Rob Bradley – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Mary McLeod Bethune statue, Florida Forever ready for Senate approval

A plan to place a statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol as a representative of Florida and a measure to set aside $100 million a year for land preservation moved a step closer Wednesday to Senate approval.

With little comment, the Senate positioned the bills for votes next week. One of the measures (SB 472) seeks to have a statue of Bethune replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington.

“We’re one step closer. We’re going to get there this year,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is sponsoring the measure.

An identical House bill (HB 139) also has started moving and is next slated to go the House Appropriations Committee.

Smith, born in St. Augustine but with few adult ties to the state, has been one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall since 1922. The other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace the Smith statue during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

Despite agreeing to remove Smith, lawmakers were unable to come up with a replacement during the 2017 Session, as the House did not move forward with any of the suggestions from the Great Floridians Program within the state Division of Historic Resources.

Bethune, whose resume included serving as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, founded what became known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The university has offered to pay for the new statute.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa republican, attached an amendment to the bill Wednesday to require the Smith statue be acquired and displayed by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

“I think it should be back in the state of Florida,” Lee said. “I think we have a Division of Cultural Affairs, within the secretary of state’s office, that can receive that important piece of Florida’s history and place it appropriately somewhere in a museum.”

Meanwhile, the Senate also is on the verge of approving a plan to spend $100 million a year on the Florida Forever land-preservation program. The bill (SB 370), sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would use money from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at increasing land and water conservation.

“The ($100 million) number is not a magic number, but it is commensurate with when you look at how funds have been appropriated, via statute, whether it be (for) springs or the Everglades,” Bradley said.

In past years, lawmakers directed at least $200 million a year to the Everglades; $64 million for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area; $50 million for the state’s natural springs; and $5 million for Lake Apopka.

The constitutional amendment directed that a portion of money from a real-estate documentary tax go into the land-acquisition trust fund. That is expected to generate $862.2 million next year.

As part of Bradley’s proposal, lawmakers would not be able to use the trust fund money for agency overhead, which has been a point on contention with backers of the 2014 amendment.

Bradley also has a separate measure (SB 204) to increase annual funding for the state’s natural springs to $75 million and to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida. The bill is also ready to go before the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican, are seeking another $50 million from the trust fund (SB 786 and HB 339) to help restore the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.

Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill has taken over legislation (SB 174), initially filed by former Sen. Jack Latvala, that seeks $50 million a year for beach projects.

Senate committee OKs repeal of ‘archaic’ chastity defamation law

A 135-year-old law that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to defame a woman for being unchaste would be repealed under a bill that cleared its first of three Senate committee stops on Monday.

“In our modern society these penalties are too severe for an issue that has mostly been handled among two private citizens in private proceedings,” said Sen. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat sponsoring SB 1060.

A first-degree misdemeanor could be punishable for up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

The measure would also repeal a provision that makes it a crime to make derogatory statements about a bank, building or loan association.

Members in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee praised Campbell for championing the effort to repeal these defamation laws and advanced it with a unanimous panel vote. Chairman Rob Bradley said Campbell’s bill is one of his favorite proposals this session, and joked that he wished he would have thought of it first.

“We should clear our state statute of these archaic and silly crimes,” Bradley tweeted after the committee vote.

While Campbell’s bill has two more stop before it can head to the full Senate floor for consideration, the trek for an identical bill in the House has proven more difficult.

State Rep. Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, filed HB 6019 last October and it has yet to gain momentum in his chamber. His proposal has two committee assignments, but has yet to be heard in one.

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

Windshield repair fraud targeted in Senate

Insurers could demand car windshields be checked for damage before they are replaced under a Senate proposal that started moving forward Tuesday to combat reported increasing cases of repair-shop fraud.

But the inspections would have to be done quickly.

The bill (SB 396), sponsored by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee after being amended to require inspections occur within 24 hours in most cases and by adjusters employed by the insurers.

Hukill, who expressed concern about the attached timelines, said she will continue to work on the proposal, which has support from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and business-lobbying groups Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“There are some bad actors out there, lots of bad actors, it’s more than just a couple of people,” Hukill said. “I thought this didn’t affect my county. But we see them now hanging out in the car wash, the normal car wash on the main drag in my town, coming over to people and saying, ‘Do you want us to fix that?’”

