Rick Scott Archives - Page 4 of 294 - Florida Politics

Rick Scott looks to replenish ‘job growth’ fund

Gov. Rick Scott has yet to dip into the $85 million lawmakers set aside this year to attract new businesses to Florida, but he’s already seeking to replenish the pool of money.

Scott told the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, meeting this week in Jacksonville, of the need to ensure lawmakers maintain the new “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund,” which has attracted 209 applications from governments and other groups across the state since opening in July.

However, Scott and his office haven’t indicated when money could be awarded to the first regional or workforce project.

“I have no interest in doing any deals unless we get a very good return on investment,” Scott said. “When I was in business, I had a fiduciary to my employees, to the shareholders. In this, I have an absolute fiduciary to the taxpayers of the state to make sure all those dollars we get a very good return on investment.”

Scott’s request to replenish the fund with another $85 million is part of his $87.4 billion budget proposal for the 2018 Legislative Session.

The various applicants this year have collectively requested $713.4 million to help with projects with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. Most offer local matches.

The proposals range from $2,580 sought on Oct. 4 by Film Florida — for an industry training event that occurred Oct 21 — to $25 million requested by Pasco County for a $62.1 million Interstate 75 and Overpass Road interchange project.

The fund was created during a June special Session as a compromise between Scott and House leaders. The House had earlier sought to eliminate the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida and other economic-development programs.

After the fund was created, several Democrats derided the money as a “slush fund” that needed more oversight. Enterprise Florida and the state Department of Economic Opportunity are reviewing the proposals.

House leaders were heavily focused on ending programs that awarded economic incentives to single companies in return for relocating to Florida or expanding in the state. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, repeatedly called such incentives “corporate welfare.”

Money in the new fund is prohibited from going to projects that provide exclusive benefits to single businesses.

In 2016 and earlier this year, Scott was unable to get lawmakers to approve his requests to continue funding economic incentives through Enterprise Florida.

That cut off money Scott had offered in prior years to attract, maintain or help expand companies, such as Hertz, United Technologies and Harris Corp.

On Wednesday, Mike Grissom, Enterprise Florida executive vice president, said Scott — who has only a year left in the Governor’s office — has been adamant that any money awarded is guaranteed to have a positive return on investment.

“I think we’ve found a place where everybody is happy when it comes to this program,” Grissom said. “I think we’ve seen that it’s useful and valuable to our state and that the Legislature is OK with it. So, we want to make sure that we can continue to use it.”

Among the largest requests:

— Hillsborough County, Apollo Beach Boulevard extension. A $33.6 million project along the “I-75 Job Corridor” linking U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 over the interstate. Request: $23 million.

— State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota STEM campus. The proposal seeks money to help secure land and make other improvements needed to support a campus. Request: $22.44 million.

— Marion County, Crossroads Commerce Park. The $272 million project, encompassing more than 900 acres, is envisioned as having distribution, warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Request: $22.24 million.

Adam Putnam on Jack Latvala charges: ‘If it’s true, he needs to go’

Thursday evening saw Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam address around 400 people at a ranch deep on Jacksonville’s Westside.

The speech was familiar, by and large, though a new phrasing crept in: a reference to “corruption and predation and harassment.”

Putnam didn’t elaborate on those themes on the mic, even as his remarks came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott deemed scandal-scarred Sen. Jack Latvala a “distraction.”

“It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better … As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately,” Scott said.

We asked Putnam for his take, and it very much aligns with that of the Governor.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the legislative business has slowed to a crawl as they’ve struggled to deal with multiple complaints. And no woman should have to endure the type of treatment that has been alleged in this situation. And if it’s true, he needs to go,” Putnam told Florida Politics.

A month ago, as the first reportage of the charges against Latvala — still an opponent in the Gubernatorial race, even as at least one regional campaign staffer staff has been let go — broke, Putnam was reluctant to address them.

Since then, more particulars have come out, including one of Latvala’s accusers making her claims public. The issue has not gone away, and the investigation of Latvala churns on even as the Legislative Session nears commencement.

Putnam, the clear frontrunner on the Republican side of the Governor’s race, is not making Latvala’s travails the focus of his stump speech.

