Bill Nelson Archives - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott continue sparring over election security

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is sticking to his comment that “Russians are in Florida’s election records,” as Gov. Rick Scott pushes for more information and questions the veracity of the claim.

With the two set to square off in the November general election for the Senate seat, Nelson’s office said Tuesday the focus needs to be on election security not personal political gain and that “it would just be wrong, shortsighted and foolish to think that Russia is not doing in Florida what it did in 2016.”

Nelson made similar comments to reporters Monday night while at a campaign stop in the Gadsden County community of Quincy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The statement from Nelson’s office came as Scott continued to lash out at the Democratic senator’s assertions last week about ongoing Russian meddling.

“The only conclusion I have is, one, if he does have classified information, how did he get it? Because I don’t think he’s entitled to it. And why would he release it to a reporter?” Scott said after a state Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “Two, if it’s not true, why didn’t he just come and say it’s not true?”

Scott added there is a concern that Nelson’s statement could impact the Aug. 28 primary elections.

“We’re in the middle of a primary election, people are voting, absentee ballots are out, early voting has started in some places, and people need to know the facts, and I don’t think he’s being transparent,” Scott said.

Nelson, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, told reporters Aug. 7 in Tallahassee that local election officials could get help to secure their databases and records from Russian cyber-hacking, noting, “The Russians are in Florida’s election records” and that they had “penetrated” some voter-registration systems.

When pressed at the time on the issue of election-system breaches, Nelson, said details of the information remained “classified.”

Nelson had been asked in June to work with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to get elections supervisors in Florida to push for federal cyber-security assistance as a follow up to attacks on the state system in 2016. The request by leaders of the Intelligence Committee was intended to provide a more bipartisan front to the push.

In response to Nelson’s statement in Tallahassee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner first asked Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, to provide some clarification to Nelson’s comments.

Burr’s response on Friday didn’t shed light.

“While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson’s recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions — specifically, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Burr wrote. “Any briefings or notifications about ongoing threats would, rightfully, come from those agencies.”

Detzner, a Scott appointee, then sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for “an official response that confirms your previous statement that you ‘have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure’ and reaffirms your commitment to sharing any future knowledge of potential threats to Florida’s voting systems.”

Detzner in the letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI noted that voting has already started in Florida for the primary elections.

“To the best of our knowledge and the knowledge of our federal partners, Florida’s voting systems and elections databases remain secure and there has been no intrusion of the Florida voter registration system and no reported breaches from locally elected supervisors of election,” Detzner wrote.

State legislators have accepted $19.2 million from the federal government to further secure voting systems that were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016.

Detzner has described hackers’ failure to breach election systems in 2016 as a “success story” for Florida.

Scott on Tuesday backed Detzner’s outlook on the 2016 election.

“We don’t believe that anybody was able to get into the system. We had a free and fair election. They have been clear about that, all along,” Scott said. “My understanding is that the secretary of state’s office has reached out to Homeland Security and the FBI, and they’ve said they don’t know of anything.”

Florida politicians react to Clearwater ‘Stand Your Ground’ arrest

Nearly a month after he fatally shot Markeis McGlocktonMichael Drejka was arrested and booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Monday afternoon on charges of manslaughter.

Drejka, 47, last month started an argument with the 28-year-old McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, over her use of a handicapped spot in a convenience store parking lot. Upon exiting the store and noticing the argument, McGlockton rushed over and pushed Drejka to the ground.

Still on the ground, Dreika pulled a gun, fired, and killed McGlockton. Security camera footage from the convenience store appears to show McGlockton backing away from Drejka after he drew his weapon, but Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chose not to arrest Drejka.

The sheriff, a law school grad, cited a 2017 change to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that required law enforcement to prove a shooter didn’t feel threatened before filing criminal charges.

That decision was met with uproar:

— McGlockton’s family demanded charges be filed,

— State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, and Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon urged State Attorney Bernie McCabe to pursue the case,

— Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting, as did the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP,

— Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum called on Gov. Rick Scott to suspend the law by executive order,

— Tampa Councilman Harry Cohen renewed his call for an outright repeal,

— National racial justice group Color of Change started a campaign to “Stop ‘Stand Your Ground’,”

— Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King delivered a fiery speech on the racial disparity in the use of “Stand Your Ground,” and

— Democratic lawmakers called for a Special Legislative Session, though the request failed along party lines.

Now that Drejka has been arrested and charged with manslaughter, numerous politicians — mostly Democrats — have released statements commenting on the length of time after the shooting, which took place July 19, whether the charges were strong enough, and reiterating their calls for a “Stand Your Ground” repeal.

Democratic Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw:

“This day is too long coming. Justice delayed is justice denied and we continue to seek justice for the McGlockton family and so many other families across this state. Stand Your Ground laws are wrong and have no place in a civilized society. Starting on day one as Attorney General, I will do everything in my power to force the legislature to repeal this terrible law. We look forward to Mr. Drejka receiving his day in court.”

King, an Orlando area businessman:

“The state attorney’s office is doing what Sheriff Gualtieri has failed to do thus far –– seeking justice for the death of Markeis McGlockton. This community is crying out for action and the McGlockton family deserves justice, and that’s why I’ve been calling for leaders to act since this tragedy occurred. Today’s decision is another example why Florida’s broken ‘stand your ground’ law must be repealed so that justice in this case and every other tragedy can never be delayed or denied.”