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said his amendment Tuesday was intended to prevent motorists from getting tickets for driving unsafe vehicles while waiting for repairs.

“The spirit of this amendment for me is ensuring that these repairs are done in a reasonable amount of time, because it actually violates a traffic law if they are driving around with a broken windshield,” Steube said.

Fleming Republican Sen. Rob Bradley added a provision that would allow repairs to proceed without inspections if the damage has “demonstrably impacted” vehicles or continued use of the vehicles. He said his proposal is focused on rural communities, where an insurance inspector may not be readily available within a single day.

Ashley Kalifeh, representing the American Insurance Association and Associated Industries of Florida, said glass experts should also be able to conduct the inspections while expressing concern about the timelines. Kalifeh said people are already being encouraged by some glass shops to avoid inspections for windshield replacements that may not be needed.

“When it comes to a time limitation, we would just urge a lot of caution,” Kalifeh said. “It is in everyone’s interest to quickly get a truly broken windshield repaired. But we don’t want people being coached to just avoid the time limitation so they cannot get an inspection.”

Florida law currently doesn’t prevent an insurer from requiring the inspections. The proposal would clearly state that an insurer may require the inspection before authorizing any windshield repair or replacement.

The proposed is tied to a practice known as “assignment of benefits” which is part of a larger legislative battle regarding property insurance and is being blamed for the rise in insurance costs.

Assignment of benefits has been a controversial issue in recent years, primarily because of residential water-damage claims. But it also has become an issue in claims for windshield damage.

In assignment of benefits, policyholders sign over claims to contractors, who perform work and then pursue payment from insurers. The insurance industry contends that the practice leads to fraud and increased litigation, while contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys argue it can help make sure insurance claims get handled properly.

Hukill said windshield repairs and replacements have become a growing field for fraudulent insurance claims.

“It drives up costs for all of us,” Hukill said.

The Department of Financial Services reported that the number of auto glass lawsuits has increased from 397 in 2006 to 19,513 last year.

A House version (HB 811), sponsored by Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia has not been heard in committees. Hukill’s proposal must still go before the Senate Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Counties face increased pension costs

Florida counties will have to contribute an additional $66 million to the state pension fund in the new budget year, according to legislation that has started moving in the Senate.

As a result of a decrease in the assumed rate of investment return on the $160 billion pension fund, counties, school boards, state agencies, universities, state colleges and other government entities will have to increase their contributions in the 2018-2019 budget year to make sure there is enough money to pay retirement benefits in the long term.

The increased payments total $178.5 million, including $66.4 million for county governments, according to legislation (SB 7014) approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee last week.

School districts, whose employees represent about half of the 627,000 active pension participants, will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million.

State agencies will have to contribute another $31 million. Universities will have to contribute $11.8 million and state colleges an additional $4.8 million.

A handful of cities and special districts that participate in the state retirement system will face a $10 million contribution increase.

County governments, which face the largest contribution increase, will have to accommodate the added expense as they shape their 2018-2019 budgets.

“Counties are closely monitoring the FRS (Florida Retirement System) contribution but remain committed to a program that provides retirement security to our dedicated public servants,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties.

The bulk of the other contribution increases are part of overall budget challenges facing House and Senate members as they craft the 2018-2019 state budget, which takes effect July 1.

The $54 million increase for school districts, for example, will be in the mix as lawmakers address overall public-school funding. Lawmakers are already having to accommodate an increase of more than 27,000 new students next academic year, and the House and Senate remain at odds over using increased local property tax collections to boost school spending

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Republican from Fleming Island, said the state pension fund in the Senate budget bill will be “fully funded with the new assumptions.”

“It’s an obligation of the state,” Bradley said. “And we are comfortable with the current level of (pension) benefits in the Senate, with the understanding that when you change the assumptions, that requires more money to go to that area.”

The Florida Retirement System Actuarial Assumption Conference lowered the projected rate of return on the pension fund’s collection of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent last fall.

It was the fourth year in a row that analysts have lowered the assumed rate of return on the fund.

The decision came after new evaluations from independent financial consultants projected a 30-year rate of return for the pension assets in the range of 6.6 percent to 6.81 percent.

With a 7.5 percent assumed rate of return, the Florida pension fund is expected to be able to pay 84.4 percent of its future obligations, with a $27.9 billion long-term unfunded actuarial liability, according to the consultants.

