Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson: Republican prospects in the 2018 Florida congressional campaign

Republicans have controlled the Florida congressional districts for almost three decades.

During that time, the size of the Florida congressional delegation has jumped from 23 in 1990 to 25 in 2000, and 27 in 2010. Projections have Florida adding two more seats after the 2020 census, growing the delegation to 29 seats in the House of Representatives.

Only California and Texas have larger delegations.

Currently, Republicans hold 16 of the 27 congressional seats, meaning Democrats need to flip three seats to take control of the delegation. How likely is that to happen?

That’s the topic of Paulson’s Politics for next week.

Three decades of Republican control of the delegation is testimony to the party’s ability to attract quality candidates and to provide them with the organizational and financial support essential for victory.

Is Republican dominance of the delegation over?

At one point, there were as many as seven more Republicans than Democrats in the Florida delegation. Democrats had hoped that a judicial redraw of the congressional district lines in 2016, due to a League of Women Voters challenge to the legislature’s redistricting plan that they believed violated the Fair District Amendment, would allow Democrats to pick up a number of congressional seats. In the end, Democrats picked up one seat, reducing the Republican advantage to 16 to 11.

Floridians elected eight new members to the Florida delegation in 2016, the highest turnover rate of any state with at least eight members. Typically, 90 percent of House members win re-election.

Three incumbent Republicans retired and were replaced by three new Republicans. Two Republicans lost to Democrats and another Republican, Daniel Webster, moved from District 10 to 11 after his District was redrawn and made heavily Democratic. Republicans picked up two seats that had been held by a Democrat. Gwen Graham decided not to seek re-election after her District 2 seat was redrawn to favor Republicans, and Patrick Murphy abandoned his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate. Republican Neal Dunn won the Graham seat and Brian Mast won the Murphy seat. The net result was a one seat gain by Democrats.

One Republican strength has been that Republican voters have been more motivated than Democrats to turn out on Election Day, especially in midterms. Democratic advantages in voter registration numbers have been diminished by Republican advantage in voter turnout.

A recent Washington Post/ABC Poll indicates that the Republican edge in motivation will not be there in the 2018 midterms. An identical percentage of Republican and Democratic voters, 63 percent, indicated that they are certain to vote in 2018. That number may change by Election Day, but it has to be a concern for Republicans.

Republicans in Florida have been advantaged over the past three decades due to their organizational strength and their ability to finally support their candidates. This is no longer the case.

Democrats, who have had a long history of forming a circular firing squad and executing their own members, finally seem to have their act together. It is now the Republicans who are divided. When Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate to lead the party was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott told Republicans not to contribute to the party, but instead to his own Let’s Get to Work PAC.

The flow of money to the Florida Republican Party has slowed to a trickle, making it difficult to support more than a small number of candidates. During the first six months of 2017, the Florida Democratic Party raised $3.5 million compared to only $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is, and will be, a major problem for the Republican Party and their candidates heading into 2018.

NEXT WEEK:  An analysis of the 2018 congressional races. Will it be status quo, or will Florida experience a political tsunami?

Tensions high among blacks, police as Seminole Heights manhunt continues

With four unresolved murders in the past six weeks, tensions in Southeast Seminole Heights have never been higher.

Among some black residents, there’s even more anxiety, with many complaining about increased surveillance in the community — and that was before the Tampa Police Department announced earlier this week that the chief suspect is a black male.

That served as a backdrop Thursday night when Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan addressed the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP at the Seminole Heights Branch Library.

Dugan acknowledged his department is, in fact, convinced the suspect has only killed two of the four people shot in the neighborhood since October 9.

“We believe that this person definitely murdered Ben Mitchell and Ronald Felton,” he said, referring to the first and fourth persons killed in the still-unresolved killing spree. “We’re not sure enough to say that he was able to murder Monica Hoffa and Anthony Naiboa, so it could be someone else who murdered those two.”

Undeniably, police presence in the neighborhood is higher, and arrests have spiked — 150 in the area in the last month. That’s up from 56 in October 2016, and 126 in October 2015. Motorists are now being pulled over for making rolling stops, a move that Dugan admitted normally the TPD  wouldn’t be so aggressive about.

These aren’t normal times, however.

Dugan said the decision to cite motorists for failing to make a complete stop in Seminole Heights came from him.

“We want to know who you are. We’ve got four dead people. How many bodies gotta stack up? … so we are stopping everyone.”

In addition to TPD officers in Seminole Heights, there are also law enforcement officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department, the St. Petersburg Police Department, and now the Florida Highway Patrol in the neighborhood, courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.

The chief also defended what some have labeled heavy-handed tactics such as officers clad in SWAT gear and holding long guns knocking on doors and asking residents if they can search their homes. He said residents have “every right to say no,” but he said the circumstances demanded such actions.

“This person is a coldblooded killer and we’re trying to catch them, and there is no doubt in my mind that cops are not exempt from his bloodthirst,” Dugan said.

Activist Connie Burton asked Dugan if he would consider changing the profile of the suspected killer, questioning if the suspect might have had military service or be a rogue cop?

Dugan appeared pained to pontificate broadly, especially with so many scrutinizing his every word. He confessed that it had crossed his mind that the suspect might have law enforcement training.

There were some raw feelings in the room, going back to 2015 when the TPD policy on citing black bicyclists for citations became the subject of a Tampa Bay Times series known colloquially as “Biking While Black.”

The uproar in the community led the department to call on the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to study the issue. A year later, they produced an 82-page report showing the policy was not discriminatory, but also ineffective.