However, it’s clear that he’s become more comfortable discussing Latvala’s situation since news of it broke at the end of October.

And should the matter linger as an active issue into December and beyond, expect Putnam and others to be ever more direct in their takes.

Democrats’ request for earlier special election gets court date

Florida Democrats last week requested an injunction to move up the dates for a pair of South Florida special elections and the motion will get its day in court Dec. 7.

The motion, filed in Leon County circuit court, aims to get new dates for special elections in House District 114 and Senate District 31. Current special election dates, set by Gov. Rick Scott with input from county supervisors of elections, will keep both seats vacant for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Circuit court Judge Charles Dodson will preside over the arguments.

The injunction request is part of a lawsuit Democrats filed Nov. 6, before dates were set for either election, asking a judge to force Scott to set the dates.

Scott earlier this month ordered the special primary election in SD 31 for Jan. 30, with a special general election to follow on April 10. He also set the HD 114 special primary for Feb. 20, with the general election to follow on May 1.

SD 31 was vacated by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Oct. 27 after he acknowledged an affair with a lobbyist, while HD 114 was vacated by Coral Gables Democrat Daisy Baez at the beginning of November after she agreed to plead guilty to perjury in a case related to her legal residency.

The two South Florida districts are not the only ones expected to go without representation.

Republican Rep. Neil Combee’s exit from HD 39, effective Nov. 24, will leave that seat unfilled until a May 1 general election, while the abrupt exit of freshman Rep. Alex Miller in September will leave HD 72 unfilled until a Feb. 13 special general election. It’s unclear whether House budget chief Carlos Trujillo, who has been nominated to a U.S. ambassador post, will resign ahead of Session.

NRA lobbyist targets Barbara Pariente

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer launched a campaign this week to purge Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente from a case that could have far-reaching implications for the makeup of the court.

Hammer, long an influential figure in Tallahassee and a former president of the national gun-rights group, sent an email alert Wednesday morning to NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida “members and friends” urging them to tell Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Pariente that “she must recuse or resign” from her post.

“Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente has been caught in an act of what we believe is clear judicial misconduct and must recuse herself,” Hammer wrote, attaching an editorial penned by conservative political consultant Justin Sayfie.

In the email, Hammer wrote there “is no other appropriate option” for Pariente than recusal or resignation.

Gov. Rick Scott had asked Pariente to be removed from the case, which centers on whether the governor or his successor has the legal authority to appoint replacements for three justices — Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — whose terms end as Scott leaves office in January 2019.

Scott’s lawyers argued that comments by Pariente caught on a “hot mic” after oral arguments in the case indicated she was biased against the governor.

Hammer’s Wednesday morning alert went out just as the court issued an order rejecting Scott’s request that Pariente be disqualified from the case. Presiding law in similar cases says that justices, not the entire court, get to decide whether to recuse themselves.

Hammer said the court’s decision Wednesday didn’t matter.

“She can recuse or resign at any time, and those are the only realistic options that are available,” she told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.

Pariente, Quince and Lewis are part of a liberal-leaning bloc that holds a slim 4-3 majority on the state’s high court. Whoever gets to choose the next three justices could shape court decisions for years, if not decades.

The court has thwarted efforts by Second Amendment supporters twice this year alone.

“The majority of our state’s highest court is not only liberal-leaning and biased against the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but appears to be comfortable with Justice Pariente’s judicial misconduct,” Hammer said in the Thursday interview.

In September, a unanimous court drew a line in the sand in Florida’s “stand your ground” law, by saying the determination of immunity in a criminal case does not carry over to a civil case.

In a 4-2 ruling in March, the court upheld a long-standing ban on people openly carrying firearms in public.

The court could also hear an appeal in another case related to a change in the state’s “stand your ground” law. A Miami judge struck down the change, which supporters of the law called a “notable setback.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.1.17 — So much winning

In this issue of Bold, there’s not a lot of unwelcome news.

Today, there’s:

Travis Hutson potentially ascending to Senate leadership.

— The local paper’s editorial board finally noticed Hutson’s Senate colleague, Rob Bradley.

— A popular local politician — Sheriff Mike Williams — is (finally) officially running for re-election.