Public employees who participate in the pension plan have been required to contribute 3 percent of their annual salaries to the fund since 2011.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.

Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.

The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.

It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.

It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.

There are those who bet on the world.

But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Do as we say … not as we do.

The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”

The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).

Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.

Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.

Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community

Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.

If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.

Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.

“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.

“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.

Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.

“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.

Big month for Bradley committee

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

Rob Bradley is becoming a major power broker in NE Florida.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Wyman Duggan has all the endorsements he could want … and no primary opponents.

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry’s fundraising is so strong that gravity has stopped applying to him.

The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.

The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.

Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.

Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.

Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.

Sam Newby may be the early front-runner for Council VP.

Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.

All are first-termers.

Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.

Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.

Corrine Brown is out of the game, but Reggie Gaffney wants 4 more years.

A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.

“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.

Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”

Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.

Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.

“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.

“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.

It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Tommy Hazouri is one of the HRO co-sponsors set to be honored.

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.

Coal may not be the future after all …

The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.

JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners. Photo credit: Lucien van Horn

The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.

Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.

Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs

The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.

Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs.

At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.

“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

More information on the “Best Online Programs” rankings is at usnews.com/online.

Wyman Duggan scores Rob Bradley backing; HD 15 money race stays tight

Republican Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lawyer seeking to replace departing Jay Fant in House District 15, hit six figures in fundraising last month, reporting $10,124 of new December money, which pushed him up to $103,674 raised (and over $92,000 on hand).

Duggan’s likely Democrat opponent, highly touted Tracye Polson, is still running competitively in the cash chase.

Polson closed December with $69,642 cash on hand: she has raised $89,345 in hard money and an additional $15,665 in the account of her political committee, Better Jacksonville.

If previous presidential votes are predictive, this looks to be a competitive general election. Per Daily Kos, HD 15 “was R+8.7 for president after being R+12.6 in ‘12.”

____

Meanwhile, as the money race stayed competitive, Duggan had a unique value add: a key endorsement from another Clay County Republican in Tallahassee: Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny BectonMatt SchellenbergGreg AndersonAaron BowmanScott WilsonDoyle CarterJim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

However, Bradley is unique as a regional power broker, and his endorsement is critical.

Especially in recent months since becoming Appropriations Chair, the Fleming Island Republican has shown robust committee fundraising for his Working for Florida’s Families.

In December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families brought in $173,000, pushing it to $720,000 on hand.

Among the donors: U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida.

Rob Bradley committee reports blockbuster December fundraising

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Wal-Mart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became Senate Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process — one that Bradley is optimistic will go smoothly.

10 issues to watch during Session

Florida lawmakers will start the 2018 Legislative Session Tuesday, with Gov. Rick Scott giving his annual State of the State address.

During the subsequent two months, the House and Senate will negotiate a state budget and consider hundreds of bills. Here are 10 big issues to watch as the Session moves forward:

Budget

Scott has proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal includes politically popular ideas such as boosting education funding and providing tax cuts. But the proposal is only a starting point for lawmakers, who are expected to face a tight budget. A September analysis estimated a slim $52 million surplus for the coming year — and that did not account for the state’s costs from Hurricane Irma.

Environment

Eyeing money from a 2014 constitutional amendment about land and water conservation, lawmakers will consider a series of proposals that could shield property from development and restore waterways. For example, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, has proposed spending $100 million a year on the Florida Forever program and wants to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

Health Care

House Republican leaders likely will renew a push to ease health-care regulations, an effort they say would help increase access to care and lower costs. Examples include eliminating the “certificate of need” approval process for hospital building projects and ending a restriction on patients staying overnight at ambulatory surgical centers. Such proposals, however, have died in recent years in the Senate amid opposition from parts of the hospital industry.

Higher Education

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system and will continue seeking changes during his final term. Senators are expected to quickly approve a bill that would make permanent an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships and take steps to further bolster need-based aid. Negron also wants changes such as holding universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding.

Hurricane Irma

When Hurricane Irma smashed into Florida on Sept. 10, it reset priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session. Lawmakers are considering dozens of ideas for responding to Irma and preparing for future storms. For instance, they are looking at possibly providing financial help to the agriculture industry, which took at least a $2.5 billion hit in Irma. They also will grapple with Scott’s push to require long-term care facilities to have generators and fuel to keep buildings cool when electricity goes out.