Neither Tampa police nor Mayor Bob Buckhorn apologized for the now discarded policy, a slight that still stings in the community. While Dugan wasn’t in charge at the time, he was part of the force and was pressed on the issue Thursday by activist Jarvis El-Amin.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” said Dugan. “We weren’t targeting African-Americans. We were targeting people doing violations on their bicycles. Afterward, when we sat down and looked at the numbers, clearly we were stopping mostly African-Americans.”

Former Police Chief Jane Castor pushed back strongly against the Times story after its publication, and Dugan appeared to still have problems with the story himself.

The chief added that there were murder suspects who escaped on bikes and another story of a young black man throwing a box containing an automatic rifle into a bush.

“Why was that not part of the story? I don’t know.”

Jacksonville Bold for 11.17.17 — Time for reflection

A frenetic year in Jacksonville politics — including the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion, pension reform, and the Kids Hope Alliance — is ending.

And not a moment too soon.

The Jacksonville City Council meeting this week had nothing on the agenda was worth covering, even by the standards of our Jacksonville correspondent.

A superbug was going through Council, anyway, and at least one member was absent while another member fought the lingering cold — so it was just as well that they didn’t discuss hot-button issues.

At Bold, we are taking full advantage of the lull in the calendar — with no new issue this Thanksgiving.

We will be with our families, as you will, and we will think of what’s important — the real bonds that give meaning to the often-surreal world of politics.

Rick Scott drops budget in Duval

Gov. Scott released his final budget this week in Jacksonville, an $87.4B proposal with “historic” funding in any number of categories.

Rick Scott trumpeted more JAXPORT funding in his Jacksonville stop.

Throughout Scott’s remarks, there was a common theme: “historic investments” in area after area, a policy justified by an economy that is booming — on the macro level at least — as his eight years in Tallahassee near a close.

“We’ll have historic investments in education, historic investments in transportation, historic investments in the environment, and historic investments in helping those with disabilities,” Scott added. “On top of that, we’re all going to reward our law enforcement officers.”

Some new announcements were made for the Jacksonville market also, including a “historic $10.8 billion for transportation, including significant funding for Jacksonville, including the deepening of JAXPORT.”

Roy Moore accusations ‘disgusting,’ Scott says

Florida Politics was the first media outlet to ask Scott about Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate under fire for dating underage women while he was district attorney decades back.

Here’s what he told us exclusively in Jacksonville Tuesday: “If any of it’s true, he’s got to get out of the race.”

Roy Moore allegations are ‘disgusting,’ says Rick Scott.

“This is not partisan. This is about doing the right thing, and when I think about the things in Hollywood, I think about my daughters. And when I think about this, I think about my grandkids.”

“When my daughters were teenagers,” Scott continued, “I was worried about where they were. So, when you hear reports like this, they’re disgusting. So, if there’s any truth to any of this, he’s got to get out of the race.”

“Every voter, every citizen, every taxpayer deserves to have their elected officials live up to high standards. When you read the stories like this, whether the thing’s in Alabama or Tallahassee or D.C. or California,” Scott said, “you think about your family, and you think about how disgusting it is and you hope it would never happen to anybody.”

Audrey Gibson drops Duval Dems chair

On Monday evening, State Sen. Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

Audrey Gibson spent a year in the chair. Are Duval Dems ready for 2018?

“As you may know,” Gibson wrote in an email to local Democrats, “last week I was elected Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus. I am deeply honored and realize the efforts I must give to winning more Dem seats will require 100 percent plus of my focus.”

Gibson thought the year she was chair was successful, noting that having “candidates ready to run” was among the party’s successes.

A new chair will be chosen Dec. 4.

Clay Yarborough pushes for FSCJ STEM $$$

Florida State College Jacksonville made an ambitious ask to the Duval County Legislative Delegation: $12 million PECO money for a downtown STEM building.

Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Yarborough will carry that one to Tallahassee, via a bill filed Monday.

Clay Yarborough will carry FSCJ’s top priority this year.

Per the appropriations request, the project will “accommodate the space and growth needs for the College’s STEM programs that focus on public and private sector-identified regional workforce needs.”

“The facility will help the region meet its workforce targets and will help citizens in the community get connected with affordable degree and certificate programs that will lead to employment opportunities,” the request continues.

The $12 million would allow for demolition and replacement of facilities on the college’s downtown campus, the request continues, and unspecified “major employers” in the Jacksonville region would attest to the utility of the project.

Jason Fischer files ‘Smart Cities Initiative’

A bill (“the Florida Smart City Challenge Grant Program”) filed Monday in the Florida Legislature would offer state grant money, via the Florida Department of Transportation, as an incentive for local solutions to transportation challenges.

Fischer filed the House version, HB 633; Republican Jeff Brandes is carrying the Senate version.

Jason Fischer proposes more ‘Smart Cities.’

“Florida’s transportation system is inefficient and faces many challenges, but we can overcome them by embracing innovative technologies and thinking differently about how we plan our communities. This bill will provide cities and counties throughout Florida the opportunity to leverage technology and private investment to re-imagine mobility solutions not just for businesses but also for seniors, people with disabilities and other underserved individuals,” Fischer said.

A wide swath of agencies would qualify for funding; in particular, any governmental body responsible for the movement of goods and services in Florida, including local governments, but also TPOs and state universities.

Money, power, respect

In October fundraising for this region’s representation in Tallahassee, what was clear: correlation between stroke and checks.

Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner in HD 24 is on track to the House Speaker post. And Northeast Florida’s brightest hope in the House is also favored by donors outside the region.

