Richard Corcoran Archives - Page 7 of 88 - Florida Politics

Seminole Tribe’s lawyer says same old gambling proposals ‘won’t fly’

Despite increasing calls for and against a Special Legislative Session on gambling, the Seminole Tribe‘s lawyer continues to back his client’s promise to keep paying millions to the state.

“They’re not just going to stop paying just because they have the right to,” said Barry Richard on Tuesday.

That said, if lawmakers come back with the same ideas as this past Regular Session, “that won’t fly,” Richard added.

POLITICO Florida reported Tuesday that top lawmakers were considering April 23 to begin a Special Session after House Speaker Richard Corcoran last week raised an alarm over the loss of revenue share from the Tribe.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and his chamber’s point man on gambling, later said in a text message that “no date has been set.”

“The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away … jeopardizes the stability of the state budget,” Corcoran said in a statement. “We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.”

And a proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment on November’s ballot looms. If that’s approved by no less than 60 percent, it would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

The sides had been in a “forbearance period” that ended March 31, after which the Tribe is entitled to stop paying.

“They’ll look at what happens with pending litigation,” Richard said. “If any of that fails to resolve the problem, and the problem becomes significant enough, then they might look at something. And that might not mean a complete termination of payments.”

For the Tribe, the issue has always been about getting what they pay for.

The Seminoles sued over the state allowing a hybrid of poker and blackjack they contended played too much like blackjack, for which they’re supposed to have exclusive rights to offer in Florida.

They’ve also filed suit against 25 operators of what’s called “electronic gambling parlors” in the Jacksonville area, saying they violate the Tribe’s deal with the state to exclusively offer Vegas-style games.

And an appeal is pending over pre-reveal games, video consoles at bars that the Tribe says look, play, and pay out like slot machines, which the Seminoles have exclusive rights to offer outside South Florida.

As to a Special Session, “I don’t think they care one way or the other,” Richard said. “The only thing they care about is what proposal is brought to the table.”

An attempt to pass omnibus gambling legislation failed during this year’s Regular Session. As part of that, the underlying new deal with the Tribe would have guaranteed $3 billion into state coffers over seven years for continued exclusivity.

But the House and Senate came to impasse, among other things, over designated player games—the poker-blackjack hybrid that rakes in money for pari-mutuel cardrooms. The House has wanted to ban them; the Senate would allow them.

The Florida Greyhound Association; No Casinos, a anti-casino gambling group, and others still oppose a Special Session.

“If ever there was an issue that the Legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling,” No Casinos president John Sowinski wrote in a letter, released Monday, to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Mike Fernandez, others oppose Florida ‘E-Verify’ system

Billionaire GOP contributor Mike Fernandez and nearly 70 other business and political leaders are objecting to a proposed constitutional amendment to require employers to verify their workers’ immigration status and employment eligibility.

Fernandez, a health care entrepreneur who also chairs the Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund (IMPAC Fund), sent a letter Tuesday to members of Florida Constitution Revision Commission in opposition to Proposal 29 (P29).

It would create “a new section in … the State Constitution to prohibit unauthorized aliens from working in the state and to require the Legislature, by a specified date, to establish an employment eligibility verification process.”

The idea is backed by Commissioner Rich Newsome, an attorney appointed by GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The amendment would mandate a system similar to “E-Verify,” a federal “Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.”

The proposal “would be devastating and costly to Floridian businesses and workers,” says the letter, signed by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Angel Ferrer, Managing Director of Citi Private Bank, among others. “Moreover, constitutionally requiring reliance on a yet to be created and untested process would open the door to discriminatory practices by employers that would harm vulnerable communities.”

The idea “is nothing more than an attempt to constitutionally mandate E-Verify by another name, and it suffers from all the same deficiencies,” the letter says. “Any newly created system would undoubtedly be subject to the same types of mismatches and errors that are all too common with E-Verify, and most government databases.”

The proposal is one of 24 now under review by the commission’s Style & Drafting Committee, which meets again this week in Tallahassee to continue work on ballot summaries and amendment groupings.

The full text of the letter and list of signatories, which includes former Clearwater GOP state Sen. Jack Latvala, follows:

__

Dear Members of the Constitutional Revision Commission,

We, the undersigned business leaders of our state, stand in solidarity with the Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund in our opposition to Proposal 29.

Proposal 29 would place a requirement in the Florida Constitution that all Florida employers, under threat of significant penalties, use a substitute E-Verify process that has yet to be created to verify immigration status and employment eligibility of all employees.  Additionally, Proposal 29 would place in our state’s Constitution a requirement that all Florida businesses be subject to random audits, mandating penalties for employers found to be noncompliant.

We ask that you Vote No on Proposal 29.  The Proposal would be devastating and costly to Floridian businesses and workers.  Moreover, constitutionally requiring reliance on a yet to be created and untested process would open the door to discriminatory practices by employers that would harm vulnerable communities.

Proposal 29 is nothing more than an attempt to constitutionally mandate E-Verify by another name, and it suffers from all the same deficiencies.  Any newly created system would undoubtedly be subject to the same types of mismatches and errors that are all too common with E-Verify, and most government databases. According to a study by the conservative/libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, funded in no small part by David and Charles Koch, from 2006 to 2016, legal workers had roughly 580,000 jobs held up due to E-Verify errors, and of these, roughly 130,000 jobs were lost entirely due to E-Verify mistakes.

The cost to employers posed by Proposal 29 could be astronomical.  Paul Dimare, CEO of DiMare Distribution, known as “Mr. Tomato,” noted that imposing E-Verify (or a similar) system in Florida will cause a short-term labor shortage that will leave crops rotting and un-harvested. DiMare has said that, “E-verify will destroy our state’s economy.  It will shut agriculture down, the second largest industry in our state.”

​As Bob Dickinson, ​Retired CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines has said, “Proposal 29 is anti-jobs.  It would impose unacceptable burdens on Florida’s businesses and workers.  It is bad for our tourism industry and creates disincentives for businesses to be in our state.”

We ask that YOU VOTE NO on Proposal 29 because this provision is not only ineffective, it will hurt our workers and harm the Florida economy.

Signed,

Michael Fernandez, Chairman, MBF Healthcare Partners

Bob Dickinson, Retired CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines

Leonard Abess, Chairman, ThinkLAB Ventures

Cesar Alvarez, Senior Chairman, Greenberg Traurig

Marivel Andreu, Managing Director, Celedinas Insurance

Tony Argiz, President and CEO, Morrison, Brown, Argiz and Farra

Daisy Baez, Executive Director, Dominican Health Care Association of Florida

Steven Bandel, Retired Co-Chair and CEO, Cisneros Group of Companies

Jose Bared, Chairman, Farm Stores and Gardeners Supermarket

Rodney Barreto, Chairman, Barreto Group

Joseph Berardo Jr. CEO, Concordia Care, Inc.

Mark Blank, Director, Miami Children’s Hospital

Martin Burkett, Co-Chair, Mergers & Acquisitions and Private Equity Practice, Akerman LLP

Vicky Camero, Director, Program Management Medicaid Regulatory Services, Simply Healthcare Plans

Al R. Cardenas, Senior Partner, Squire Patton Boggs

Mario Cartaya, CEO, Cartaya and Associates, PA

Rudy Cecchi, President, Rudy Cecchi and Associates

Ambassador Paul L. Cejas, Chairman and CEO, PLC Investments

Ramon Cernuda, Owner, Cernuda Arte

Dr. Barbara R. Cowley, Medical Director, Simply Healthcare Plans

Antonio de la Guardia, Owner, TRESART

Mayi de la Vega, Founder and CEO, One Sotheby’s Realty

Manny Diaz, Senior Partner, Lydecker Diaz, Former Mayor of Miami

Edward W. Easton, Founder, Chairman and CEO, The Easton Group

Tomas Erban, Director, Central Baptist Hospital Foundation

Angel Ferrer, Managing Director, Citi Private Bank

Michael “Mike” B. Fernandez, Chairman, MBF Healthcare Partners

Victor Giorgini, President and CEO, Equiflor

Felice Gorordo, Global Director, StartUp Health

Nelson Guerra, Senior Accountant, MBF Healthcare Partners

Dr. Jerry Haar, Clinical Professor, Department of Management and International Business, Florida International University, College of Business

Tino Herran, CEO and President, Sedano’s

Heather Hitzemann

Al Hoffman Jr., Founder, Hoffman Partners

Teddy Klinghoffer, Partner, Akerman LLP

Bill Kunkler, Executive Vice President, CC Industries

Jack Latvala, Former Florida State Senator

Iliana Lavastidea Rodriguez, Managing Editor, Diario las Americas

David Lawrence Jr., Chair, The Children’s Movement

Thomas Liberti, Senior Consultant, Clear Health Alliance

Maria Lopez Alvarez, Vice-President and Co-Director, Univision

Modesto Maidique, Former President, Florida International University

Manuel D. Medina, Founder and Managing Partner, Medina Capital

Dr. Enrique Murciano, Anesthesiologist, South Miami Pain Center

Bob Ontiveros, Chairman and Founder, Group O

Alexander Penelas, Former Mayor of Miami-Dade County

Sergio Pino, President and Founder, Century Homebuilders Group, LLC

Nestor Plana, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Independent Living Systems

