Staff Reports – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Donald Trump Jr. cancels fundraiser with George P. Bush

Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s statement against the Trump administration policy splitting up undocumented immigrant families crossing the U.S. border may have caused a rift between his son, George P. Bush, and Donald Trump Jr.

As reported by Axios, sources close to Trump Jr. say he plans to pull out of a New York City fundraiser he was set to headline for George P. next week. Bush is running for re-election as Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, an office he’s held since 2015.

The New York GOP has since deleted a web page listing for the June 25 fundraiser.

Don Jr.’s decision comes one day after Jeb Bush called on President Donald Trump to end the “heartless” migrant family separation policy that has resulted in at least two thousand children being separated from their parents in the last six weeks.

Those close to Don Jr. say the tweet was his “final straw” when it comes to the Bush family.

He had previously taken umbrage with a CNBC appearance by Jeb where the former governor criticized they way President Trump attacked his rivals in order to “make himself look strong.”

The sources that said Don Jr. is pulling out of the fundraiser added that the move “isn’t personal,” and that Don Jr. considers his relationship with George P. Bush “collateral damage.”

Delegation for 6.19.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Family separation policy roils Capitol Hill

Sometimes an issue can take hold and dominate to the point of blocking the sun on others. While the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report was still sinking in and FBI Director Christopher Wray, joined by Inspector General Michael Horowitztestifying on Capitol Hill, separating children of illegal immigrants at the border grabbed the attention of the media, if not much of the nation.

The “zero tolerance” policy of President Donald Trump and his administration has the potential to become a powerful election-year issue if it continues on the current path. That helps explain the Democratic lawmakers heading for the border to denounce the policy and hold photo ops at the detention facilities, one is a former Walmart.

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border. (Image via Getty)

Among those heading south is Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, who is traveling to Texas. She describes the policy as “racist.”

“It’s not just racist, it’s economically ridiculous because our country’s been built by immigrants and we need fresh immigrants coming in for our workforce,” she said. “We’re not going to be quiet about this until he changes policy.”

Not surprisingly, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is blasting Gov. Rick Scott for not condemning the practice.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed they are doing their job enforcing the laws passed by Congress while other administrations looked the other way. In a series of tweets, Nielsen said those showing up on the border to claim asylum, merely need to request it upon arrival and not try to enter illegally.

“You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry,” she said. Nielsen added that families will not be separated if they ask for asylum.

A high-profile figure from one of those administrations criticized the current approach.

“I live in a border state,” former First Lady Laura Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It’s immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Quinnipiac University poll found 55 percent of Republican voters support Trump’s policy, but overall 62 percent disapprove with 27 percent approving. Jeb Bush came out strongly against the policy.

Republicans have an opportunity to play a little politics with this as well. Reportedly, discussion on two House DACA bills will take place this week.

One, created just last week by House leadership, calls for legal status for 1.8 million “DREAMers,” an end to the “visa lottery,” full funding for the border wall, plus officially ending the family separation border policy. The other legislation, the so-called Goodlatte bill, is far more conservative and holds little chance of passing the House.

Republicans could force Democrats to vote “no” on a bill that would not only reunite the families but also solve the immediate problem of the DREAMers. Despite this, Trump stunned Capitol Hill late last week by initially saying he would veto the measure, but the White House later walked that back.

Leadership said they would not bring up the bill for a vote unless they had assurance Trump would sign it if passed. On Monday, they received that assurance.

Senate Democrats have a bill dealing solely with the issue, but no one expects Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring that to the floor until the House acts or does not act, if at all. One offered by Texas Republican Ted Cruz would have a better chance.

While the House leadership decides what to do, they wouldn’t bring this up while Democrats are at the border, would they?

Nelson backtracks on support for judicial nominee

Florida’s former Solicitor General is going through the confirmation process after his appointment as a judge for the Northern District of Florida by Trump. On Thursday, Allen Winsor had the support of the state’s two Senators.

By Friday, that support was cut in half, when Nelson said he would vote against Winsor when his nomination reached the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded the nomination to the full Senate by a narrow, partisan vote.

