Rick Scott – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott charges Bill Nelson with being Democratic ‘rubber stamp’ on judicial votes

Gov. Rick Scott is in Kuwait, visiting American troops, but his campaign operation continues to slam Sen. Bill Nelson for being a party-line voter in the Senate.

A new ad, “Rubber Stamp,” levies the charges related to judicial votes, asserting that “President Obama nominated more than 300 judges … Nelson did not vote against a single one.”

The ad deems Nelson to be “a complete party line politician … a rubber stamp for party leaders [who] voted against Supreme Court Justice [Neil] Gorsuch.”

Nelson did oppose Gorsuch, in a move some Democrats saw as a hedge against a primary challenge. Now it’s a talking point for his general election challenger.

“Bill Nelson’s voting history shows that he puts partisan politics before Floridians, even when it comes to something as important as judicial nominations,” said Lauren Schenone, Press Secretary for Scott for Florida.

“Bill Nelson didn’t vote against a single one of Obama’s judicial nominees, but he obeyed party leaders in voting against Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch and decided to vote against a Florida judicial appointee he personally recommended once Chuck Schumer told him to. That’s because Bill Nelson isn’t in Washington to be a leader for Florida — he’s in Washington to be a rubber stamp for Democrats,” Schenone charges.

Adam Putnam, Ashley Moody top another Central Florida straw poll

A third straw poll in a week found solid support among Central Florida Republicans for Adam Putnam for Governor and Ashley Moody for Attorney General.

This poll was taken Saturday evening among 191 attendees of the Red White & Blue BBQ hosted by three Central Florida Republican women’s clubs: Republicans in Action, Orlando Republican Women Federation, and the Winter Park Republican Women Federation.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam easily topped Republican gubernatorial primary rival U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis 125-40, with Bob White and Bruce Nathan each picking up a few votes.

Former Circuit Court Judge Moody beat state Rep. Frank White 115 to 41 among top Republican candidates for the AG’s job.

Those preferences and margins are consistent with the straw polls conducted last week by the Casselberry Chamber of Commerce and the Seminole Republican Executive Committee.

And as in those and all other polls, Gov. Rick Scott was the overwhelming pick for the U.S. Senate primary, 167-10 over Rocky de la Fuente.

There were a couple of distinct differences in the Republican women’s BBQ straw poll Saturday evening and the earlier two.

In the Republican women’s poll, state Sen. Denise Grimsley edged out state Rep. Matt Caldwell as the choice for the Republican Agriculture Commissioner nominee, 63-59. Mike McCalister picked up another 16 votes, and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, 7. Caldwell solidly won the previous two straw polls.

State Rep. Mike Miller was the women’s solid choice to be the Republican nominee in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. Miller picked up 129 votes to Scott Sturgill‘s 33 and Vennia Francois‘s 11. Sturgill had solidly won the previous two polls, which were taken entirely in Seminole County, where Sturgill lives. The women’s poll was of two women’s groups from Orange County, where Miller is from, and one from Seminole.

In two Flordia House of Representatives races that have Republican primaries, the Republican women strongly supported Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix over Stockton Reeves for House District 47 [138-20;] and state Rep. Rene Plasencia over George Collins in House District 50 [99-34.]

The women’s groups also were polled on some nonpartisan races in Orange and Seminole counties and managed to pick the Republicans in each race that had at least one, while giving Democrats in those races little support.

The partisan primaries and nonpartisan elections are August 28.

In the Orange County mayoral race, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke was the top choice with 89 votes, and businessman Rob Panepinto received 71. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, the only Democrat in the nonpartisan contest, got just nine votes.

And in the countywide Orange County School Board chair’s race, the attendees picked Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, with 77 votes, and gave almost no support to her chief rival, Orange County School Board Member Nancy Robbinson, who got 17 points. Jacobs is a Republican, Robbinson, a Democrat. Two minor candidates in that contest, teacher Robert Prater, and vocational school administrator Matt Fitzpatrick, both finished ahead of Robbinson, with 20 and 18 votes respectively.

In other contests, the groups preferred former state Rep. and former Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer in the Orange County Commission District 2 race; Pete Crotty in Orange County Commission District 3; Gina Perez-Calhoun in Orange County Commission District 4; and Robin Harris in the Orange County Commission District 5 race.

Also interesting was the District 4 and 6 contests.

In District 4, Perez-Calhoun solidly topped another Republican, Susan Makowski, 72-23 [with another 33 votes split among three Democrats in the field,] even though Makowski, a former aide to incumbent Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, has raised almost ten times as much money as Perez-Calhoun.

In the District 6 race, the Republican women picked the progressive Democratic activist, Harris, over the far more moderate incumbent Democratic Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, by a 66-37 vote. There are no Republicans in that contest.

In Seminole County Commission races, the attendees picked Jay Zembower in District 2, and Ray Lockhart in District 4.

In Orange County School Board races, the top choices were Angie Gallo in District 1; Chadwick Hardee in District 2; Linda Kobert in District 3; Patricia Fox in District 4; and Melissa Byrd in District 7.

In Seminole County School Board races, the top choices were Alan Youngblood [by one vote over Cade Resnick] in District 1, and Ray Penneck in District 4.

New budget, dozens of laws take effect July 1

More than 100 bills that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law from the 2018 Legislative Session will take effect Sunday, including a new state budget that tops $88 billion.

Lawmakers sent 195 bills to Scott from the Session that ended in March. The Governor vetoed two, while signing the rest.

Of the signed measures, 105 will hit the books Sunday.

Of the remainder, 54 went into effect upon Scott’s signature, with the rest effective in October or 2019.

Among the measures slated to take effect Sunday:

State budget

— HB 5001: Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The spending plan increases public-school funding by $101.50 per student, though Democrats and many education officials have argued that a far lower amount will be available for basic school expenses.

Among other things, the budget will provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Lawmakers also included $3.3 billion in reserves and put money into such issues as Everglades restoration, beach restoration, “pre-eminent” universities and helping universities attract “world-class” faculty.

Tax package

— HB 7087. A roughly $170 million tax-cut package provides relief for farmers and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma, provides a sales-tax “holiday” in August for back-to-school shoppers and retroactively covers a disaster-preparedness tax “holiday” in early June that coincided with the start of hurricane season. The package also includes reducing a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent, though that cut will begin Jan. 1.