Earl W. Powell, Founding Partner, Chairman Emeritus, Trivest Partners

Jose R. Rodriguez, Partner In-Charge Audit Committee Institute, KPMG LLP

Ray Rodriguez, President, Dorlom Construction

Felix Sabates, Partner, Chip Ganassi Racing

Carlos Saladrigas, Co-Founder and CEO, Regis HR

Federico Sanchez, Senior Vice President – Wealth Advisor, UBS Financial Services

Guy Sansone, Managing Director, Alvarez and Marsal

Brian Siegal, Regional Director, Miami and Broward County, AJC

Sharon Socol, Author and Photographer

Eugene E. Stearns, Chairman, Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson

Ronald G. Stone, President, The Comprehensive Companies

Mayor Francis Suarez, City of Miami

Dr. Robert Thomas, Medical Direector, Coral Gables Executive Physicians

Dr. Marta Torroella-Kouri, Associate Professor, Cancer Researcher

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Hector Tunidor Jr., Senior Global Client Service Partner, Ernst and Young

Darlene Williams, Equestrian Artist

Ed Williamson II, Chairman and CEO, Williamson Auto Group

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 4.3.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

Here’s a surprise the Easter bunny left in our basket: the latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, now available in digital format and coming soon in print.

We had planned for this issue to highlight the INFLUENCE 100, but so much is going on in the influence world (or, as the AP’s Gary Fineout likes to call it, the influence media), that we needed to get an issue out that captured what happened during the 2018 Legislative Session, as well as to many of the players who are part of The Process.

If one thing is clear post-Parkland, it’s that Florida Democrats — three decades removed from power — are gearing up for a monumental political and policy fight. The outcome of this fight will shape the influence industry for years to come. Several Democrats are on our list of Winners and Losers emerging from the Session, including our “Rookie of the Year” Lauren Book, a first-term state senator featured inside.

If Book is the newcomer to watch, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is the veteran lawmaker to listen to. If you read one thing in the magazine, make sure it’s her first-person thoughts on the state of The Process.

The rest of the magazine is filled with a barrage of news and notes about dozens of other players, including Sen. Rob Bradley, Rep. Kristin Jacobs, former Rep. Chris DorworthRandy EnwrightJim Rimes, and many others.

Some of those may well be in the INFLUENCE 100. Until then, ponder the contours of the new political landscape, coming to places — and pages — near you.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Reporting deadline for Q1 fundraising — 12; NFL Draft begins — 23; Avengers: Infinity War opens — 24; Close of candidate qualifying for federal office — 30; Mother’s Day — 40; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 52; Memorial Day — 55; Father’s Day — 75; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 80; Deadline for filing claim bills — 120; Start of the U.S. Open — 146; Primary Election Day — 147; College Football opening weekend — 151; General Election Day — 217; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 317; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 336.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— TOP STORY —

The Constitution Revision Commission’s Style & Drafting committee meets Tuesday to finish up its work on packaging 25 active proposals for the November ballot.

Committee chair Brecht Heuchan says he plans to finish work this week, beginning with ironing out legal technicalities, “then any needed amendments to individual proposals, then preliminary discussion on ballot summary language, then grouping (and) ordering.”

The full commission had cleared the proposals after a three-day Session last month.

They include measures to ban offshore drilling, greyhound racing and indoor ‘vaping,’ put term limits on local school board members, and create a ‘bill of rights’ for crime victims.

The finished proposals will go back to the full commission, where they must receive no less than 22 votes to be placed on the ballot.

Then they face a minimum approval of 60 percent of statewide voters to be added to the state constitution.

The commission’s final report is due to Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.

The body is constitutionally charged with forming every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

State GOP’s revenues dip; firm owned by committee member has consulting contract” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Facing increased competition from outside political committees, the Republican Party of Florida brought in the lowest amount of revenue last year in at least a decade, according to a party audit filed with state election officials. For the year ended Dec. 31, the RPOF collected $7.2 million in revenue, with $5.5 million coming from “campaign and political operations,” which includes fundraising. In 2015, the last year without an election, the party brought in $13 million in revenue. State parties typically bring in much more cash during an election year. The biggest hit to centralized state parties has been the increased use of political committees, which are controlled by specific candidates and can receive unlimited contributions. “The role of the formal party is not shrinking at all, but it has become more challenging with the role of PCs,” said RPOF spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre. “The party, however, is still the primary vehicle to ‘get out the vote,’ ‘chase absentees,’ register voters and sign up volunteers.”

Gwen Graham calls Donald Trump an ’embarrassment’ in digital ad” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Not only is the former congresswoman’s digital ad focused on Trump, but it is also first running in the Palm Beach market, an intentional move to target Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club where he frequently stays. It will later run on digital platforms across the state. “Donald Trump is an embarrassment,” Graham says in the ad. The ad is an attack on Trump but is done with a light touch, using soft music and does not feature a deep-voiced narrator that’s become common in attack ads.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Personnel note: Bettina Weiss in as Graham press sec’y” via Florida Politics — Weiss is an alumna of Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s in American studies, and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s in political communications. She moved over to campaign last month, relocating to Orlando from Washington, D.C. where she spent nearly two years working for Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that supports stricter gun laws, such as background checks for private sales and a ban on assault-style weapons. Weiss’ resume also includes work as a crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line, as a prevention coordinator for sexual violence resource center healingSPACE, and as a gun violence prevention reporter for Generation Progress, the youth-centered offshoot of progressive think tank Center for American Progress. Weiss’ addition signals the Graham campaign’s continued focus on gun violence in the four-way Democratic Primary for governor.

Ron DeSantis targeted in new radio, TV ads — The National Liberty Federation, a dark money group with ties to political consultant Roger Stone, is battering DeSantis in a pair of attack ads released this week. The group has plunked down more than $350,000 in ad buys on radio and TV, including more than $250,000 for a commercial airing on Fox News through Thursday. “It was supposed to be a revolution to take back Washington, but when Ron DeSantis got elected, it was like he couldn’t wait to be part of the in-crowd. Cozying up to two defense contractors, taking thousands of dollars in campaign donations, and even moving into a beachfront condo — you guessed it — owned by the same defense contractors,” the ad narrator says. “DeSantis didn’t throw the bums out of Washington; He moved right in with them. Is this the swamp creature we want to lead Florida?” The ad points to a website, RonDeSantisFacts.com, with a long list of gripes the group has with the Northeast Florida congressman, including “ties to the Republican establishment,” his net worth and his supposedly tepid support of Trump, an early backer in his bid for governor.

Assignment editors — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine will hold conversations with college students by kicking off a tour at the Florida State University beginning 12:30 p.m., Oglesby Union Room 314, 75 N. Woodward Ave., Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Assignment editors — Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam will host an “Up & Adam” breakfast in Miami beginning 8:30 a.m. at the La Carreta Restaurant, 8650 Bird Road in Miami. He will be the keynote speaker at the DeSoto County Republican Executive Committee’s Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner in Arcadia. That’s at 7 p.m., Turner Agri-Civic Center, 2250 NE Roan St., Arcadia. For news media: This is a ticketed event. If you plan to attend, please email amanda@adamputnam.com by noon Tuesday.

Assignment editors — Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association will discuss plans for the General Election Debates for U.S. Senator and Governor in a media conference call beginning 10 a.m. at 1-888-392-4560; access code: 9979718. Hosts include Wendy Spencer, president and CEO, Leadership Florida; Beth Kigel, board chair of Leadership Florida; Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association; J. David Armstrong, president of Broward College and Caroline Taplett, president and general manager of WPBF TV.

Ashley Moody named a “Women to Watch” at Republican Women event — The Florida Women’s Political Network hosted its annual Celebration of Republican Women luncheon where it awarded Moody a “Women to Watch” award. This award goes to women who are “making strides in Republican politics and public service.” Moody said: “It was a privilege to stand alongside such strong women leaders from across our state who have spent their life fighting for Republican values. I look forward to continuing to fight for these values as Florida’s next Attorney General.” Following the lunch, Moody won the Attorney General straw poll with 74 percent of the vote.

Mike Miller’s first ad in GOP congressional primary features Rick Scott” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The ad for State Rep. Miller, running in the GOP primary for Congressional District 7 in Seminole and parts of Orange counties, entitled, “The Conservative,” touts Scott’s praise of Miller and includes audio of Scott saying, “I want to thank Representative Mike Miller for all that he’s done … He’s focused on making sure our taxes are low, everybody can get a job, that we have a great education system, and that people are safe,” Scott says over video of his meeting with Miller. Or, as the ad paraphrases Scott, “I like Mike.” In a statement, Miller said, “I appreciate his kind words about me recently, and I’m proud to call him my friend and my Governor. I’m fully supportive of whatever Governor Scott’s next step will be and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Tim Canova drops Democratic bid to unseat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will run as independent” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — “Even as independents, we are the real Democrats in this race,” Canova said at a news conference outside Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ office. “Even as we run as independents, I will run as a better Democrat. I did not leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left us.” Canova, whose 2016 bid received national attention after Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him over Wasserman Schultz, eventually lost the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points. Canova’s decision to run as an independent gives Wasserman Schultz a clear path to the Democratic nomination in 2018. Republicans Joe Kaufman and Carlos Reyes have also filed to run in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Broward County and northeastern Miami-Dade County.

