Takeaways from Tallahassee — Seems like only Peter was on vacation
Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, right, and Senate president Joe Negron, in front of the Florida Capitol December 3, 2015.

Senate president Joe Negron, left, and Speaker of the House designate Richard Corcoran

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron has begun putting his mark on the chamber, reshuffling staff not only on the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees, but elsewhere among the professional ranks.

Most recently, the Stuart Republican tapped Dawn Roberts as the new general counsel — or top lawyer — to the Senate, replacing George Levesque, who left for private practice.

Roberts was interim Secretary of State under Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 when Kurt Browning resigned the office. She then exited right before Gov. Rick Scott took office.

She has been staff director of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections and was a former general counsel for the Department of State. Christie Letarte replaces Michael Maida as her deputy general counsel.

According to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta, other changes include:

— Capitol veteran Mike Hansen will become staff director of the Appropriations Committee, replacing Cindy Kynoch. That move was announced in May. He had the job previously when Negron chaired Appropriations in the 2013 and 2014 sessions under then-President Don Gaetz.

Hansen also has been an Appropriations subcommittee staff director and was Gov. Jeb Bush‘s budget director and secretary of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

— John Shettle will become deputy staff director of the committee, replacing Sharon Bradford, who moved to the Agency for State Technology.

Shettle began his career in the attorney general’s office and served for five years at the Department of Revenue before coming to the Senate, where he worked on the Appropriations committee and its Health and Human Services subcommittee.

— Joe McVaney will become general counsel of the Appropriations committee, switching from staff director of the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. McVaney spent nearly 30 years in state government, including almost 20 years in budget and policy staff positions in the House, Senate and governor’s office.

He replaces Ross McSwain, who heads to the Regulated Industries committee as staff director.

Tim Sadberry will keep his job as director of the Civil and Criminal Justice Appropriations subcommittee, but also will be deputy staff director of the Appropriations committee.

Sadberry has worked on budget issues for his nearly three decades in state government, including in the Senate and at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

— Tim Elwell, the Education Appropriations subcommittee staff director, will stay on there.

He has “an extensive background in research, public policy and appropriations, having served in senior roles with the Office of Early Learning and the Department of Education,” Betta said.

Elwell came to the Senate from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the research arm of the Florida Legislature, where he led the education research team.

— Phil Williams will become staff director of the Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee. He replaces Scarlet Pigott, who moves to the House of Representatives.

Williams has had a long career in budgeting, having worked in the Agency for Health Care Administration and at the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Gino Betta will become staff director of the General Government Appropriations subcommittee, replacing Jamie DeLoach, who heads to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Betta has worked in this area of the budget for 14 years, including the last six years in the Senate under DeLoach and eight years before that in the governor’s Office of Policy and Budget.

— Teddi Pitts will become staff director of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations subcommittee.

Pitts has many years of service in senior appropriations and policy positions. She served in the House under then-Speaker Marco Rubio, for Gov. Bush in the Office of Policy and Budget, and 15 years at the state Department of Transportation.

She replaces Phillip Miller, who heads to the Senate Committee on Transportation.

To recap previously announced transitions, longtime advisor Cheri Vancura will be Negron’s chief of staff. Her predecessor, Reynold Meyer, will become a deputy chief of staff.

Lisa Vickers continues her run as senior policy advisor to the president, as she did for Gaetz and outgoing President Andy Gardiner.

Betta herself has a three-peat, staying on as communications director for the Senate. She will have served for Negron, Gardiner, and Gaetz consecutively, and was House communications director before that for Speaker Dean Cannon.

Theresa Klebacha and Allen Brown replace Tony Cortese and Carol Gormley, respectively, as Education Committee and Health Care Committee staff directors. Cortese and Gormley are heading to the House Speaker’s office in senior roles.