Fellow Democratic candidate for Governor, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham:

Gillum, currently the mayor of Tallahassee, repeated his call for Gov. Scott to suspend SYG:

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, also a Democratic candidate for Governor, said the family “deserves justice”:

The fifth Democratic candidate for Governor, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, said the following:

Neither of the two major Republicans running to replace Scott, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, commented on the arrest, nor did current Attorney General Pam Bondi or the two Republican candidates vying to succeed her, Pensacola state Rep. Frank White and former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it supported the decision.

Jones, who represents Broward County’s HD 101, acknowledged the arrest via twitter:

Tampa Attorney Karen Skyers, a Democratic candidate for House District 61:

“I applaud the decision by the State Attorney’s Office to charge Michael Drejka in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton,” Skyers said.

“As an attorney and an advocate, failure to prosecute would have been yet another rubber stamp on the use of “Stand Your Ground” as a license to kill, a situation that tragically occurs far too often in Florida.

“And while I’m encouraged by today’s news, it could have just as easily gone the other way. So long as this terrible law remains on the books, the people of Florida – especially people of color – remain especially at risk whenever an aggressor is spoiling for a fight and the last man standing is the only living witness.

“This is why change is needed. And this is why I continue to pledge that the very first bill I will file as the Representative for House District 61 is a repeal of this dangerous law.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Charter chalks a win

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Charter chalks a win

The Leon County School District suffered a bruising defeat this week when an appeal panel unanimously recommended the state overturn the county’s decision to block a new charter school from setting up shop in the county.

The Charter School Appeal Commission, composed evenly of traditional public and charter school representatives, recommended the State Board of Education reject the county board’s previous denial of Tallahassee Classical School. The proposed charter now has the green light to operate.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna faced a ‘bruising defeat’ over a new charter school. (Image via Tallahassee Democrat)

The School Board blocked the proposed charter earlier this year, fearing the school would further exacerbate the issue of segregated student populations in the county.

But the appellate panel found that the district did not provide enough substantial evidence to turn down Tallahassee Classical.

The county initially argued the proposed charter’s plans for student recruitment — particularly for enrolling students with disabilities and getting a student body representative of the district’s demographics — along with its tentative transportation plan were not suitable.

But the panel unanimously agreed that each concern raised by the county was not well-founded, essentially determining the school board’s concerns were baseless. Tallahassee Classical has contended that the board blocked the school for political reasons.

In a brief interview after the hearing, Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna told Florida Politics the district’s initial rejection of Tallahassee Classical likely raised awareness of the issue of segregation, if nothing else.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t fighting for traditional public schools, and I always will,” Hanna said. Adding that if — or when — the school begins operating in the county, he said the district will “welcome (it) into our community.”

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

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

Take 5

State seeks to substantiate ‘hacking’ claim — After Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told reporters this week that Russian operatives have “penetrated” election systems in Florida, Secretary of State Ken Detzner penned a letter to Sen. Richard Burr, chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, requesting knowledge of the alleged hackings. Nelson, when speaking with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, said his knowledge of the hacks stemmed from the committee. In the letter, Detzner wrote that the state has no current information supporting Nelson’s claim. Counties this week finalized submissions requesting federal election security grants to beef up election systems. The awards were approved by the state Joint Legislative Budget Commission and Gov. Rick Scott in July.

Judge strikes parts of pot law — A Tallahassee judge ruled this week that major provisions in a 2017 law implementing medical marijuana are unconstitutional. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson struck the law’s following requirements: Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers grow, process and sell own marijuana; limits on the number of marijuana providers that can be licensed by the state; and special categories of licenses. The challenge, raised by Florigrown, a company that was denied the chance to become a treatment center, sought a request for a temporary injunction, although that was denied. “The denial of the request for a temporary injunction will allow the department to continue to work to implement the law so Floridians can have safe access to this medicine,” said Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton. State Sen. Rob Bradley, the budget chief and chief architect of the law, said, “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

Supreme Court to weigh dog racing ban — The Supreme Court unanimously agreed to consider whether a proposed amendment to end greyhound racing can appear on the ballot in November. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys opposing the ban, argues the proposal, known as Amendment 13, should be kept off the ballot because it would be misleading to voters. In July, a Tallahassee judge sided with the attorneys. The state appealed the lower court ruling last week, and both parties requested an appellate court allow the case to ‘pass through’ to Supreme Court consideration, noting that time was of the essence: Mail-in ballots must, by law, be sent to voters by Sept. 22. An appellate court agreed this week to allow the Supreme Court to take up the case, and the high court accepted it a day later. Justices have scheduled arguments for Aug. 29.