Education

— HB 7055: The law expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools. The so-called “hope scholarships” will be funded by motorists who voluntarily agree to contribute sales taxes they would normally pay on vehicle transactions to fund the scholarships. Among other things, the bill also boosts the Gardiner scholarship program, which pays for services and private-school scholarships for students with disabilities.

Child marriage

 SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. In the past, minors ages 16 and 17 have been able to get marriage licenses with parental consent, and judges have had discretion to issue licenses to younger minors if they have children or if pregnancies are involved.

Under the change, marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.

Opioids

— HB 21: With Florida facing an opioid epidemic, the measure is aimed at preventing patients from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and then turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

The bill, in part, will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, though they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.” Cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma would be exempt from the limits. The bill also requires physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances.

Bethune statue

— SB 472: Lawmakers approved placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The statue of Bethune will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who has long been one of Florida’s two representatives in the hall at the U.S. Capitol. The state’s other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

Slavery memorial

— HB 67: The measure will lead to building a memorial on the Capitol grounds to honor the untold number of slaves in Florida history. The bill requires the Department of Management Services to develop a plan and costs for the memorial, with the plan then submitted to the governor and legislative leaders.

Daylight saving time

— SB 1013: The measure seeks to place Florida on year-round daylight-saving time. The change, promoted as a way to help Florida tourism, still needs congressional approval.

Veterans

— HB 29: Named the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act” after a House Republican who died in December, the measure expands a 2014 law by further reducing professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans and their spouses. This bill also designates March 25 each year as “Medal of Honor Day.”

Foreign affairs

— HB 545 and HB 359: One measure (HB 545) will prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. The other (HB 359) bars state agencies from investing in companies doing business with the government of Venezuela, a step intended to put pressure on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Bill Nelson calls on Rick Scott to help Puerto Rican hurricane survivors avoid eviction

Bill Nelson condemned Gov. Rick Scott as more than a thousand Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane Maria could end up homeless in the coming days.

Many survivors of the storm are living in the U.S., including here in Florida, after their homes were destroyed.

Those who lost their homes were able to qualify for Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA), a program operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The TSA program pays for temporary lodgings, such as hotels, and attempts to find permanent homes for those affected by the storm. The agency has spent $432 million on lodging, according to an article by Newsweek.

However, the program helping Puerto Ricans is set to expire Saturday after a previous 60-day extension was granted. Nelson and other Democrats signed on to a request to FEMA for a new 60-day extension. However, those efforts seem to have failed.

Nelson noted senators also asked FEMA to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). Similar efforts were made for victims of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.

“All FEMA has to do is activate the existing law, just like they did for Katrina victims in New Orleans,” Nelson said at a news conference Saturday. But according to Nelson, that request was also rejected.

Nelson said he also introduced measures in the Senate to extend aid to the survivors, but they were blocked by Republicans.

However, in a statement to Florida Politics, the Rick Scott campaign rebutted Nelson’s efforts, calling him “all talk and no action.”

Scott added, “Trying to earn political points on a piece of legislation that never left the ground is typical of a career politician like Bill Nelson. Bill Nelson has had nearly half a century to learn how to solve problems at the federal level, but instead, the only thing he has mastered is how to file a bill without putting in the work to secure its passage.”

Nevertheless, as it stands, families impacted by the storm must either figure out how to pay for their temporary housing on their own, find another way to stay here in the U.S., or return to an island that has still not fully recovered from Hurricane Maria.

Part of the issue is that Puerto Rico was facing problems long before the storm. “Puerto Rico’s current condition was not solely caused by Maria,” noted state Rep. Robert Asencio, who also spoke at Saturday’s news conference.

Asencio and state Sen. Victor Torres recounted a recent visit to the island, where they witnessed several areas still recovering from the storm more than nine months later.

The duo said they spoke to Puerto Rican mayors who warned they are not able to accommodate the influx of survivors returning to the island. “They said, ‘We cannot take on the families who return. We don’t have the housing,'” recalled Torres.

Criticism then turned toward the Rick Scott administration for failing to make up for the assistance shortfall created by the TSA expiration.

“They have not taken this issue seriously,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of the Scott administration.

“Governor Rick Scott has refused to take any action to support these evacuees and give them a long-term solution to housing.”

He called on Gov. Scott to allocate resources to help those Puerto Ricans who face the loss of shelter due to the expiration of TSA.

However, Scott put the blame squarely on the federal government. “We have continued to do all we can at the state level to find real solutions for Puerto Rican families.”

He also promised, “to continue to fight for Puerto Rican families both here in Florida and on the island.” His office issued a release directing those affected by TSA’s expiration to other resources available to them.

Nelson, who is being challenged by Scott in 2018 for his U.S. Senate seat, sees this as a winning political issue, however. He urged Puerto Rican voters to remember it come November.

“They know how they’ve been treated by President Trump. They remember the images of President Trump throwing paper towels into the crowd as his way of serving the people who were hurting at that time.”

He added, “At the end of the day, what we want to make sure is that our Puerto Rican friends understand that elections have consequences.”

Philip Levine talks issues from Leadership Blue conference

Philip Levine is fighting hard to hold onto his slight lead in the polls, as he made the rounds at the Leadership Blue conference at The Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

The event provided candidates with the opportunity to connect with activists and interest groups, providing at least 14 different caucuses advocating for different constituents.

Levine praised the format in comments to Florida Politics. “I think that it’s giving everyone the opportunity, especially with these caucuses, to address very specific issues with folks from different segments of society.”

He also hit on a range of issues during the conversation, starting with the health care system. Levine bashed outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s handling of health care, particularly his refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re going to accept and demand more Medicaid expansion money. This governor, for ideological purposes, played up to the Tea Party and he turned his back on Floridians. He turned his back on hospitals. He turned his back on so many people that don’t have health insurance.”

Levine also touched on the opioid crisis hitting Florida and the country as a whole. Once again, he put blame on the Scott administration for its failure to crack down on big pharma.

“It’s a shame that the current administration waited eight years to sue the pharmaceutical companies,” said Levine.

“If I’m governor, we’re going to ramp up those lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies and we’re going to demand millions and millions of dollars so that we can put it into opioid addiction fighting.”

The former Miami Beach mayor also put forward a three-point plan on education.

“Number one, we’re going to invest in it. Number two, we’re going to pay our teachers $10,000 more than they’re earning now so they get a competitive national salary. Number three, we’re going to create ESA, the Education Security Administration, where we begin to harden our schools and make the more secure.”