Paul Renner won the money race in Northeast Florida last month.

Proof positive: the impressive October hauls of Renner’s two political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” They brought in $108,000 — much more than an incumbent running in a deep-red seat against an underfunded Democrat needs for re-election.

Also doing well: Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley. While not up for re-election, his fundraising was notable.

“Working for Florida’s Families,” Bradley’s political committee, reached a milestone with a $40,000 October, clearing $500,000 cash on hand.

Sen. Aaron Bean raised $36,000 between his committee and his campaign.

Except for Kim Daniels, who raised nothing and Cord Byrd, who raised just $2,000, virtually every other incumbent in the region did well.

The single open seat — in HD 15 — is competitive so far.

HD 15 Republican Wyman Duggan had a strong month:  $20,500 in October, bringing him to $84,600 raised, with nearly $77,000 on hand. Democrat Tracye Polson kept pace.

She brought in $14,090 off 64 contributions in October, bringing her total raised to $65,189, with over $64,000 of that on hand. Her committee has another $12,000 banked, giving her $76,000 raised.

Not doing well in October: Attorney General candidate Jay Fant, who brought in $12,000 between his committee and campaign accounts. Luckily, a $750,000 personal loan buys him time, but opponents Ashley Moody and Frank White are well ahead when it comes to donor and endorser interest.

Big debuts for Jax Council hopefuls

Two new Jacksonville City Council candidates made huge splashes in their first months on the trail. And one political veteran started a bit slow.

Bill Bishop is still getting his fundraising into gear, as October receipts show.

Well-connected District 5 hopeful LeAnna Cumber brought in $101,775 last month in her bid to succeed termed-out Lori Boyer. Cumber’s entry into the race has been discussed for some time, and with that kind of money, the Tim Baker/Brian Hughes team deploying it, and a Democrat opponent with $400 on hand, she’s the front-runner.

Also starting off strong: currently unopposed Beaches candidate Rory Diamond, who brought in $85,326, and retained just over $82,000 of such as cash on hand.

Off to a slow start: former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop, with less than blistering fundraising in his first month against Ron Salem in At-Large District 2.

Bishop had a respectable first month — bringing in $13,325 off 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected.

Salem has just under $114,000 cash on hand, and it will be worth watching to see how Bishop closes the cash gap.

Lenny Curry talks D.C. trip, ‘relationship building’

Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville Mayor Curry, and the main topic of conversation was his trip last week to Washington, D.C.

The Hart Bridge project is a priority of Lenny Curry — for a number of reasons.

Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The primary goal of that trip: discussing the $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation that would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets, allowing for more efficient movement of goods to and from the port.

And Curry, along with his team, made the pitch.

The in-person meeting, Curry said, had invaluable advantages, as a “face to face meeting” with the right people is inherently more meaningful than just presenting a paper with project specs and scope.

Curry recounted the case he made against the current configuration.

Its age makes it a “dinosaur” regarding design, one with safety issues that mandate changes.

The FDOT Study of the bridge conducted this year revealed the benefit to the port, another key benefit to the project.

The economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose of the project that some have suggested.

But the trip was about more than selling the project, Curry said. It’s about “long-term relationship building” as well, on this issue but others.

Jax councilors, mayor’s office discouraged from texting

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche revised the council’s texting policy to include official “discouragement” of texts between legislators and the Mayor’s Office during meetings.

The power struggle continues in Jacksonville City Hall.

Brosche says it’s about transparent government.

“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.

Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.

“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”

The Mayor’s Office is OK with this, meanwhile.

“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent of transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from his office.

The mayor’s office and Brosche have clashed on various issues since she took over the presidency in July.

MLK breakfast troubles

First Coast News reports that the local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference have no interest in participating in Jacksonville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast next year.

MLK Jr. birthday breakfast this year may go on without key civil rights groups.

The question they are asking: “What’s in it for the SCLC? What’s in it for the NAACP?”

At issue: economic disparity and resource allocation, with the civil rights groups claiming “One City One Jacksonville” is just a slogan — not a policy.

For its part, the Mayor’s Office contends that it has been making good faith efforts to meet with the local leaders of both groups, and has included them on the event host committee.

Revealed in 2017’s breakfast is a gap in rhetoric between the Mayor’s Office and the pastoral community. After that event, a boycott was threatened, per WJCT.

Opioid lawsuit imminent

Jacksonville soon may be one of the many governments suing Big Pharma in reaction to the opiate crisis.

Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel is vetting so-called “prestigious” law firms, with a decision expected early in December.

Jax mulls big suit against Big Pharma.

Earlier this year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a resolution OKing legal action.

“The general counsel’s approved it, and I don’t feel like there’s any impediment,” Gulliford said.

The city has absorbed real costs from the opioid epidemic.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s number of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s number of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan.

What Aaron Bean is up to in November

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Fernandina Beach Republican will speak at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation’s new mobile audiology services van, which will provide pediatric hearing screenings and dispense hearing aids. That event begins 1 p.m. at the Hidden Hills Learning Tree, 12160 Fort Caroline Road in Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Bean will appear at the dedication of a memorial for Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver, on the anniversary of his death in 2016 by a hit-and-run driver. The dedication begins at 7:30 a.m., 463779 FL-200 in Yulee.

Then, on Nov. 28, Bean will give a speech to members of the Downtown Business Professional Group and offer an update on the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session. The meeting starts 7 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Drive in Jacksonville.