Early voting ballots mount — Just more than half a million Floridians already have voted ahead of the Aug. 28 primary election, and Republicans appear to be leading the pack. Of the 510,155 ballots returned by Friday morning, 238,051 came from registered Republicans, with Democrats returning 198,631, according to data published by the state Division of Elections. Independent voters returned 71,507 as of the same date and voters belonging to other parties sent back 1,966 ballots. In total, 925,192 have been mailed out to Democrats, 836,223 to Republicans, 446,124 to independents and 9,965 to third-party voters.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session fails — A Democratic push to reconvene the Legislature to workshop Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law fell short this week after not gaining enough support between members of the state House and Senate. The call for a special session was sparked by the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County law enforcement did not pursue charges against the shooter, saying he acted within the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. Democratic members called for lawmakers to be polled on whether they should return to Tallahassee to revisit the controversial law. Although lawmakers had until noon Friday to vote on the special session, it became clear that the three-fifths support threshold could not be met Thursday. Republicans overwhelmingly opted not to return to the capital city. Between the state House and Senate, 77 members voted against the idea, with 48 voting in support. Thirty-one members did not respond to the poll, nor confirm receipt, according to data recorded by the Florida Department of State.

Scott tours algae-plagued area; offers more aid

Gov. Scott toured the St. Lucie River Friday, following-up immediately afterward by announcing an additional $700,000 is coming to help Martin County handle an ongoing toxic algae outbreak.

According to the Governor’s office, that money is coming from a $3 million grant approved after he declared a state emergency over the algae crisis in July.

On the water: Senate President Joe Negron (at left) joined Gov. Rick Scott on the St. Lucie River to see the algae outbreak caused by Lake Okeechobee water releases by the feds.

Scott was joined on his tour by retiring state Senate President Joe Negron, of Stuart. Last month, the Governor toured the algae-affected Caloosahatchee River on the west coast of the state.

Earlier this week, Scott announced an additional $400,000 would be heading to Lee County to clean up impacts related to red tide, for $1.1 million in grant funding.

“I am using my executive authority to provide additional funding to allow communities in Lee County to better clean our waterways,” Scott said in announcing the money for Lee. “We will continue to implement real solutions to help our local communities deal with both the algal issues caused by federal water discharges from Lake Okeechobee and this year’s red tide bloom. I encourage more local governments to apply for this important funding.”

New state land honors veterans

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expressing the state’s gratitude toward wounded vets with a large chunk of state land that will bear the name “Purple Heart Tract.”

Putnam made the announcement Tuesday, which was National Purple Heart Day. The tract is a 4,500-acre portion of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest.

“As Americans, the brave men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces have secured our freedom and liberty,” Putnam said.

The Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) hosted its 3rd Annual Purple Heart Day Banquet this week in the historic Fort Harrison.

“More than 1.9 million service members have been wounded or died defending our country, and this Purple Heart Tract is one way we can appreciate our nation’s heroes and honor them in perpetuity.”

The tract is designated as part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s trail program. Established in 1992, the program seeks to honor award recipients with transportation routes and monuments.

The news accompanied Putnam’s hosting of the second-annual Operation Outdoor Freedom Purple Heart Day event at Camp Prairie. The camp provides “guided hunts, fishing trips, canoe tours and other outdoor recreational activities free of charge.”

Scam targets Florida Blue customers

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is warning Floridians of a current telemarketing scam that appears to be disproportionately targeting seniors covered under Florida Blue.

According to a news release, Blue Cross and Blue Shield customers nationally have filed several complaints about scammers peddling “experimental pain relief cream” instead of pain medication.

The callers are allegedly prompting consumers to hand over information about their identity. In some cases, the scammers also are attempting to fraudulently charge Blue Cross and Blue Shield for their “bogus” creams, according to Patronis’ office.

“Florida residents are most likely to report being the target of fraud and identity theft,” Patronis said in a statement. “Anyone that provides prescription medication to you without a medical doctor directly involved in your personal care is committing fraud.

“Preying on seniors and some of our most vulnerable population is shameful, and we must do everything possible to warn Floridians about this scam.”

Instagram of the Week

FAU students who lost the opportunity to walk on stage and collect a diploma when a “credible threat” caused Tuesday’s ceremony to be canceled took part in special commencement ceremony at FAU’s Kenneth R. Williams Administration Building Thursday afternoon, August 9, 2018. They included: 1) 81-year-old Nicoletta Sorice, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Language and Linguistics. “Nicoletta has inspired her fellow Owls with her passion for learning and her enthusiasm for life,” FAU President John Kelly said. 2) Natasha Taimkij, 26, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. “You can tell they really care about their students,” she said of FAU officials. 3) Ripu Kunwar, who is seen posing for a photo making the “owl eyes” sign with FAU President John Kelly. Kunwar earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Geosciences. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post) #bocaraton #palmbeachcounty #fau #graduation #graduate #diploma

A post shared by The Palm Beach Post (@pbpost) on

Amendment 8 heading to court

The state Constitution Revision Commission this spring decided to put a proposal on the November ballot that would impose eight-year term limits on school-board members and would require the Legislature to take steps to better promote civic literacy in schools.

Sounds simple enough.

But next week, Tallahassee Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments about whether he should block the proposal, known as Amendment 8, from going on the ballot because of a dispute about another part of the measure.

The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to block Amendment 8. The group contends ballot language doesn’t adequately inform voters that one part of the proposed constitutional amendment is designed to open the door to more charter schools in the state.

Erika Donalds is defending Amendment 8, which is headed to Circuit Court.