Bill Nelson backtracks on judicial nominee Allen Winsor.

Winsor was under fire from liberal groups for his role in defending Florida’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage as Solicitor General in the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi. The law was eventually overturned.

Nelson issued a statement on Friday that said: “Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor.”

It did not take long for the Scott campaign to respond.

“Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson’s own actions show that when Democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say ‘jump,’ Nelson’s only question is ‘how high?’”

Newest Scott ad bashes ‘negative’ Nelson

The beginning of a new week means another ad from Scott attacking Nelson. On this occasion, it not only accuses Nelson of being a politician who’s been around too long, but also for being negative.

The ad does not attack Nelson directly at first; instead, it points out how long he has held elective office. It then accuses Nelson of attacking Scott.

“When Bill Nelson was first elected, Richard Nixon was President,” the ad says. “Yep. Nixon. A professional politician for 46 years, Nelson has learned some tricks. “Cheap tricks, like attack your opponent regardless of the facts.”

Instead, this is the Scott campaign’s fourth consecutive attack ad criticizing Nelson. The two-term Florida governor has already spent $17 million on negative ads this cycle. The most recent polling shows Scott with a slight lead over the three-term incumbent.

To view the ad, click the image below:

Rubio welcomes new Navy ship to Mayport

A new ship is about to join the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic fleet and its first home port will be at Mayport Naval Station. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio welcomed the USS St. Louis, a littoral combat ship (LCS) to North Florida.

“A very special welcome to the USS St Louis (LCS 19) and her crew on being assigned to Mayport for the vessel’s initial home port,” Rubio said in a statement. “Florida has a very long and proud history of support for our Navy’s ships and sailors, and we look forward to continuing that relationship.”

Construction on the St. Louis, the seventh Navy ship to bear that name, began in 2015. The 388-foot long vessel is tasked with combating and dominating coastal threats.

The first St. Louis was launched in 1828. The latest version will call Mayport home beginning in Nov. 2018.

Gaetz, Schumer back Trump’s tariffs directed toward China

The trade war between China and the U.S. is escalating following Trump’s announcement that $50 billion in tariffs are about to be directed toward Chinese goods beginning in July. China has already indicated they will respond in kind.

Trump has the full support of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach who backs the president’s approach. Gaetz describes China as a bad actor with a huge trade surplus over the U.S.

Matt Gaetz, shown here at Patriot Cybersecurity Camp in Fort Walton Beach, is supporting Donald Trump’s new China tariffs.

“I commend President Trump for taking action against China’s ruthless and unfair trade practices by enacting a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese goods,” Gaetz said in a statement. “For too many years, China has pursued trade practices and business policies that make it impossible for foreign companies to compete on a level playing field with Chinese companies.”

Gaetz has been looking at this issue for months and has sought to bring China’s activities to the attention of his constituents. Last year, he joined with his GOP colleague, Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City, to hold a field hearing titled “Wanton Loot — How China is Stealing Ideas from American Entrepreneurs,” which featured a panel of experts on Chinese trade and industrial policy.

“President Trump is leveling the playing field for the first time in well over a generation, and his actions will help American businesses thrive in today’s fast-paced global environment,” Gaetz said. “As a member of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, I applaud the bold steps President Trump is taking to address this troubling issue.

In addition to Gaetz and other Republicans, Trump has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Schumer of New York. Schumer said the tariffs directed toward China are “right on target.”

Following China’s reaction to the latest tariffs, Trump said in a statement that if China retaliates, more tariffs would be coming from the U.S. The Chinese enjoy a $375 billion trade surplus with the U.S.

AFL-CIO backs Brown over Lawson

In a rare move, the Florida AFL-CIO chose against an incumbent Democrat in a primary. In the Fifth Congressional District, big labor has chosen challenger Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville Mayor, over incumbent Rep. Al Lawson.

Though Lawson’s team thought something else was at work, union leadership said it’s all about Brown’s record.

Alvin Brown gets union support over his opponent, incumbent Rep. Al Lawson.

