Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 217 - Florida Politics

Rick Scott’s counterterrorism proposal gets cities’, police chiefs’ backing

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to spend $5.8 billion to beef up state counterterrorism drew a joint endorsement Thursday from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

The two groups’ leaders signed a statement applauding Scott’s proposal and urging the Florida Legislature to approve it.

On Wednesday during stops in Orlando and Tampa, Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen announced plans to seek $5.8 million in the next budget to add 38 special agents and eight intelligence analysts specializing in counterterrorism. The new agents and analysts would beef up existing FDLE units allowing them too coordinate with all federally-organized counterterrorism task forces in Florida.

Florida. League of Cities President Susan Haynie, who is mayor of Boca Raton, and Florida Police Chiefs Association President Albert “Butch” Arenal, police chief of Coconut Creek, issued a statement reading:

“The majority of Florida’s 20 million residents live in our cities, towns, and villages, and our municipalities face the constant threat of being targeted by terrorist acts. Governor Scott’s plan will institute a dedicated team of highly skilled, well-trained, and resolute experts whose sole mission will be to address the modern scourge of terrorism. This smart, forward-thinking, and unfortunately necessary proposal represents a cost-effective way to provide Floridians with a measure of assurance that their public servants are doing everything possible to protect them. We applaud the Governor’s leadership in advocating for these 46 agents and analysts, and we urge the Legislature to help protect the people of our state, not on the basis of what this costs but because of what it likely will save: lives.”

Pro sports franchises: Build your own stadium, ballpark, or arena

Mitch Perry’s story Tuesday on FloridaPolitics.com about the bill filed by state Sen. Tom Lee to dismantle state’s Sports Development Program triggered an instant thought: Well, forget about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

I followed up with a call to Lee, a Republican from Brandon, and asked if my thought about the Rays was on the mark.

“This won’t preclude the Rays or any other franchise from coming to the Legislature and asking for help with a stadium, but they will have to stand on their merits,” he said.

“They won’t be able to hide behind a program designed to give an automatic seal of approval to these sports franchises. There are ways government can invest in these big projects without being a donor to the team.”

Mark that last sentence down. It may be the only way for pro franchises in Florida to get a sympathetic ear from Tallahassee lawmakers.

Big stadium projects bring lots of associated costs – road construction, sewer upgrades, water and so on.

“Those things are in government’s wheelhouse,” Lee said. “Those things stay behind even if the sports team leaves town.

“This specific program was a ruse to give the Legislature cover to make it look like they were doing a hard analysis on the revenues of these teams. Why do they get this break? Because they’re major donors and have big-time lobbyists representing them.”

The gist of that sentiment is this simple message to team owners: Build your own stadium, ballpark or arena. If you need help with access roads and other infrastructure costs, we can talk.

The program Lee wants to eliminate was a pet project for Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. It allowed team owners to apply for a rebate of increases in sales taxes if revenues jumped because of stadium upgrades. The maximum amount was $3 million for up to 30 years.

“It became the JumboTron amendment,” Lee said. “Or the Wrestlemania amendment. There was one proposal to improve a facility so it could host a special event. That turned out to be Wrestlemania. In Jacksonville, they wanted a rebate because they were adding JumboTrons to the stadium.

“Well, if a guy owns a Subway shop and he adds a drive-thru and his revenues go up 20 percent because of that, does he get a rebate on the increase? This was found money for the team owners.”

These are wealthy franchises, it should be noted. The late Malcolm Glazer purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. Forbes magazine estimates the Bucs are now worth $1.8 billion. The Miami Dolphins are worth $2.375 billion, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are a reported $1.95 billion.

“With what I see in education and exploding costs in delivering health care to the neediest Floridians, it’s hard to justify spending tax dollars on these sports teams,” Lee said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t like to have them, or that they don’t enhance a community. I believe they do.

“But we have to have priorities in government. While these teams are wonderful amenities, they do essentially cannibalize other things in the community. Instead of going to the park or the golf course, people go to the stadium. They don’t create economic growth.”