The growth of charter schools, which are public schools typically operated by private groups or companies, has spawned numerous political and legal battles in recent years.

But Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, a Collier County school board member, defended the proposal during a debate in April. She said the revision would allow the Legislature to offer more educational choices, such as charter schools, to students and their families.

“The Legislature should not be encumbered by unfair and antiquated constitutional language that has been used to block parental choice and protect the education monopoly,” she said.

Cooper is scheduled to hear arguments on Friday.

School lunch guidelines announced

Income eligibility standards for free and discounted school lunches for the upcoming school year have been released.

Announced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this week, the federal income guidelines apply to the entire country and are valid until June 30, 2019.

The matrix is ordered by income and household size. For example, to be eligible for reduced-price school meals, a household of four could not have a yearly income of more than $46,435. For free meals, the same size household’s income cannot exceed $32,630.

According to FDACS, each school should have a copy available to go over with interested parties. The guidelines also can be found here.

State encourages Floridians to review coverage — before it’s too late

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and CFO Patronis are reminding citizens to double-check their insurance policies as the peak of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season approaches.

Jimmy Patronis wants your family to be secure; check your hurricane insurance policy, now.

“We are almost 30 days from the one-year mark since Irma, and this should serve as a reminder that flood policies typically take 30 days to take effect,” Patronis said. “Now is the time to review your current insurance policy and get flood insurance if you don’t have it.

“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern but a statewide issue.”

Patronis has been working with OIR to expand private flood insurance. Between June 2017 and March, eligible private flood insurance providers in Florida increased from 20 to 26, a 30 percent jump from the previous reporting period, according to OIR.

Saying “complacency is not an option,” Altmaier advised: “Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered.”

State recognizes Main Street Bartow

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced this week that Main Street Bartow in Polk County is the August 2018 Florida Main Street Community of the Month.

The Florida Main Street Program, administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, encourages economic development via historic preservation initiatives that facilitate the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns.

Communities that participate in the program are eligible to receive the designation, which recognizes development achievements.

“Main Street Bartow is an exemplary program,” said Secretary Detzner. “With one of the longest standing Main Street programs in Florida, downtown Bartow continues to thrive with constant growth, investment and additional businesses moving to the area.”

“There is a lot happening in our downtown,” said Bartow Main Street Executive Director Linda Holcomb. “More new businesses have moved in recently, and several are in the process. We have also seen an increase in attendance at our downtown events.”

Old Polk County Courthouse, Bartow. (Photo via the Florida Department of State.

Teacher rally set for next Sunday

As K-12 educators across the state gear up for incoming students, two South Florida lawmakers will host them and interested parties at the Red for Education Teacher Rally Aug. 19, the Sunday before the first day of the 2018-2019 school year in Miami-Dade County.

Announced in June by Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, and Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran, the rally is set to take place at the Betty T. Ferguson Community Center in Miami Gardens.

Guest speaker: Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie.

A number of politicians are expected to attend, including all five Democratic candidates for governor: Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Andrew Gillum, Chris King and Philip Levine.

In announcing the event in June, Rep. Duran said: “In our fight to improve Florida’s education system, it is essential that we provide a venue where teachers, students, parents, and the rest of the community can gather together to request better efforts to ensure our public schools are equipped with the adequate resources to provide high-quality education for all our children.” \

“Our schools are being starved out by these poorly thought out mandates and dangerous funding levels,” said Rep. Jones. “We will not continue to tolerate this blatant disregard for the growing needs of Florida’s schools.”

Howard to lead FMA

The Florida Medical Association has installed Dr. Corey L. Howard as its 142nd president.

Howard, the founder of Howard Health & Wellness in Naples, has been active in leadership at FMA since 2007. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology.

New FMA President Dr. Corey Howard.

“We congratulate Dr. Howard as he takes the helm as President of the Florida Medical Association,” said FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton. “His strong leadership and demonstrated advocacy for our physicians, patients and issues will further strengthen the FMA as Florida’s premier voice of medicine.”

FMA, which acts as the advocacy arm for physicians and medical professionals in the Sunshine State, boasts “more than 22,000 members on issues of legislation and regulatory affairs, medical economics and education, public health, and ethical and legal issues,” according to its website.

Howard officially assumed the presidential post last week during FMA’s annual meeting at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. Dr. Ronald F. Giffler is president-elect and will assume Howard’s position next year.

Reminder: Crab trap closures underway

The first of two scheduled 10-day blue crab trap closures in August began Friday.

That means recreational and commercial blue crab traps should be removed from specified state waters along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, those waters include “Brevard through Palm Beach counties from Aug. 10-19, and from all state waters from the Georgia-Florida line through Volusia County Aug. 20-29.”

Closed: The first 10-day Florida crab trap closure begins this week.

The St. Johns River system waters are excluded in both of these closures.

FWC conducts these closures to “identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water,” according to the agency. Closure lengths are subject to change.

Lost or abandoned crab traps are dangerous to underwater ecosystems because they can continue to trap — and kill — fish and crabs when gone unchecked. They can also damage habitats and interfere with boating traffic. While the closures are ongoing, fisherman can still collect crabs “with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps,” according to FWC.