— If you read far enough, you’ll find the latest “big idea” in Jacksonville politics — a potential privatization of the local utility.

— And two new Sumatran tiger cubs — a “critically endangered” species — were born at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Some issues of Bold — and undoubtedly many future ones — will be packed with scandal and drama.

This one, luckily for the local political class, is not.

6th Congressional District race has Duval flavor

Though Duval County is now comfortably north of Congressional District 6, it’s worth watching as — at least by proxy — it could be argued to be a Jacksonville seat.

Incumbent Ron DeSantis has not decided whether to run for re-election or run statewide, yet wife Casey Black DeSantis is and presumably will continue to be a fixture on Jacksonville television.

The likely Democratic nominee — Ambassador Nancy Soderberg — has been a longtime professor at the University of North Florida.

Jacksonville-based candidates are eyeing the 6th Congressional District seat.

And a potential GOP candidate — former Green Beret Mike Waltz — was an alumnus of Stanton High School (Go Blue Devils!)

At a time when Congressional District 5 (a seat currently held by Tallahassee’s Al Lawson) may or may not be in play for a Jacksonville politician such as former Mayor Alvin Brown, it’s worth watching to see if CD 6 will end up as a Jacksonville seat by proxy.

Read all about it here.

Travis Hutson on leadership track?

St. Johns County Sen. Hutson may be on the Senate Leadership track.

But it’s going to take some time to find out, as Florida Politics reported this week.

The two front-runners to be potential Senate Majority Leader in 2022 are Hutson and Tampa’s Dana Young, according to more than a dozen sources, including several members. Beyond Hutson and Young, sources say Dennis Baxley and Greg Steube should be seen as dark horses.

And we typically get these things right. Florida Politics was first to report about the conclusion of the race between current Senate President Joe Negron and one-time rival Jack Latvala, as well as the eventual outcome of the recently concluded contest for House Speaker beginning in 2022.

There’s a lot of time between now and the 2020 vote. However, Hutson atop the Senate and Renner atop the House would make for a unique and welcome convergence for Northeast Florida.

Paul Renner previews Legislative Session, talks harassment

Palm Coast Rep. Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer who chairs Ways and Means and is on track to be Speaker in 2022 — spoke to a crowd on the Southside Wednesday.

While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.

Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long-term expectations that Florida could add 6 to 8 million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.

Paul Renner covered a lot of subjects Wednesday in Jacksonville.

Renner also discussed the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in Tallahassee.

“Two points: one is that human beings being are who they are, in any organization you’re going to have five to 10 percent who can’t help themselves in their personal conduct. We need to identify that and ask them to return home because they’ve lost the trust of the people who elected them,” Renner said.

Renner’s second point: term limits.

“You see some of these problems. You look at John Conyers in Congress: he’s 88 years old and has had some serious allegations against him,” Renner added. “Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there’s a period of time after which people become co-opted, happier to be there than to do what the people sent them there to do.

“They’d rather spend time drinking scotch at the club or doing things that they don’t have any business doing than to do the people’s business,” Renner added. “Do I think that’s widespread among elected members? I do not. But it is an issue, it is a problem, and it’s something we have to take seriously. And as these things arise, it’s something we have to address.”

Staff boosts for Jay Fant AG campaign

When it comes to the GOP race for Attorney General, Fant is in it to win it.

Is Jay Fant for real? These new hires suggest yes.

Fant faces former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and fellow Republican Reps. Frank White and Ross Spano in the GOP primary for AG, and has seen his campaign lag in recent months as his rivals, particularly Moody and White, have picked up steam.

The Jacksonville Republican’s revamp effort includes bringing in Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes of Enwright Consulting Group to lead his political team and turning to The Tarrance Group for polling. Former Rick Scott communications chief Melissa Stone is also coming on board via Cavalry Strategies.

Fant is also going all in on advertising with the Strategy Group, which helped President Donald Trump last election cycle and have worked on 11 other Attorney General campaigns nationwide.

Josh Cooper’s Strategic Information Consultants will be handling opposition research, while Strategic Digital Services, founded by Matthew Farrar and Joe Clements, will handle the digital media operations.