Levine compared that latter proposal to the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

He added he wants to stop investing in charter schools and put that money toward the public school system instead.

Like billionaire Jeff Greene, Levine has faced criticism from Andrew Gillum over his wealth and how it would affect his decision-making when in office. But Levine says those criticisms are misguided.

He cited his history in business, building a booming marketing business from just $500 in capital.

“After I was successful at that, I decided to give back and help the state that helped me. And I think that what’s most important is to understand the formula that made our country successful, and that’s called the American dream.”

Leinve continued, “That’s the basis that all Americans seek. That’s the basis that all immigrants come to our country for, is to live the American Dream. Every organization has a formula. Coca-Cola has the syrup. We have the American dream.”

Whether that message will play in a Democratic primary, whose base is increasingly skeptical about the fairness of the U.S. economy, remains to be seen.

Then again, Levine is performing well in the polls so far. If that translates into votes, he’ll be able to take that message all the way to November’s general election.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Patriotism in the Sunshine State

Patriotism in the Sunshine State 

While the president may have a ‘Winter White House’ in Mar-a-Lago, Florida doesn’t quite make the cut as one of the most patriotic states in the union.

According to a new WalletHub study that compiled the “Most Patriotic States in America,” the Sunshine State could use a bit more of Uncle Sam’s spirit. Florida didn’t become a state until 1845, which perhaps explains its relatively low ‘Patriotic’ ranking (30) among the other 49 states.

The rankings, of course, were somewhat arbitrarily arrived at by assessing “Military Engagement” and “Civic Engagement.”

Unlike this part-time Floridian, not everyone in the Sunshine State hugs the flag this hard. (Image via Getty)

The armed forces metric used weighted, average scores for military enlistees per 1,000 civilian adults (25 points); veterans per 1,000 civilian adults (~8.33 Points); active-duty military personnel per 100,000 civilian adults (~8.33 Points); and the share of civilian adult population in the reserves (~8.33 Points).

The civic metric looked at the share of adults who voted in the 2016 Presidential Election (~10.26 Points) and the share of adults who voted in the primary (~5.13 Points). It also had lower weights attributed to volunteerism, including activity in the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. As well, it looked at juror participation and the “frequency of Google searches for American flags.”

The most powerful weighted item for “Civic Engagement” was the civic education requirement in the state (~10.26 Points).

Virginia topped the list overall, and WalletHub found that Republican-voting, or ‘red,’ states fared better in the rankings than blue states. Florida ranked the worst for volunteerism.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew WilsonDanny McAuliffeJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Florida gets minor win in ‘water war’ — The U.S. Supreme Court this week overturned a 2017 special master recommendation that claimed Florida did not adequately demonstrate that putting a cap on Georgia water consumption would benefit the Apalachicola Bay in Florida. In effect, SCOTUS is giving the state another chance to make its case before Ralph Lancaster, the court-appointed special master who issued the recommendation last year. Reports Lloyd Dunkelberger for the News Service of Florida, “Among the key questions Lancaster will have to settle is whether an ‘equity-based cap’ on Georgia’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system would increase the water flow into the Apalachicola River and whether the amount of that extra water would ‘significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has suffered.’” Leaders in state government hailed the decision as a victory. Dubbed the ‘water war,’ Florida has for decades been embattled in a series of litigation addressing water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.

Wildfire sparked by controlled burn — Shortly after a wildfire scorched the Franklin County town of Eastpoint, destroying 36 homes and damaging four more, state officials linked the mishap to a controlled burn overseen by a company that inked a land-management deal with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Wednesday that Wildlands Service, Inc., caused the fire on FWC land. The blaze, which broke out Sunday, burned more than 800 acres of land. After a brief investigation, the state linked the fire directly to Wildlands Service, Inc., ruling out other possible causes, such as lightning, arson and fire accidentally caused by man. Controlled burns are used to clear brush from the forest floor and manage forest growth.

More trouble at Department of Agriculture — Inspector general reports dating back to incidents that began in 2015 documented three Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employees’ admissions to sexual harassment and watching pornography on an agency computer. The inspector general reports were obtained and brought to light by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon. One staff member of the agency’s Jacksonville Division of Fruit and Vegetables office had viewed pornographic material more than 1,000 times on a work computer. He was suspended for five days and is no longer with the department. The other two agency inspectors were found to have sexually harassed grocery store workers in separate occasions. Both still work at the agency.

Discharges temporarily halted at Lake Okeechobee — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week it will stop discharging water from the Lake Okeechobee reservoir into the St. Lucie River for nine consecutive days beginning Saturday. The announcement followed reports of toxic algae in the area, along with pressure from Gov. Rick Scott last week to redirect the flow of water south. After July 8, the Corps will begin discharging water in pulses. Stopping discharges, the Corps hopes, will allow areas like the St. Lucie River to regain salinity. “Water levels in the lake remain high for this time of year,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Jacksonville district deputy commander for South Florida, told Ed Killer of TCPalm.com. “The water conservation areas south of the lake are also above their preferred ranges. We continue to work with the South Florida Water Management District to move water through multiple canals to create storage throughout the region to handle the near daily rainfall events we expect during wet season.”

Force could form behind legal pot — John Morgan, the Orlando trial attorney who backed a 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana, is considering a push to place an amendment legalizing recreational marijuana on the ballot in 2020. “Maybe it’s just time for full legalization,” Morgan tweeted this week. “It would pass with flying colors!” He added: “I’m going to look at starting a fund where we all can donate to get full marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2020. When you mess with the will of the people there are unintended consequences!!” Reports Jim Rosica for Florida Politics, Morgan organized a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. It’s currently making its way through the judicial system. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled the ban unconstitutional, but the state immediately appealed that decision.

Scott highlights affordable housing options

FEMA’s Temporary Shelter Assistance Program, currently providing hotel vouchers for Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, is set to expire Saturday.

Fearing some families will have a continued need for resources, Gov. Scott this week highlighted other state-backed options currently available for those seeking aid. First and foremost, according to the Governor’s office, those needing help should contact the local emergency management office in their county. As well, Scott suggested those in search of housing use a wide array of sources available through the federal HUD and floridahousingsearch.org, or consult a FEMA disaster agent, if available.

Puerto Ricans living in temporary Florida housing face their benefits running out. (Image via Getty)

“Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors both on the island and here in our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “After multiple extensions, FEMA’s TSA program is ending this week and Florida does not have the authority to extend this federal program; it is a decision that must be made by the government of Puerto Rico. We are committed to taking every possible action to ensure every family displaced by Maria in Florida receives the best possible care.”

