled to testify during the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee meeting at 3:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building.

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

HAPPENING TODAY — LAWMAKERS HOLD FUNDRAISERS ACROSS TALLAHASSEE — The House Majority, the fundraising arm of House Republicans, will host a fundraising reception for Alex MillerGrallCyndi StevensonAmber Mariano, and Jackie Toledo at 11:30 a.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street. Miller and Toledo will be back at the Governors Club for another event a 5 p.m.; while Reps. Dane Eagle, Mike La Rosa, and David Santiago will hold a fundraiser at their residence, 419 East Georgia Street, at the same time. A fundraiser is scheduled for Rep. Jay Fant at the Florida Realtors starting at starting at 5:30 p.m.; while Rep. Jay Trumbull will be raising money at the same time at The Governor’s Inn. Democrats are also getting in on the fundraising action, Sen. Vic Torres and Reps Richard Stark, Joe Geller and Amy Mercado hosting a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Realtors Association.

HAPPENING TODAY – SOLAR INDUSTRY DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Solar industry advocates and stakeholders will be at the Capitol all day to tout the 1,700 new solar jobs created in 2016 and to raise awareness about Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, which implements Amendment 4. The day-long event is hosted by the Solar Energy Industries Association, FlaSEIA, Advances Energy Economy, and Vote Solar. Tesla is also expected to participate, and will have two Teslas available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Capitol Courtyard for test drives by legislators, staff and other enthusiasts.

SAVE THE DATE: The 3rd annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 15 at Madison Social in Tallahassee. Sen. Dana Young will sling drinks for the Red Team and Rep. Evan Jenne will pour them for Team Blue. The bipartisan event combines dogs, politics and friendly competition to raise money for the Tallahassee Animal Shelter Foundation, Last Hope Rescue, and the Leon County Humane Society. Last year, Red Dog Blue Dog celebrity bartenders raised nearly $4,000.

UBER, VOLUNTEER FLORIDA TEAM UP TO PROVIDE #SUITSFORSESSION FOR NEEDY – #SuitsForSession  asks well-dressed denizens of the Florida Capitol – members of the Legislature, lobbyists, the private sector, local nonprofits, state agencies and more – to drop off new or gently worn suits, dresses and shoes Wednesday, March 15, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the Third-Floor Rotunda. Volunteer Florida will donate the clothing to nonprofits that serve job-seekers: 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. For those unable to make it to the Capitol, donors in Leon County can open the Uber app between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. that day and select the GIVE option at the bottom of the screen. Uber will pick up clothing donations for free and deliver them to Volunteer Florida all day.

***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.***

STATE ECONOMISTS SEE TOURISM GROWTH CANCELING OUT LAGGING HOUSING STARTS via Florida Politics – Nothing emerged during a numbers-crunching exercise by state economists to change the economic picture the Legislature will confront this year — 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. Multifamily housing starts ought to be growing faster than they are, Baker said — particularly given young people’s penchant to cluster in rental apartments in cities. The economists suspected a lag time to put together construction deals. Or perhaps builders were awaiting the results of the presidential election. Overall, construction “is growing with population growth, because our population is growing. But the amount it grows per new person is pretty steady,” Baker said.

RDOP IN FLORIDA HOME OWNERSHIP BUT GAINS IN FORT MYERS AREA via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Figures by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the home ownership rate in Florida dropped from 64.8 percent in 2015 to 64.3 percent last year. However, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area had the nation’s third biggest gain in the homeownership rate of major metro areas, going from 62.9 percent to 66.5 percent. At the same time, the Sarasota-Bradenton area had the nation’s second-biggest drop in the homeownership vacancy rate. It went from 3.3 percent to 1.2 percent. Miami had Florida’s lowest homeownership rate at 58 percent. Sarasota had the highest at 73 percent.

‘WE CHOOSE LIFE,’ SAY CHURCHES CALLING TO STOP EXECUTIONS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Members of the Florida Council of Churches and representatives from the AME and Catholic denominations called on lawmakers to pass a moratorium on executions, citing high cost of death penalty appeals, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the impact on victims’ families being forced to relive their loved one’s murder repeatedly in court. “Even if we pass unanimous juries, we still haven’t solved the economic issues and we still haven’t solved the fact that families keep being dragged through this trauma over and over again,” said Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran pastor from Tampa and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. What’s more, they say, there is a moral problem with the state killing people – even the most depraved criminals. “The church has come today on the issue of life and death,” said AME Rev. James Golden. “We choose life.”