Fant has messaged to the right of the field, but has seen his credibility hamstrung by a shoestring operation. Now that problem has been solved.

Fant wants Franken gone

Rep. Fant — as is often the case — is holding forth on issues beyond the state Legislature in which he serves, and the Attorney General’s office in which he would like to serve.

Fant’s latest rhetorical broadside: a full-throttle smackdown on Sen. Franken, accused of letting his hands wander during photo ops.

Fant wants Franken gone.

No affirmations for Al Franken from Rep. Jay Fant.

“Senator Marco Rubio said yesterday that Senator Al Franken should resign, and I fully agree with him on this. Senator Franken has already admitted to mistreating women in a way that would be offensive to come from any person, but is completely out-of-bounds for an elected official representing our public trust. He must go,” Fant said.

“As the father of two daughters, I am sickened by public officials misusing the power of their office for harassment. Sexual harassment is wrong in any workplace,” Fant added, “but is especially disgusting when it involves someone who represents the public trust.”

Fant is embroiled in a crowded four-way race for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Two of his opponents — White and Spano — are House colleagues. A third competitor, Moody, is a retired Hillsborough County judge.

Times-Union gives props to Bradley

Sen. Bradley was lauded by the Florida Times-Union editorial board last month, and — as it ran during the Thanksgiving holiday — some of our readers may have missed it.

The Times-Union issued plaudits for Rob Bradley, even as future of Tallahassee coverage in question.

Bradley, the current Senate Appropriations Chair, was celebrated for sponsoring a bill that would earmark $100 million for the state’s “Florida Forever” conservation program.

If this sounds like déjà vu, it’s probably because Florida Politics wrote about the bill two months ago.

“This ought to be easy. Florida voters approved that funding by a whopping 75 percent vote three years ago. But the Legislature has a maddening habit of ignoring the will of the voters,” the T-U ed board remarked.

With the Times-Union yet to announce a replacement for the respected Tia Mitchell, it will be interesting to see how the Jacksonville paper covers Bradley — and the Florida Legislature — in 2018.

Kim Daniels settles disputed election spending

Rep. Daniels cut a deal this week with the Florida Elections Commission. She will spend $1,500 to settle claims that she paid campaign money from her 2015 Jacksonville City Council re-election bid on promoting her book, “The Demon Dictionary.”

Rep. Kim Daniels spent campaign money … to support Rev. Kim Daniels’ book. But all is forgiven now.

As Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly reported in February 2015, Daniels spent $4,000 of campaign funds to promote her book, The Demon Dictionary, in a religious magazine called Shofar.

Daniels also offered editorials in the magazine, and no disclaimers marking the communiqué as campaign communications were included.

A local activist/journalist, David Vandygriff of JaxGay.com, filed an FEC complaint, and in March 2016, staff recommended to the commission that there was probable cause to believe that an election code violation might have occurred.

Daniels faces no opposition thus far in her 2018 bid for re-election.

Second Democrat jumps into HD 15 fight

Many connected Jacksonville Democrats are solidly behind Tracye Polson in her bid to replace Fant in House District 15.

But to get to the general election against a Republican (Wyman Duggan is the only one to have filed yet), Polson must fend off a primary challenge.

Tracye Polson will have to beat a primary challenger to get to the general election.

Jacksonville Democrat Matt McAllister filed last month for the seat.

McAllister is an unknown quantity for local Dems; Polson, meanwhile, has hosted fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson and the Duval County Democratic Party.

Mike Williams files for re-election

Jacksonville Sheriff Williams filed for re-election Tuesday, opening a campaign account and launching an operation well ahead of the 2019 vote.

Can Mike Williams be beaten? So far no one has filed against him.

Despite the formal filing for re-election, it’s clear that Williams has been working in that direction for months.

Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” has raised $154,000, and has $131,000 on hand.

The committee’s spending in September and October reflected a nascent re-election campaign, with a $10,000 October spend with Jacksonville consultant Bruce Barcelo on constituent polling, after a September spend of $8,900 with Data Targeting Research for the same.

While we don’t have access to the internal polls, the most recent public poll shows that Sheriff Williams is popular, with 67 percent approval countywide … including 60 percent of Democrats.