“One thing the last several Senate presidents have tried to really focus on in terms of the professional staff is cultivating an atmosphere where staff feel there is room for professional growth and where hard work and performance are rewarded,” Betta said. “For that reason, the Senate is fortunate to have a strong bench of professional staff.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

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

Zika help — Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Washington, D.C., to push federal lawmakers to approve funding to help combat the spread of Zika. During the two-day trip, Scott met with several lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to ask them to pass a funding bill. He also criticized Sen. Bill Nelson, who has voted against a $1.1 billion measure because it would block funding to Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. Scott left D.C. without assurances lawmakers will act on the funding measure, and on Friday announced he used his emergency executive authority to shift the money from Florida’s General Revenue Fund into the Zika program. “The federal government has got to understand that this is a national issue. This is not a partisan issue,” said Scott on Friday. “Zika doesn’t say, ‘Oh, if you’re a Republican or Democrat it’s going to impact you.’ This is about pregnant women and developing babies.”

Gov. Rick Scott talks to reporters in Washington, D.C. (Jackie Schutz/Governor's Office)
Gov. Rick Scott talks to reporters in Washington, D.C. (Jackie Schutz/Governor’s Office)

First choice — Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry announced this week he was retiring Dec. 30, giving Gov. Scott the opportunity to pick his first Supreme Court justice. The current court has thrown out several priorities, including congressional and state Senate political maps. The court also told Scott he overstepped his boundaries by ordering state agencies to freeze rule-making and submit planned regulations to his office for review and approval. Florida law requires that justices retire once they turn 70, but they can serve out their term if that birthday falls in the last three years of their six-year term.

Budget blues — There may be fewer scared cows in the 2017-18 budget. House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran said this week that education and health care spending aren’t immune to cuts next year. Corcoran also has his sights set on Enterprise Florida, saying this week that “spending money on economic development is a bad idea.” The comments came as the Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear latest financial outlook for the coming year. Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scanty $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

Perry’s predicament — Call it the slap heard ‘round the Sunshine State. Rep. Keith Perry was involved in an altercation over the weekend when a Gainesville man removed one of Perry’s yard signs from his yard. The man told Gainesville officers he was temporarily moving the sign to protect from vandalism.  Surveillance video released Wednesday — after Perry told reporters the issue had been resolved — showed a prolonged disagreement between the two men. The man chest bumps Perry (and not in a “bro” sort of way, before Perry strikes him across the side of the face. Perry says the man spit on him, and later apologized for his actions. The complaint against Perry was dropped by the end of the week.

Surprise pick — The University of West Florida board of trustees made a surprising decision Thursday: Martha Saunders, not former Senate President Don Gaetz, would be the university’s next president. Gaetz was considered the front-runner by many, but faced opposition from the Faculty Senate, the League of Women Voters, and students. And POLITICO Florida reported Gov. Scott and his team intervened to help Saunders get her job. Saunders got nine votes to Gaetz’s four votes. And while she might not be a well-known former politician, she’s no slouch. Saunders has twice served as a university president and currently serves as UWF’s provost.

Kathy Mears is taking her talents to Florida State University.

Mears, who served as chief of staff to two consecutive Florida House speakers, announced this week she has accepted a position as the chief legislative affairs officer at FSU. She starts Monday.

She was chief of staff to Republican House Speakers Will Weatherford and Steve Crisafulli. She also has been a top advisor to former Senate Presidents Ken Pruitt and Tom Lee, and was deputy chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. 

At FSU, she will report to President John Thrasher, another former state lawmaker.

Mears got both her undergraduate degree and master’s in public administration from FSU.

Mears isn’t the only one with a new gig. The university also announced Kathleen Daly had been named associate vice president for university relations. Daly previously served as the university’s chief lobbyist, and will oversee university relations, communications, governmental relations, and the Opening Nights Performing Arts festival.

“I am humbled to serve Florida State in this expanded role,” said Daly.

Daly is a 1982 graduate of Florida State University’s College of Communication.

There’s a few new faces on Enterprise Florida’s board of directors.

Gov. Scott appointed Sonya Dee Hartley and Ambassador John Rood to the Enterprise Florida board.