David Richardson raises $410k in Q1  Richardson, one of many Democrats running for CD 27, said Monday he raised about $411,000 for his campaign during the first three months of the year. “My race in District 27 is not just about electing a Democrat — it’s about electing the right Democrat, one who is driven by and committed to progressive ideals. That’s who I am, and our fundraising numbers demonstrate that’s what this district wants. I thank my supporters for believing in this campaign,” Richardson said. The announcement did not mention how much of the Q1 haul came in through loans, though it said when the final report is in it’ll show more than $1.4 million in total fundraising and $1.1 million in cash on hand since Richardson filed in July. By the end of 2017, he’d lent his campaign $500,000.

Carrie Pilon files for SD 24” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Pilon announced Monday that she’s filed to run as a Democrat for the Senate District 24 seat currently held by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. “I’m running for the State Senate because the legislature in Tallahassee is not working for Florida’s families. As a member of the State Senate, I’ll hold special interests accountable, and stand up to the Legislature’s Trump-style agenda,” said Pilon, a former prosecutor who now runs an injury law firm. … “As a small-business owner, I know firsthand the challenges of meeting payroll and providing health insurance for our staff and families. We deserve a state legislature focused on helping our small businesses grow, not handing out corporate welfare checks to their friends.” … So far, Pilon is the only challenger to file for SD 24. Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012 when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22 … Republicans hold an advantage in voter registrations in the district, though the seat is far from a Republican stronghold. SD 24 would have gone for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008. In 2016, the district flipped and went plus-7 for Trump.

Family feud: Ray Pilon endorses daughter-in-law’s political opponent” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — They might be family, but that isn’t stopping former Sarasota state Rep. Pilon from siding against his daughter-in-law in her bid for the state Senate. Ray Pilon is a Republican and his daughter-in-law, Carrie Pilon, is a Democrat … Shortly after Carrie Pilon made her announcement, Brandes sent out an email with the subject line: “Ray Pilon endorses Jeff Brandes.” … “Senator Brandes and I served in the Florida House and were both elected in 2010,” Pilon said in the news release. “We worked closely on many issues, and that continued when he was elected to the Senate. He is a person of high moral values, of integrity, honesty and fairness.” Carrie Pilon is the wife of Ray Pilon’s son, Chad Pilon. Ray Pilon also is running for office this year.

Tweet, tweet:

Save the date:

— “Frank White endorses Alex Andrade as HD 2 successor” via Florida Politics

— “Challenger emerges for Bobby Payne over Black Creek ‘boondoggle’” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

Geraldine Thompson is back, filing to run in HD 44” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Thompson served four years in the Florida Senate, representing Senate District 12, and six in the Florida House, representing House District 39 before redistricting. She left the Legislature to run for Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to now-U. S. Rep. Val Demings. “This [HD 44] was a district that previously had been so gerrymandered that a Democrat could not compete. After redistricting, people now will have a choice,” Thompson said. She hopes to take on incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski. “I think I have solid name recognition in the district. I’ve served the district. I’ve worked with the mayors in the cities of the district, so I think that gives me an advantage,” Thompson said. “With regard to House District 44, I think this is a race where there is an opportunity break down years of history of exclusion. I’m interested in being a part of that.”

Randy Cooper exits HD 71 race, will support Tracy Pratt” via Florida Politics — “I started running for this seat a year ago and have put my heart, soul, and a lot of sweat equity in this campaign but have to admit that it just was not enough,” Cooper, a Bradenton civil engineer and West Manatee Fire and Rescue District commissioner, said in a statement. Instead, Cooper is throwing his support behind Pratt, a Bradenton attorney who entered the HD 71 race Thursday. “Tracy Pratt is smart, young, and a wife and mother, who will put the interests of the citizens and business in the area first, not special interest groups,” he said.

Assignment editors — People in state House District 39 and House District 114 face a deadline to register to vote in May 1 special elections. Republican Josie Tomkow and Democrat Ricky Shirah face off in the special election in District 39, which includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties. Republican Andrew Vargas, Democrat Javier Fernandez and NPA candidate Liz de las Cuevas are running in Miami-Dade County’s District 114.

— STATEWIDE —

As U.S. Senate race looms, a slew of personnel moves in Gov. Scott’s office” via Florida Politics — There are staff changes galore in Gov. Rick Scott‘s office as he positions talent in advance of an expected April 9 announcement of his U.S. Senate campaign. Director of Appointments Collin Lomagistro is leaving effective today (Friday) to join the soon-to-be-announced campaign. ‎Environmental Policy Coordinator Julia Espy is becoming a Deputy Chief of Staff over transportation, housing and environment. Mary Beth Vickers, Policy Chief for Health and Human Services, will oversee all health and human services related areas. Chief Deputy General Counsel Jack Heekin is becoming another Deputy Chief of Staff over emergency management and law enforcement. Deputy Chief of Staff Megan Fay is leaving ScottWorld altogether to join Capital City Consulting. All this comes after an announcement earlier this week that Brad Piepenbrink was replacing Jackie Schutz Zeckman as Chief of Staff. She was said to be”pursuing other opportunities,” meaning also joining the campaign staff.

Scott signs bills designed to keep Florida ‘military friendly’” via Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times — Scott signed bills designed to reduce fees for Florida military, veterans and their families. The Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Family Opportunity Act reduces professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans, and their spouses. Scott also signed HB 75, authorizing state colleges to waive student fees for active duty military service members. This bill will also help make higher education more affordable for our military men and women.

 Military pride: Gov. Rick Scott, a Navy man himself, visited Tampa to highlight funding for military members, veterans, and their families. He also signed a bill to “increase opportunities and reduce fees” for armed forces men and women.

Assignment editors — Gov. Scott holds a bill signing ceremony for legislation to strictly prohibit all state agencies from conducting business with any entity that benefits the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Event begins 9 a.m. at El Perdigon, 5748 International Drive in Orlando.

Adam Putnam gives wildfire update — Putnam said Monday that there are currently 41 wildfires raging across the state. Of the 34,539 acres on fire, more than half are in Collier County where a 17,957-acre fire is 90 percent contained. Other significant fires include a Gulf County blaze that spans 8,080 acres and is 80 percent contained; a 1,037-acre fire in Miami-Dade in a fire that is 90 percent contained; and a Polk County fire that covers 450 acres and is 60 percent contained. The Florida Forest Service urges residents to take the following steps to prevent the spread of wildfires: obey outdoor burning laws, avoid burning on windy days, keep water and other firefighting resources on hand, never leave a fire or grill unattended, and avoid parking vehicles on dry grass. In the event of a wildfire call 911 or a local Florida Forest Service field unit office immediately.

 CFO Jimmy Patronis was joined by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Rep. Dane Eagle, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, Fort Myers Fire Department Chief John Caufield and members of the fire service and law enforcement communities to highlight the signing of a measure expanding mental health benefits for first responders.

Audit questions state anti-fraud efforts in Medicaid” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Florida’s Medicaid program has been rapped by auditors who questioned what the state got for millions of dollars spent with a company whose lobbyists included two former Republican House speakers and a former top health care regulator. State auditors additionally raised questions about how aggressive the Agency for Health Care Administration has been in trying to clamp down on fraud. The newly released audit said the agency’s Office of Medicaid Program Integrity never forwarded leads regarding potential fraudulent activity to 11 HMOs under contract with the state. The audit … questioned why Florida spent more than $5.5 million on an advanced data analytics system and renewed the vendor’s contract five times despite the company’s inability to include data on the majority of people enrolled in the Medicaid program. Between 2014 and 2017, when SAS Institute was working for the state, the company listed a cadre of well-connected Tallahassee lobbyists, including former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary and Medicaid director Tom Arnold and former House speakers Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul.

No Casinos on Special Session for gambling: Don’t do it” via Florida Politics — The head of a group that opposes casino gambling in Florida is telling lawmakers to take a pass on a Special Session for unresolved gambling issues. “If ever there was an issue that the Legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling,” No Casinos president John Sowinski wrote in a letter, released Monday, to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. “Whenever this issue comes up in Tallahassee, negotiations between the chambers seem to be more focused on coming up with a ‘deal’ that satisfies competing gambling interests than enacting solutions that are in the best interests of the people of Florida,” Sowinski added. Legislative leadership late last week said it was considering a Special Session on gambling because of the end of a settlement agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

Pharmacy panel weighs implementation of new opioid laws” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The Florida Board of Pharmacy, which is charged with updating administrative code to include the new opioid provisions reviewed statute changes passed and signed into law this year. The main concern: A package tailored to curb the state’s drug epidemic by targeting the practice of overprescribing opioids. Gov. Scott signed the legislation (HB 21) into law in March. The new laws provided in HB 21, which take effect in July, will limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply, and, when deemed medically necessary, a seven-day supply. Certain patients, such as those suffering cancer and other forms of chronic pain, will not be affected by the new prescription limits. The bill also mandates the use of a statewide database, or prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which requires action from both pharmacists and doctors.