Additionally, Scott announced this week that federal grants are ready to “repair damaged homes, build new affordable housing and provide grants to impacted businesses.” The grants total $616 million and will be administered by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Through this program, we can continue to move forward with long-term affordable housing solutions for displaced families as well as provide grants to businesses who were impacted by the storm,” Scott said. “We won’t stop working until all of Florida’s communities have fully recovered.”

Scott’s net worth soars

The governor’s worth ballooned to nearly $232.6 million as of the end of 2017, up more than $83 million from a year earlier, according to a financial-disclosure report filed Friday with the state Commission on Ethics.

Scott, who made a fortune in the health care industry and other businesses before entering politics, has put his investments in a blind trust while serving as governor. As a result, the new financial-disclosure report did not detail the reasons that his net worth increased substantially in 2017.

Rick Scott has a reason to smile.

But the report showed the value of the blind trust at $215 million as of the end of 2017, up from $130.5 million at the end of 2016. Overall, Scott reported a net worth of about $149.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2016.

The new disclosure listed a home in Naples valued at slightly less than $14.1 million as of the end of 2017, down nearly $1 million from the previous year. Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, also listed a $1.5 million residence in Montana, with the value unchanged.

Scott’s campaign issued a news release Friday evening that said he will file a federal disclosure report next month that is required for Senate candidates. The campaign said that report will make available additional details about Scott’s investments.

Patronis aids wildfire victims

Quick remedy came from the state for the 36 victims who lost their homes in Eastpoint, the area that was partially consumed by a recent Franklin County wildfire.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis this week dispatched an insurance team he oversees to Eastpoint to assist victims in filing partial settlement claims. Each emergency filing can request up to $5,000 for household and living expenses such as temporary housing, food, clothing or pet care.

Jimmy Patronis, shown at the Florida Association of Broadcasters annual convention, is offering aid to victims of the Eastpoint wildfires.

“Residents who lost everything shouldn’t have to wait for government bureaucracy,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “I’ve directed my staff to get boots on the ground to help those impacted to have an expedited track back to normalcy.”

Patronis’ Division of Risk Management will be sending adjusters to the area. The CFO’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services also have helped assess the initial damage.

“We will continue working to find ways to help Franklin County recover from this tragedy,” added Patronis.

Four other Floridians suffered damage to their homes as a result of the fire. Those who missed the adjusters this week are asked to call the Division of Risk Management at 850.413.3122 for assistance.

State targets cryptocurrency

With the increasing prevalence of digital currencies like bitcoin, CFO Patronis wants the Sunshine State to create a ‘statewide cryptocurrency chief’ to regulate the nuanced legal tender.

“Florida can no longer remain on the sidelines when it comes to cryptocurrency,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. He’s directed his agency to develop a position for a person that “will oversee how current securities and insurance laws apply to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrencies as well as shape the future of these regulations in our state.”

Bill Galvano praises Jimmy Patronis’ effort to create a statewide ‘cryptocurrency chief.’

The CFO acknowledged the validity of cryptocurrency but said he cannot let it grow “unfettered and unchecked.” He assured: “My goal is to keep pace with demand and not deter innovation while monitoring for fraudulent behavior and scams.”

Patronis’ concept for a new regulatory position already has the backing of a powerful member of the state Legislature.

“As technology continues to develop, our state needs to be both on the forefront of emerging trends and ahead of the game when it comes to protecting consumers from those who want to scam our residents,” state Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said. “I applaud CFO Patronis for putting innovative proposals forward and will work with him on any forthcoming policy changes.”

‘Framers’ allowed to enter education case

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday allowed 10 members of the 1998 state Constitution Revision Commission to file a brief in a legal battle about whether Florida is meeting its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the former Constitution Revision Commission members filed a motion in May asking for approval to file a friend-of-the-court brief at the Florida Supreme Court. But attorneys for the state objected.

The 10 former commissioners who sought to file the brief included former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.

The Supreme Court issued a one-paragraph order Friday allowing the group to file a brief but also appeared to leave open the possibility that the state could object to parts of the brief, known formally as an amicus brief.

The order said the approval was granted “without prejudice to the subsequent presentation of objections by respondents to specific content of the amicus brief filed.”

The brief stems from a long-running lawsuit led by the group Citizens for Strong Schools, which argues that the state has failed to comply with the 1998 voter-approved amendment.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Hendry County Property Appraiser

Dena Pittman fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Phillip Pelletie. Pittman, 49, resides in Clewiston and served as the Chief Deputy Hendry County Property Appraiser before June 25, when she took over the top spot. Her term will end Nov. 13.

Franklin County School Board

Kristy Branch Banks fills the District 3 vacancy created by the resignation of Teresa Ann Martin. Banks, 47, of Apalachicola is a lawyer and will serve a brief stint on the Board until Nov. 13. Banks did not qualify for the District 3 post and cannot be elected for another term in the upcoming election.

Children’s Services Council of Martin County

Stuart men James Campo and Joshua Ferraro fill two vacancies on the Council. Their terms will end Dec. 31, 2020. Campo, 54, is the former mayor of Sewall’s Point and a CFP by trade. Ferraro, 38, is an attorney and the current president of the Martin County Police Athletic League.

Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council

Pam Olsen was reappointed for a term that will end July 18, 2021. She is the current Executive Director of the Hilltop House of Prayer.

Northwest Florida State College District Board of Trustees

Major General Don Litke, U. S. Air Force, Ret., was appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term that will end May 31, 2019. His appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation.

Geller, aide recognized for ‘home rule’ efforts

Aventura Democratic state Rep. Joseph Geller and his Legislative Aide Bryan Vallejo were recently honored by the Florida League of Cities for their work protecting local governments.

In accepting an award from the League, Geller pointed to his fight for home rule, the phrase coined for the concept that many governing decisions are best determined at the local level.

Joe Geller was among those lawmakers honored by the Florida League of Cities for protecting home rule.

“In Tallahassee, sometimes our colleagues need a reminder of the importance of Home Rule powers and that the governments closest to the people govern best,” said Geller. “They are on the front lines of what matters most to local citizens and therefore should be protected to ensure their priorities are safeguarded. Every day, I proudly fight for the cities and municipalities that continue to strive to advance our local communities.”

When the Legislature pre-empts powers to the state or passes expensive, unfunded mandates, it is typically regarded as an affront on local governments. The League represents several municipalities as an active voice in the Legislature to fight against these actions.

Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley said Geller and Vallejo’s “dedication to and support of Home Rule is incredible, and we owe them a great deal of thanks.” Vallejo is the first aide to receive the distinction from the League.

Florida think tank supportive of Supreme Court decisions

It was a good week at the high court for the James Madison Institute.

The free market think tank lauded two U.S. Supreme Court rulings: NIFLA v. Beccera, in which the court ruled unconstitutional a California law requiring crisis-pregnancy centers to advertise state-backed abortion services, and Janus v. AFSCME, in which the court ruled public employees could no longer be required to pay dues to government unions.

JMI hailed NIFLA v. Beccera as a First Amendment win. Saying that “liberty was defended” in the ruling, JMI President Dr. Robert McClure pointed to now-retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion.

The James Madison Institute salutes Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Image via Bloomberg)

“Justice Kennedy, in his concurring opinion, put it perfectly when he wrote that, ‘Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties,’” McClure said.

In Janus v. AFSCME, JMI had actually filed a ‘Friend of the Court’ brief with SCOTUS and dubbed the ruling a victory for workers’ rights.

“JMI has been supporting the cause of worker freedom for years and congratulates Mark Janus on standing for what he believes in, for being a superb representative for 5 million employees across the country, and for the character he displayed throughout the process that led to today’s historic decision,” JIM Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo said.

New laws taking effect

To violently paraphrase the theme from David Letterman’s old CBS Mailbag feature, “We got laws, we got sacks and sacks of new laws.”

Yes, more than 100 bills that Gov. Scott signed into law from the 2018 Legislative Session will go into effect Sunday, including a new state budget that tops $88 billion.

Among laws taking effect:

— HB 21: With Florida still facing an opioid epidemic, the measure will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, but they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.”

— SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. Marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.

— SB 472: Lawmakers approved placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

— SB 1013: The measure seeks to place Florida on year-round daylight saving time. The change, promoted as a way to help Florida tourism, still needs congressional approval.

— HB 7055: The measure expands the use of voucherlike scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools.

National parks recognize Florida city for historic merit

The City of Arcadia this week was accepted into the Certified Local Government program following certification from the National Park Service.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the news, declaring the Southwest Florida city as Florida’s 75th Certified Local Government.

Arcadia is Florida’s 75th Certified Local Government, eligible for historic preservation resources.

“As a Certified Local Government, Arcadia will now have access to training, technical support and special matching grants to support local historic preservation efforts,” explained Detzner.

Detzner said the 58-block district “passed a local historic preservation ordinance in 2016 and assembled a qualified historic preservation commission with seven members.”

Established in 1980 by the National Park Service, the Certified Local Government program links local, state and federal efforts to preserve areas deemed worthy of the designation. CLGs have exclusive access to some historic preservation grants.

Progressives to protest at Capitol

A coalition of progressive groups announced they would be “speaking out” on Saturday evening “against Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that separates immigrant children from their families.”

The action starts at 5 p.m. on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee.

“We will also be calling out Gov. Rick Scott and Mayor Andrew Gillum to keep Tallahassee and Florida’s immigrant communities safe and promote safe pro-immigrant sanctuary cities,” the groups said in a joint news release.

“President Trump’s current border separation and deportation policies are horrendous and unacceptable and must be stopped,” they said.

“We call on the President, the Governor and the legislature to protect immigrants in Florida and keep families together by abolishing ICE and ending harsh immigration policies that attack and separate primarily black and brown immigrants.”

The event is hosted by Students for a Democratic Society, the Florida State University NAACP chapter, and Faith in Public Life, and includes members of several local faith institutions, such as from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Islamic Center of Tallahassee, and Temple Israel.

New grants aim to attract skills-based volunteers

A grant fund totaling $360,000 is expected to help nonprofits in the Sunshine State looking to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers.

Volunteer Florida, the Governor’s lead service agency, announced this week that the Volunteer Generation Fund will dole out grants worth $15,000 to 24 recipients in the 2018-19 fiscal year. In total, the grants are expected to help nonprofits manage and support approximately 9,600 skills-based volunteers, who will through their service contribute $1,679,760 to the state.

“As Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism, we are excited to announce this grant funding that will strengthen the operations of nonprofits in the state,” Volunteer Florida National Service Programs Director Cat Keen said. “Our investment will put volunteers to work in diverse and high-impact positions, such as teaching financial literacy, providing disaster recovery and helping job-seekers find employment.”

Volunteer Florida National Service Programs Director Cat Keen. (Image via Tallahassee Democrat)

The grants will help nonprofits needing specialized volunteers like teachers, IT consultants, accountants and attorneys. Volunteer Florida, which will administer the grants, said “special consideration” will be given to groups who specialize in disaster management or preventing drug abuse and addiction.

Nonprofits will match the funding through local investments. A technical assistance call is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 10, via GoToMeeting.

New association represents local government communicators

A new group of Florida professionals formed this week, providing leadership and support for communicators working in Florida’s cities, towns and villages.

Dubbed the Florida Municipal Communicators Association, or FMCA, the group seeks to offer “communications professionals opportunities to learn, share and develop innovative solutions for the municipalities they serve,” according to a news release announcing the association’s formation.

FMCA President Todd DeAngelis (center).

“Regardless of the size of your city or staff, this association can be a valuable resource to your daily operations,” said City of Parkland Public Information Officer and FMCA President Todd DeAngelis. “On behalf of the founding Board, we are confident that FMCA will provide valuable and substantive resources for communications professionals at city halls throughout the state.”

FMCA is affiliated with the Florida League of Cities, which will provide contractual support services to the association.

“The Florida League of Cities has built its reputation on identifying the needs of our member cities and providing the support and resources necessary to meet those needs,” said Florida League of Cities Communication and Education Director and FMCA Executive Director Jenna Tala. “We are thrilled to be part of such a dedicated group of professionals who play an instrumental role in our cities.”

According to FMCA, “membership is open to any person employed by a Florida municipal government who performs communications functions in the regular course of his or her official duties.”

FSU leads schools in graduation rate

With latest data showing 68.4 percent of students grabbing degrees in four years at Florida State University, the school ranks ahead of every other public university’s graduation rate.

The State University System’s 2018 Accountability Plan reported that FSU’s graduation rate is nearly three points higher than the previous year’s cohort — making it the highest graduation rate since SUS began tracking the metric.