Hartley is a 45-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident is a vice president with JM Family Enterprises. She also sits on board of governors of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and is an executive board member of Associated Industries of Florida. She replaces Christopher Kise.

Rood, a 61-year-old Jacksonville resident and chairman of Vestcor Companies, served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas from 2004 until 2007. He also was a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and of the Board of Governors of the State University System. He replaces Hayden Dempsey.

Belinda Keiser, 58, of Parkland, also was reappointed. All three will serve a three-year term ending in September 2019.

The bane of citrus greening continues to take its toll on the Sunshine State’s signature crop.

Florida’s citrus acreage has fallen to its lowest level in nearly three generations, The Packer reported this week.

Acreage fell to just over 480,000 acres in 2015-16, “the lowest since the agency began surveying acreage in 1966,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Oranges, which constitute 89 percent of the state’s citrus acreage, is the lowest since that period, as are grapefruit and tangerines,” the Packer reported.

In related news, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee passed the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act this week.

It’s backed by Congressman Vern Buchanan “to support Florida citrus growers struggling from the impacts of citrus greening,” according to a press release.

In response, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam released a statement:

“I am grateful for Congressman Buchanan’s leadership on this critically important legislation and the continued support of the entire Florida delegation for Florida citrus, our state’s signature crop.

“Growers are projected to harvest the smallest citrus crop in more than 50 years this season, and they need our support until a long-term solution to greening is discovered. The committee’s passage of the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act is a big first step toward pushing this legislation and its support for Florida growers across the finish line.”

Kudos, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Miami Republican was honored during the 29th annual Affordable Housing Conference in Orlando. Diaz-Balart was given with the 2016 Housing Champion Award from the Florida Housing Coalition.

“There is no doubt that Florida is a desirable place to live, and affordable housing will always be in demand. I’m grateful to be in a position where I can advocate for and preserve housing programs at the federal level that serve so many Florida families,” said Diaz-Balart in a statement. “It is vital that Congress prioritize the most critical housing programs, while protecting hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Thanks to the support from organizations like the Florida Housing Coalition, we can work together to provide for our community’s most vulnerable populations.”

Call it the incredible shrinking middle class.

A new report from Florida International University found the share of households that belong to the middle class declined by 3.5 percent between 2009 and 2014. The report found the “shrinking of the middle class was largely due to growth in the upper class, and to a lesser extent, growth in the working class.”

The report found the share of households that belong in the upper class grew by 8.1 percent, from 17.5 percent to 18.9 percent. The share of working class increased by 1.1 percent.

As of 2012, the average upper-class household earned three times that of the average middle-class household. It also earned nearly 10 times what the average working-class household earned.

Other findings included: women earn 78 cents for every $1 made by men; and racial and ethnic minorities earn 92 cents for every $1 made by whites.

In short, the report found “Florida is increasingly becoming more economically polarized.”

“Some in the middle class have achieved considerable economic mobility, as observed in the growth of the upper class, but the inability of many middle- and working-class households to climb the economic ladder has led to a greater concentration of households at opposite ends of the economic spectrum while the middle class has shrunk,” according to the report. “This means that while some in Florida have enjoyed economic mobility, the economy has not worked well to provide the majority of Floridians acceptable growth in living standards.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes is backing Florida’s medical marijuana amendment.

Brandes is the first Republican to back the medical marijuana amendment. He told POLITICO Florida the state Legislature “screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law.” He told the organization the only way the state will see “meaningful change in that area is to put it in the Constitution.”

The 2016 ballot initiative allows people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines debilitating conditions as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

“Sen. Brandes has, for years, made significant efforts to secure access to patients through the legislative system. That he is supporting the revised version of Amendment 2 is a big deal, and a signal that this is non-partisan issue,” said Ben Pollara, the United for Care campaign manager. “Passing Amendment 2 is about helping the hundreds of thousands of very ill people in Florida find relief through another option with the consent of their doctor.”