Local veteran honored in Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame

Colonel Len Loving, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) and CEO of Five STAR Veterans Center, will be honored in the State of Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

The State of Florida began the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013 to recognize and honor military veterans who, through their works and lives during or after military service, have made a significant contribution to the State of Florida. In selecting its nominees, the Council has given preference to veterans who were either born in Florida or adopted Florida as their home state.

Colonel Len Loving, United States Marine Corps (Retired) and CEO of Five STAR Veterans Center, is the newest member of the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

In 1986, Loving founded the Marine Corps Blount Island Command, in Jacksonville, which has become a major economic engine in Northeast Florida. He was the Commanding Officer until his retirement in 1989.

In 2011, Loving began building and opening the Five STAR Veterans Center, where he continues to serve as CEO. The center gives food, housing, assistance securing veteran benefits, financial, mental health services provided by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund, and more to 30-plus homeless veterans monthly.

Loving has been chosen for the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame due to his positive impact on Florida’s most at-risk veterans and their families by 1) opening what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center, 2) going many extra miles to keep the doors open, and 3) making a lasting, life-altering impact on those who are most significantly affected by their years in service and have nowhere else to turn.

Today, five years after opening the doors, 199 veterans have lived at and benefited from the Five STAR Veterans Center; 35 veterans currently live at the center, and by January 2018 the center expects to reach their capacity of 39 veterans.

JAXPORT to expand vehicle-handling capacity

JAXPORT is beginning construction of a new automobile processing terminal, the first part of a multiyear project to increase the port’s vehicle-handling capacity 25 percent.

Once completed, the facility will add more than 100 acres of processing and storage space on JAXPORT’s Dames Point Marine Terminal, offering vessels direct waterside access for loading and unloading with major interstates less than 1 mile away plus the potential for rail capabilities.

After a record-breaking year, JAXPORT is expanding its vehicle handling capacity by 25 percent.

The expansion follows a year of highest-ever vehicle volumes at JAXPORT. In 2017, the port moved record 693,000 total units. With the port’s three auto processors and location in the heart of the nation’s fastest-growing auto consumer market, JAXPORT his responding to the increased demand for vehicle space.

“The steady growth of our auto business speaks volumes about our efficiencies,” said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “We are committed to supporting our auto partners with the tools they require to continue to expand their businesses in Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville Zoo Breakfast with Santa

On the weekend of Dec. 2-3, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens members and their families can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet, and become among the first to tell Santa their holiday wishes. New this year: Breakfast will take place at the Shaba Terrace at Main Camp.

Members Only Breakfast with Santa begins 8 a.m., and costs $8 per member, ages 3 and up.

Those with a friend, 1 adult family + 1, family + 1 or family + 2 membership may bring the corresponding number of guests. A limited number of tickets will be sold on a first come, first served basis. More information available at Jacksonvillezoo.org.

Irma agriculture losses continue to mount

Florida’s $2.5 billion request for federal disaster relief for its agriculture industry after Hurricane Irma might not be enough.

Members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness said Thursday month-old damage estimates made by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are too low.

“I actually think your numbers are conservative,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who called for a bipartisan letter to Congress supporting the emergency disaster relief that has been requested by Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I think you’re probably looking at over $1 billion in damages to the citrus industry.”

In an estimate of damages on Oct. 4, the state department projected citrus losses at $761 million from the September storm, followed by the nursery industry at almost $624 million.

The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

Grace Lovett, the department’s legislative affairs director, told the committee Thursday the $2.5 billion estimate included infrastructure, equipment and other items beyond crop damages. However, she noted that the department has noticed a number of trends, such as a slowdown in the movement of produce trucks.

“What they are seeing so far is staggering,” Lovett said. “September produce shipments from Florida were 76 percent lower than their average over the previous four years.”

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, said the numbers will grow because storm-damaged fruit continues drop from the trees.

“It’s like a disease in a way,” Albritton said, adding, Irma “beat it up so bad that the connection between the fruit and the stem is weakened.”

He added that growers who saw damages of more than 70 percent may find harvesting costs outweigh the return on sales.

Albritton said growers who have lost 80 to 90 percent of their crops essentially have a total loss.

“You can’t afford to harvest 10 or 15 percent,” he said.

Albritton suggested the committee, which is expected to roll out post-storm legislative proposals in December, consider state and local tax reductions for the industry.

Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, suggested the state consider opening some of its publicly owned land for commercial cattle ranching to help the industry.

“I know of properties that could be grazed,” Handley said. “The land would be better off, and it would expand our footprint.”

A week ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its Florida citrus-harvest forecast for the current growing season, projecting there will be 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than during the past season.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the industry, which has been struggling the past decade with citrus greening disease, had been hoping for a slight rebound in terms of production.

Before the storm, the industry was hoping for about 10 percent growth from the past season, which would still be nearly 40 percent off where the industry needs to be to ensure sustainability, Sparks said.

But the “optimism certainly came to an immediate end” with Irma, Sparks said. Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and raced up the state, caused heavy damage in major citrus-growing areas.

A series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 caused the industry to lose 44 percent of the crop.

“This damage is even worse,” Sparks said. “We had fruit not only blown off the trees, but trees in standing water for days.”

Scott has asked state lawmakers to include $21 million in the next budget to help citrus growers. Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

Hurricane committee to start ‘policy phase’

It’s turkey time for some lawmakers, but crunch time for those charged with addressing Florida hurricanes.

The Select House Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met for the fifth time on Thursday, marking their last ‘educational’ committee meeting. The committee’s duties were originally split into three phases: gather information, solicit ideas for improvement and make recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.

Now equipped with the statewide woes of the 2017 Hurricane Season, the committee transitions to the final part: policy recommendations.