Medical marijuana provider Trulieve sues state over store limits” via Florida Politics — Trulieve, a medical marijuana provider, on Monday filed a “constitutional challenge” against the state’s Department of Health over how many retail stores it can open, and where, under current law. An attorney for the company, which is seeking “non-monetary declaratory or injunctive relief,” provided a copy of the complaint by George Hackney Inc., the Gadsden County nursery that does business as Trulieve. The lawsuit follows a similar administrative action last year that sought to lock down its “dispensary rights” … Trulieve now is asking a court to declare its rights under law to open new stores. The case, for now, has been assigned to Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper.

Mears investors to compete nationally with ride-share cabs” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — A South Florida company has purchased majority ownership of the firm with ambitious plans to merge Mears’ traditional service with ride-share business tactics. “In the near future we will be the first and only full-service transportation company in the country that can meet all the ground transportation needs of a customer, including demand response ride-share services,” said Charles Carns, chief executive officer, in a memo to its more than 1,000 employees. The investment deal closed late Thursday, days after Mears had revised its concession contract with Orlando International Airport to acknowledge the change in ownership.

NRA takes aim at county gun law proposal” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The NRA’s top lobbyist in Florida is blasting a proposed Leon County ordinance designed to close the gun show loophole and require a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. Marion Hammer … issued a written alert calling on members to oppose the measure. She was especially critical of County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, who proposed the move in February. County commissioners voted unanimously last week to set the ordinance for a public hearing April 10. “Mary Ann Lindley is so rabidly anti-gun she is determined to impose these restrictions on law-abiding gun owners and force the financial burden on the Sheriff’s Office and the taxpayers of Leon County,” Hammer said in a post on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Lindley doesn’t even pretend that she cares about crime, criminals or have any legitimate reason for passing it, she just wants to pass some gun control before she leaves office.”

Scott Maddox spends campaign cash on lawyers” via Florida Politics — Maddox’s 2020 state Senate campaign showed its first signs of life in months: It helped him pay for lawyers. Maddox is one of the central figures in an FBI investigation into City Hall that’s been going on since 2015, and recent movement points toward the bureau laying out the case for mail fraud and bribery. With the investigation still ongoing, Maddox’s campaign account for the 2020 Senate District 3 race nearly zeroed itself out with a $125,000 payment to law firm Baker Donelson on March 23. Maddox’s attorney Stephen Dobson joined the firm’s Government Enforcement and Investigations Group in February.

Speaking of Tallahassee — “U.S. grant ensures record-setting magnet lab stays in Florida” via The Associated Press — The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is getting a large federal grant that will ensure it remains in the Florida state capital. The National Science Foundation is awarding $184 million to the lab, whose main location is at Florida State University. The foundation said that the grant would cover five years and is a 9 percent increase over the last round of funding. The lab has over the years set and broken various records for magnet technology.

Duke seeks rate hikes for new power plant” via the News Service of Florida — With a new Citrus County power plant poised to start generating electricity in September, Duke Energy Florida on Monday asked state regulators to approve rate increases to pay for the project. Duke plans to begin operating the first unit of the natural-gas fired plant in September and the second unit in November. Duke said … that residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see a $3.61 bill increase in October and a $2.27 bill increase in December. Increases would vary for commercial and industrial customers. The state Public Service Commission will decide whether to approve the increases. Duke said the project, in part, would help reduce carbon emissions.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Joe Biden to visit St. Petersburg in June” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Biden announced that he is adding St. Petersburg to his extended list of book tour dates this summer. He’ll visit the Mahaffey Theater June 4. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue this tour and hear from so many more people,” said Biden in the release. Biden has already made two Florida stops on the national book tour for his memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.” He visited Miami in November and Orlando in January.

Marco Rubio offers hope for Irma-affected farmers” via the News Service of Florida — Federal disaster relief for farmers impacted by Hurricane Irma may be available “as early as next week,” according to U.S. Sen. Rubio. Florida citrus farmers have expressed increasing frustration as they await distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster aid … Citrus growers suffered at least $761 million in losses from the September storm, which caused an estimated $2.5 billion in losses to Florida’s agricultural industry. Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson have urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to release the agriculture aid, which was part of the $90 billion disaster relief package signed by President Trump on Feb. 9. Rubio’s office did not say how the funds, once available, would be distributed. The federal legislation provides Perdue with wide flexibility in disbursing the disaster assistance, with the goal of helping farmers rebound from crop losses as quickly as possible.

Rubio to move Miami office” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — But unlike when the Republican senator had to relocate his Jacksonville and Tampa offices last year, the move is being attributed to the office space, not to landlords getting frustrated with ongoing political protests outside the building. “We are in the process of relocating that office, but it was our decision, for a couple of reasons. We were not asked to leave by building management,” Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, said. The current Miami office actually is in Doral, just west of the Miami International Airport, and is owned by the American Welding Society, which also has its headquarters in the building. Reid said the Rubio team has identified a new location in Miami but is not ready to move, nor announce the new location. However, he said the new location would continue to provide easy public access.

Nelson tours Jacksonville’s Anheuser-Busch brewery, criticizes Trump over tariffs” via Ryan Benk of WJCT — Citing a study by the business-friendly Tax Foundation, Nelson said the import taxes the Trump administration announced last month would get passed on to employees and consumers. “This extra tariff, or tax, on steel and aluminum is going to cost 9 billion extra dollars for consumers in this country, and in Florida alone, it’s going to be a half-billion dollars,” he said. “That itself is not a good thing, but what it portends also is starting a trade war.” Nelson said the sudden import taxes, and retaliation by China with tariffs on 128 U.S. products, remind him of a dark time in America. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which is part of the reason [for] going into the Depression in the 1930s. So, you always have to worry about that. Remember the Smoot-Hawley Tax,” he said.

Florida lawmaker (Vern Buchanan) who helped craft new tax law stands to gain” via Richard Lardner of The Associated Press — Already one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Vern Buchanan could become even wealthier after he and other Republicans muscled a sweeping rewrite of the U.S. tax code through Congress late last year that includes breaks for the real estate and automobile industries that generate most of his income. The potential windfall for Buchanan — worth at least $80 million and perhaps much more — echoes on a smaller scale how favorable the new tax law is to President Trump, whose fiery populism won him support from struggling American workers and families. While Trump and Republican allies have billed the tax law he signed as a victory for a stressed middle class; the $1.5 trillion package provides the most significant tax cuts for corporations and the most prosperous Americans. Not a single Democrat in the House and Senate voted for the legislation, which they’ve depicted as a payout to the GOP’s largest donors. Seeking to convince voters otherwise, Republicans have trumpeted announcements from companies that credit the overhaul as the reason their workers are getting bonuses and wage increases. But the biggest winners are those who are already doing well.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch will hold a town-hall meeting about preventing gun violence beginning 6:30 p.m. at Coral Springs City Hall, 9500 West Sample Road in Coral Springs.

— SALVADORAN STRUGGLE —

Putting a local face to a large-scale issue makes it feel closer to home.

recent story by the Tallahassee Democrat’s Nada Hassanein goes just outside the capital city to Quincy to illustrate the impact a federal plan to end Temporary Protected Status could have on certain immigrants only miles away from the state’s Capitol.

Quincy resident Gladis de la Cruz fled to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1990 during the Salvadoran Civil War and had been protected under TPS since 2001. Hassanein writes that Cruz may have to return to El Salvador, where “ruthless gangs” that killed her father and uncle remain intact. “They’re the reason she left. They’re the reason she never wants to return. But she may have to.”

Deadline: The Trump administration ended TPS for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans because it alleges the countries have “improved conditions.” Salvadorans, the largest group protected by TPS, have until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave, or risk deportation.

Violence in peacetime: While no formal natural catastrophe or war plagues El Salvador “the chaos caused by nature was replaced by gang-related violence.”

Clearance at the Capitol: Ronal Vasquez, another Salvadoran who has worked on construction projects at the state Capitol, said he will have to return to Mexico or El Salvador, where “you have two options: Either you become a gang member, or you become a person who is against gang members — and then your life is always in danger,” Vasquez said.

— OPINIONS —

Don’t be too quick to call race for governor” via Shevrin Jones for the Orlando Sentinel — Right now, the race for governor is wide-open. Voters are just learning about the candidates — and the more they learn about Andrew Gillum, the more they’re excited by his progressive vision. Florida’s Democrats are hungry for authentic progressives this year. They’re ready to vote for a leader who is fighting for higher wages for working families, expanding quality, affordable health care for all, defending our environment, protecting the rights of every Floridian, and taking meaningful action on gun safety. That’s why Gillum has emerged as the real progressive in the race for governor, and why the media has called him the “Democrat catching fire” who is “speaking from that true progressive playbook.” This year, Democrats know more than ever who’s really in their corner. They know it’s not someone who proudly declared she was a “very conservative Democrat” and they know it isn’t someone who said she was the only Democrat who could win statewide. I’m proud to stand with Andrew Gillum, and I deeply respect the other candidates in this primary. It has been a long time since we saw a field of gubernatorial candidates this diverse in their thinking, their backgrounds and their approaches.