Sally McRorie, FSU provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, is celebrating higher graduation rates.

“That’s a very big deal,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “That’s among the Top 15 public universities nationally.”

McRorie said the school has been deliberately working to make sure students are educated in a timely manner.

“We made the decision that student success was our primary goal and the key fulfillment of our mission,” McRorie said. “This success is a return on those investments, which have been major for a university that has the second-lowest state tuition in the country.”

The newest rating tracked the Class of 2013 at FSU and other universities. In a news release, the university noted that its 2005 rate paled in comparison at just 49.3 percent.

FSU President John Thrasher attributed the success to his staff, which he claimed is “putting students on a path toward earning a degree while providing them with a strong undergraduate experience that prepares them to be successful after graduation.”

Tallahassee gets free electric-car charging

Leon County has begun installing electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations for public use, with the first one ready to go at the Leon County LeRoy Collins Main Library, 200 W. Park St., Tallahassee.

“The electric vehicle charging station can charge all new generation electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles,” the county said in a news release. “They are safe, easy and reliable, and as simple to use as just plugging in a cord.”

The station is free and open to the public. By the end of the summer, Leon County also will install another electric-vehicle charging station at the Leon County Eastside Branch Library, 1583 Pedrick Road.

Leon County closures, changes for July 4

The following holiday closures and service changes will occur in observance of the Fourth of July Holiday.

Closed Wednesday, July 4: Leon County offices, Leon County libraries, Leon County community centers, Leon County Animal Control, Leon County Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers and Household Hazardous Waste Center.

Remaining Open: Leon County parks and recreation facilities (parks and boat landings).

The LeRoy Collins Leon County Branch Libraries will close Tuesday, July 3, at 8 p.m. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will close at 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 3. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will resume normal operating hours Thursday, July 5, at 10 a.m. and branch libraries will resume normal operating hours Thursday, July 5, at 11 a.m.

Also, the Leon County Solid Waste Facility and the Household Hazardous Waste Center will close Tuesday, July 3, at 5 p.m. and will resume normal hours Thursday, July 5, at 8 a.m.

In the event of an animal-related emergency, service is available by calling the Consolidated Dispatch Agency at (850) 606-5800. Leon County Animal Control encourages residents to only use this service to report dangerous or aggressive dogs, sick or injured domestic animals and animal cruelty. Injured wildlife calls will be forwarded to the St. Francis Wildlife Association at (850) 627-4151.

It’s scallopin’ time

The coastal waters near the capital city will soon be open for business to eager snorkelers looking to fill their mesh bags with a Gulf of Mexico delicacy.

Beginning Sunday, waters bordering Franklin through northwest Taylor counties will be open to bay scallop harvest. Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties also begin the season July 1. Each county will remain open to harvest through Sept. 24.

FWC chairman Bo Rivard is hailing the start of scalloping season.

“Scalloping is a great way to enjoy Florida’s incredible waters and pristine beaches,” Gov. Scott said in a prepared statement. “I encourage all Floridians to get outside and enjoy our world-class scallop season with family and friends.”

The scallop fishery is overseen by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Added FWC chairman Bo Rivard: “The season brings people and an economic boost to these coastal areas, all the while encouraging conservation and connecting residents and visitors to the wonders of Florida’s outdoors.”

As with any controlled fish or game, Floridians must observe the rules and regulations set forth for the season. Per FWC: “Bag and vessel limits in open bay scallop harvest zones are 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon of bay scallop meat per vessel.”

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

Capitol Directions

Republican panel defends Puerto Rico response as ‘best ever’

Allowing that the massive damage of Hurricane Maria was overwhelming and logistics of aid to an island complicated everything, a panel of Puerto Rican and Florida leaders told the Republican Sunshine Summit Friday that the federal response was in many ways the best the island has ever seen.

The panel of three Puerto Rican officials and Florida state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs defended both the responses from President Donald Trump’s and Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s administrations against attacks that they were slow and inadequate, leaving Puerto Ricans suffering for the better part of a year, and leaving tens of thousands still living as refugees in Florida.

“This is the first time ever Puerto Rico got all federal agencies on site, before, during and after both hurricanes, said Puerto Rico Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon.

“The largest disaster air mission in the history of the United States,” former Puerto Rico Attorney General Jose Fuentes declared.

Their comments came while a group of Puerto Rico hurricane refugees sat in a tent city, protesting the lack of housing and responses, a few hundred yards away from the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, which hosted the Republican Party of Florida’s 2nd Sunshine Summit. There was no mention of them, nor of the pending housing crisis that many of the thousands of migrants will face when federal housing vouchers expire this weekend.

Instead, they argued that the 180-day relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria amounted to $10 billion, compared with the $5 billion that went to Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and the $2.5 billion that went to Florida after Hurricane Irma.

That included 75 million liters of water and 64 million meals, they said. And they said the responses not only were the best the island has ever experienced from the federal government, but in some ways the largest such effort the United States has ever undertaken.

They also hailed Florida efforts led by Scott.

Cortes summarized many of the efforts Scott pursued, many of which Cortes suggested, including opening Florida schools to automatic student transfers from Puerto Rico, making the state a staging center for relief aid, opening welcome centers at the Miami and Orlando airports, “and welcoming people with open arms.”

Cortes said that led to close partnerships between Scott’s administration and Puerto Rico officials.

As a result, the two governments, he said, have “formed a bond that is inseparable. We work together for the good of both Puerto Rico and Florida.”

Fuentes, Gonzalez-Colon and Puerto Rico Speaker of the House Johnny Mendez acknowledged that some responses may have appeared slow and that some people still are suffering, but said the Trump administration was not to be blamed. The Trump administration, they insisted, provided more and more comprehensive relief than the island has ever before seen.

Fuentes blamed the damage and logistics, with ports and airports all closed and much of the island difficult to access.

“So yes, do we all wish that it would have been quicker? Yes. But the reality is that the logistics hampered the effort. So we have to learn from the experience and make sure the next time they have the resources there on the island so that they can help out,” Fuentes said.

“The response, given the circumstances, was very good,” he added. “But you know, Democrats like to talk, talk, talk, talk, and hate facts.”

Another Seminole County straw poll picks Adam Putnam, Ashley Moody

A straw poll at the Casselberry Chamber of Commerce Thursday night followed the same line of favorites revealed earlier this week in a Seminole County Republican straw poll, easily preferring Adam Putnam for governor, Ashley Moody for attorney general, and Scott Sturgill for Congress.