“This is it for our fact-finding mission and our education phase of our work,” Chair Jeanette Nuñez said. She expects there will be two committee meetings in December, where “the rubber hopefully will meet the road.”

In the meantime, the Miami Republican wants an all-hands-on-deck effort from the lawmakers.

“I want you to start mulling over potential policy recommendations for the full House to consider,” Nuñez told the committee. She said lawmakers will be busy in the next two weeks working with House staff to bring forth policy recommendations.

Nuñez said each committee member will soon receive an assigned hurricane-related topic to consider. While she expects lawmakers to take the assignments seriously, she encouraged members not to be sheepish with other proposals.

“Don’t let (the assignments) impede your ability and your interest in other areas,” Nuñez explained. “I’m just trying to make sure we have a focused attention, at a minimum, from a handful of you on each category.”

When Speaker Richard Corcoran spawned the committee, he charged it with several responsibilities, which Nuñez recapped in closing. They include evacuation; energy; shelters and vulnerable populations; health care facilities and medical care; agriculture; future hurricane expenditures and tax relief; housing; beaches; sanitary sewers; stormwater flooding; debris removal; and education.

The meeting Thursday heard testimony regarding education, debris removal and agriculture and emergency management, along with a presentation from the Governor’s Office.

Cynthia Kelly, Gov. Rick Scott’s state budget director, highlighted the hurricane-related budget recommendations in Scott’s newly announced “Securing Florida’s Future” budget.

Apart from federal match programs for communities, Scott wants $50 million for beach recovery, $2 million for citrus research and $2.2 million for search and rescue enhancements, along with an additional $100 million request to target affordable housing needs created by Hurricane Irma.

Education issues related to the influx of Puerto Ricans were briefly discussed in the meeting. Afterward, Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican, hinted there might be more problems ahead for Puerto Rican evacuees attending school in Florida — specifically those expecting to graduate.

“We’re seeing that juniors and seniors potentially are going to be very vulnerable,” Cortes said.

He said Puerto Rico’s graduation requirements are not aligning with Florida Standards Assessments, which are required to obtain a high school diploma in the state.

“Theoretically, these students — seniors from Puerto Rico — would not be able to graduate in Florida,” Cortes said.

But Cortes said the Florida Department of Education is working on a memorandum of understanding with Puerto Rico to authorize Florida high schools to give the students a Puerto Rican degree, rather than a Florida diploma.

What remains in uncertainty, Cortes said, is whether the Governor’s executive order mandating K-12 schools to accept Puerto Rican students will expire. If that is the case, Cortes said it will be addressed through legislation.

The committee next convenes on Monday, Dec. 4.

Ben Diamond endorses Gwen Graham for Governor

The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates could keep growing, but St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond announced Thursday that he’s backing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham in the primary race to take over for Gov. Rick Scott.

“Gwen Graham has shown she is not afraid to take on the special interests or status quo. Gwen understands that hardworking Floridians should not have to pay investor-owned utilities for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Diamond said in a press release from the Graham campaign. “As governor, Gwen will stand with Florida’s families over Tallahassee special interests.”

Graham last week came out against utility companies putting the financial burden of their ventures on ratepayers through nuclear cost recovery fees and fracking exploration.

“For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor,” she said.

Diamond also applauded Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, for her support of Florida Forever and other environmental programs.

“For too long, leaders in Tallahassee have ignored the will of the voters by refusing to fully fund Florida Forever. Gwen will listen. She will continue the legacy and leadership of her father in working to conserve Florida’s lands and protect Florida’s water supply for our children and grandchildren. As governor, I know Gwen will fully support Florida Forever and be a good steward of our environment.”

Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly backed the Florida Forever ballot amendment, dedicating more money for Florida Future — only to see meager appropriations in the three years since.

A senate bill filed for the 2018 Legislative Session seeking to commit the Sunshine State to spending $100 million a year on land acquisition and preservation through the Florida Forever Trust Fund cleared its first committee stop last week.

Graham called Diamond a “true leader” and said she was “proud to have his support.”

“Working with Floridians across this state, we will end the special-interest stranglehold on our government. We will fight to conserve our land and protect our clean water for generations to come,” she said.

Graham is currently in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for governor. She faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who entered the race on Nov. 1.

Graham has raised about $4 million for her campaign, putting her behind only Levine among Democratic candidates. Looming on the horizon is the possible entry of Orlando attorney John Morgan, who told Florida Politics Thursday he would decide whether to run in the first quarter of next year.

Property taxes likely to spur school funding fight

Another battle about using increases in local property taxes to bolster public schools will complicate upcoming state budget negotiations.

In his $87.4 billion budget proposal for 2018-2019, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday called for a $770 million increase in funding for Florida’s kindergarten through 12th-grade education system. But nearly $7 out of every $10 of that increase would come from rising local property-tax revenue, much of it the result of increasing property values with a stronger economy.

Senate leaders support the governor’s plan, while House leaders remain firmly opposed to using the increased local property tax collections, arguing that such a move would represent a tax increase.

The projected $534 million increase in local property tax revenue includes $450 million in “required local effort” taxes and $84 million in discretionary local school taxes.

In an explanation of Scott’s budget, his office noted the school proposal does not change the required local property-tax rate, meaning “there is not a tax increase.”

“The amount of local funding provided in the (school funding formula) calculation primarily increased due to a 6.15 percent, or $117.1 billion, rise in the school taxable value that was the result of an increase in the value of Florida property,” the explanation said. “When property values rise, it’s a good thing for Florida families.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley of Fleming Island said the Senate supports Scott’s K-12 plan, including the use of increased local property tax collections.