Save rural Florida. Here’s how to do it.” via Rick Dantzler for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — How would we do it? By charging a Cabinet-level elected official — the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture — with preserving as much of what remains of rural Florida as possible. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs would be reorganized to become just the Florida Department of Agriculture, and it would have just one mission: to save what remains of rural Florida. Every single day the Commissioner of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture personnel would wake up with one thing in mind: to keep open land arable and free from development … anything that affects the preservation of agricultural land and undeveloped spaces should go through the Commissioner of Agriculture. Regulating, policing and supporting farmers and ranchers would remain since the health of agriculturalists is key to preserving open spaces. After all, no matter how much land is purchased for conservation, most land will remain in private hands, and the support of these property owners is key to limiting urban sprawl. Someone needs to become the state’s primary advocate for sufficient conservation funding, protection of farm and ranch land, and smart growth. I’ve suggested that it be the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture because most of our undeveloped land is agricultural in nature and landowners trust the Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Ranging from dissecting a fiery Trump tweet about DACA to examining what can be done to help endangered species in Florida, there’s a lot to unpack in the latest episode of The Rotunda.

But for some, the most ear-catching moment of Trimmel Gomes’ wide-ranging podcast this week is a part about a private-sector backed, solar-energy utopia sprouting north of Fort Myers: Babcock Ranch.

Alongside developer Syd Kitson, whose company Kitson & Partners is completing Babcock Ranch with Florida Power & Light, Gomes gives listeners a glimpse of the future.

It’s in the name: “I think the state of Florida really over the past several years realized that it’s the ‘Sunshine State’ and that [solar energy] is a great opportunity for a renewable energy source,” Kitson says in the interview, explaining what led him to build “the most sustainable new town in the country.”

The numbers: According to Kitson, Babcock Ranch will have just under 20,000 homes and 6 million square feet of retail space. FPL has built a solar facility capable of powering the town and what Kitson claims is the world’s largest solar-to-battery storage unit. Ninety-percent of the initial purchase is dedicated to preservation, and 250 families are expected to move into the community this year. Home prices range from the high $100s to $1 million to attract multiple generations.

More context: Gomes brings up Trump-imposed tariffs on solar panels as a possible deterrent to solar in the state, but Kitson says that private utilities should be capable of keeping costs low. In Babcock Ranch, homeowners will pay rates equivalent to FPL customers elsewhere, “the only difference is that … [when Babcock Ranch owners] turn on a light switch in their home, it’s solar energy.”

— MOVEMENTS —

Marc Dunbar to join Citizens Insurance board” via Florida Politics — Dunbar, the Tallahassee-based lawyer and gaming lobbyist, will become the next member of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s board of governors. Dunbar, a partner in the Jones Walker firm’s Government Relations Practice Group, interviewed in February with CFO Jimmy Patronis for a vacancy on the state-run insurance concern’s board of governors. Citizens is the state’s insurer of last resort. Dunbar, who described himself as “an outsider with no insurance ties,” has said he was “honored to be considered.” He replaces Don Glisson Jr., an insurance executive who stepped down last August.

Scott Shalley joins VISIT FLORIDA board” via Florida Politics — Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, has been selected to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors effective immediately, the group announced Monday. “I’m honored to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, and I want to thank Chair Maryann Frenec and the rest of the board members for this opportunity,” Shalley said in a statement. “Retail and tourism go hand-in-hand, and having Florida continue to set records for the number of tourists, almost all of whom leave our state with more than what they came with, is great news for our members and our industry as a whole.”

Personnel note: Megan Fay joins Capital City Consulting” via Florida Politics — Fay, who until recently was Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Scott, is heading to Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting, the firm announced Tuesday. Fay will come on board in mid-April, said Nick Iarossi, a founding partner of the firm. “Megan’s policy knowledge and political instincts impressed us for years,” Iarossi said in a statement. “We are happy she can apply those skills to help our clients in Tallahassee. She will be a valuable addition to our expanding team.” As deputy chief of staff, Fay oversaw key state agencies, such as the departments of Education, Lottery, VISIT FLORIDA, and Business and Professional Regulation, as well as the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and CareerSource Florida.

Cesar Fernandez to join Uber’s Latin America public policy team” via Florida Politics — “It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with public stakeholders all over Florida on embracing ride-sharing,” said Fernandez. “I’m excited to shift my focus to advocating for safe and reliable mobility solutions in Central America and the Caribbean.” Fernandez’ new job will be focused on government relations in several countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Uber currently operates in Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Puerto Rico. The new position will keep him in the Sunshine State at the ride-hailing company’s offices in Miami.

Jonathan L. Williams to Lash & Goldberg — The firm added Williams, a former Deputy Solicitor General, as a “senior counsel” in Tallahassee. His practice includes state and federal administrative and constitutional law, product liability, health law, environmental, tax, gaming, and consumer protection. He helped represent Florida before the U.S. Supreme Court in a long-running dispute with Georgia over a multistate river system. “Jonathan’s addition to the firm highlights Lash & Goldberg’s commitment to expanding the depth and experience of our team to better serve our clients,” said Alan D. Lash, founding partner at Lash & Goldberg. “His exceptional and diverse legal skills will be a tremendous asset to our firm.” Williams got his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Duke University.

Spotted in POLITICO Magazine — “(BrianBallard is a veteran Florida lobbyist who’s been in Washington for barely a year — the blink of an eye in an industry in which many of the top practitioners have spent decades inside the Beltway. But Ballard is closer to the president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town. He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else on K Street … Ballard’s relationship with Trump has helped him solve a lucrative puzzle that has frustrated more established players … He’s a Trump-friendly out-of-towner who can connect with the establishment — he is a close ally of Senator Marco Rubio as well as Charlie Crist, the former centrist Republican governor of Florida who is now a Democratic congressman — and make corporate clients comfortable.”

— ALOE —

Ecologists hopeful after strong year for Everglades wading birds” via Greg Stanley of the Naples Daily News — Many of the birds produced some of their healthiest nests in a decade, fledging tens of thousands of chicks, according to South Florida Water Management District’s annual wading bird report out this month. It remains to be seen how lasting the uptick will be. And while the birds did well in the refuge of Everglades National Park and in a handful of water conservation areas immediately north of it, they still struggled in their ancient breeding grounds, in the disappearing shallow wetlands near the Big Corkscrew Swamp and coasts of southern Florida, according to the report. It’s important not to read too much into one-year population jumps or drops, said Mark Cook, the water district’s lead scientist, who helped put together the report. But last year’s numbers compared to 10- and 20-year averages are a sign for hope, Cook said.

Welcome to the worldJohn Hansen, the fifth addition to Riley and Nick Hansen‘s family. Mom and baby are doing great, says Dad.

No Casinos on Special Session for gambling: Don’t do it

The head of a group that opposes casino gambling in Florida is telling lawmakers to take a pass on a Special Session for unresolved gambling issues.

“If ever there was an issue that the Legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling,” No Casinos president John Sowinski wrote in a letter, released Monday, to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

“Whenever this issue comes up in Tallahassee, negotiations between the chambers seem to be more focused on coming up with a ‘deal’ that satisfies competing gambling interests than enacting solutions that are in the best interests of the people of Florida,” Sowinski added.

Legislative leadership late last week said it was considering a Special Session on gambling because of the end of a settlement agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

“The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the … agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget,” Corcoran said in a Thursday statement. “We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.”

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

The sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31, after which point the Tribe is entitled to stop paying, though its lawyer has said he does not expect the Seminoles to stop paying.

“Some articles have indicated that the reason convening a Special Session is being considered is because there are concerns about a potential revenue loss if the Seminole Tribe does not keep making payments to the state … ,” Sowinski said.

“The urgency of this matter is curious, since no facts have changed since the end of session that would now make this such an enormous priority that it could merit a call for a Special Session of the Legislature.

“… Most observers see this as a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists who want you to re-convene so they can try to make one more run at a major expansion of gambling before the November elections, when Florida voters will likely approve Amendment 3,” he added.

A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment, also backed by Sowinski, will be on November’s ballot. If that’s approved by 60 percent or more, it will give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

The full letter is below:

Audrey Gibson

Audrey Gibson on gambling: ‘This should have been resolved’

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson says she’s “stunned by the ongoing inability of the Republican legislative leadership to reach an agreement with the Seminole Tribe over gaming in Florida, and alarmed by the suggestion of an expensive Special Session.”

The Senate Democratic Office released her statement Friday morning.

“This was not a sudden development, or a last-minute problem we needed to confront,” said Gibson, of Jacksonville, who also serves on the Senate Regulated Industries Committee overseeing gambling policy.