The Casselberry straw poll, conducted of more than 300 members, differed from the Seminole Republican poll in that the chamber poll was non-partisan and included Democrats and others.

Not that Democrats found much support.

Among the 20 candidates listed for governor from all parties, Republican Putnam grabbed 45 percent, easily doubling second-place Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who got 20 percent. Democrat Gwen Graham picked up 14 percent and no one else even got 5 percent.

For attorney general, Republican Moody got 49 percent, followed by Republican state Rep. Frank White with 27 percent; Democratic state Sen. Sean Shaw, 13; and Democrat Ryan Torrens, 8.

In the race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, Republican Sturgill picked up 41 percent; Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, 30 percent; Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy 23; Democrat Chardo Richardson, 4; and Republican Vennia Francois, 2.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott took 61 percent in the U.S. Senate race, while Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson got 30 percent. Republican Rocky De La Fuente drew 9 percent.

Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis topped his Democratic challenger former state Sen. Jeremy Ring 74 to 26.

In the race for Florida agriculture commissioner, Matt Caldwell easily led a thick pack by drawing 44 percent, while the surprise was that pro-marijuana Democrat Nikki Fried finished second, beating the other three Republican candidates as well as the two Democrats with more establishment backgrounds. She got 17 percent.

In Florida House races, Republican David Smith and Republican incumbents Scott Plakon and Bob Cortes all got more than 70 percent.

In Seminole County Commission races, Jay Zembower easily topped four opponents in the District 2 race, while Joe Durso and Amy Lockhart nearly tied in the District 4 race, with Durso coming out on top 51-49.

Not Just A Body Of Water for 6.29.18 — A newsletter about Tampa Bay politics

The actions of two Bay-area men last week saved drivers from a potential financial headache.

WTSP investigative journalist Noah Pransky uncovered a system maintenance issue with Florida’s tolling system, or SunPass. The estimated time to complete the toll maintenance project took longer than expected, and Pransky pointed out that Floridians could not see older transactions dating back to the beginning of June.

That got St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes involved. Fearing that drivers, including tourists with rental cars, would be hit with an excessive amount of tolls to pay in a short period, Brandes spoke to FDOT “about their delays in getting toll system upgrades completed, as well as the lack of communication with account-holders,” according to WTSP.

Then late last Thursday, FDOT announced it would waive all late fees and penalties on tolls incurred during the maintenance period. Thus, a statewide issue was highlighted and solved in Tampa Bay during the legislative offseason.

“We are committed to holding our vendor accountable and ensuring that our new system ultimately provides a premier customer service experience,” FDOT Secretary Mike Dew said in a prepared statement. “I share the frustrations with our customers over the rollout of CCSC and find it unacceptable.”

Write-ins lock Tampa Bay primaries

No write-in candidate has ever won elected office in the Sunshine State, but they have been effective in denying tens of thousands of voters from getting a say in who will represent them in the Florida Legislature.

Florida law allows all voters, no matter their political affiliation, to cast a ballot in a primary race if all candidates for the office are members of the same political party. That rule gets cast aside if a write-in candidate qualifies for the ballot. That’s the case in three state House races in the Tampa Bay region this year.

In HD 56, which covers parts of DeSoto, Hardee and Polk, only Republican primary voters will get a say in whether Melony Bell or Jeff Mann will succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton. The same situation will play out in East Tampa’s HD 61, where four Democrats are vying to succeed Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, as well as the three-way Democratic primary to replace term-limited Minority Leader Janet Cruz in West Tampa’s HD 62.

Combined, those three races will see more than 125,000 registered voters unable to cast a ballot in a primary race that will, in all but name, decide who represents them.

Sink backs Jack in HD 36

Former CFO Alex Sink endorsed fellow Democrat Linda Jack, who is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in House District 36.

“We need Linda fighting for us in Tallahassee,” Sink said. “She’s committed to full funding of our public education system, equality for all our friends and neighbors and common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence, making her an ideal candidate for State Representative. We can’t let this opportunity for new leadership slip by — that’s why I’m encouraging all my friends and supporters to join me and work to elect Linda Jack.”

HD 36 has a Republican advantage — Trump carried the seat by 21 points in the 2016 election — though Democrats have had some success there in the recent past. Before Mariano became the youngest person ever elected to the Florida House two years ago, HD 36 was held by Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy for three years.

Jack and Mariano are the only two candidates running for the seat in 2018.

Verghese endorses Zika in HD 37

House District 37 hopeful Ardian Zika announced the endorsement of former Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Sam Verghese.

“I first met Ardian when I served as Florida’s Secretary of Elder Affairs,” Verghese said in a statement. “Time and time again, I have seen firsthand, Ardian’s strong advocacy for policies which help Florida families prosper. In addition, Ardian will work tirelessly to defend and protect our seniors. In this election, Ardian Zika has my unwavering support and I hope he can count on your support too!”

Zika responded: “Secretary Verghese worked tirelessly to protect Florida’s seniors. His commitment to helping Florida families prosper has been demonstrated over and over again.”

Republican Zika is running against Ryan Boney and Elle Rudisill in the primary. Democrats Tammy Garcia is also running for the seat currently held by termed-out House Speaker Corcoran.

Katt kicking off HD 57 campaign

Valrico Democrat Debbie Katt will officially launch her campaign for House District 57 this week with a Wednesday evening kickoff event at Joia Fabulous Pizza & Martini Bar, 10475 Gibsonton Dr., in Riverview.

Katt was the only Democrat to qualify for the ballot in the Hillsborough District currently held by Republican Rep. Jake Raburn. Raburn announced last week that he would not run for re-election despite having another two years of eligibility.

After that announcement, Republicans Sean McCoy and Mike Beltran filed and qualified for the race. Republicans have a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms — he beat Democrat Bruce Barnett by 17 points to win his first term in 2012 and went unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

The seat also voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.

Bellanti raising money for HD 60

Tampa Democrat Debra Bellanti is holding a fundraiser this week for his bid to unseat Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo in House District 60.

Bellanti’s bash is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Pane Rustica, 3225 South MacDill Ave., in Tampa.

Bellanti and Toledo are the only candidates running for HD 60. The Hillsborough County-based seat voted narrowly for Trump in the 2016 race, while Toledo easily bested Democratic attorney David Singer on Election Day.

As of May 31, Toledo had raised more than $175,000 for her re-election bid and had $123,000 banked. Bellanti, who filed in January, has raised about $25,000 and has $4,500 in the bank.