“It’s not a tax increase. It’s just simply not,” Bradley said.

“If I were to buy a lawnmower at Home Depot for $200 in January and then buy the same lawnmower as a present for my brother four months later and it’s priced $230, there will be more taxes owed on the $230 purchase, but that’s not a tax increase,” Bradley said.

He said it’s “just the same tax rate being applied to a purchase that is a little higher than it used to be.”

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, reaffirmed Wednesday the House’s strong opposition to using increased property tax collections.

“I think our position has been very clear for the last two years and it will not change,” Corcoran said. “We’re not raising taxes.”

The House prevailed in the negotiations on the current 2017-2018 budget, with the Senate agreeing to roll back the “required local effort” property tax rate to offset the increase in tax collections.

Rather than having the majority of an increase for the K-12 system come from local property tax collections, lawmakers funded most of the $455 million increase from state revenue, along with a $92 million increase in discretionary local property-tax collections.

But that meant the Legislature had to shift $364 million in state revenue, which could have been used in other areas of the budget like health care or criminal justice, to come up with a $100 per-student increase in funding.

Under Scott’s new plan, per-student funding would rise by $200, but that is based on $450 million in property taxes. If lawmakers reject using the property tax revenue, they will have to again shift more state revenue into the schools’ budget, which will be even more difficult in the coming year.

“We’re very committed in the Senate to K-12 education,” Bradley said. “And an important part of that commitment is making sure that we have the (local property tax collections). It’s not a tax increase. I agree with the governor. And that’s where we are.”

Corcoran downplayed the differences with the Senate over the next state budget, which will be debated when lawmakers begin their annual session in January.

“Where we are right now is in a good place and the likelihood we’re going to end in a good place is as strong as ever,” he said. “I think it’s a good situation.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Rick Scott makes big dollar request from Congress to recover from Irma

With the holiday season approaching, Gov. Rick Scott offered congressional leaders his federal wish list of projects that he says will help Florida cleanup after Hurricane Irma barreled through two months ago.

In a letter penned to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Scott on Wednesday called on Congress to pass a disaster relief package for Florida agriculture; fund the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee and speed up the project so it can be completed by 2022; fund the federal share that the state is expected to spend to house; and educate the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican families who have been displaced by Hurricane Maria and emigrated to Florida.

And oh yes, why they’re at it, make sure to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

Damage caused by Irma compounded the years-long citrus greening disease, an existential threat to Florida’s citrus growers. That’s why Scott proposed more than $21 million for citrus related issues earlier this month, as well as a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program.

“While I continue to be 100 percent committed to helping citrus growers recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma, the state cannot do this alone,” Scott said in the letter.

Regarding Puerto Rican residents who have relocated to Florida, Scott says that number has now grown to more than 150,000. In his proposed state budget for 2018-19, Scott built in $12 million for an English Language Learners Summer Academies program to assist students that need additional support to learn English.

Scott also noted that since the inception of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “Florida policyholders have paid in excess of $16 billion in premiums, but collected only approximately $4.5 billion in claims reimbursements, which equates to approximately a 4 to 1 ratio of premiums paid to claims reimbursements.”

Largely on party lines, the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to reauthorize the NFIP for five years.

Scott also proposed last month to spend $50 million in his budget to help accelerate the fixing of the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a repair project that should be complete in 2025, but the governor wants it done by 2022.

That would require an extra $200 million in funding per year.

Here’s the letter in full:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan,

On the morning of September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall on Florida’s Cudjoe Key as a powerful and deadly Category 4 hurricane. Over the past two months, as Florida has responded to and now recovers from this devastating storm, we have identified critical areas in which the support of the federal government is essential to our full recovery. I hope that you will carefully review each of these critical topics and immediately take action to provide Florida with the funding and support Floridians need.

HURRICANE RELIEF FOR FLORIDA’S CITRUS INDUSTRY

Florida’s iconic citrus industry is in jeopardy due to the absolute devastation of Hurricane Irma which damaged nearly every grove in our state. The damage caused by Irma is compounded by the fact that many of Florida’s orange groves are already reeling from a crop-killing disease known as citrus greening. Impacts to Florida’s citrus industry have national consequences. Florida ranks highest in the nation in value of production for oranges and accounts for 57 percent of total U.S. citrus production. In Florida, we know how important it is to support our citrus growers and that’s why earlier this month I announced a more than $21 million proposed investment, which has to be approved by the Florida Legislature, in Florida’s citrus industry. This funding includes:

$10 million for citrus research to find solutions to citrus greening, a disease that has compounded devastation to our state’s citrus crop;

$4 million to support Department of Citrus consumer awareness efforts to support the market for Florida citrus and orange juice; and

$7 million for the Citrus Health Response Program, which helps ensure that growers are able to replant healthy citrus trees that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma, and helps minimize the spread of citrus greening.

I also activated a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program. This program provides short-term loans to citrus growers that experienced damages during the storm to “bridge the gap” between the time Hurricane Irma hit and when growers receive payments on insurance claims and/or federal disaster assistance.

While I continue to be 100 percent committed to helping citrus growers recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma, the state cannot do this alone. As you may know, I recently visited Washington D.C. to personally advocate for Congress to pass a disaster relief package for Florida agriculture, including funding for the citrus industry. These federal investments are critical to the recovery and success of Florida’s iconic citrus industry. I urge you to act today to give Florida’s citrus growers the support they need. I truly hope you will be a partner with us in ensuring the future success of this iconic industry that is a major part of Florida’s economy.