“We were on notice before the gavel first sounded in January that failing to address gaming could blow a $300 million hole in the budget,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to explain to taxpayers why three months after the session convened, the budget that was passed remains in jeopardy because it was built on incomplete, non-transparent information.”

The Tribe paid the state a little over $290 million last fiscal year.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, last night announced leadership was considering a Special Session to resolve gambling issues left on the table this past Regular Session, including a deal to extend blackjack rights to the Tribe in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

“During the final weeks of session, the House and Senate made significant progress towards resolving a number issues surrounding gaming in our state,” Galvano’s statement said. “With the approval of President (JoeNegron and Speaker Corcoran, Speaker-designate (JoseOliva and I are continuing to explore possibilities to resolve these issues.

“One of our concerns is the possible loss of revenue from the Seminole Tribe and the resulting impacts on the state budget,” he said. “For that reason, there is a potential that we would need to revisit gaming prior to the start of the 2018-19 fiscal year.”

But, according to Gibson, “little information was made available to lawmakers warning them that the collapse of negotiations would threaten the state spending plan for the coming year … This should have been resolved before we adjourned.

“One full year after talks began on an agreement with the Seminoles, the subject was barely discussed until the last days of session when the budget conference was convened, too late for any real chance to pass a bill,” she added.

“So not only does last night’s announcement underscore the lack of transparency as the budget was assembled, but the need for a solid agreement before any calls for a special session potentially costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are issued.

“And, if a special return to Tallahassee is required, I strongly urge that the gaming revenue is not the only issue we deal with, but a more thorough vetting of the measly 47 cents the Legislature budgeted as an increase in funding per student for the coming year. Both should be on the table.”

Legislative leaders ponder special session on gambling

Top men in the Legislature are considering a Special Session to tackle unresolved gambling issues from the 2018 Regular Session, including renewal of a deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

It’s all about the money.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

Corcoran

The sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31, after which point the Tribe is entitled to stop paying. That possibility has House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a fuss.

“The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the forbearance agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget,” Corcoran said in a Thursday statement. “We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.

“The House will be discussing our options, including the possibility of a Special Session, with the Governor and the Senate,” he added.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, the chamber’s point man on gambling issues, quickly added in a separate statement: “At this point, no decision has been made.”

But there are reasons to believe the Tribe will continue to pay.

“Knowing the Tribe, they don’t act precipitously,” Tribe outside counsel Barry Richard said earlier this week. “ … They don’t want to change their relationship with the state. They’ll only do it if they perceive circumstances to be a meaningful threat to their economic well-being. Or if they think if they’re paying a lot of money and not getting what they’re paying for.”

Lawmakers this year were unable to agree on any comprehensive gambling legislation and did not approve a renewed deal with the Seminoles that would have guaranteed $3 billion to the state over seven years.

“The fact the Legislature didn’t do anything doesn’t mean they’re not interested in talking,” Richard said. “I have never known them to be vindictive or unreasonable. That’s not how they operate.”

There’s another incentive for the Tribe to maintain the status quo: Walking away could spur lawmakers to go back and cut a deal with the state’s pari-mutuels, dog and horse tracks that often also have cardrooms and, in South Florida, slots.

This Session, a consortium of pari-mutuel owners had been working on a proposal to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agreed to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums, according to industry sources. The play was to match or beat the revenue share — estimated at close to $300 million a year going forward — coming from the Tribe. 

That, too, would likely require a Special Session — and time is wasting. A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment is on November’s ballot. If that’s approved by 60 percent or more, it will give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

“Calling a Special Session to expand gambling in an election year is a really bad idea—especially when there is a gambling amendment on the ballot in November,” tweeted former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who now lobbies for the Florida Greyhound Association.

The amendment does have a carve-out to allow lawmakers “to negotiate gaming compacts … for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands.”

Galvano

“During the final weeks of session, the House and Senate made significant progress towards resolving a number issues surrounding gaming in our state,” Galvano’s statement said. “With the approval of President (Joe) Negron and Speaker Corcoran, Speaker-designate (Jose) Oliva and I are continuing to explore possibilities to resolve these issues.

“One of our concerns is the possible loss of revenue from the Seminole Tribe and the resulting impacts on the state budget,” he said. “For that reason, there is a potential that we would need to revisit gaming prior to the start of the 2018-19 fiscal year.”

Added McKinley P. Lewis, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott: “The Governor was made aware that the Legislature was looking at this issue. We will review any proposal they put forward.”

Other reactions Thursday focused on legislators’ motivations.

“Sounds like a way to raise $$ from deep pocketed gaming interests before voters pull the plug in November,” tweeted consultant David Bishop, a former Deputy Secretary of the Florida Lottery under Scott and a spokesman for then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Gubernatorial primary debates set for Aug. 1 and 2 at the University of Miami

Candidates vying to succeed Rick Scott in the Governor’s Mansion will get a chance to plead their cases to Florida voters in a pair of debates set to take place a few weeks before the Aug. 28 primary elections.

The Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida Press Association announced the debates, to be held Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 at the University of Miami, in a Wednesday news release.

“The vision and direction offered by Florida’s next governor will dramatically affect the lives of Floridians in every part of our state — from children to the elderly,” said David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement. “These debates let voters hear what the candidates think on critical issues ranging from early childhood education, health care, environmental protection, and public safety to jobs and economic development.”

Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association statewide network of newspapers, agreed that the primary debates will be essential in helping voters make up their minds about which candidate wins their support and vote.

“With a long, diverse list of candidates already announced or expected to get into the race, we’re anticipating vigorous primary campaigns with thoughtful discussion of the issues in these vital debates,” said Ridings. “This is a very effective way for Florida voters to compare and contrast the candidates, side-by-side, and to see and hear their ability to present a plan that can take us all into the best possible future.”

UM President Julio Frenk added that hosting the debates — part of “The Race for Governor” project — will fulfill one of the institution’s missions by making the Coral Gables campus a center of engagement.

“The University of Miami is proud to host these debates and foster a productive dialogue among the candidates for governor,” Frenk said. “Our students, faculty, and staff will be deeply involved in helping prepare the campus for both debates and for spirited conversations about the issues that will be examined.”

Republican candidates — currently U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran likely to join shortly — will take the stage at UM’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall on one of the evenings, while the Democratic field — currently Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — will get the other.

Each debate is scheduled to run one hour in the 7 p.m. time slot and will be broadcast on TV stations in each of Florida’s media markets.

It has not yet been determined which set of candidates will go first, though both parties have been notified of the dates and times. Also to be determined is the threshold of support candidates will need in the polls to be granted a spot behind the lectern, though organizers said those details will be hammered out in the coming weeks.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale CBS affiliate WFOR will serve as the production television station for the debates, and station VP/General Manager Adam Levy said he is confident both events will enjoy significant live viewership and an additional audience via rebroadcast of the programs on multiple platforms.

“These high-profile events will attract a significant and diverse viewership,” he said. “Our commitment is to produce an excellent exchange among the candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.”

Other stations signed on to broadcast: WPBF (ABC) in West Palm Beach, WESH (NBC) in Orlando, First Coast News in Jacksonville, WCJB (ABC) in Gainesville, WFLA (NBC) in the Tampa Bay area, WCTV (CBS) in Tallahassee, WEAR (ABC) in Pensacola and WMBB (ABC) in Panama City. The debates will air on either WBBH (NBC) or WZVN (ABC) in the Fort Myers market.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A brewer gets bigger

One of the state’s premier breweries just got a lot closer to the Capitol.

Proof Brewing Company announced this week it would move its operations to an old Coca-Cola Bottling Company building on South Monroe Street, within walking distance of downtown Tallahassee and Cascades Park.

The brewery is now housed in a former warehouse in the capital city’s Railroad Square Art Park.

Proof Brewing Company is moving operations to an old Coca-Cola Bottling Company building on South Monroe Street.

The next 34,000 square-foot building marks an expansion for the brewery, which expects to increase production capacity to 30,000 barrels — up from 6,000 barrels produced in 2017.

Proof, which touts it has doubled production each year since 2012, will add more packaged brands in cans and employees with the move to Monroe Street. The new facility is expected to open as early as this winter and will let customers enjoy an expanded tasting room, retail store, private event space, kitchen, and — yes — beer garden.

“This will be a year of growth and development for Proof Brewing Company,” said Proof owners Byron and Angela Burroughs. “We are proud of our growth in Tallahassee and we’re thrilled to reinvest back into the community that has been so supportive of us.”

Tallahassee, with five brew houses, still has a way to go from challenging Tampa’s unofficial claim of craft beer capital for the state, though.

The Big Guava “has over 50 craft breweries to date,” according to the Tallahassee Beer Society. “But Tallahassee’s craft beer scene is growing … and faster than anyone ever expected.”

In a recent column in the Tallahassee Democrat, the group noted two more “breweries on the horizon”: Fool’s Fire Brewing in the All Saints District, and Tally Brewing Co., now looking for digs.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Andrew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, A.G. Gancarski and Peter Schorsch.