Insurance

Insurance lobbyists will try to persuade lawmakers to revamp laws dealing with a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits,” which the industry blames for increased property-insurance costs. The practice involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payment from insurers — often leading to disputes and lawsuits. Lawmakers also will consider renewed proposals to eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

K-12 Education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has made clear he wants to continue expanding school-choice programs, which draw opposition from Democrats and many public-school officials. The House has started moving forward with a bill that would offer voucher-like scholarships to students who are bullied in public schools. Meanwhile, the House and Senate face a key budget disagreement on the use of increased property-tax revenues in funding public schools.

Opioid Epidemic

With overdoses skyrocketing and families being torn apart, lawmakers will look for ways to address the state’s opioid epidemic. Scott wants to spend $53 million to address the issue, with much of the money going to substance-abuse treatment. Scott and lawmakers also could place limits on initial opioid prescriptions that doctors write for patients. The idea is to prevent patients from getting hooked on prescription painkillers and then moving onto potentially deadly street drugs.

Tax Cuts

Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made cutting taxes a hallmark of his administration. As he enters his final Legislative Session, Scott has proposed $180 million in tax and fee cuts. The proposal, however, does not include major changes in the tax system. Instead, it includes a 10-day sales tax “holiday” for back-to-school shoppers and reductions in motorist-related fees, including fees for obtaining and renewing driver’s licenses.

Texting While Driving

Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly rejected efforts to toughen the state’s ban on texting while driving. But the issue has a better chance of passing during the 2018 Session after Corcoran announced that he supports making texting while driving a “primary” offense. Currently, it is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. But if it is a primary offense, police would be able to stop motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Audubon happy Rick Scott opposes drilling, releases Session priorities

Audubon Florida announced its legislative priorities on Thursday, but also was happy to see Gov. Rick Scott oppose the U.S. Department of Interior’s possible drilling explorations in the Sunshine State.

“We were glad to see Gov. Scott’s response, coming out strongly in opposition to drilling near Florida’s waters,” said Julie Wraithmell, the interim executive director of Audubon Florida who took over after Eric Draper left to lead the Florida State Parks system. “It’s rather shocking to think that so soon after the 2010 Deep Horizon incident, we could be having this conversation already.”

Wraithmell said her organization, as a whole, is concerned with management and acquisition of public lands, along with water issues, climate, growth management, and more.

Part of that concern includes advocating for public dollars towards projects that will help the environment. The organization is a major player in the Legislature.

Wraithmell said this year’s focus is on appropriations. She hinted election year spending might be a major factor with so many seats at stake.

“Our top priorities for the coming Session surround appropriations,” Wraithmell said. “We all know it’s going to be a busy Legislative Session — especially given that it’s an election year.”

Audubon spearheaded the passage of Amendment 1 — commonly referred to as Florida’s Water and Land Legacy — in 2014, which provided for Florida Forever, a dedicated funding source for public land acquisitions. That’s a project Audubon will continue to pursue in the 2018 Session.

“We’ll continue to advocate for those programs to ensure we’re setting aside the places that we depend upon not just for recreation and jobs, not just for wildlife, but also as green infrastructure for our communities,” Wraithmell said. She added that doing so makes the land more resilient, protecting the state from catastrophes while also helping to recharge water supply.

Audubon also is throwing its weight behind the Department of Environmental Protection’s request to fund Everglades restoration at more than $300 million.

The organization named Senate President Joe Negron a “champion of the Everglades” in December after he pushed a bill in the 2017 Session to construct a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent harmful algal blooms.

Wraithmell said the organization also is excited for legislation from Sen. Rob Bradley that addresses Florida’s springs. Bradley’s SB 204, if passed, would lead to a $75 million yearly state expenditure on springs projects.

Bradley has replaced Sen. Jack Latvala as chair of Senate Appropriations.

Wraithmell concluded the agenda by addressing water policy issues.

“We’re going to be watching and monitoring closely a constellation of bills addressing water policy,” Wraithmell said.

The agenda comes just a day before Audubon Florida releases a report on the impacts of Hurricane Irma on the state. Wraithmell foreshadowed the report will provide methods that could help Florida be more resilient to storms in the future — things that are not only good for the environment, but “good for people, too,” she said.

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