“Our members and their families in Jacksonville saw Mayor Brown’s commitment to the fundamental economic issues we care about,” said Mike Williams, President of the Florida AFL-CIO.

“Union members in Tallahassee have been inspired by his record in Jacksonville, and his dedication to working families is now well known across our movement in Florida. We are proud to give him our endorsement for Congress, and we look forward to working hard to send him to represent us in Washington,” Williams said.

Lawson’s campaign manager, Phillip Singleton, has different thoughts on the issues and logistics concerning this decision. He claims the union is “playing politics” with this endorsement.

“We find it very interesting that there has never been a situation where unions have endorsed a candidate over a sitting Democratic member of Congress,” Singleton said. “However, for over a month Congressman Lawson knew that the leadership in AFL-CIO was playing politics with this endorsement because of a vote in the Florida Legislature over a decade ago.”

“Now AFL-CIO has set a precedent where they endorsed a person with a track record of firing union workers, trying to balance budget deficits with union member pensions, and no true record of supporting union positions,” Singleton added.

Brown expressed his gratitude for the union backing.

“Working families are the backbone of our economy, and I am honored to have the support of the AFL-CIO in this race,” Brown said. In Congress, I will always put workers, students and families first, and promote policies that help us build a fair economy that works for all, not just those at the top,” Brown said.

This endorsement proves this primary is a different race. Recently, Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Lawson over the city’s former mayor.

Bondi chooses sides in Congressional primaries

Bondi is weighing in on two important Congressional races with endorsements in two GOP primaries. In Congressional District 6 she announced her support for former state Rep. Fred Costello, while in District 7, she is backing businessman Scott Sturgill.

“Fred is an outstanding example of a servant leader who answered the call to serve his community as a citizen legislator,” Bondi said in a release. “He lives what he believes and has earned the respect of all who know him.”

Pam Bondi gives the nod to Fred Costello for Congress.

Costello is running against Michael Waltz and John Ward. District 6 is currently represented by Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor.

In the District 7 race, Bondi cited Miller’s prior service in the legislature.

“I am endorsing Mike Miller because I have served with him and know he will be an effective leader in Washington who will uphold the rule of law and keep fighting the battle against opioids,” Bondi stated in a news release issued by Miller’s campaign. “I am confident in Mike and know he will help President Trump strengthen our borders, protect the tax cuts and fully eliminate Obamacare.”

The winner of the Republican primary will face first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

CD 7 candidate Sturgill proposes ‘amnesty’ plan for undocumented immigrants

In addition to recently receiving the backing from former Trump adviser Roger Stone, Sturgill is offering a policy proposal on the hot topic of immigration. It will likely play better in Florida’s 7th Congressional than within normal Republican circles.

Sturgill proposes giving undocumented immigrants three months to “get their ducks in a row” to become legal residents. In an interview with Central Florida’s Spectrum 13, Sturgill presented his view that most illegal immigrants are in the country not to cause trouble.

Scott Sturgill suggests a 3-month path to ‘amnesty’ for undocumented immigrants. 

“I think 99 percent of the immigrants who are here are just trying to make things better for their family,” he said. “Did they come here illegally? Yes. But should we hold that against them? No, again, I think we need to look at the whole issue in broad,” he said.

That approach defines “amnesty” in the view of conservatives, many of whom oppose giving them legal status, let alone possible citizenship. Sturgill is in line with Democrats and those Republicans who call for paying a fine and going through “an 18 to 24-month process.”

He is agreeable to deporting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

In addition to Miller, Sturgill also faces Vennia Francois in the GOP primary on August 28.

Grayson suspected of dirty trick

Did former and hopeful Congressman Alan Grayson play a dirty trick? Two prominent Democrats think so.

In a letter to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin and former Colorado Democratic Rep. Pat Schroeder are asking the national party to investigate whether Grayson paid protesters to show up at a recent rally for Grayson’s primary opponent, Democratic Rep. Darren Soto.

Among the signs at the rally included one that called Soto an “NRA sellout” and “willing to cut Social Security.” To show they were willing to be equal opportunity offenders, another sign took a shot at Frankel, who was boosting Soto at the rally, calling her “senile.”