Courtesy of Bobby Jones Golf Club
Courtesy of Bobby Jones Golf Club

Those are some nice links you have there, Sarasota.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced this week that the Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota has been chosen as the Florida Historical Golf Trail for the month of September.

“We are pleased to feature the historic Bobby Jones Golf Club as a partner on the Florida Historic Golf Trail,” said Detzner. “In 1927, the Bobby Jones Golf Course was named for and dedicated by one of the game’s most famous players. Today the course continues to serve as a testament to the City of Sarasota’s rich golf heritage.”

Donald Ross, a renowned golf course architect, was hired in 1926 to design the 18-hole layout that opened as the Sarasota Municipal Golf Course. It was renamed one year later, when a crowd of more than 1,000 people watched Bobby Jones dedicate the course and play in an exhibition game. He shot a 73.

The course is now a 45-hole golf complex with two 18-hole golf courses and a 9-hole, par-30 executive course.

“The City of Sarasota and Bobby Jones Golf Club are delighted and honored to be the September 2016 featured golf course on the Florida Historic Golf Trail,” said golf course manager Sue Martin. “Sarasota is known as the ‘Cradle of Golf’ thanks to our first Mayor, Scotsman Colonel John Gillespie’s love of the sport.”

New name, same amount of fun.

The Florida Department of State announced the Florida History Fair is now called Florida History Day. The change brings the name of the program in line with other National History Day affiliates, according to the Department of State’s Museum of Florida History.

The museum has coordinated the event since the 1988-89 school year. The annual event promotes history in the classroom by offering students resources and support to do original research about people, ideas, and events in the past.

“I am proud of the accomplishments of a program that helps Florida students attain valuable lifelong skills,” said Secretary of State Detzner. “The updated name and logo are further signs of the program’s continued success and efforts to reach even more Florida students.”

The theme for the 2016-17 school year is “Take a Stand in History.”

Take a moment to remember Florida’s missing children.

Florida lawmakers honored the 2016 Florida Missing Children’s Day during a ceremony in Tallahassee this week. The annual event, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is held to remember Florida’s missing children, and recognize the state’s efforts in child protection.

“Our prayers are with the parents of missing children,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “These children and their legacy is the driving force behind our efforts to ensure Florida is the safest state in the country for our families and citizens.”

More than 24,000 incidents of missing children were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies in 2015. There were six AMBER alerts issued last year. Since its inception, 203 AMBER alerts have been issued, including seven so far this year. Those alerts have directly aided in the rescue of 64 children.

“I am proud of the state’s continuing efforts and the great strides we’ve made in child safety and protection,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “Our children hold the keys to our future and to Florida’s future, so we must never stop advocating for the safety of each child and for the safe return of every child who has been taken away from their family.”

Sen. Eleanor Sobel has been honored for her work on behalf of her youngest constituents.

Sobel was given the “Protecting the Light Award” during the 2016 Child Protection Summit in Orlando this week. The summit, hosted by the Department of Children & Families, is one of the largest child welfare events in the state, and brings together more than 2,800 child welfare professionals and related partners.

“Throughout her legislative tenure, Sen. Sobel has demonstrated a deep commitment to protecting children and advocating for those in the child welfare system,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. “Her insight and passion have contributed to significant and lasting improvements that will impact the lives of the children and families we serve for generations to come.”

Sobel has been a long-time supporter of child welfare reform initiatives. Sobel, who has served as chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs since 2012, is known as the “Mother of Newborn Screening,” for her championing of changes to the Children’s Medical Services’ Early Steps Program.

 “I am deeply humbled and honored to be recognized,” said Sobel. “I’ve dedicated my public service career to serving the best interests of all of Florida’s children. I owe this great honor to the selfless service of every child advocate across the state of Florida.”

Courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

Gov. Scott said “thanks” to a few hundred veterans this week.

Scott, a veteran, was in Jacksonville this week to give out his Governor’s Veterans Service Award medals. The governor handed out more than 200 medals, and honored the contributions members of the National Guard have made to the community.