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

Rick Scott signs opioid legislation — Gov. Scott signed into law this week a bill aimed at curbing the state’s opioid crisis. Specifically, the legislation targets the practice of physicians overprescribing opioids to patients. The new law limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply, and, when deemed medically necessary, a seven-day supply. Certain patients, such as those suffering cancer, will not be affected by the new prescription limits. Scott signed the legislation at Manatee Sheriff’s Office in Bradenton, a hotbed for opioid abuse in the Sunshine State. Accompanying the bill (HB 21) is more than $65 million in the state budget to target the drug epidemic.

Parkland fact-finding commission formed — State leaders announced the members of a 15-person panel charged with investigating the failures that led to the Valentine’s Day tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The commission, spawned through the passage of the landmark school safety and mental health package this Session, will be headed by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. The panel also includes three fathers of students slain in the shooting and state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

Victims’ rights on horizon —  A high-profile proposal that would codify rights for crime victims won key approval in the Constitution Revision Commission and now heads to the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee. The constitutional amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, would provide rights that are expected to shield victims from harassment. It also gives victims the option to speak in public proceedings and the right to be informed of the offender’s status in the judicial system. The measure will need to be approved by 22 CRC members after formal ballot language is drafted. It then must win 60 percent voter approval to be written into the state’s governing document. The CRC meets every 20 years to review the state constitution and propose revisions that are placed directly on the ballot.

Greyhound ban could reach ballot — After lengthy debate, the CRC narrowly advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would effectively end greyhound racing if approved by voters in November. Commissioners pushed the amendment in an 18-14 vote. To appear on the ballot in November, it will need the approval of 22 members of the panel after the amendment’s language is finalized. Critics of the proposed ban say it could adversely affect businesses in the gaming industry and could open the state up to potentially expensive lawsuits. If the prohibition reaches the ballot in November and receives 60 percent voter approval, the amendment would phase out racing by June 30, 2020.

Gun amendments shot down — At the behest of public testimony, CRC Commissioner Roberto Martinez sought — but ultimately failed — to add gun control provisions passed by the Legislature this year to the state’s constitution. The language, which Martinez wanted to tack onto an existing proposal, would have mandated a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, increased the age requirement to 21 and banned bump stocks. The provisions were in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, but were deemed in violation of the body’s rules and were not considered by the commission. House Speaker Richard Corcoran told the CRC ahead of Martinez’ move that the gun laws were “inappropriate for inclusion” in the state’s governing document.

The week in appointments

Miami Dade College District Board of Trustees

Rolando Montoya is the retired provost of Miami Dade College. The 63-year-old Miamian is an alum of the Technological Institute of Monterrey, where he picked up his 4-year, and of Florida International University, where he earned his master’s and doctorate. He’s filling a vacant seat for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Florida Humanities Council

Dr. Sue Kim, 73, of Ormond Beach, is a retired psychiatrist. She is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

Dr. Glenda Walters, 75, of Lynn Haven, is a community volunteer and retired teacher from Bay District Schools and adjunct professor with Gulf Coast Community College, Florida State University Panama City, and Barry University. She is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

Thomas Lang, 74, of Orlando, is the owner of the Law Office of Thomas F. Lang. He is reappointed for a term ending Jan. 1, 2021.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation

Mario Facella, 50, of Loxahatchee, is a senior lender with TD Bank. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending Nov. 13, 2020. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council

Pamela Tuscany, 62, of Melbourne, is the vice president of production at Universal Orlando Resort. She is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 19, 2019.

Pieter Bockweg, 43, of Miami, is the executive director of Midtown CRA. He is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 19, 2021.

Agency for State Technology, UWF launch new cybersecurity initiative

The state is leading an effort to protect digital records and data, keeping pace with the ever-evolving field of technology.

The Agency for State Technology and the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity launched nuanced cybersecurity education and training this week for state personnel.

State workers tasked with handling information received primary education intended to increase awareness of cyber threats in the digital age. Other modules included cybersecurity incident management, network defense, operating system hardening, risk management and cloud security.

AST Executive Director and state Chief Information Officer Eric Larson.

“As the threats evolve, we must continue to train our information security and technology resources,” said AST Executive Director and state Chief Information Officer Eric Larson.

The Center for Cybersecurity at UWF will use its resources to provide simulations, ranges and training environments for state personnel. A national academic leader in the field, the center will use its Cybersecurity for All program to increase the number of qualified cybersecurity professionals throughout the state and later the nation.

“This program will position Florida as a leader in cybersecurity resiliency and innovation, enhance higher education and research, and serve as a best practice model for cybersecurity workforce development,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, UWF Center for Cybersecurity director.

Dane Eagle touts under-the-radar school district reform

Legislation seeking to increase fiscal responsibility in the state’s school districts didn’t get much playtime in the media, but, according to state Rep. Dane Eagle, it could be a game changer for how tax dollars are spent in the state.

The bill (HB 1279) brings greater transparency to each district by requiring school districts to post financial summaries to their websites, Eagle — a Cape Coral Republican — said in an email to supporters.

Dane Eagle is seeking greater transparency for school districts by requiring financial summaries posted to their websites.

Those summaries will include data that measures the efficiency of per-pupil spending and other nuanced indicators of how well money is spent in each district.

The bill also will require each district to hire an internal auditor and caps school board member salaries to an amount no higher than that of a first-year teacher’s salary.

In instances of financial emergencies, the bill mandates that superintendent and school board member salaries be withheld until the issue is resolved. All changes go into effect July 1, 2019.

“I believe this bill ensures that our state’s public schools use your tax dollars in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Eagle said in the email. “I am proud to support legislation that gives Florida’s taxpayers the transparency and accountability they deserve from their elected officials.”

Bill Montford, Loranne Ausley secure funds for Big Bend food bank

When disasters strike, food banks are critical to recovery.

Tallahassee-area state lawmakers Rep. Loranne Ausley and Sen. Bill Montford highlighted that fact this week and stressed the importance of a $1 million state budget appropriation they successfully sponsored for Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

The Northwest Florida food bank serves the 11-county region of the Big Bend and will use the money to buy its warehouse facility, purchase and install a generator, and make facility upgrades ahead of the 2019 hurricane season.

Loranne Ausley joined Sen. Bill Montford in sponsoring a $1 million state budget appropriation for Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

One of three Feeding America centers in the state, Second Harvest of the Big Bend plays a critical role in disaster response. During hurricanes Irma and Hermine, it distributed more than 350,000 pounds of emergency food, water and supplies to affected areas.

“A hurricane disrupts everyday life, but for a family already facing food insecurity, it can be disastrous,” said Montford. Added Ausley: “I am honored to help Second Harvest continue to strengthen our statewide capacity to address food and water needs in the event of a disaster.”

Instagram of the week

Ads thank lawmakers for campus ‘free speech’ bill

Generation Opportunity-Florida is thanking lawmakers for greenlighting a proposal to ban “free-speech zones” on college campuses with a new mail campaign.

“When free speech was under attack on Florida’s college campuses…,” the mailer reads. “Your leaders stood up to protect the First Amendment.”

Bob Rommel and Dennis Baxley are getting accolades for their ‘free speech’ bill.

GO-FL didn’t list all the lawmakers who will get mailers in their districts, though earlier this year the group thanked Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Bob Rommel for sponsoring the “Campus Free Expression Act” in the Senate and House. Also on the list are House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

“We are encouraging Floridians to thank the officials who stood up for their First Amendment rights by supporting legislation that finally brought an end to the unconstitutional practice of ‘free speech zones’ on college campuses,” Generation Opportunity Florida head Demetrius Minor said.

“Thanks to the efforts of these legislators, free speech will no longer be banished to the hidden corners of our state’s publicly funded campuses.”

Byron and Erika Donalds to headline JMI event

Husband and wife duo Rep. Byron Donalds and CRC Commissioner Erika Donalds will give a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Legislative Session and the Constitution Revision Commission during an April event hosted by The James Madison Institute.

Husband and wife team of Byron and Erika Donalds will give a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Legislative Session during an April event hosted by The James Madison Institute.

The Tallahassee think-tank event, titled “Inside Sources,” will take place at The Columns, 100 North Duval Street, on April 25 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Heavy hors-d’oeuvres and drinks will be provided.

Those looking to attend can contact The James Madison Institute at (850) 386-3131 or email JMI’s director of events and logistics, Jessica Brewton, at events@jamesmadison.org.

State bat eviction deadline approaches

Your taxes aren’t the only things due in the middle of April — it’s also the deadline for removing bats from buildings or other privately-owned structures.

Under Florida law, it’s illegal to remove bat colonies — a process known as ‘exclusion’ — from their roosts each year between April 15 and Aug. 15.

The Florida bat eviction approaches.

The reason? According to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, April 15 marks the beginning of bat maternity season, when young bats cannot yet fly and are essentially trapped at the roost.

“During bat maternity season, bats gather to give birth and raise their young,” said Terry Doonan, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist and mammal conservation coordinator. “The season lasts until the young bats can fly and feed themselves. In Florida, this occurs from mid-April through mid-August for most bat species.”

It is illegal to harm or kill bats in Florida, although guidelines are available for those who want to evict or exclude the flying creatures from specific areas. Florida is home to 13 bat species, which help control insect populations. Across the nation, bats’ insect suppression results in benefits to agriculture valued in the billion-dollar range.