Alan Grayson is accused of playing ‘dirty tricks’ on Lois Frankel. (Image via Orlando Sentinel/South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Chapin and Schroeder said they were “astonished and horrified” to see protesters with such offensive signs at the rally.

“The worst was directed at Rep. Frankel: ‘Lois Frankel, Still Senile’,” Chapin and Schroeder wrote. “When asked why they were there, one of the sign holders replied that they had been paid by Alan Grayson. We ask that you investigate this story … rebuke Mr. Grayson, and endorse Congressman Soto in the Democratic primary for Florida’s Ninth District.”

Frankel could not be reached for comment.

Grayson denied any involvement and called the allegations “irresponsible.”

Protesters wielding anti-Soto signs were also seen at Soto’s kickoff event in Kissimmee in early May. One person in a particular held a sign that said “NRA sellout” in what is assumed to be for his past gun stances as a state representative.

“If I were paying people like that, there would be campaign [filings],” he said, referring to federal documents filed by campaigns required to list any expenditures. “It’s irresponsible to make allegations like that without any evidence.”

Mast: Army Corps ‘leaving our community to die’

The polluted water is still coming out of Lake Okeechobee and Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City is again blasting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mast describes the discharges as helping to “destroy our community.”

In an op-ed published Sunday in the Palm Beach Post, Mast hearkened back to 2016, when widespread algal blooms led to the closing of some local businesses. He said the Corps is discharging nearly four billion gallons of tainted water per day into smaller rivers and streams.

Brian Mast meets with Mike Oetker, Deputy Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Lake Okeechobee discharges.

“The bottom line is that we cannot afford to continue being used as the septic tank for Lake Okeechobee,” he wrote. “The Army Corps should immediately stop discharges until they can prove the water is safe.”

He used an eye-catching description of the current policy as “leaving our community to die.”

“If the Army Corps thinks this is hyperbole, then I’m extending an open invitation to their leadership to stand by their policy: come for a swim in our increasingly toxic water,” Mast said.

On this date in the headlines

June 19, 1983 — Sally Ride became the first woman in space as the Space Shuttle Columbia took her and four male crew members into space. During her first hour in space, Ride simply said: “it sure is fun.” She did not change her mind later in the day.

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan joined those traveling to Cape Canaveral to witness the historic event. This historic words from mission control at launch time said “Liftoff, liftoff of STS-7 and America’s first woman astronaut!”

June 19, 2010 — In the latest aftershock from President Barack Obama’s move to bar the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio apparently has abandoned his plan to offer a conservative alternative to the DREAM Act. Rubio a Cuban-American who represents Florida, said Obama’s announcement Friday probably had killed his own legislative effort, at least until after the election.

In an effort to reach out to Latinos, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has sought cover from Rubio, a charismatic young conservative. Romney had hinted that he would back a Rubio proposal to help young, undocumented immigrants — assuming the Senator could come up with one that gained wide Republican support — while declining to discuss the issue in detail.

Congressional women seek to defeat media in charity softball game

Last week, the Republicans and Democrats squared off in the annual Congressional Baseball Game for charity. Things worked out poorly for the Republicans, who were blitzed 21-5.

On Wednesday, the women get their turn in the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Unlike the men’s game, a bipartisan team of legislators take on the media.

The media team celebrates after its victory over female lawmakers at the 2017 Congressional Women’s Softball Game. (Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The beneficiary of the game’s proceeds is the Young Survival Coalition, an organization dedicated to helping young women deal with breast cancer. The game has helped raise more than $900,000 since it began in 2009.

The delegation is well represented. Among the 5 co-captains are Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa is also on the squad.

The media team, known as the Bad News Babes, defeated the Congressional women, 2-1 in last year’s game. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Watkins Recreational Center at 420 Twelfth St., SE.

AARP polls Florida on Donald Trump approval, U.S. Senate race

President Donald Trump‘s job approval rating is split 48-49 percent among Florida registered voters, “higher than how he performed nationally,” according to a new POLITICO/AARP poll released Tuesday.