FSU Student Bar wins top award

For the seventh time since 2008 and the second consecutive year, the Florida State University College of Law Student Bar Association (SBA) received the National Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Law Student Division.

The award, honoring the best SBA in the nation, is also known as the SBA of the Year Award and was presented at the ABA annual meeting in Chicago.

From left: incoming SBA President Cecilia Orozco, 3L Representative Brandon Sapala, Vice President Hillary Thornton.

“It recognizes the efforts of an SBA organization to create a better environment for law students and a more positive image of the legal profession,” a news release said. “Top law schools from around the nation competed for the award.”

During the 2017-2018 academic year, SBA’s programming included a Mental Health Week, a Diversity Week and a panel discussion on alcohol awareness to provide information on resources available to law students and lawyers.

Students were also able to network with attorneys and judges and to give back to the community through SBA events, such as the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, raising more than $1,600 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

“We are thrilled that the work of our Student Bar Association has again been recognized at the national level,” said Dean Erin O’Connor.

Social media campaign honors lineworkers

To celebrate Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day (Aug. 26), the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) and Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) will recognize lineworkers from around the state this month in a new social media campaign called “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes.”

Photos and biographical information about lineworkers from Florida’s 34 public power communities will be featured on both organizations’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day goes social.

Members of the public are encouraged to participate in the campaign by sharing the “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes” graphics, creating their own social media posts about their experiences with lineworkers and using the hashtags #ThankALineman, #LineLife and #LineworkerAppreciationDay.

“Lineworkers are the front lines of reliability,” said Jacob Williams, FMPA General Manager and CEO. “The work they do requires incredible skill, focus and commitment to safety. We created this campaign to show how much we appreciate the work they do.”

Public power lineworkers not only serve their own communities but have volunteered to serve others across the state and country.

“Hurricane Maria was incredibly destructive, leaving Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands almost completely without power for months,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director.

“Our lineworkers immediately answered the call for help, traveling to the Caribbean to assist, many of whom stayed for months at a time and were away from their families during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s this kind of selflessness and sense of duty that our lineworkers exhibit every day on the job.”

Call before you dig

Happy National 811 Day! On Aug. 11, regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission are reminding everyone to call 8-1-1 before digging any holes in the ground, to avoid damaging buried power or gas lines.

Remember, call before you dig!

More than 20 million miles of utility lines are buried underground nationally, and digs can cause damage practically everywhere, ranging from backyards to major construction sites, PSC Chairman Art Graham warned.

In fact, it happens every six minutes.

“Calling 811 has the potential to reduce frustrating service outages while saving time, money, and, most importantly, lives,” Graham said. “No matter how large or small the project, we urge you to call 8-1-1 first.”

Solar company wins PSC’s OK

A second solar energy company has won Public Service Commission approval to offer equipment leases to customers in Florida.

The commission concluded that Vivint Solar Developer LLC’s 20-year, fixed-payment, residential solar equipment lease does not constitute not a retail sale of electricity.

In other words, the company doesn’t qualify as a public utility, subject to PSC oversight.

Vivint Solar Developer is the second solar energy company to get approval from the PSC.

“As solar becomes more affordable and therefore more attractive to residential customers, the PSC supports ways to continue to ‘prime the pump’ for renewable energy adoption,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “This (decision) helps provide more residential solar options for Florida’s ratepayers.”

Sunrun Inc. secured a similar PSC clearance in April.

Some content this week provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Capitol Directions

 

Scott Sturgill, Ron DeSantis, Ashley Moody top Sanford chamber’s poll

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, and Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody all came out on top in a straw poll conducted Thursday night at a Sanford Chamber of Commerce political hobnob.

The victory for Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, continues his streak of straw poll wins in Seminole County in what has been a bruising overall battle for the Aug. 28 Republican primary for Florida’s 7th Congressional District against Winter Park-based state Rep. Mike Miller, who has been winning most such polls in the Orange County side of the district.

The Aug. 28 primary for that CD 7 race will have about 58,000 eligible Republican voters in Orange and 110,000 in Seminole.

There were more than 340 votes cast in the most popular races surveyed Thursday night at the chamber’s “Last Hoorah Sanford HobNob.” In that, Miller finished a distant third in the CD 7 question.

Sturgill was selected as the favorite by 43 percent of the attendees, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy by 33 percent; and Miller, 20 percent. Murphy’s challenger from the left in the Democratic primary, Chardo Richardson, grabbed 4 percent, while a third Republican, Vennia Francois didn’t even claim 1 percent, as she got three votes out of 342 cast in that question.

“Winning in Sanford was a great way to end hobnob season,” Sturgill declared in a news release issued by his campaign. “I’ve built my business here and this is where I call home. This is where the entire campaign started with my announcement last July.”

The straw poll marked a rare victory for U.S. Rep. DeSantis in Central Florida hobnob straw polls, though he has been dominating statewide Republican voter polls for the past month. DeSantis grabbed 28 percent of the Sanford chamber markers, to 23 percent for his Republican primary rival Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In that survey, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the highest-standing Democrat in the Governor’s field, taking 17 percent; while former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham got 13 percent; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene each picked up 4 percent; and Winter Park businessman Chris King got 2 percent.