Diamond re-elected without opposition

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond was re-elected without opposition last week after no other candidates filed to challenge his re-election bid in House District 68.

“I am so thankful to have the opportunity to continue my service in the Florida House! I just learned I was re-elected without opposition. I am blessed to keep doing the work I love with the support and love of my family and friends. Thank you for this privilege of serving you,” Diamond said on Twitter Friday evening.

Diamond, first elected in 2016, was one of 25 incumbent lawmakers re-elected without opposition after the noon Friday deadline to qualify for state races.

Seminole Firefighters back Jacques

The Seminole Professional Firefighters Association announced Monday that they were backing Republican attorney Berny Jacques in the race to replace term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern in House District 66.

“It is with immense pride that we announce our support for Berny Jacques for State Representative in the 2018 election. Mr. Jacques has expressed a love for District 66 that has our membership excited to stand behind his election campaign,” said association President Jeremy Newton.

The firefighter association joins retired Air Force Col. EJ Otero Seminole City Councilmember Roger Edelman, former Pinellas County School Board Member Glen Gilzean and Largo Commissioner and former police chief John Carroll, among others, in endorsing the Seminole attorney.

Jacques, the first-in candidate for the western Pinellas-based House seat, faces Belleair Bluffs businessman Nick DiCeglie in the Republican primary. Also running for the seat is Seminole Democrat Alex Heeren.

Patel reels in big-name backers

Tampa businessman Aakash Patel has never held elected office, but his campaign for the Hillsborough County Commission continues to rack up endorsements that even some seasoned pros would struggle to snag.

The latest string, all announced over the course of a week: Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and former state Rep. Trey Traviesa.

“I am happy to offer my support and endorsement to Aakash Patel as he makes his initial run for Hillsborough County Commission,” Bondi said. “I have known Aakash since he returned to Tampa after graduating from Florida State University. I know he will put forth every effort to apply his conservative beliefs and principles in all that he does.”

Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate, Inc., is one of 10 candidates running for the countywide District 7 seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. Patel has raised more than $450,000 for his 2018 run and had more than $270,000 in the bank May 31.

Cona hits $32K raised for School Board race

Tampa businessman Steve Cona is off to a fast start in the days since he launched his bid for the open District 1 seat on the Hillsborough School Board.

In his first campaign finance report, which will include transactions through June 22, sources close Cona’s campaign says he will report more than $32,000 raised. Assuming that money was raised and not loaned, that’s quite a tally for an 11-day stretch.

Cona was the first candidate to enter the School Board race, which opened up due to the resignation of Susan Valdes, now a candidate for House District 62. He faces retired county social services administrator Gil Machin and retired school district administrator William Person in the race.

Person ran for the District 1 seat two years ago and came within 267 votes of defeating Valdes.

Eggers, Gerard re-elected

Incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard were re-elected Friday after no opponents qualified for the ballot ahead of the noon Friday deadline.

Gerard, a Democrat, was elected to the District 2 commission seat in 2014. At one point, she faced a challenge from Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell, but she ended her campaign in May so she could serve out the remainder of her term on the Clearwater City Council.

Eggers, a Republican, was also first elected in 2014. He never faced a challenger in 2018 bid for a second term as District 4’s commissioner.

Though District 2 and District 4 won’t be on the 2018 ballot, the District 6 seat will. In that race, Republicans Kathleen Peters, Larry Ahern and Barb Haselden, as well as Democrat Amy Kedron, have qualified for the ballot.

Teachers back Larsen for School Board

The Pinellas County Teachers Association is supporting Jeff Larsen in his run for Pinellas School Board.

“Jeff’s experience as a father, husband, educator, coach, and Vice Mayor have prepared him to lead and give our children the best opportunity for a lifetime of success,” said PCTA President Mike Gandolfo.

Larsen responded: “Having the endorsement of our Pinellas teachers is truly humbling because I know how hard they work for our kids. I look forward to working with our teachers and our whole community to make that vision a reality.”

Larsen, a reading teacher at Gulf Middle School, served as Commissioner and Vice Mayor of Tarpon Springs for the last six years and volunteered his time on the Tarpon Springs Planning and Zoning Board before that. He faces two opponents in the countywide District 2 seat: Lisa Cane and Terry Krassner.

Fasano endorses Moore for Pasco Commission

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore‘s re-election campaign announced the endorsement of Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

“Mike Moore has been an effective County Commissioner, standing up for the people of Pasco County,” Fasano said. “He’s supported our Sheriff, law enforcement professionals and first responders, by making sure they have the resources they need to keep us safe and secure. That’s why, this election, Mike Moore has my strong support to continue serving as our County Commissioner. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Mike Moore too!”

Moore said: “I am grateful for Mike Fasano’s endorsement, I am thankful for his servant leadership and his example of hard work and tireless commitment on behalf of Pasco residents.”

Democrat Kelly Smith is currently the only candidate challenging Moore in his re-election bid.

HUD approves Florida’s $616M disaster recovery plan

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that Florida’s $616 million disaster recovery plan was approved.

Carson said the money will be for housing issues, via the Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Recovery program.

The Secretary also expressed confidence in Florida’s stewardship of the funds, saying that the state’s recovery and mitigation strategies are a “model” for the country, and the disbursement signifies “continued commitment” from the White House to post-Irma recovery.

Among the uses for the funds: housing repair; land acquisition for workforce housing; voluntary home buyouts; business recovery; and assistance for people who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s devastation on the island.

Scott said, “It’s great news that we were able to secure critical funding from HUD that will directly benefit the families who were most affected by last year’s storms. This $616 million will enable communities to build new affordable housing and to replace homes lost in the wake of last year’s hurricane season.”

“Through this program,” Scott added, “we can continue to move forward with long-term affordable housing solutions for displaced families as well as provide grants to businesses who were impacted by the storm.”

Per the media release from the Governor’s Office, “As required of the plan, more than 80 percent of the funding will be used to address needs in the hardest-hit counties and ZIP codes. These areas, determined by HUD, include Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties, as well as ZIP codes 32136, 32091, 32068 and 34266.”

Scott noted that $20 million of the money would go to affordable housing, spotlighting particular needs in the hard-hit Keys and Collier County.

Monies will also go to helping people repair and replace homes. Scott said.

“The money will come in quickly,” Scott said, and “will get out in a logical manner.”

The money should come through later this summer, per the Department of Economic Opportunity, and will be disbursed this fall.

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