FUNDING CRITICAL REPAIRS TO THE FEDERAL HERBERT HOOVER DIKE

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has identified areas of the federally-operated Herbert Hoover Dike that are in critical need of repair. Immediate action to repair the Dike is essential as this structure not only provides flood protection to millions of Floridians in Southeast and Southwest Florida, but also keeps the nutrient rich waters of Lake Okeechobee in the lake so that discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries do not continue to occur. With the Dike in its current state of disrepair, the Corps has been forced to authorize massive discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to keep water levels on the lake low. These discharges create significant issues in the form of toxic algae blooms that threaten the health of Florida families and wildlife, harm our iconic beaches and waterways and negatively impact tourism in communities across the state.

At the state level, I have already fought for and secured $50 million in state funding to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike – becoming the first Florida governor to invest state dollars to expedite repairs to this federal project. To build on this investment, I recently announced that I am proposing to invest an additional $50 million of state funds to expedite this process. President Trump has committed to accelerate repairs and it is imperative that Congress supports this and acts on this federal project.

Currently, the projected completion date for this project is 2025 and it continues to be delayed due to lack of funding. Congress needs to act immediately to fund the work of the Corps and expedite this critical federal project to be completed by 2022 to keep Floridians safe and protect our environment.

CONTINUING RELIEF FOR DISPLACED FAMILIES FROM PUERTO RICO

Following Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact to Puerto Rico, I have been fully committed to taking every possible action to help our Puerto Rican neighbors and provide relief and assistance to displaced families coming to Florida. I have visited Puerto Rico twice at the invitation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló to provide assistance as they work to recover from this storm. Since October 3, 2017, Florida has welcomed more than 150,000 Puerto Ricans displaced by Maria and we have made it a priority to support them during this time of need. With Florida’s designation as a host state granted by the Trump Administration, we are in the process of compiling the financial impact in Florida to accommodate these individuals, including education and health services. At my direction, the Florida Division of Emergency Management continues to operate Disaster Relief Centers at Orlando International Airport and Miami International Airport to assist Puerto Rican families and provide them the resources and guidance they need as they arrive in our state. Florida has also taken significant action to waive fees and ensure displaced families have every opportunity to get a job and ensure their children are enrolled in school.

Last week, following Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offering Transitional Sheltering Assistance to Puerto Rican families in Florida, I have directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to upgrade the activation status of the State Emergency Operations Center to Level 2. This will ensure that local, state and federal agencies are all working together, support more efficient and coordinated delivery of resources and greater planning as we respond to the needs of these families.

Additionally, I am proposing a $12 million English Language Learners Summer Academies program to assist students that need additional support to learn English, including a focus on listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As my Administration continues to work closely with FEMA and the White House, we will also keep you updated on our efforts and the cost associated with these services.

REFORMING THE NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is in desperate need of reform. Since the inception of the NFIP, Florida policyholders have paid in excess of $16 billion in premiums, but collected only approximately $4.5 billion in claims reimbursements, which equates to approximately a 4 to 1 ratio of premiums paid to claims reimbursements. Additionally, the NFIP should immediately share its more than 50 years of “proprietary” data with states and private insurers to ensure a fair market and that rates are not excessive or unfair and discriminatory. It is vital that Congress pass a reformed NFIP in order to stop it from losing billions of additional taxpayer dollars in future bailouts, improve the private market and facilitate savings for policyholders.

The issues I have outlined are essential to the long-term wellbeing, safety and prosperity of the people of Florida. I urge you to closely review these important topics and act immediately to provide assistance to your fellow Americans in Florida as we continue to recover from Irma. Please let me know what I can do to assist you in your efforts in Washington to secure the critical funding I have outlined and please keep me updated on any progress you make in this important endeavor to assist your fellow Americans in Florida.

 

Republicans, agencies welcome Rick Scott’s budget

Gov. Rick Scott’s new $87.4 billion proposed budget has been welcomed by some major Republicans and state agencies.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who pushed legislation combating the Governor’s job incentives and tourism priorities last year, said he welcomes working with Scott to do what “is right for Florida taxpayers.”

“We are confident that together with the Governor and Senate we can produce a budget that cuts taxes, imposes accountability and transparency and ensures the future fiscal health of the state,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) sang praise for the Governor’s proposed budget, which includes a $10 million investment for an additional 130 child protective investigators and Florida Abuse Hotline counselors, $2.2 million to expand care for victims of human trafficking and $15 million to enhance substance abuse service capacity statewide, along with other items helpful to DCF’s core mission of protecting the vulnerable.

“Governor Scott’s proposed budget shows his commitment to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens and the importance of providing resources to allow DCF to ensure the health and safety of Florida’s families,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll in a statement.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam thanked Scott for his proposed raises to wildland firefighters and law enforcement officers. The proposed budget specifies $2.4 million for a 10 percent raise to all Florida Forest Service Firefighters.

“These proposed raises will help us recruit and retain the best law enforcement officers and wildland firefighters to keep Floridians and visitors safe,” Putnam said.

The Florida Department of State (DOS) — with nearly half a million dollars and five staff positions proposed on the budget to create a cyber-security section for mission critical systems and $14.3 million in grant funding for cultural, historical and library grant programs — also lauded Scott.

“Governor Scott’s commitment to investments in library grants, cultural programs, and historic preservation support cultural heritage tourism and economic development, ensuring Florida continues to be one of the world’s best places to live and visit for generations to come,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said.