Moody, the former judge from Tampa, continued her dominance of Central Florida hobnob straw polls, leading the Attorney General question by drawing 42 percent of the markers. Her Republican primary opponent state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola finished third. Democratic Attorney General frontrunner Sean Shaw took 25 percent, and White 20 percent. The other major Democrat, Ryan Torrens, was favored by 11 percent.

In every race on the ballot that has partisan competition, Republicans took the top spot in the Sanford Chamber’s straw poll, typical of chambers of commerce polls.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott was the pick in Florida’s U.S. Senate race of 54 percent of the participants, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson winning over 40 percent.

Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis got 62 percent of the votes for his bid to stay in office, while Democratic challenger former state Sen. Jeremy Ring got 38 percent.

Republican State Rep. Matt Caldwell topped the straw poll in the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, favored by 32 percent; followed by Democrat Nikki Fried, 20 percent; and state Sen. Denise Grimsley, 15.

Republican David Smith was the top choice to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur in House District 28, topping Democrat Lee Mangold 64-36.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon got 55 percent in his re-election bid, while his Democratic challengers Tracey Kagan and Darryl Block got 28 and 17 percent, respectively.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes got 61 percent for his re-election bid, while his Democratic challengers Joy Goff-Marcil, Brendan Ramirez, and Clark Anderson took 14, 14, and 11 respectively.

Victor Torres, Carlos Smith, Amy Mercado rip Rick Scott on education

Three Democratic Orange County lawmakers joined with the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Thursday to bash Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s record on public education.

Outside the offices of the Orange County Public Schools headequarters in Orlando, State Sen. Victor Torres and state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado all went after the governor for education budget cuts he pushed through in the early years of his first term and consistent efforts throughout both terms to route more tax money into private charter schools.

There’s no immediate legislative effort the lawmakers might be addressing. However, Scott is in a tight battle with Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the election challenge for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat this fall, and the trio of Orlando lawmakers stepped in as surrogates for Nelson’s campaign, and to throw fuel into the upcoming gubernatorial primary, where Torres and Mercado have endorsed Democrat Gwen Graham and Smith, Democrat Andrew Gillum.

A spokeswoman for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign called the Democrats’ claims against Scott “ridiculous.”

The Democrats laid it on heavy.

But Torres said they also want to keep up constant pressure on public opinion, even several months away from the start of committee work for the next Legislative Session. “We have to keep sending the message to everybody,” he said.

“Rick Scott has imposed immense hardships on our public schools for the past eight years,” Torres declared. “Republican budget deals under Rick Scott were giveaways to charter schools at the expense of the public school system. Thanks to Rick Scott and Republican legislators, public schools have had to contend with underfunding year after year. We need a change, and Rick Scott is not the answer.”

Of the three Democratic lawmakers, only Smith faces a challenger in this year’s elections, with a late-entry, well-financed campaign by Republican Ben Griffin. Mercado had a Republican challenger, but she dropped out last week, and Orange County Republicans are seeking a replacement.

Griffin commented on the press conference in a written statement by declaring “it’s a shame that my opponent uses his time for a photo op with the local union that advocate for policies that keep low income children in failing schools during an election.”

“Rick Scott has been horrible for our public school system. In his first year as governor, Scott rolled out a proposal that would’ve cut our schools by billions of dollars. Even Republicans in the legislature thought Rick Scott’s public education cuts were too cruel to our public schools,” Smith said.

“Florida under Scott has systematically moved us towards a universal voucher system, and now, we are spending huge amounts of taxpayer money to move resources into private schools. Why, because Rick Scott wants give even more money to people like Betsy DeVos who continue to profit off our education system,” he said, referencing the controversial U.S. Education Secretary who has ties to Orlando. “And our teachers and public school students are paying the price.”

“As a proud mom of six children, I am disgusted by Rick Scott’s neglect towards our public schools,” Mercado said. “Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature continue to attack and abuse our state education system. They inappropriately fund public schools while openly funneling money to private corporations under the guise of school choice. We must stop this insanity.”

They were joined by Orange County Classroom Teachers Association President Wendy Doromal.

“Rick Scott deserves an F on education issues,” she said. “Since he was elected, Rick Scott has headed a campaign to dismantle Florida’s public education system brick by brick. He has done incredible harm to students, teachers, and public education as a whole. Florida has one of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the nation. We cannot recruit or retain enough qualified teachers under these conditions. Under Scott, Florida’s public schools are underfunded, over regulated, and set up for failure.”

“These claims are ridiculous. Clearly, Democrats have no choice but to continue to use misleading and negative attacks in order to hide the fact that career politician Bill Nelson has no accomplishments to run on,” said Scott’s campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone.

“Over the past seven and a half years, Gov. Scott has fought to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed and receive a world-class education. That’s why he worked to invest record amounts in K-12 education, secure the first statewide teacher pay raise in state history, and expand school choice so students and parents have more options to choose what works best for them,” she added.

Griffin’s statement about Smith continued: If he actually did his homework, he’d highlight Florida’s graduation rate hitting a 14 year high under the Republican majority legislature, including 84.7% in Orange County. Unlike my opponent, I am spending my time going door to door talking to voters who believe that parents, not politicians, should be able to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, regardless of their address or income.”