County officials back CRC prop protecting their jobs

County constitutional officers — sheriffs, tax collectors, clerks of the court and property appraisers — came out in support of a Constitution Revision Commission proposal requiring those jobs be chosen via elections.

CRC proposal 13 would bar counties charters from abolishing offices, transferring their duties, altering the length of terms, or eschewing elections.

County constitutional officers are in favor of a CRC proposal requiring those jobs be chosen via elections.

The county officials last year launched Constitutional Officer Resource Experts (CORE), to unite Florida’s constitutional officers and educated the public on their role in the state and the constitutional revision process.

“Proposal 13 will only improve the customer service constitutional officers provide to the citizens they serve. As an elected and independent property appraiser I am able to focus on the process, and if a problem arises, I can fix it quickly. I am able to do this because I am elected and directly accountable to the people,” said Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker.

Proposal sponsor and Martin County Clerk of the Court Carolyn Timmann echoed those sentiments, adding that the proposal “is about the framework of our state constitution; it is about trusting and allowing the voters to decide the qualifications and responsibilities for their elected officials.”

Florida Physical Therapy Association lauds opioid legislation

A state-backed move to address the opioid crisis drew praise this week from a group representing more than 6,000 physical therapists in the state.

The Florida Physical Therapy Association commended a comprehensive opioid bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Scott. The group played a supporting role in implementing into the bill mandatory training for physicians who prescribe opioids.

Citing a report released in November by the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission that showed 5,725 opiate-related deaths in the state in 2016, FPTA President Jamie Dyson said the “seriousness of this epidemic cannot be understated.”

Florida physical therapists are applauding the state’s new opioid regulations.

“This bill which recently passed and was signed into law by Governor Scott hopefully will go a long way toward stemming the death rate by helping patients manage their pain and minimize their risk,” Dyson said. “We pledge that FPTA will continue its work on multiple advocacy fronts to support additional efforts to add to this initial legislation.”

The Florida Physical Therapy Association specifically thanked Gov. Scott and state lawmakers Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Jim Boyd, who championed the legislation through their respective chambers.

Florida No. 1 in building codes

Florida’s buildings can take a beating from hurricanes like no other, according to a new report released by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

While the Sunshine State topping the list in hurricane hardening might seem like a no-brainer, the 2018 score moves Florida past Virginia for the top spot in the rankings.

Florida scored a 95, one point up from its 2015 score of 94, while the Old Dominion state did the inverse, slipping from 95 to 94 over the three-year stretch.

The report said: “Evidence shows that strong, well-enforced building codes reduce loss and facilitate recovery.”

“This was most apparent in Florida, where nearly 80 percent of homes subjected to Irma’s highest winds were built after adoption of building code improvements following Hurricane Andrew.”

The only thing needed to bring Florida to a perfect score is a continuing ed requirement, so builders and can keep up to date on the residential code.

FSU Law on the rise

Florida State University Law School is the 47th best in the nation, according to the latest batch of U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The new designation is up one spot from last year, showing the university continues to prove itself as a top destination for aspiring legal minds. The school came in at the 24 spot among the nation’s best public law schools.

Florida State University Law School is among the tops in the nation.

FSU and the University of Florida are the best law schools in the state, according to the report. UF ranked 41 across all law schools.

FSU law received the designation for its selectivity and graduation placement rates. It ranks among top law schools for graduate employment, and the 2017 incoming class had a median LSAT of 159 and a median GPA of 3.61.

“We are thrilled that U.S. News continues to rank us among the nation’s top law schools and that we continue to improve in these rankings,” said Dean Erin O’Connor.

It’s not just the law school, FSU says

Florida State’s law school took the No. 47 spot on U.S. News’ list, but that’s not the only fresh entry on the Seminole brag board: graduate programs in criminology, business, education, nursing and engineering all made significant jumps in the publication’s annual rankings.

“These new rankings reflect Florida State University’s ascent in national prominence as one of the top research institutions in the nation,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “This is evidence of the excellence of our faculty and students across a breadth of disciplines.”

The new rankings put the criminology and criminal justice school in the top-5 nationwide, a two-spot bump.

“We are pleased that our college continues to be recognized as a national and world leader in academic excellence with renowned faculty and highly gifted students,” said Thomas G. Blomberg, dean of the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The nursing master’s program had the most impressive gain, rising 37 spots in the rankings, while the doctoral program gained 15 places. Both finished at No. 66 nationally. The part-time MBA program also had a dramatic gain — it rocketed up to No. 44 from last year’s No. 71 position.

Education graduate programs rose six spots to No. 46, while the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering climbed seven places. Its public finance and budgeting specialty in the public affairs category moved up eight spots to No. 15.

Leon County public works feted

Leon County picked up some awards from the Big Bend Branch of American Public Works Association earlier this month.

APWA says its awards program “promotes excellence in the management and administration of public works projects by recognizing the alliance between the managing agency, the consultant/architect/engineer, and the contractor who accomplished the projects together.”

Leon County Commission Chair Nick Maddox.

Leon County took home some hardware: The Lake Heritage Dam Improvements won for best Emergency Construction or Repair; the first phase of the Magnolia Drive multiuse trail topped the Multifunction category; the Robinson Road flood relief efforts was the best of the bunch on the Environmental and Stormwater front.

“These award-winning public works projects demonstrate that the Board of County Commissioners is committed to improving safety, protecting our community’s natural beauty, and investing in the future,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Absolutely, positively no: No AG bid for Richard Corcoran

A brief campaign note:

Amid some less-than-spectacular poll numbers, some (and by some we’re looking at you, Ron DeSantis supporters) are whispering whether House Speaker Richard Corcoran will shift his future political focus to another office, from that of Governor.

Namely, whether the Land O’ Lakes Republican and attorney might instead run to succeed Pam Bondi as Attorney General as a consolation prize. Bondi is term-limited this year.

Nope. He’s going big or going home.

“Richard Corcoran has never considered and will not run for Attorney General,” said his right-hand man, James Blair. “Period. The end.”

And that’s that.

In twilight of their time in office, daylight emerges between Rick Scott, Adam Putnam

Governor Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are in the twilight of their current tenures.

Putnam wants to replace Scott and has been vocal in criticisms of Scott policy.

Putnam vowed to bring back the drug czar position that Scott eliminated after he took office in 2011, although the commissioner was quick to point out that Scott didn’t “drop the ball” on the drug war in the Sunshine State, opioid crisis notwithstanding.

Putnam said he couldn’t have signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act as it was, though he added that if he were to be elected Governor, the self-proclaimed “NRA sellout” would enforce the law that has led to a lawsuit from the gun group, and a ritual defenestration of House Speaker Richard Corcoran for pushing the gun control bill through.

Florida Politics asked Scott about Putnam’s deviations from administration policy, including whether he regretted cutting the drug czar position (a question he sidestepped).

“With regard to the opioid crisis,” Scott said, “it’s horrible what happened. We have so many people who have lost their lives over it. I have a family member who has struggled with addiction.”

“I want to thank Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron because they stepped up. They made sure we had $65 million in the budget this year to deal with the opioid crisis. We passed a good bill that I was proud to sign, that’s hopefully going to stop as many people from being addicted and provide services,” Scott said.

“Last year we passed legislation that increased the penalties for those that are trafficking in these drugs,” Scott added.

Despite Putnam’s critiques of the “school safety bill,” Scott said (as he did last week when we asked him) that he was “proud of what [he] signed.”

“I told the Legislature to give me a bill that will provide for law enforcement officers. They did. I said give me a bill that will provide more mental health counselors in schools. They did. I said give me a bill that’s going to harden our schools. They did,” Scott said.

“I said give me a bill that will say that if you’re struggling with mental illness or you’re threatening yourself or others, that you don’t have access to a gun. They did,” Scott added.

“I’m proud to have signed that bill and I’m going to continue to fight to make sure it’s implemented,” Scott said.

Of course, the school safety bill has led to one potential candidate for Governor — House Speaker Richard Corcoran — being pilloried by the NRA.

FP asked Scott if the NRA should lay off of Corcoran, and whether he was worried that the gun lobby would come after him in potential future political endeavors.

“Well, I want to thank the Speaker, because the school safety bill wouldn’t have passed without the Speaker’s hard work. The money for the opioid crisis wouldn’t have been in there without the Speaker’s hard work,” Scott said.

“The bill that I got to sign to restrict the number of days that a doctor could prescribe opioids wouldn’t be there without Speaker Corcoran,” Scott continued. “I think that we had a great Session, and the Speaker and Senate President did a good job.”

Scott more or less sidestepped the question about the NRA targeting Corcoran, perhaps deliberately conflating NRA members with the NRA political operation.

“With regard to the NRA, I’m an NRA member. I was an NRA member before I became Governor, and will be an NRA member when I’m out of this job,” Scott said.

“Some NRA members like the bill. Maybe some don’t like the bill. I think it’s a good bill for our state, and responsive to what happened in our state,” Scott said.

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