That rating was 43 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving, said Tyler Sinclair, managing director of client services at Morning Consult, which conducted both polls. Sinclair and others discussed the poll results in a conference call.

And older Floridians, specifically voters age 50 and over, “are more likely to give Trump higher marks” — 51 percent approve the way he handles the presidency and 44 percent disapprove.

The poll “surveyed 1,199 Florida voters on May 29-30 and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points,” a news release explained. “For voters 50 and older, the poll surveyed 676 Florida voters and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus four percentage points.”

In the U.S. Senate matchup between term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, they’re “virtually neck and neck,” with Scott polling at 40 percent and Nelson at 39 percent. Importantly, 21 percent said they “haven’t made up their mind yet.”

Older Floridians are more likely to vote for Scott, by 44 percent-35 percent, according to the poll.

In other topics, 76 percent overall said health care was their No. 1 issue in deciding on a candidate, with Social Security at 73 percent. National security was most important to 70 percent of interviewees, and the economy polled at 69 percent.

Unsurprisingly, older Florida voters said Social Security was their “top policy issue,” at 82 percent, with health care coming in at 78 percent.

The poll comes soon after AARP released its 7th Annual Legislative Voting Record for Florida, showing how lawmakers voted in the 2018 Session “on issues of interest to older Floridians.”

The voting record provides information about legislative votes based on broad topics, such as regulated utilities, the state budget, health care and supportive services, prescription drugs, consumer protections and livable communities.

The complete version of the 2018 voting record can be viewed and downloaded here

AARP is the “nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with nearly 38 million members, dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age,” the group’s website says.

Personnel note: Jason Harrell to lobby for Florida court clerks

Jason Harrell has been named director of legislative and government affairs for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers (FCCC), the organization announced Tuesday.

Harrell now is budget and communications director for the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation (CCOC). He’ll continue in that role until the end of the Florida Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference in July, which will determine the clerks’ statewide budget authority for fiscal year 2018-19.

At FCCC, Harrell will “develop and direct the association’s new in-house legislative team and lead strategic advocacy for legislative policy and budget efforts on behalf of Florida’s independently elected clerks and comptrollers,” a press release explained.

“Jason’s addition to the FCCC team will enable us to further sharpen the focus on our mission to support Florida’s court clerks and comptrollers as they serve local communities throughout the state,” FCCC CEO Chris Hart IV said in a statement.

“His knowledge and understanding of clerks’ priorities and concerns, proven by his work at CCOC, and his success working on many prominent issues in the Florida House and the Governor’s Office will strengthen our legislative team as we work to increase awareness of the services provided by our members, as well as their needs and challenges.”

Harrell also has worked for the Florida House of Representatives’ Majority Office as deputy staff director under former Speakers Will Weatherford and Steve Crisafulli, former House Republican Leader (and now state Sen.) Dana Young, and former Republican Whip Rep. Jim Boyd.

Harrell also served in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget under Gov. Rick Scott, and in the Office of the Chief Inspector General under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Charges filed in alleged insurance fraud scheme involving AOB agreements

A contractor is facing charges in an alleged $140,000 assignment of benefits scam that targeted 19 homeowners.

The Florida Bureau of Insurance Fraud named Timothy Matthew Cox, who operated Nationwide Catastrophe Services Inc. and Restoration Response Services Inc.

“Criminals who prey on Florida families after a hurricane or tropical storm are some of the worst we see,” Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said in a written statement.

“This type of fraud has skyrocketed and impacts all Florida consumers. One of my first actions I took as your CFO was to create Florida’s Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team to go after this type of fraud,” Patronis said. “With more than 100 ongoing investigations statewide, we are coming for anyone who takes advantage of our residents during vulnerable times.”

The scam involved taking insurance money under AOB agreements for repairs Cox never began in Brevard, Clay, Escambia, Flagler, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia Counties, and also in Texas, following tropical storms and hurricanes, Patronis’ office said.

Instead, officials said, he deposited the money into bank accounts he controlled for his personal use.

Cox was booked into the Polk County Jail on June 5 on multiple counts of grand theft and racketeering; he could face up to 30 years behind bars. The Office of Statewide Prosecution is bringing the charges.