Translation: The climate in Tallahassee now is turning against this so-called corporate welfare.

The message to the Rays and other teams is that the state might listen if they need help building a road or stuff like that. But if they’re asking for tax money to build something that strictly benefits the team’s bottom line, think again.

Florida-Georgia water case official orders settlement talks

A court official on Tuesday ordered attorneys for Florida and Georgia to try again to settle a yearslong dispute over water use in the region.

Special Master Ralph Lancaster gave the states until Jan. 24 to meet and encouraged them to use a mediator. He also ordered the states to file a confidential report to him by Jan. 26 summarizing their efforts to reach a settlement.

The dispute focuses on a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay. Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use.

After Florida filed the suit against Georgia, Lancaster was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make a recommendation. The Supreme Court has the final say. Lancaster has repeatedly urged the states to settle, particularly at the end of a monthlong trial held in November in his home city of Portland, Maine.

Representatives for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment. Katie McCreary, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, declined comment, citing the ongoing case.

Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.

In Tuesday’s order, Lancaster said the states “should consider solutions that could alleviate both parties’ concerns, including importation of water from outside the ACF River Basin to supplement streamflow during drought periods.”

The area is commonly known as the “ACF River Basin.”

Lancaster was expected to issue a recommendation early this year but this week’s order continues his track record of urging the states to settle. At the close of the November trial, he reminded attorneys of the high stakes for residents that depend on the waterways in both states.

“Please settle this blasted thing,” Lancaster said at the time. “I can guarantee you that at least one of you is going to be unhappy with my recommendation — and perhaps both of you.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Rick Scott wants to hire counterterrorism agents

Vowing to do everything he can to prevent another terrorist attack like the June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre, Gov. Rick Scott pushed for nearly $6 million to create a new counter-terrorism and law enforcement intelligence task force in Florida.

“Terror, like we saw in the attack on the Pulse nightclub, is a threat to our state, our nation and each of us,” Scott said in announcing the proposal at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando Regional Operations Center Wednesday. “We need specialists who are solely dedicated to identify these terrorists and stopping them before they can attack.”

Joined by other law enforcement leaders including Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Scott and FDLE Commissioner Richard Swearingen outlined plans to seek $5.8 million in this year’s budget to hire 46 anti-terrorist specialists who would be divided into eight units and assigned to work with the eight joint anti-terrorism task forces coordinated in Florida by federal authorities.

The new positions would include 38 anti-terrorism special agents and eight crime intelligence analysts. He said the new positions would be in addition to anti-terrorism efforts the agency already has. But he said the current efforts sometimes require agents to be pulled off from other units on an ad-hoc basis and the new positions would better assure that full-time anti-terrorism officials are pursuing terrorists.

Swearingen said the current threat environment has “seen a vast expansion in terrorism relate threats in recent years and our federal law enforcement partners – who do a great job – have said they do not have sufficient resources to combat the spread of terrorism on their own,” he said. “This must be a collaborative effort of federal, state and local law enforcement.”

The budget request, of course, will have to survive in one form or another the Florida Legislature’s budget-writing. Two lawmakers present with Scott Wednesday, state Reps. Mike Miller of Orlando and Bob Cortes of Longwood, both spoke positively about the proposal Wednesday. Both are Republicans.

Miller, a member of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said he looks forward to championing anti-terrorism money this spring. Cortes said a recent national anti-terrorism symposium he attended has him convinced of the need and said $5.8 million is “not a big ask.”

“We live in a very difficult time, and we’re going to do everything we can to help keep everyone safe,” Scott said.

On Thursday, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said she shared Scott’s “commitment to ensuring that our law enforcement community has the resources necessary for counterterrorism to ensure that another tragedy like the massacre at Pulse nightclub never occurs again.”

“While this critical investment will allow the state to better monitor and prevent acts of terror, it is my hope this is one part of a conversation about passing meaningful reforms that keep weapons from falling into the hands of dangerous criminals and those suffering from mental illness who seek to inflict violence upon Floridians,” she said in a statement.