BAR EXAM BOARD NOW SEEKING PUBLIC MEMBERS via Florida Politics – The board responsible for writing the state’s bar examination is looking for two more volunteer members. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners now is seeking “two public members” for three-year terms each, it announced in a Tuesday press release. “A public member volunteer should possess education or work-related experience such as educational testing, accounting, statistical analysis, medicine, psychology or related sciences,” the release said. “A bachelor’s degree is required. Lawyers are not eligible.”

CHILD WELFARE INVESTIGATOR, MOTHER ARRESTED FOR COCAINE, HEROIN IN HOME via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A recently-fired employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who had worked as a child protection investigator since 2015, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies on drug trafficking charges after a warrant was issued for her arrest … Laymeshia Hicks, 25 … and her boyfriend, Xzaiveous Scott, 31, are each facing charges of trafficking in heroin, trafficking in cocaine, possession of a structure to traffic drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia. Deputies found the drugs in the master bedroom when they responded to an armed home-invasion call … Scott’s nephews, ages 16 and 18, were there when two intruders forced their way inside and ransacked the house Feb. 17, she said. Investigators found 68 grams of heroin and 288 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $35,000 … Sheriff Grady Judd said Hicks’ 3-year-old child was living in the house. Sheriff Grady Judd said Hick’s 3-year-old child was living in the house.

DISABLED TEEN STUCK IN BROWARD JAIL PURGATORY MAY GET TREATMENT via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – Last week, Broward Circuit Juvenile Judge Michael Orlando ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice not to discuss the teen, 17-year-old Keishan Ross, with the staff of psychiatric hospitals or drug treatment centers who might be considering admitting him. DJJ said the order was just broad enough that it feared a staffing — a discussion with other agencies to go over treatment options — might violate it. The agency asked Orlando to lift the order so administrators could meet in the afternoon with other agency heads. Orlando declined to lift the gag order. The judge signed the order following a hearing last week in which Keishan’s lawyers at the Broward Public Defender’s Office accused a DJJ probation officer of sabotaging an agreement they had reached with a Fort Lauderdale psychiatric hospital. The hospital was going to admit Keishan for a battery of tests to determine his intellectual capacities and the severity of his mental illness. But hospital administrators changed their minds, the lawyers said, after DJJ disparaged the youth and described him as violent and remorseless.

— BEYOND THE CAPITAL —

WITH POLL, PROGRESSIVE GROUP PRESSES BILL NELSON TO OPPOSE NEIL GORSUCH via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The left-leaning Progressive Change Campaign Committee tried several arguments against Gorsuch in the poll, conducted in seven key states by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. The one that worked best: characterizing Gorsuch as favoring Wall Street over Main Street … In Florida, 64 percent of poll respondents opposed or strongly opposed Gorsuch when the pollster said the judge “sided with big insurance companies, sided with employers who denied wages and retirement benefits to employees, and generally protected big corporations from accountability.” Twenty-three percent said they would support Gorsuch given that description, and 13 percent said it had no impact on their opinion. The message particularly resonated with Democrats, though less so with independents and Republicans.

LIBERAL ACTIVISTS PLAN ‘EMPTY CHAIR’ TOWN HALL FOR MARCO RUBIO IN TAMPA via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – “Join fellow Tampa Bay constituents as our invited (yet unconfirmed) guest Senator Marco Rubio hears and responds to constituent questions, concerns and issues brought forth in a format of an organized Q&A style evening,” reads a Facebook notice from Indivisible Tampa. Rubio won’t be anywhere near Tampa, Miami or Washington. He’s in Europe this week. A Rubio spokesman last week was dismissive of the tactics and said staff had met with “dozens of these liberal activists.”

HAPPENING TODAY: U.S. Congressmen Brian Mast and Tom Rooney will attend an event with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II interactive cockpit demonstrator beginning 1 p.m. at the Pratt & Whitney West Palm Beach Engine Center, 17900 Bee Line Highway in Jupiter.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) here.***

— “Known unknowns: Trying to divine the real numbers in the lobbying compensation reports” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

 Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc.

Gregory BlackJames DaughtonPatricia GreeneWarren HusbandAllison Liby-SchoonoverAimee Diaz LyonAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: Florida Creditors Bar Association, Inc.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonfanti, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Florida Public Utilities Co

Sarah BuskJustin Day, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners LLC: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, NEMA

Martha Chumbler, Carlton Fields Jordan Burt: The Villages

Brittany Dover, Hopping Green & Sams: Shuler Limited Partnership

Christopher FinkbeinerWilliam RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Western Governors University

Lauren Jackson, Ericks Consultants: Handy, Inc.