James Bryant, an Army veteran, was among those who were honored during the event. Bryant enlisted in 1943 and was trained at Fort Bragg.

The governor also recognized William Tatum, captain under Gen. George Patton. He was captured in Palermo in 1945. Tatum is now 100 years old.

“A lot of wars, people come home from and aren’t thanked,” said Scott.

There’s five new Judges of Compensation Claims in the Sunshine State.

Gov. Scott appointed Frank Clark, Keef Owens, Thomas Hedler, Jonathan Walker, and Gregory Johnsen to the board. Judges of Compensation Claims are responsible for handling disputes over workers’ compensation.

Clark, a 54-year-old from Port Charlotte, is an associate with All Injuries Law Firm, P.A. since 2007. Clark was previously a sole practitioner from 1998-2007 and an associate with Shofi, Smith, Hennen, Jenkins, Stanley & Gramovot from 1995-98.

Owens, a 42-year-old Orlando resident, is an attorney with Zimmerman, Kiser & Sutcliffe since 2002. He was a staff attorney for the 5th District Court of Appeal in 1998-2002.

Hedler, 42, of West Palm Beach, has been a partner with Wender, Hedler & Hesser since 2011. He previously was a partner with Sternberg & Hedler from 2010-11 and an associate with Masnikoff & Sternberg in 2008-10.

Walker, 50, of Pace, has been a managing partner with Conroy Simberg since 2002. He was an assistant county attorney in Walton County from 2000-01 and an assistant state attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit in 1997-99.

Johnsen, 46, of Pembroke Pines, a mediator for the State of Florida since 2006. He also was a senior associate with Coia & Sutton, P.A. in 2002-06 and a senior associate with Valdes & Villaverde from 1995-2002.

Congratulations, Tania Galloni!

Galloni was named the new managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm. She moves to Earthjustice after having been managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida Office in Miami since 2011, where she focused  on juvenile justice and education reform.

Galloni, a Yale Law School graduate, replaces longtime managing attorney David Guest, who retired in June.

She currently lives in Miami Shores and will be ushering in a new Miami Earthjustice office in addition to the current office in Tallahassee.

Florida still has one of the highest percentages of uninsured people in the nation.

According to new census data, an estimated 2.6 million Floridians were uninsured in 2015. That’s down nearly 7 percent from 2013, when estimates show more than 3.8 million Floridians were uninsured.

But the state still ranks among the highest uninsured rates in the nation. According to POLITICO Florida, only Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alaska have higher uninsured rates than Florida. None of those states expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

More than 67 percent of people insured in 2015 had a private health plan, while 37 percent had government plans.

Florida State University is moving on up.

FSU jumped five places in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. The university is now ranked 38th among all public national universities.

Last year, FSU ranked No. 43 among public universities.

“We are extremely pleased that U.S. News & World Report has recognized the significant gains FSU has made in its pursuit of higher levels of academic excellence,” said President John Thrasher, in a statement. “This upward movement is a testament to the hard work of our exceptional faculty, staff, and students who continue to make FSU one of the best universities in the nation.”

Florida State has a graduation rate of 79 percent, which exceeded the prediction the graduate rate would be 70 percent. The university also saw improvements in reputational ratings by university peers and high school guidance counselors.

University of Florida was ranked No. 14 in among public universities, while the University of South Florida was ranked No. 83 and the University of Central Florida was ranked No. 93.

Florida A&M was ranked No. 7 among the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, while Bethune-Cookman earned a spot at No. 24.

Photo by Jim Rosica/Florida Politics
Photo by Jim Rosica/Florida Politics

New rug, new desk. Less access.

The Associated Press reported this week that Florida taxpayers paid nearly $153,000 for renovations to the reception area outside of Gov. Scott’s office. The changes, state officials said, include putting bulletproof material in the reception desk.