Tom Lee wants to eliminate program designed to use taxpayers funds on sports facilities

Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the program created to distribute those funds.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.

In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.

Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.

“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.

The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.

Email insights: Gwen Graham reflects on time in Congress, hints a ‘look to the future’

Congresswoman Gwen Graham took the last few days of the year to reflect on 2016, looking back on a series of successes during the Tallahassee Democrat’s single term in Congress.

Graham, who opted not to run for re-election after redistricting made Florida’s 2nd Congressional District too Republican, is also looking to the future — with the promise to “continue fighting for each and every Floridian.”

Likely, this includes a run for Florida Governor in 2018, which she publicly announced that she was considering last year. Graham is being replaced by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, who defeated Democrat Walt Dartland to win CD 2 with nearly 67 percent of the vote.

“This year brought environmental crises, critical moments for our military families, and more,” the email begins. “But through it all, Gwen never lost sight of what matters most — standing up for Florida’s families, putting your needs first, and making sure your voice is always heard.”

Team Graham’s accomplishments began early, the email says, with the very first bill she introduced in Congress, the VETS Act, which sought to help veterans have a smoother transition into civilian life.

Among the other issues included a push for more transparency in government, particularly in Florida waterways after delays in informing the public of a massive sinkhole opening in Polk County last summer, which has been blamed for contaminating groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer.

At the time, Graham blasted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration for “remaining silent for weeks.” In July, she also called Scott to convene a special session to address last summer’s surge in algae blooms along the Treasure Coast.

“Floridians have a right to know when their health and well-being is at risk,” the email says. “That’s why Gwen will always fight to increase transparency in our government and prevent disasters like this from ever happening again.”

The email also invoked Graham’s father, former Florida Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham; both Grahams had a program of Workdays — where each would spend shift working at various businesses in the District and Northwest Florida.

“From flying a T-38 jet at Tyndall Air Force Base to beekeeping in Wewahitchka,” the email says, “Workdays are always a great way to meet folks from across the state, build lifelong friendships and learn from each other.”

Capping off the email is a positive message of Florida’s future — with a commitment to Florida that has “never been stronger” — possibly including another generation of Graham in the Governor’s Mansion.

“Now more than ever, we need new leaders who will bring our communities together, build a government that’s transparent and accountable, and ensure every family and every child has the chance to succeed.”

Mitch Perry Report for 1.3.17 — Remembering Justice Perry’s words

With Republicans in control of all branches of state government for what is approaching nearly two decades, one check on their levers of power has been the Florida Supreme Court, which has at times has served as a safeguard to what some would call the Legislature’s worst excesses, such as redistricting and the death penalty.

Until last month, Gov. Rick Scott hadn’t been able to do a damn thing about the state’s highest court, but that changed when Justice James E.C. Perry was required to step down on Saturday because of a constitutional requirement that judges leave at the end of their term after they turn 70.

Perry’s successor is Alan Lawson, who had been the chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal. But while Lawson is Scott’s first opportunity to shape the state’s highest court in his own image, he’s been keeping busy doing so at the lower levels for years. As the News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee reported, all of the state’s five district courts of appeal now have GOP-appointed majorities.

Scott alone has appointed nine of the 15 judges on the 1st District Court of Appeal, which is based in Tallahassee and hears most of the cases challenging the authority of the Governor and the Legislature.

But before we forget about Perry, it’s worth revisiting some of his provocative comments he gave to the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas in an exit interview published in the Times on Saturday, particularly on the emphasis by conservatives on the whole “originalist” judicial philosophy (he gave a similar interview to the News Service of Florida, of which some of the most provocative comments were excerpted in a column by the Florida Times-Union’s Tia Mitchell).