Bad trip? Or hit piece?

The Florida Times-Union offered a long-form look at the political symbiosis between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

The Shad Khan/Lenny Curry connection was a long read on Thanksgiving weekend.

The subtext may be more interesting than the text.

Historically, there has been a pattern when the T-U would go in on Curry’s administration on one issue or another; a Cold War of some length, followed by rapprochement.

“Curry’s current travel practices have blown up the old system,” writes the T-U’s Nate Monroe, who adds that “Curry considers himself a reform mayor who championed hard-won changes to the old ways of doing business, often touting his interest in increased transparency and accountability for the massive consolidated government he oversees. But Curry might be sidestepping that goal when it comes to his own office.”

In a media market like this, with a few dedicated City Hall reporters between print and television, the relationship between Curry and the local paper is worth watching. While the T-U editorial board is pretty much on lock, the news side is more skeptical — as Monroe’s article suggests.

Curry faces no imminent challenges to re-election, and — as compared to Alvin Brown, who attempted to stay above politics — is exceedingly well prepared for a re-election campaign.

But the path forward can get more treacherous if articles like this one occlude the larger narrative.

Tree canopy tango

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni introduced legislation this week that opposes a state bill (HB 521/SB 574) that would cut the heart out of the city’s protections of its tree canopy.

John Crescimbeni struck a blow for home rule with his recent tree bill.

The state bill, filed by Republican Greg Steube in the Senate and Democrat Katie Edwards in the House, would prohibit cities such as Jacksonville from stopping landowners from removing trees located on their own private property.

Crescimbeni’s Jacksonville City Council bill (2017-822) contends that the legislation is “harmful to the environment and contrary to the overwhelming wishes of Jacksonville citizens,” and that the state legislation is an “assault on home rule.”

The Crescimbeni bill, if it moves through committee, will be voted up or down by the full Council in 2018.

Price of sex discrimination to be paid by Jax taxpayers

WJXT reported on the city of Jacksonville getting ready to dole out almost half a million dollars to settle two sex discrimination cases.

“The city tried unsuccessfully to get both lawsuits dismissed, and in each case, the city’s general counsel said the agreed upon settlement would be far less than what the city might have to pay after a jury trial and lengthy court battle,” reports WJXT’s Jim Piggott.

For a taste of what these women had to endure, consider the example of 65-year-old Deborah Jones, a jail employee.

Jones claimed her boss called her an “old, demented, worthless whore” and who “didn’t need to worry about inmates hanging around a dark parking lot because ‘they don’t rape old, ugly women.’”

Reggie Gaffney raises $10K in re-election bid

It appears that, despite issues during his first two years in office, that Jacksonville City Councilman Gaffney will have the resources he needs to best lightly-funded opponents.

Four more years of photo-ops for gaffe-prone Reggie Gaffney?

October revealed fundraising that, while slow compared to many other candidates in the city, dwarfs opponents in Council District 7, which includes Downtown, Springfield and points north.

Gaffney brought in $9,100 in October, pushing him to $10,100 raised — with all but $228 of that cash on hand.

Gaffney’s money came in chunks: $2,500 in three checks from local dog track interests; $2,000 from three property management entities housed at the same address (437 E Monroe St. Ste 100); and $2,000 more from two property management companies with the same post office box in Yulee.

One opponent has $1,800 banked; the other has $0 in reserve.

Privatize JEA? Tom Petway says yes.

The big news out of Tuesday’s meeting of Jacksonville’s JEA Board wasn’t on the agenda.

Tom Petway delivered a ‘mic drop’ moment while leaving the JEA Board.

Board member Petway — one of the earliest supporters of the candidacy of Jacksonville Mayor Curry — announced his intention to leave the board Dec. 31. And he revived a major conceptual proposal on his way out.

Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.

At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.

“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”

“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”

This concept has been floated twice in the last decade, and couldn’t get traction.

However, some City Councilors — notably, Council liaison to JEA Matt Schellenberg and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — are receptive, even as Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more.

This will be a 2018 story to watch.

Duval Dems Chair race to wrap Monday

Earlier this month, State Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

Two candidates have emerged in the hopes of replacing Gibson.