The changes also include new carpeting in the waiting area, and putting Scott’s Office of Open Government behind a locked door only accessible by employees. That’s the office that responds to public records requests.

“Renovations in (Scott’s) office means reporters no longer have access to … the office of open government,” tweeted AP reporter Gary Fineout.

There’s a new email blast in town.

Tallahassee-based firms CoreMessage, Inc. and On 3 Public Relations have joined forces to put out The Tallahassee 100. The two firms have joined The 100 Companies PR publishing network, which includes The Atlanta 100, The Oklahoma 100, The North Carolina 100 and The Arkansas 100.

“We are thrilled to launch The Tallahassee 100 — an innovative new publication that will keep capitol insiders ‘in the know’ when it comes to happenings in state government and around our capital city,” said Cory Tilley, president of CoreMessage, Inc. and co-publisher of The Tallahassee 100. “We believe this will be a great mix of timely information for those who live and work in Tallahassee, as well as those who visit for legislative session and state government-related activities.”

The bi-weekly newsletter features 100-word stories and 100-second videos on a variety of topics, including public affairs, entrepreneurship, restaurants, and events. It also includes a column called “Capitol View,” written by Tilley and Christina Johnson, the president of On 3 Public Relations.

“This eNewsletter will soon become a ‘must-read’ message in order to keep up with all that makes Tallahassee unique and thriving,” said Johnson, president of On 3 Public Relations and co-publisher of The Tallahassee 100. “We look forward to collaborating with newsmakers from the across the region and sharing stories that make Tallahassee tick.”

The two companies also launched http://thetallahassee100.com.


Miami-Dade County is a winner.

The Florida Department of Health announced this week Miami-Dade County received the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. The county was one of seven winners of the national award, which recognizes communities for their efforts to make sure residents have the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

“I want to congratulate Miami-Dade County on their significant accomplishments in health that have led to their selection for this national honor,” said State Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement. “This prestigious RWJF award demonstrates the excellent collaboration between the county, our local health department, and various community partners in working toward solutions for improving the health of all residents.”

Miami-Dade County was chosen from nearly 200 applicant communities across the country.

Wind and rain may be in the forecast, and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America has a few tips for residents impacted by Tropical Storm Julia.

“Insurers are ready to respond and help families in the recovery process,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI regional manager. “Catastrophe teams prepare for storms like this and are ready to help policyholders in the event it causes damage. It’s important to make sure you have your agent or insurance company’s contact information readily available. If your home or automobile is damaged, call your insurer immediately, this will help in the recovery process.”

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said residents should secure their property from further damage, contact their insurance agent as soon as possible to report damages, and inventory losses and damages for their insurance adjustor.

For information on storm readiness, head to visit PCI’s Hurricane Headquarters.

It’s time to talk water.

Associated Industries of Florida is scheduled to host its 2016 Water Forum on Sept. 22 and Sept. 23. The two-day forum is a chance for Floridians to discuss some of the issues facing Florida.

And one of the issues up for discussion? The water quality challenges. The panel — called Florida’s Water Quality Challenges Panel — is meant to give private and public sector employees, managers, and decision-makers a look at the science behind the challenges.

The panel will be moderated by Herschel Vinyard, the former head of Florida’s Department of Environmental protection. Panelists include Drew Bartlett with the Florida DEP, Rich Budell with the Florida Agribusiness Council, and Brian Lapointe with Florida Atlantic University.

The seventh annual forum will be held at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Give Thomas Griffin a high five next time you see him.

Smith, Bryan & Myers announced this week that Griffin is joining SBM’s governmental relations team. Griffin, who previously served as Sen. Rob Bradley’s chief of staff, has served in both public and private government relations positions over the years.

“Tom has earned a reputation as a trusted and respected voice with key stakeholders throughout Florida on a number of policy issues,” said Matt Bryan, president of SBM.  “We are excited to be growing our firm with up-and-coming bright minds that arm our firm with the ability to deliver successes for our clients’ priorities before the legislative and executive branches.”