“They say that the Constitution is stagnant and I don’t think it is. I think it is living — like the Bible is living,” Perry said, referring to the “originalist” argument that first received a broad hearing when Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court, and what is considered the abiding judicial philosophy of Antonin Scalia. “Should I want to be an originalist and go back to the original thinking of the Founders? No. Never. I’m not enamored by places called plantations. That doesn’t give me warm and fuzzies.”

Perry considers the Founders, “flawed people” who were wise but not omniscient.

“They were slave owners,” he said. “These people didn’t have divine intervention. They had some great ideals, but it didn’t include poor whites. It didn’t include women. We weren’t even human beings; we were chattel. It didn’t include the Native Americans, and it didn’t include merchants. It included land owners, or planters they called them.”

He noted that slaves were not allowed to marry, and black men had to submit to their owners at all costs: “They’d come in and want to have favors with your wife — whatever you call her — you would have to stand outside the door. Think about it, just in terms of human sense. How debilitating, how dehumanizing can you get?”

He believes he would “be a fool” to want to turn back the clock to the originalist intent of the founders.

“I’m not trying to divine what they might think about me,” he said. “They didn’t have computers. They didn’t have airplanes. They didn’t have cars. How could they have thought about even putting that in the Constitution?”

Something to consider as Donald Trump decides on his first justice to the U.S. Supreme Court — and when Scott tries to pack the court when he leaves the governor’s office in two years. But that’s a different discussion for a later date.

In other news …

The Florida Republican and Democratic parties will be voting for their state chair in a week and a half. Sarasota state committeeman Christian Ziegler is challenging incumbent Blaise Ingoglia.

Meanwhile, it’s a wide open race with the Democratic Party. Tampa (or should we say Hampton’s) Democrat Alan Clendenin informed state committee executive members over the weekend about his plans to reform the party.

Christian Ziegler contends the race for Florida GOP chair will be a close contest

Christian Ziegler says the idea of challenging Blaise Ingoglia for leadership of the Republican Party of Florida first came to his mind last May. He was presiding over a gathering of the state’s Republican committeemen and committeewomen at the party’s quarterly meeting in Tampa.

That’s when he said a slight case of pandemonium erupted when he began distributing approximately 150 “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump caps to the 134-member caucus. With a number of those officials previously rooted in camps backing Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (among others), he admits he wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. But he said that the level of excitement that ensued was absent from the rest of the two-day meeting.

“I had so many members after come up to me, and say, ‘Look, the energy that you had, that’s the kind of energy we should have had throughout the quarterly meeting,'” he says, recollecting the moment. He said he heard from Republicans that “we need leaders who are going to accept who our nominee is going to be, and accept who are candidates are and are going to waive the flag as high as you can, and we really need to lead with the energy you generated in that room.”

From there he says that “a ton of members” then began lobbying him directly to challenge Ingoglia, claiming that leadership was lacking at the top of the RPOF (As RPOF Chair, Ingoglia was dedicated to staying neutral until the party had a nominee. After the March 15 primary, Ingoglia met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach County).

But nobody is questioning the success that Ingoglia has had since defeating Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott’s hand-picked choice for chair of the RPOF in 2015. Florida Republicans had a huge night at the polls last November, with the most significant factor being the election of Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points.

Because Scott and the Republicans in the Florida Senate have chosen not to raise money directly for the party’s coffers, however, Ziegler says fundraising remains a major problem going into the 2018 midterm election.

“In 2016 we were fortunate to have the help of the Republican National Committee,” he says. “We had Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, we had the local Donald Trump efforts,  and we had our local campaign parties, and early in that dynamic I think that they all came together to help us win.”

Ziegler contends that staff has been cut significantly with the Republican Party of Florida and fundraising is lower than it’s been in a decade, events that he says are realities that REC members have to consider when choosing who they want to lead the party.

“You can’t argue with success,” counters Ingoglia. “We were able to accomplish historic wins and a level of success that quite frankly has been unprecedented.”

Ingoglia says the state party currently has $3.6 million cash on hand, and $1.1 million of that has already been committed to the 2016-2018 election year. That’s money will go towards field staff, infrastructure, overhead and political operations, historically more money than is traditionally been banked immediately after an election. “I came through on my promises and did what I said I was going to do about running the RPOF like a business, and making sure resources were used in the most efficient way possible to win elections,” he says.