Remaining counties file for federal elections security grants

The last of Florida’s 67 counties now have submitted applications for federal election security grants, which qualify them to receive $14.5 million of the $19 million allowed to the state, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.

“As we approach the 2018 election season, there is nothing more important than ensuring the security and integrity of Florida’s elections,” Scott said in a written statement.

“In Florida, we are focused on 100 percent participation and zero fraud, and this additional funding will help Supervisors of Elections build on their existing infrastructure and enhance security measures so that we can ensure Florida has another successful election in 2018.”

Scott announced approval of the initial 49 grant applications in July.

Thursday’s announcement came one day after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said that Russian operatives have breached elections systems in some counties ahead of the midterm elections. He did not identify which ones, and elections officials said they could not confirm Nelson’s claim.

The Florida Department of State, which oversees elections, will send the money to local supervisors of elections, Scott said.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will cut the checks.

“Cybersecurity must stay a top priority, especially in our elections process,” Patronis said. “My office will continue to speed up the payment process for our local officials so that they are equipped with the resources they need to protect our elections process.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner oversseethe application process.

“The Department of State and county supervisors of elections have been working diligently to strengthen protections for our elections and ensure the safety of voter information,” Detzner said.

“I applaud all Supervisors of Elections for working quickly to submit their grant applications in a timely manner so that we can get the funding approved and distributed to them before the 2018 elections.”

Here is a list of local grants.

Bill Nelson too old for office, GOP super PAC suggests

A Washington-based super PAC backing Republican Senate candidates dispensed this week with what had been more subtle campaign hints aimed at U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s age.

In a news release titled “Bill Nelson Tragically Forced to Admit His Memory Is Failing,” the Senate Leadership Fund pointed to Nelson saying a day earlier that he couldn’t recall a 2010 letter he wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about delaying the implementation of water-quality standards for Florida lakes, springs and other waterways.

“It’s time for Bill Nelson’s caretakers to keep better tabs on the Senator’s whereabouts and public statements so that he is not embarrassed into admitting he’s no longer dealing from a full deck,” Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack said in the release.

The news release came amid an increasingly nasty race between Nelson, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott for Nelson’s Senate seat.

The eight-year-old letter by Nelson, along with one written around the same time by Scott, also added to a fierce political blame game over water-quality problems across South Florida.

Nelson’s campaign called the super PAC’s news release “a desperate attempt to distract from Rick Scott’s record of cuts and deregulation that helped create this toxic algae crisis.”

Nelson is 75; Scott is 65.

Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, said such age-based attacks are becoming less effective.

“Look at younger voters’ support for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and longer life expectancies among older voters,” MacManus said. “What polls are showing is more effective in an era of voter disgruntlement is candidates’ longevity in office rather than their sheer age.”

Scott, a two-term governor, has worked to make Nelson’s lengthy political career, which started in the Florida House in 1972, an issue in the contest.

Asked Tuesday — the day before the super PAC news release — about Scott’s campaign making “subtle hints” about his age, Nelson responded with some indignation.

“Any time he wants to have a contest about push-ups or pull-ups, and we’ll see who is not up to it,” Nelson told reporters before a dedication ceremony at a Tallahassee veterans’ health-care center.

When asked Tuesday about his 2010 letter to the EPA, Nelson said he would need to look up the issue.

“Not only do I not recall that, that simply could not be true,” Nelson said. “There must be a nuance there. So, I’ll have to look at it and see.”

In the letter to the EPA, Nelson wrote: “Clean water is a goal we all share,” adding that he was sharing the concerns of residents, businesses, farmers and local governments about the “potential cost of compliance with these standards and the validity of the science.”

“That is why it is imperative that this regulation is finalized in a deliberative manner, utilizing sound science and considering the effects of implementation,” Nelson wrote in the letter. “Rushing to finalize the rule could result in further uncertainty and unnecessary economic hardship for municipal governments and Florida industry.”

His campaign noted that Nelson annually has hundreds of pieces of correspondence.

Nelson’s letter was similar to a lobbying effort by Scott against the proposed changes after he was elected governor in a November 2010. In a letter, Scott called the changes in water-quality standards “onerous” and requested a delay “so that we have time to fully analyze the rule” and its effect on Florida.

And after Nelson’s claim this week that Russian agents “penetrated” at least some U.S. voter registration systems before the 2018 election, the Department of Homeland Security all but said it didn’t know what Nelson was talking about.

“While we are aware of Sen. Nelson’s recent statements, we have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure,” said Sara Sendek, a spokesperson for the department. “That said, we don’t need to wait for a specific threat to be ready.”

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Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post from The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Democratic PACs hitting Rick Scott on Medicaid, pre-existing conditions

Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action PAC are launching a new $1.1 million digital ad campaign to blanket the internet with a new advertisement hitting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott for refusing to expand Medicaid in Florida and charging that he opposes mandatory insurance coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.

The first point, Medicaid expansion, comes from a well-documented debate that has lasted seven years over Florida’s refusal to enroll in the optional federal Medicaid expansion program, a decision Democrats say leaves at least 750,000 Floridians without access to any standard health care coverage.