Griffin joins the team of Bryan, David Daniel, Jeff Hartley, Andrea Reilly, and Jim Naff at Smith, Bryan & Myers.

Hotwire Communications is saying good-bye Pennsylvania, and hello Florida.

The fiber optics telecommunications provider announced this week it is moving its headquarters from Pennsylvania to Fort Lauderdale. The company, according to the governor’s office, will create 375 new jobs and will invest more than $27 million in the area.

“Fort Lauderdale is a thriving community with a diverse talent pool and a great place to live for our employees,” said Kristin Johnson Karp, president of Hotwire Communications in a statement. “We are looking forward to joining the Fort Lauderdale community as we open our new headquarters at the Hotwire Technology Center.”

Founded in 2000, the company delivers fiber optics solutions to communities across the nation. It also provides commercial solutions for businesses, hotels, and healthcare industries.

The company currently employs 300 Floridians.

“Companies like Hotwire are choosing to relocate to Florida because of our focus on low taxes and a business-friendly environment,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity. “The addition of 375 high-wage STEM jobs will make a real difference for Fort Lauderdale workers and families.”

Brian Logan has a new title: “Assistant Vice Chancellor.”

The State University System of Florida announced this week Logan has been hired as the Board of Governor’s new assistant vice chancellor for public policy and advocacy. Logan, a Tallahassee resident, most recently served as the staff director for the Florida House majority leader.

Logan previously served as the staff director for the Florida House majority whip and as the legislative affairs director for the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

Florida’s population is growing.

The black bear population, that is.

According to the Associated Press, an analysis by wildlife officials confirmed the black bear population is “robust and growing.”

Joseph Clark, the branch chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southern Appalachian Research Branch and an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee, studied data collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2015. He estimated there are 4,030 bears in Florida, lower than the estimated 4,350 reported in preliminary findings back in March.

The FWC said the black bear population has rebounded under protection, growing from a few hundred back in the 1970s.

Last year, 304 bears were killed during the state’s first bear hunt in 20 years. FWC did not approve a hunt for this year.

Speaking of hunting: FWC would like your input on a few proposed rule changes for hunting and wildlife management areas.

The changes, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, would impact the 2017 hunting season.

The suggested changes include a proposal that allows exemptions during quota hunts. That rule would allow “exempt hunters to bring a guest, assistant, or supervisor that may participate in the hunt, but may not harvest wildlife with a gun.

Want to share your thoughts? FWC set up a survey so Floridians can weigh in.

Give House Speaker Designate Corcoran a round of applause.

The Land O’Lakes Republican was given Healthy Families Florida’s Daniel Webster Leadership Award for his work to prevent child abuse and neglect. The award is named in honor of Rep. Daniel Webster, the former Florida House speaker who pushed for legislation to create Healthy Families Florida.


“I am honored to accept the Daniel Webster Leadership Award from Healthy Families Florida. Congressman Webster left an incredible legacy for Florida’s families and I am honored to call him a friend,” said Corcoran in a statement. “I’ve never regretted investing in the lives of Florida’s children. It is essential to support initiatives that will strengthen Florida families — the backbone of our great state.”

Healthy Families Florida is a nationally accredited voluntary parent coaching and support program proven to prevent child abuse and neglect by building on family strengths to promote healthy child development and family self-sufficiency.

“Healthy Families has a proven track record of keeping children free from abuse during services and even years after the family completes the program,” said Jennifer Ohlsen, executive director of Healthy Families Florida. “We are thankful for leaders like Speaker- designate Corcoran and Congressman Webster who recognize the importance of helping vulnerable families build on their strengths and overcome challenges that place their children at risk. Their support leaves a lasting impact on the lives of children and families throughout Florida.”

Will Weatherford is heading to the Hall of Fame.

The former House Speaker will be inducted into Pasco-Hernando State College’s Legislative Hall of Fame during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel. The induction continues a new PHSC tradition of recognizing legislators for supporting college and higher education opportunities for their constituents.