Scott Ross, Capital City Consulting: OBS Real Estate Holdings, LLC DBA Ocala Gainesville Poker and Jai Alai

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: American Civil Liberties Union of Florida

PERSONNEL NOTE: FRANCISCO GONZALEZ LEAVES JAMES MADISON INSTITUTE via Florida Politics – Gonzalez, formerly vice president of Advancement, has left the organization after nine years. He’s been named the Director of Philanthropy for the National Review Institute, the parent organization of National Review magazine, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. Gonzalez, who will continue to reside in Orlando, starts Feb. 27, He’ll further NRI’s mission with supporters across the country.

PERSONNEL NOTE: MATT GALKA DEPARTS FOR PHOENIX via Florida PoliticsGalka, an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda‘s Capitol News Service, has left Tallahassee to join the FOX affiliate in Phoenix. Galka, a member of the SaintPetersblog “30 Under 30” Class of 2015, will be a general assignment reporter at KSAZ starting Monday, Feb. 27, according to FOX spokeswoman Claudia Russo … “I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” Galka said in a 2015 interview.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Southern Strategy Group’s Nelson Diaz.

Known unknowns: Trying to divine the real numbers in the lobbying compensation reports

Registered governmental affairs firms, representing virtually every industry in Florida, reported earning more than $31.75 million from October 1 to December 31 of 2016 to lobby the Florida Legislature.

FloridaPolitics.com previously reported which firms made what, with Ballard Partners leading all firms in Q4 compensation.

The 2016 Q4 numbers were down slightly from the 2015 Q4 numbers ($31.75 mil to $32.375 mil), likely because the 2016 Legislative Session began in January. The month before Session commences, in this case, December of 2015, typically sees the highest levels of reported compensation. An apples-to-apples comparison of the state of the industry might have to wait until later this year when 2017 Q1 numbers can be compared with 2015 Q4 numbers.

Still — and this should be a genuine warning sign for the industry — the 2016 Q4 numbers are significantly down from the high-water mark of $34.525 mil during 2014 Q1.

Of course, these mid-30 mil figures could be dramatically off from what firms are actually earning.

Lobbying firms report their quarterly compensation totals in ranges. Pursuant to Florida statute Sec. 11.045, the total compensation provided or owed to lobbying firms must be “reported in one of the following categories: $0; $1 to $9,999; $10,000 to $19,999; $20,000 to $29,999; $30,000 to $39,999; $40,000 to $49,999; or $50,000 or more. As explained by LobbyTools, if the category “$50,000 or more” is selected, the specific dollar amount of compensation must be reported, rounded up or down to the nearest $1,000.

Under this reporting system, governmental affairs firms could have cumulatively earned anywhere from $20 million to just north of $50 million. This is a dramatic discrepancy, especially since it’s probably the larger figure that is a more accurate reflection of the state of the governmental affairs industry.

This “range issue” can also be found in the numbers being reported by the individual firms.

The top-earning firm, Ballard Partners, earned $2,273,000 if you go by the median number of the figures it reported, but it could have earned as little as $1,270,072 or as much as $3,027,849. And if you’ve seen the beautiful building Brian Ballard is constructing on Park Avenue, you’d probably be right to assume that the larger figure offers a better picture of the firm’s revenue stream.

The ranking of which firms earn the most for lobbying the Legislature does not change if you use the high-low system, but the overall figures would certainly change. Instead of reporting it earned $1,605,000, Southern Strategy Group‘s top number shows $2,469,827. Ron Book‘s is $1,949,923, Capital City Consulting’s is $1,949,923, Greenberg Traurig’s is $1,529,921, and Gray Robinson’s is $1,489,889.

But here’s where the numbers really get eye-popping.

Add in the high-water marks of what the firms earn to lobby the executive branch. Southern Strategy Group is the top firm here with $2,574,826 in compensation and Ballard Partners at $2,483,855.

Combine these top-range figures with the top-range figures from the legislative branch column and now both Ballard Partners ($5,551,704) and SSG ($5,044,653) are $20 million a year lobbying firms. And those numbers don’t include any revenue earned from lobbying at federal or local level or non-lobbying revenue (I like to say that SSG is a real estate holding company with a nice lobbying business on the side).