The names: Lisa King, the county party committeewoman who lost a race for state chair to freshly-resigned Stephen Bittel; and Hazel Gillis, VP of the Duval Dems’ Black Caucus.

Lisa King is one of two Duval DEC chair candidates.

“Democrats can win elections in Jacksonville. To do so,” King said, “we must be brave, build trust and be ready to work.”

Gillis, in an email announcing her bid, noted that she will “work diligently to unify our party and work for inclusion.”

The party will choose Monday evening.

Scott reappoints two to Jacksonville Aviation Authority

Gov. Rick Scott announced the reappointment of Patrick Kilbane and Giselle Carson to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Kilbane, 38, of Jacksonville, is a financial adviser with Ullmann Brown Wealth Advisors. He received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Kilbane is reappointed for a term beginning ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Carson, 49, of Jacksonville, is an attorney and shareholder with Marks Gray PA. Carson received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Carson is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Wildlight UF Health facility plans filed

Wildlight LLC has filed plans with the St. Johns River Water Management District this week for a proposed University of Florida health and fitness complex at Wildlight, the master-planned community in Nassau County.

Karen Mathis of the Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Wildlight developer Raydient Places + Properties and UF is seeking to construct two medical office buildings, with parking facilities, on 6.38 acres in Yulee at Florida A1A and William Burgess Boulevard.

In August, Raydient — Rayonier Inc.’s real estate subsidiary — and UF announced groundbreaking would begin in 2018.

UF and UF Health said Wildlight is the first step in a multiyear project is to build the community’s first health care facility on Florida A1A.

Plans include a 23,331-square-foot medical office building and a 5,888-square-foot building. GAI Consultants of Jacksonville is serving as the project agent.

Wildlight is a 2,900-acre development with 7 million square feet of office, commercial, medical, industrial and residential space. The project will include 3,200 residential units.

Originally in downtown Jacksonville, Rayonier moved its headquarters to Wildlight, a new town that it refers to as “Florida Lowcountry.”

In all, Wildlight will offer homes, townhomes and rental apartments along with shops, restaurants, parks, gardens, playgrounds, a new elementary school that opened and a trail and pathway system to connect it.

JTA holiday bus offers free rides, candy canes, music

Weekdays through December 22, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is offering a special holiday bus, located on any one of its routes during the holiday season.

If you find the holiday bus, you can ride for free.

JTA says riders on this holiday bus will also get holiday music, candy canes, and decorations.

For more information on the holiday bus, contact JTA customer service at (904) 630-3100.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates birth of endangered Sumatran tiger cubs

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating the healthy birth of two critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs. The cubs’ mother, 6-year-old Dorcas, gave birth at 11:40 a.m. November 20. The tigers’ keepers were able to keep an eye on the process using a closed-circuit camera system.

Both cubs are male; they are the second litter for Dorcas and father, Berani. The Zoo’s first Sumatran tiger birth in its 102-year history is big sister Kinleigh Rose, born on November 19, 2015 — two years and a day before the arrival of her little brothers.

“One of the biggest pleasures as the Zoo’s tiger-management program evolves, is watching the effect that it has on the wellness of our animals,” said Dan Dembiec, Supervisor of Mammals. “Dorcas started out as a skittish and shy tigress, but she is now a confident and skilled mother.  She is a natural at providing her cubs with the necessary care to help them develop, and this is reflective of the care that she has received from the staff at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.”

The cubs received their first medical exam on November 28. Zoo Animal Health staff were able to quickly and efficiently examine the cubs because of the exceptional bonding and training the keeper staff has conducted with the mother. Dorcas was willing and trusting to be separated from the cubs at the request of the keepers.

Rick Scott says Jack Latvala is ‘distraction’ amid investigation

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday said Sen. Jack Latvala, under investigation after being accused of sexually harassing a legislative aide and others, is a “distraction” but stopped short of saying the veteran Republican lawmaker should resign.

Latvala, 66, has been accused by several women of groping and making unwelcome remarks about their bodies. Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers on Wednesday came forward and identified herself as the woman who lodged a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee and Senate President Joe Negron‘s office.

Scott previously called the allegations “disgusting” and said that Latvala, who is running for governor, should resign from the Senate if the accusations are true.