Patronis urged homeowners who have experienced or witnessed such fraud to call his Fraud Tip Hotline at 800-378-0445. They can remain anonymous if they choose.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Closer look at November

Who cares? And what do they care about?

Those were two very telling — but perhaps overlooked — questions recently surveyed by the Florida Chamber. By determining how voters feel about the state’s direction and what tops their list of priorities before they head to the ballots, the Chamber’s latest poll helps to inform guesswork ahead of the midterm election, when Florida will elect a U.S. Senator, Governor, Cabinet and a slew of other positions.

Gun issues, the chamber found, have taken a back seat compared to results of an April poll in which gun-related concerns topped the list of statewide voter priorities. Currently, “jobs and the economy” rank first, topping the list for 14 percent of voters, followed by “education” at 13 percent and “gun issues” at 10 percent.

Another telling survey item gauged whether voters believe Florida is on the right or wrong track. The question is a strong predictor of voter turnout.

At the state level, Republicans are in control. This meshed well with how Republican voters feel about the state’s direction. An overwhelming majority (roughly 76 percent) answered “right track,” while just 10 percent felt the Sunshine State is heading in the wrong direction and 11 percent were unsure.

On the other hand, 50 percent of Democratic voters answered “wrong track,” while 29 percent felt the state is headed in the right direction; 17 percent were unsure.

Meanwhile, independent voters overall had a more positive interpretation of the state’s direction than Democrats. More than half answered “right direction,” 27 percent answered “wrong direction,” and 18 percent were unsure.

In total, around 52 percent of respondents felt the state was headed in the right direction. Just 30 percent believe the state is on the wrong track; 17 percent are unsure.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Scott rebuts report on debris removal — Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has refuted suggestions that it steered contracts to companies to remove debris in areas especially hard-hit by Hurricane Irma. A CBS4 investigative report this week showed two companies, which submitted emergency debris removal bids at the request of the state, invoiced more than $43 million for their post-Irma services. The report claims that similar companies already under contract could’ve done the same work for $13 million. Scott responded to the report, saying the emergency services were needed: “It’s easy for these vendors to look back and say they would have shown up and completed the work for cheaper, but in the days following the storm, they were clearly overleveraged and did not have the people or equipment to fulfill their commitments. I will never let special interests get in the way of storm recovery. We sent additional resources to get the job done for a community that needed help and given a choice; I would do the same thing again.”

Putnam downplays missed background checks — Following a Florida Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam responded to questions about a Tampa Bay Times report published last week showing that an employee under his supervision failed to use a background check system (one of a few) required for some Floridians who wish to obtain a concealed-carry license. The Commissioner told reporters that “public safety was not at risk” and that none of the 291 permit holders who have since had their licenses revoked were arrested during the lapse. The initial Times report found that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) went unused for a little more than a year in 2016-17 because an employee could not log in to the system. Putnam’s office has told the public that only 365 applications would’ve required use of the NICS, because two other databases are used for most applicants. When asked how applicants got by without further review, Putnam said, “It was a thing that happens to anybody with a computer: She (referring to the former employee) emailed I.T. and said, ‘my password isn’t working.’ They emailed her back with instructions on how to fix the problem. By her own admission, she dropped the ball.”

Amendments face uphill battle — A poll conducted by the Florida Chamber shows that, as of now, only a few proposed revisions to the state’s Constitution could pass in November. Of the 13 ideas primed for the ballot, just four met the 60 percent voter approval threshold needed to pass an amendment, although many surveyed voters were “unsure” of each proposition. The amendments with enough support currently, per the poll, include: Amendment 1, which would increase the state’s homestead exemption on property taxes; Amendment 3, which would give voters sole discretion on future gambling expansion; Amendment 7, which would extend death benefits to families of military and first responders killed on duty; and Amendment 8, which would impose school board term limits and let the state establish schools without school board approval.