As it is, most news outlets covering the Legislature will do a skim of these numbers, see the median figures, and write stories every quarter about how these firms are earning something over a $1 million to lobby the Legislature. As we have learned from a more detailed breakdown of these figures, the top two firms in the state likely earn at least a combined $40 million to advocate for their clients before state government.

Another interesting result of going by the likely-more-accurate top-range figures is that they do shuffle up the rankings of the top six firms (and isn’t it interesting that in less than a year we have moved from talking about the Big 4 — Ballard, SSG, CCC, Book — to the Big 6 — the four previously mentioned plus Gray and Greenberg).

As prosperous as they are, Capital City Consulting and Ron Book, P.A., are more invested in legislative lobbying than executive lobbying. If you count the top-range numbers from both the legislative and executive branches, CCC is still a strong third ($2,889,822), but GrayRobinson is right there ($2,819,774) at number four and Greenberg rounding out the top six. ($2,589,846). But let’s not cry for Mr. Book and his #5 ranking ($2,589,862); Book earns that impressive figure with a fraction of the staff that the other firms do. As they say, keep it small, keep it all,

We’ll have more insights from the 2016 Q4 reports in a future post.

With ‘nice’ picks to constitution commission, did Joe Negron just hand Richard Corcoran an opportunity?

Last week, Florida Senate President Joe Negron made his appointments to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Of the nine picks, former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are the most notable. Undoubtedly, the great orator Gaetz will be one of the loudest voices on the CRC.

Yet, for the most part, Negron’s selections were greeted with shrugged shoulders by most of the capital crowd. ‘Who?’ was asked more than once as the names were read out.

Patricia Levesque, the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is a brand name in Tallahassee and Bill Schifino is the president of the Florida Bar. But with three of his picks going to his allies in the Treasure Coast, along with his other nice and safe choices, has Negron handed House Speaker Richard Corcoran (and Gov. Rick Scott) an opportunity to control the direction of the CRC even more than was originally thought?

Choosing who sits on the CRC is not an easy task. Because the three people making the majority of the choices are white male Republicans, Corcoran and Negron have had to look beyond their party’s ranks to select individuals who reflect the diversity of the state. The CRC can’t look like the Florida Senate’ GOP Caucus if it is to be credible. Hence Negron selected Smith and Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and is a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

(Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga did Corcoran and Negron a favor by selecting, along with Hank Coxe, former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, an African American woman from Tampa; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez, a Hispanic man from Miami; wouldn’t it have been interesting if Labarga did not make such diverse choices and thereby put the responsibility for broadening the perspectives of the CRC’s membership on the two legislative leaders?)

This issue aside, Negron’s choices reflect his desire for the CRC to “focus on a handful of issues ranging from education to redistricting,” according to the News Service of Florida. Negron said that he hoped the commission will offer amendments to overhaul the redistricting process, do away with restrictions on state funding for religious organizations, add a member to the Florida Cabinet and strengthen private property rights and due process.

These are, for the most part, proposals that are either not initially opposed by Corcoran or ones that the Speaker also would like to see happen. He has said the commission should “look at changing the state’s redistricting process, perhaps even by creating an independent panel to draw the lines.

But, as has been proven this year by the Speaker’s willingness to filet any number of Tallahassee sacred cows, it’s likely Corcoran has more radical ideas for the CRC. And because Negron did not put on the CRC a full slate of loyalists – Don Gaetz’ loyalty lies with Don Gaetz; Chris Smith is a Democrat – Corcoran should appoint a block of like-minded thinkers, including himself.

That’s right, there’s no prohibition against the Speaker appointing himself to the all-important Constitutional Revision Commission, so why shouldn’t a leader as interested in shaping the future of Florida as Corcoran put himself on a commission designed to shape the future of the state for the next two decades?

(Hey, former Chief Justice Gerald Kogan used one of his picks to put himself on the commission in 1997-98.)

After he’s done writing in his own name, Corcoran should select five or six of his fellow political Jesuits to serve on the Commission, thereby creating a bloc of votes that, even if it cannot dominate the 37-member panel, could shape the debates and obstruct any proposals it opposes. And because so many of Corcoran’s allies are Cuban and Latino and/or from South Florida, he does not have to make selections for diversity’s sake.

By putting himself and his allies on the CRC, while Negron is represented by a slate of commissioners who may as well have been selected by the League of Women Voters, Speaker Corcoran could dominate yet another public policy arena– or at least hold the upper hand over his partner from across the Fourth Floor.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7. Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

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