The Florida Department of Education applauded Scott, too. K-12 public schools received a proposed budget of $21.4 billion in state and local funding, an increase of $769.6 million; Florida colleges received $1.24 billion in state operating funds, an increase of $31.9 million; College students got a proposed continuation of  Bright Futures’ funding for 100 percent of Florida Academic Scholars’ fees and tuition.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the proposed budget demonstrates Scott’s dedication to Florida students.

“This continued investment in our state’s public education system will help to maintain the momentum to the benefit of current and future generations,” Stewart said.

But, despite the praise from his party colleagues and agencies, the term-limited Republican Governor hasn’t won the hearts of Florida Democrats.

The Florida Democratic party denounced the budget as “self-serving politics”

“At every turn, Scott is proving he’s only ever looking out for himself,” the Democratic Party of Florida said in a statement. “And he can’t run away from seven years of budgets that have left hardworking Floridians worse off than when he took office.”

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum called the budget an attempt to “cover up seven years of failed policies.”

“Budgets reflect our values, and for seven years we’ve seen just what the Governor’s values are: cuts on top of cuts to programs that are critical for working families,” Gillum said.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who also is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, pointed to the budget as last-ditch effort to make up for prior education cuts.

“In his first year as governor, Scott cut more than $1 billion from Florida’s schools and we still haven’t recovered from those massive cut,” Graham said. “Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding would still be less under Rick Scott’s new budget than it was when he took office.”

Rick Scott unveils $87.4B budget, then Dems decry it

Florida Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his “last and final budget” in Jacksonville Tuesday, an $87.4 billion proposal devoted to “fighting for Florida’s families.”

To sum up: a rising tide lifts all boats.

Throughout Scott’s remarks, there was a common theme: “historic investments” in area after area, a policy justified by an economy that is booming — on the macro level at least — as his eight years in Tallahassee near a close.

Some details had dropped already, of course, such as an ambitious (at least by recent standards) spate of environmental spending. The $1.7 billion of “historic investments” in the environment proposed is $220 million over the current year’s levels.

The budget proposal has something for most constituencies: $50 million for state parks; $55 million for springs; $100 million for beaches; $355 million for Everglades restoration; $50 million for Florida Forever.

Scott also is proposing $180 million in tax cuts, including 10 day cuts in back-to-school sales taxes, disaster prep tax cuts for three separate weeks, and driver’s license fees, as well as lowering the cost of traffic citations if the offender attends driving school

Scott mentioned these tax cuts in the press event.

Scott also noted that the budget has $5 billion in reserves.

“This budget is $87.4 billion, and includes tax cuts, historic investments for families, and over $5 billion in reserves,” Scott said.

“We’ll have historic investments in education, historic investments in transportation, historic investments in the environment, and historic investments in helping those with disabilities,” Scott added. “On top of that, we’re all going to reward our law enforcement officers.”

The citrus industry is in line for $21 million in state support, and the staff of the beleaguered Department of Children and Families will receive 100 new workers, “to make sure our children and families are taken care of in this state.”

Pay raises for correctional officers are also in the offing, Scott said, as well as for state law enforcement and fire fighters.

Scott also trumpeted his proposed increase for teacher supply grants, and $50 million to help law enforcement combat opioids.

The budget also includes $10.8 million more money for VPK, pushing the total to $408 million. And the highest per-pupil expenditure ($7,497 per student, which comes out to $21.4 billion total) for K-12 funding.

Much of that is familiar to those covering the Governor closely.

Some new announcements were made for the Jacksonville market also, including a “historic $10.8 billion for transportation, including significant funding for Jacksonville, including the deepening of JAXPORT.”

Public safety funding will be fixed at $5.3 billion, with $1,4 billion earmarked for disaster preparation — a 257 percent increase over the current year for the Division of Emergency Management.

“This is a budget that’s going to be good for Florida’s families,” Scott said.

Critics, of course, disagree.

The Florida Democratic Party decried the budget in a statement.

“Governor Scott’s budgets have always reflected the same self-serving politics that have defined his career: slashing investment in our public schools, zeroing out funding for key environmental programs and cutting funding for veterans, healthcare and public safety – while giving huge handouts to his well-off and well-connected donors and friends,” The FDP asserted.

“Today’s budget is more of the same – and more importantly, under Scott, Florida has cut investment in growth, leaving middle-class families with fewer well-paying jobs and fewer economic opportunities. At every turn, Scott is proving he’s only ever looking out for himself, and he can’t run away from seven years of budgets that have left hardworking Floridians worse off than when he took office,” the FDP added.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is running for Governor, and he likewise decried the proposed budget.

“As Governor Scott closes out his second term and prepares to run for Senate, he’s desperately trying to cover up seven years of failed policies. No 11th hour budget proposal can cover up the facts that nearly half of our state’s households report struggling to make ends meet and many of our rural counties have lost jobs since 2007. Budgets reflect our values, and for seven years we’ve seen just what the Governor’s values are: cuts on top of cuts to programs that are critical for working families,” Gillum said.

Gwen Graham, another Democrat running for Governor, was likewise less than thrilled.

“For almost 20 years the Republicans who control Tallahassee have worked to turn our public school system into an education industry by cutting budgets, siphoning money from public schools, and lining the pockets of their special interests donors,” Graham said.

“Rick Scott can try to run from his record of education cuts, but the numbers don’t lie. In his first year as governor, Scott cut more than $1 billion from Florida’s schools and we still haven’t recovered from those massive cuts. Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding would still be less under Rick Scott’s new budget than it was when he took office,” Graham added.

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