But, in a statement released Thursday, the governor went further.

“Any allegation of sexual harassment is absolutely disgusting and behavior like this is not acceptable. It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better. It is my understanding that there’s an investigation underway, and when that is complete, the Senate will have a decision to make,” Scott said. “As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately. Last year, I championed a bill to protect state employees who were victims of sexual harassment at work, and my office is working on additional actions to continue to fight for victims.”

Latvala and his attorney, Steve Andrews, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

A special master is conducting an inquiry into the Rules Committee complaint, while the Office of Legislative Affairs hired an outside lawyer to lead a probe into accusations that were made by six unidentified women in a Politico Florida report that set off a firestorm in the Capitol early this month.

The allegations about Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, came as accusations of sexual misconduct topple powerful and well-known men in the movie industry, newsrooms and on television.

Latvala was the influential Senate budget chief until removed from the post by Negron after the allegations were made public. He has steadfastly denied making any unwanted physical contact with the women.

On Wednesday, Latvala’s attorney released more than 200 texts exchanged between the senator and the 35-year-old Perrin Rogers that showed the two had what appeared to be a cordial, if not friendly, relationship that went back several years.

Special master Ron Swanson, a former appellate judge, has been conducting interviews this week in Tallahassee, according to sources close to the investigation.

Swanson will make recommendations to the Rules Committee once his inquiry is complete. Potential sanctions for Latvala could include reprimand, censure or expulsion from the chamber, each of which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which currently includes 39 members. One seat is vacant because former Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, stepped down last month after disclosures about an affair with a lobbyist.

Rick Scott: ‘There is no place like Florida right now’

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott begins to make the inevitable pivot to a Senate candidate, his remarks from Thursday’s Enterprise Florida board meeting in Jacksonville were worth noting.

Scott crystallized the case for his economic strategy, one that has allowed him to frame a narrative of having brought the state back from recession.

“We’ve got to continue to do the right investments,” Scott said, noting the importance of ROI.

Scott noted the state’s “50 percent increase [in tourism],” a source of “1.4 million jobs.” And he said that he’s “committed to spreading the message worldwide” that there is “no place like Florida right now.”

The Governor noted the trip to Israel this weekend, citing the importance of international trade for Florida.

Excised from remarks was another illustration of Scott’s dual political role: comments made in a press release Wednesday, where Scott stressed the importance of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — a rhetorical priority of the right, though one that President Donald Trump has yet to push to completion.

“We’ve got to continue this. We’ve got people getting out of school, moving to our state, they need jobs,” Scott said, regarding his administration’s economic programs.

Scott’s rhetorical pivot — to the frustration of press that covers him — is to “jobs,” even on questions that have nothing to do with the job market.

Worth watching: how he’s able to take his economic story, one that seems to be a refrain to every song he sings, and translate it to the Senate race.

Political committees — such as For Florida’s Future — laid the groundwork for a potential counterargument by Sen. Bill Nelson.

That argument: that Florida’s recession has been largely an urban phenomenon, and that nearly half of Florida households are the working poor.

Can Nelson counter Scott’s economic narrative?

That may be the question that determines the next eleven months.

Jeremy Ring announces ‘hat trick’ of congressional endorsements for CFO bid

Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring scored a “hat trick” of endorsements for his CFO campaign from Florida’s congressional delegation Thursday, and now has the support of seven of the 11 Florida Democrats in the U.S. House.

U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson announced they were supporting the former state senator for CFO, joining Reps. Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson and Darren Soto, who endorsed him earlier this month.

“Now more than ever Florida needs fighters,” Wilson said. “I had the opportunity to serve with Jeremy in Tallahassee and saw first-hand how he fought to protect the Florida Retirement System from the Republicans who wanted to tear it apart. This is why I’m excited to endorse him in his race to be Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer.”

Frankel added that “although the CFO isn’t someone you see in the headlines a lot, their actions arguably touch more Floridians than any other statewide office — from regulating insurance rates and serving as a vital check-and-balance to the Governor and Legislature. Jeremy Ring will ask tough questions, stand up to insurance companies and stand up for consumers. I enthusiastically support him.”