Horrible’ citrus season ends — The United States Department of Agriculture this week forecast Florida citrus production for the 2017-2018 season will be its lowest since World War II. The USDA estimates Florida is on track to wrap its season with 44.95 million boxes of oranges, its premier citrus crop. Before Hurricane Irma, a storm that authorities described as “lethal” to citrus groves, private estimates expected Florida growers to produce 75 million boxes of oranges. Each box weighs 90 pounds. “This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.” The silver lining for Florida farmers awaits federal action. A federally funded $2.36 billion disaster package and a $340 million block grant are expected to dramatically mitigate losses incurred by Hurricane Irma.

Troubled nursing home gets small victory — The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 residents died during a power outage that followed Hurricane Irma, won a small dispute in court this week after a judge ruled the state must provide requested death records to the Broward County nursing home for “a reasonable fee.” The ruling comes after the Rehabilitation Center was asked to pay $5 each for paper records of the nearly 6,000 deaths that occurred across the state at the same time, reports Michael Moline for Florida Politics. The nursing home requested the records in the hopes of establishing that its staff acted reasonably in declining to evacuate residents before Hurricane Irma swept through the state.

Cabinet reaches conservation easement milestone

With the recent approval of more than 8,300 acres purchased through a unique conservation easement program, the Florida Cabinet is touting a more than 1,000-percent increase in acres preserved under three sitting members of the Cabinet who’ve been at their posts since 2011.

Those members include Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Current Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis replaced the former CFO Jeff Atwater, who was elected in 2011 and 2014.

Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet marks an easement record.

The easement program, known as the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, is a cooperative between the state and local ranchers that seeks to preserve active agriculture ops and the environmental benefits they offer. On Wednesday, the Cabinet surpassed 50,000 acres of protected land through 45 easements in total since Scott and most of the Cabinet took office.

“We must continue to prioritize the conservation of our agricultural lands and world-renowned natural spaces,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, we partner with farmers and ranchers to preserve the invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment to help preserve what makes Florida such a special place to live.”

Wednesday’s approved easements include Goolsby Ranch in Highlands County, Howze Ranch in Manatee County, Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County and Rodman Plantation in Putnam County.

Instagram of the week 

Nominate an ‘Agriculture Woman of the Year’

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is accepting nominations for the 2018 “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award, which recognizes women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture.

Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts, 2017 Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture. Nominations for 2018 are now open.

Nominations can be sent by mail to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Plaza Level 10, The Capitol, 400 S Monroe St., Tallahassee FL 32399-0800. By fax, 850-617-7744. Or email to Clay.Hollis@FreshFromFlorida.com.

More information about the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award and past award winners can be found at FreshFromFlorida.com.

The deadline for submitting nominations is July 31.

Patronis highlights AOB abuse arrest

As lawmakers and elected officials target abuse of assignment of benefits, or AOB, Chief Financial Officer Patronis is spreading the word that those that engage in the form of insurance fraud could face severe criminal penalties.

In a news release this week, Patronis drew attention to the case of Timothy Matthew Cox, who arrested earlier this month for an AOB fraud scheme that impacted 19 homeowners in eight counties across Florida and in one Texas County. Cox owns Nationwide Catastrophe Services and Restoration Response Services, which he allegedly used to pocket almost $140,000 for unfinished home repairs needed after natural disasters.

Jimmy Patronis highlights the crackdown on AOB abuse.

“Criminals who prey on Florida families after a hurricane or tropical storm are some of the worst we see,” Patronis said. “This type of fraud has skyrocketed and impacts all Florida consumers.”

Per the news release, the Bureau of Insurance Fraud — overseen by Patronis — found that “Cox pressured homeowners to sign an AOB contract to have damages repaired.” But, “after receiving the insurance payments, Cox’s team never started any of the work they were contracted to perform.”

And according to Patronis, Cox’ case may not be an isolated one: “With more than 100 ongoing investigations statewide, we are coming for anyone who takes advantage of our residents during vulnerable times.”

The Week in Appointments

Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority

Luz Weinberg and Leonard Boord were appointed this week to serve terms ending April 6, 2022. Weinberg, 46, of Miami, is the CEO of GlobComm, LLC, and is a graduate of Florida International University. She succeeds Cliff Waters. Boord, 57, of Miami, founded Slon Capital. He currently serves on the Florida International University Board of Trustees.