In addition to chairing the state party, Ingoglia has served in the House of Representatives since 2014, representing parts of Hernando County. And he runs two different businesses, prompting Ziegler to say that he’s spread too thin.

“Blaise is a friend,” Ziegler says, ” But I think the party deserves a full-time chairman that’s focused on the party full-time, because we are the most important political state in the entire country.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia says the “proof is in the pudding” when it comes to how successful he’s been as party chair. “Anybody who knows me and follows me on social media knows that I travel all over the state and I devote almost every day and every night to my district, my state and to make this party better,” he says, adding that it would be a “mischaracterization” to say he doesn’t work full-time as RPOF chair.

When it comes to high-end endorsements, Ingoglia has it all over his challenger. Last week, the Spring Hill Republican announced the support of 10 state senators, including Majority Leader Bill Galvano and former House Majority Leader and newly elected Sen. Dana Young.

But Ziegler says that Ingoglia’s list of endorsers is somewhat suspect. He claims some of those backing the incumbent did so before there were any challengers in the race. He also says that some people have publicly said they will endorse Ingoglia but secretly have told Ziegler that they will vote for him.

“When you look at those endorsement lists, I’ve met with the majority of people on that endorsement list over the past month and a half, and I’m making my case privately,” he says.

But two different Republican officials involved in statewide politics who asked not to be quoted have told Florida Politics that they question the numbers that Ziegler is talking about. One Central Florida REC official says he believes the votes for Ziegler “simply aren’t there.”

Ingoglia defeated Dougher 132-90 in January of 2015. This Central Florida official believes the vote won’t be as close next time. Naturally, Ziegler disagrees.

“I think this race is going to be very close and it’s going to come down to a couple of votes either way,” he maintains.

Another North Florida Republican local party official says that Ingoglia has delivered as promised on his campaign pledges from two years ago, and there isn’t any grassroots energy to try to reverse that.

Ziegler is considered to be Scott’s choice for the position, but it’s questionable how influential his word is with Republican state executive committee members, since he has assiduously eschewed helping the party financially for the past two years, instead directing his fundraising efforts into his own Let’s Get to Work political action committee.

Ziegler also announced on Monday that he will be holding a statewide conference call on Thursday evening for state committee executive members to ask him questions about his candidacy.

The election for RPOF chair takes place on January 14 in Orlando.

Infamous dates: The moments that shaped Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Richard Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Rick Scott’s political committee raises more than $2.9M in 2016

Gov. Rick Scott continued to grow his war chest in 2016, raising millions of dollars amid speculation he plans to mount a U.S. Senate bid in two years.

State records show Let’s Get to Work — the political committee that fueled Scott’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races — raised more than $2.9 million in 2016. And that sum will likely rise, since the most recent campaign finance data does not include money raised in December.

The committee spent more than $2.5 million this year, including $227,666 for political consulting and $76,264 on surveys and research.

Scott can’t run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be on the ballot. In November, Scott told reporters he was considering challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

“It’s an option,” he said at the time, according to POLITICO Florida. “It’s an option I have. But right now, my whole focus is how do I do my best job as governor.”

He could face a tough race if he decides to challenge Nelson. The Orlando Democrat has served in the U.S. Senate since 2001. A recent poll from the Florida Chamber Political Institute showed 48 percent of Floridians approve of the job Nelson is doing in the U.S. Senate. The same survey showed 53 percent of Floridians approve of the job Scott is doing as governor.

But a recent Gravis Marketing poll conducted for the Orlando Political Observer indicated Nelson is the early favorite in 2018. The poll of 3,250 registered Florida voters showed the Orlando Democrat had a double-digit lead over Scott.

In a head-to-head match-up between Nelson and Scott, the poll showed Nelson would receive 51 percent compared to Scott’s 38 percent.

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