Sen. Jack Latvala was inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.

Weatherford served as the House Speaker from 2012 to 2014.

The Legislature’s crackdown on auto insurance fraud appears to be helping.

An analysis for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation indicates no-fault insurance reforms passed in 2012 have saved 17.5 percent in personal-injury claims and reduced premiums by a little more than 15 percent.

Claim frequency and severity were reduced, too — by 10.2 percent and nearly 11 percent, respectively, producing a reduction in total loss costs of 20 percent, according to an analysis conducted for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation by Pinnacle Actuarial Resources Inc.

The findings represent “further proof that the 2012 PIP reforms from House Bill 119 continue to reduce fraud and abuse, while providing cost savings to Floridians,” the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said.

Pinnacle included a caveat for advocates of PIP mandate repeal: That would save the average driver 9.6 percent per year, or $81 per car, in liability coverage. But those who replaced PIP with $5,000 in first-party medical coverage would decrease premiums by a mere 1 percent, or around $9, for half the coverage PIP provides.

Are insurers rewriting homeowners’ policies to crack down on water damage scams?

A provision in Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co.’s latest rate request to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation would suggest so.

Heritage wants a $10,000 coverage limit for non-roof water losses — burst pipes, overflowing dishwashers, things like that. Property owners would receive a 25 percent credit on their non-hurricane premiums.

Insurers and other business interests blame escalating premiums on fraud related to just that sort of water damage.

Compounding the problem, they say, are assignment of benefits agreements through which policyholders transfer their claims to contractors or lawyers in exchange for quick repairs. Insurers lose oversight over the process and expensive litigation can result.

Your property insurance rates are going up if you buy from Florida’s state-run insurer of last resort.

State regulators Friday approved premium increases averaging 6.4 percent on homeowner policies issued by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The Office of Insurance regulation pared down that increase slightly from the 6.9 percent Citizens sought during a rate hearing last month.

The office approved rate increases of 8.2 percent for wind-damage coverage for homes on the coast — Citizens’ full ask. Actual rates would vary depending on location and policy details.

Citizens — along with other insurers and business interests — had blamed much of the increase assigned benefit agreements, whereby policyholders cede claims to contractors and lawyers in exchange for quick repairs. These deals, critics said, are rife for fraud.

“Educational awareness efforts directed at policyholders and policy language changes approved by the office are proactive measures by Citizens to help curb this trend going forward,” the office said in a written statement.

In addition, the office called for a review of hurricane modeling in a bid to relieve property owners in Monroe County.

Up for a challenge?

Then you better start catching some lionfish.

The state’s Lionfish Challenge comes to an end on Sept. 30. Since the May kickoff, 70 divers have entered 10,208 lionfish in the statewide Lionfish Challenge.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 33 people have qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which focuses on lionfish removal efforts in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, and Franklin counties.

The challenge is simple: Divers who remove 50 or more lionfish between May 14 and September are entered into the challenge. Participants are asked to email photos of their first 50 qualifying lionfish to [email protected], and include the name of the harvester, date harvested, signature in the photo, and a mailing address.

Pack your sunscreen and head to the forest this weekend.

Why? Well, that’s where you’ll find Pokémon.

The Florida Forest Service and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have invited the public to catch Pokémon at two of Florida’s 37 state forests. The Florida Forest Service is hold two Pokémon Go! lure drops events at 2 p.m. Saturday at Withlacoochee and Seminole state forests. The day-use fees at the drop sites will be waived all day Saturday.

“We are excited to share our state forests with this new wave of Florida outdoor explorers,” said Jim Karels, Florida state forester. “While we encourage all citizens and visitors to come out and enjoy our state forests, we ask that they do so safely, while respecting their fellow visitors and forest resources.”

The Forest Service has a few tips for players when they head out this weekend. Players should travel in groups and pairs and always remain alert; observe all posted state forest rules, and stay hydrated.

Also don’t enter restricted or residential areas on or near state forests.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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