Ring, the only Democrat in the race, said he was “humbled to have earned the support” of the three congresswomen.

“I’ve been fortunate to know or work alongside all of them for many years. They are three of the most dedicated members of the U.S. House of Representatives and I am thankful to have them in our corner fighting on behalf of the people of Florida in Washington and excited to have them join our campaign,” he said.

Also in the race are sitting CFO Jimmy Patronis, whom Gov. Rick Scott has said is his hand-picked choice, as well as fellow Republican Antoanet Iotova, who lost to Democrat Gary Farmer in the race for Senate District 34 last November and is surely outmatched in the GOP primary for CFO.

Patronis is likely to also face Brandon Sen. Tom Lee in the Republican Primary, though Lee has not given a timetable for when he would enter the race.

Assisted living facilities face $280 million tab for generators

Gov. Rick Scott‘s mandate that all assisted living facilities have generators and 96 hours of backup fuel will cost the industry about $280 million, according to estimates published Wednesday by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

Because the majority of residents in assisted living facilities are “self pay” and don’t rely on Medicaid, the providers won’t be able to recoup Medicaid funding to help offset the generator costs, said Susan Anderson, vice president of public policy for Florida Argentum, a statewide association that represents assisted living facilities.

The Department of Elder Affairs published a summary of the estimated regulatory costs on Wednesday after it received a three-page letter from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee flagging potential problems with the proposed rule, initially published on Nov. 14. The estimated costs were published in the Florida Administrative Register.

Florida law requires the department to publish a summary of estimated costs to comply with the regulations and announce whether the rule would require legislative approval. Any rule that increases the costs of doing business by more than $200,000 in the aggregate requires legislative approval.

The rule proposed Nov. 14 is meant to replace an emergency rule that the Scott administration issued in September after the deaths of eight residents at The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills nursing home following Hurricane Irma. The Broward County facility lost its air-conditioning system Sept. 10 in the storm, and the residents died three days later.

According to the department’s estimates, there are 3,111 assisted living facilities licensed across the state, and more than half of them have fewer than seven beds. To abide by the mandate that they have a generator and enough fuel to keep the temperature at 81 degrees for four days, those small facilities will have to spend an average of $28,000. In the aggregate, the total cost for those providers is estimated at slightly more than $44.7 million.

The state has another 775 assisted living facilities with between seven and 49 beds, and compliance costs for those providers total an estimated $53.2 million. There are another 428 assisted living facilities with 50 to 100 beds, and they will pay a total of about $45.6 million to comply with the requirements.

About 10 percent of the assisted living facilities across the state have more than 100 beds. Those large facilities will be hit with upwards of $136.5 million in overall costs.

Florida Argentum’s Anderson said facilities will have to try to hold down their operating costs to help offset the increased regulatory expenses. The largest component of a facility’s operating costs, she said, is spent on employees.

Rick Scott: U.S. embassy belongs in Jerusalem

In a declaration that many will see as yet another pre-Senatorial campaign play, Gov. Rick Scott waded into foreign policy waters Wednesday.

His take: the U.S. Embassy in Israel should be in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

That position is fairly standard among those on the right, and Scott timed his espousal of it as an appetizer for a trade mission to Israel — the Governor’s first since 2011.

“As we prepare for this important trade mission, it is clear that our entire nation must also continue to strengthen this partnership with Israel. I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release with a Jacksonville dateline, even as he gave no hints of this position while talking to media in the city.

Scott’s statement comes just one day after Vice President Mike Pence told Israelis that President Donald Trump was mulling the logistics of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

The Jerusalem Post notes that in June, President Trump signed a waiver blocking the embassy move; however, White House officials said it was a matter of “when, not if” it will happen.

Scott’s press release outlined some aspects of the trade mission, including a celebration of direct flights on the Israeli El-Al airline from Miami to Tel Aviv, and economic development meetings designed to bolster $286 million in annual trade between Israel and Florida.

“Working with international partners like Israel is critical to strengthening Florida as a global destination for trade and to ensuring that our economy will continue to grow for years to come. Our previous trade mission to Israel was an astonishing success, and I look forward to sharing how far Florida has come in just seven years,” Scott noted

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