The second point, the pre-existing conditions, comes in part from Florida’s participation in a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a mandate in the Affordable Care Act that insurance companies must not deny coverage to new enrollees with ongoing conditions that can include things such as cancer or diabetes. That suit would not necessarily roll back such coverage but could make it a state option on whether to require it. Republicans in Congress last year also introduced a bill that would have eliminated the federal mandate, and Scott voiced support for it.

However, Scott has said he would be in favor of keeping pre-existing coverage requirements as a state rule in Florida.

The 15-second ad, “Worry,” is running statewide in both English and Spanish versions. The ads will run across a broad range of platforms including Facebook, Google, YouTube and Pandora, as well as on online news platforms such as CNN, The New York Times, Univision and Telemundo.

“I worry about how to pay for health care,” a woman says, as the video shows a worried woman talking with a doctor. “But Rick Scott rejected funds to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of people, and wants to let insurance companies deny health care to people with pre-existing conditions.”

Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action both are independent political organizations supporting Democrats. The ad criticizes Scott but does not mention his opponent, Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Nelson.

Nor does a news release the groups put out Thursday announcing the campaign.

“Throughout his time as governor, former health care profiteer Rick Scott has drastically increased his wealth while at the same time turning away funds that would greatly improve the lives of his constituents — including Medicaid funding that would have covered 750,000 Floridians and over $1 million that would have helped to fight substance abuse,” the release states.

“Meanwhile, Scott has given billions of dollars in tax relief to the rich like himself and big corporations and supported a health care plan that could eliminate coverage for the 8 million Floridians with pre-existing conditions.”

Progressive group sending backup to state Senate battlegrounds

Progressive advocacy group For Our Future Florida announced Wednesday that it will pitch in on the effort to flip the state Senate, starting with the seats held by Republican Sens. Keith Perry and Dana Young.

Senate District 8, the Gainesville-based seat held by Perry, and Senate District 18, the Tampa-based seat held by Young, sit atop the Florida Democratic Party’s wish list for 2018.

Young was elected to SD 18 with a plurality of the vote two years ago as the district voted for Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, while Perry won his seat by 4 points as Donald Trump claimed a narrow victory despite Democrats holding an 8-point lead in voter registrations.

In 2018, both seats have drawn competitive challengers. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz currently leads the polls in her quest to unseat Young, while Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, a first-time candidate, has posted impressive fundraising numbers in her bid to knock off Perry.

“All Florida has to show for Keith Perry and Dana Young’s time in Tallahassee is millions funneled out of our public schools leaving our state one of the worst for K-12 education in the country and nearly one million low-income residents blocked from accessing healthcare through Medicaid,” said For Our Future spox Blake Williams. “Working Floridians deserve representatives like Kayser Enneking and Janet Cruz who will look out for their best interests, advocate for the middle class, and fight for affordable healthcare.”

For Our Future Florida added that the “State Senate program will be a comprehensive field effort focused on both persuasion and mobilization universes and will include a vote-by-mail program layered into the field campaign.”

The same group, a branch of For Our Future Action Fund, recently held a “Statewide Canvass Day of Action” that consisted of 72 separate events in all corners of the state to make the case Democrats running for the state Legislature and U.S. House as well as for re-electing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to a fourth term and sending a Democrat to the Governor’s Mansion for the first time this century.

For Our Future Florida pushes for progressive-backed plans to expand Social Security and Medicare, boost investments in green energy production, increase education funding and end the “school to prison pipeline.”

Darren Soto: Rick Scott is ‘blatantly lying’ in newest ad

Gov. Rick Scott‘s latest attack on Sen. Bill Nelson is a sham, according to one member of the Florida Congressional Delegation.

Orlando-area U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat facing a tough primary challenge, called Scott’s Medicare-focused ad bogus and ironic just a few hours after news of the ad spread on Tuesday. The 30-second TV and digital spot accuses Nelson, who Scott hopes to unseat in November, of agreeing to cut Medicare when he voted for the Affordable Care Act.

“Rick Scott is blatantly lying to Floridians,” Soto said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening. “This ad is nothing more than a false attack aimed to divert attention from two key facts: Rick Scott has previously backed a plan to end the Medicare guarantee, and Scott himself made millions of dollars overseeing one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud in history.”

Scott’s ad, titled “Unfair,” claims Nelson’s vote led to a cut of $716 billion from Medicare, but as Scott Powers previously noted for Florida Politics, “PolitiFact sought to check the claim and rated it ‘Mostly False.'”

In alleging the governor is “distracting” voters from his record on health care, Soto references Scott’s tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA ahead of his transition to elected office. The magnitude of the Medicare fraud mentioned has been rated as ‘Mostly True‘ by PolitiFact.

In alleging the governor “previously backed a plan to end the Medicare guarantee,” Soto cites Scott’s 2015 support of the U.S. GOP budget. A news release accompanying Soto’s statement claims the plan would have turned Medicare “into a voucher program.”

“The irony of Scott claiming ‘stealing from Medicare is unfair’ will not be lost on Floridians, who are keenly familiar of Scott’s prolific history of defrauding Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Soto said. “The reality is Senator Nelson has worked his entire career to protect Floridian’s Medicare and social security.”

Scott’s ad is below.

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