Hernando County Board of County Commissioners John Mitten will serve during the suspension of Commissioner Nicholas Nicholson for a term ending Nov. 16, 2020.

Broward College District Board of Trustees

Matthew Caldwell, not to be confused with the state Representative from Lehigh Acres, will serve a term that began June 14 and ends May 31, 2022. He is the president and CEO of Florida Panthers Hockey Club. Caldwell currently serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club.

Women’s Hall of Fame

Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, Janet Petro and Lee Bird Leavengood were inducted Thursday by Gov. Scott. Gonzmart, (1920-2001), helped manage “The Columbia” — the oldest restaurant in Florida — and was a community advocate who helped co-found the Latino Scholarship Fund at the University of South Florida. Petro, 58, has worked as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and was the first female Deputy in the history of John F. Kennedy Space Center. Leavengood, 89, has a long history of contributing work to the University of South Florida. She championed the creation of the University of South Florida’s Division of Senior programs, now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Center.

FDLE upgrades alert system

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it updated its AMBER and Missing Child Alert Public Notification System this week.

Using what’s called an Everbridge platform, people can now receive AMBER and Missing Child Alerts through text messages as well as email. In the coming months, citizens will also be able to sign up to receive alerts through voice calls, TDD/TTY messaging, and through mobile device apps.

Known for its work during Hurricane Irma, the Everbridge platform will soon be handling AMBER Alerts.

To use the new system, however, they must create an Everbridge account (click here). Current subscribers will continue to receive email alerts, but to access the additional functions, an Everbridge account is needed.

Everbridge will use your email and phone numbers to send Florida AMBER and Missing Child Alert notifications only. Information will not be sold or distributed. Everbridge is used by government agencies to issue emergency alerts, like severe weather warnings, nationally and in Florida.

FWC to meet in Sarasota

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet June 19-20 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. Meetings both days are open to the public.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and the public will be provided opportunities to speak on agenda items each day. The Commission will also provide time for public comment on subjects not on the agenda at the end of the first day. Those who wish to offer comments during this period will be asked to make sure their comments are not related to any agenda item.

For the full June 19-20 agenda and links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.”

Those who can’t attend can follow coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (@MyFWC) and join the conversation by using the #FWC2018 hashtag. Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.

FWC: Don’t forget about dive flags

For some counties along the Gulf Coast, the annual quest for bay scallops begins today.

But before Floridians jump into the water, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants them to hoist their dive flags, which signal to nearby boaters that there are divers down below or at the surface.

“Displaying and understanding what constitutes a proper divers-down symbol are critical,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “These safety devices are meant to alert boaters to the presence of people under the water’s surface and to give them plenty of room.”

The iconic red rectangle with a white diagonal stripe must be displayed via a flag on a vessel or a buoy in the water. Each must be at least a foot in length and width if presented from the water, and at least 20 inches by 24 inches and flown at the highest point of a vessel if used in flag form.

Vessels are instructed to stay at least 100 feet from a flag when maneuvering through rivers, channels and inlets, and at least 300 feet from a flag in open waters. Divers, unsurprisingly, are asked to remain within the same boundaries of their flag.

Scallop season begins in Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County today and lasts through Sept. 10. In Franklin, Levy, Citrus, Hernando and the Northwest portion of Taylor County, the season begins July 1 and continues through Sept. 24. Pasco County’s season starts July 20 and ends July 29, and Gulf County’s season takes place Aug. 17 through Sept. 30.

Lawmakers ask for legislative action amid background check report

Politicians across the state chimed in with criticism following a Tampa Bay Times report that showed the Florida Department of Agriculture failed to use one of a few background check tools for more than a year.

A few Democratic state legislators have taken that criticism a step further and are calling for legislative action in the wake of the report.

Linda Stewart calls for action in the background check snafu.

State Sens. Linda Stewart of Orlando and Kevin Rader of Delray Beach penned a letter to Senate President Joe Negron requesting the creation of “a special select committee under Senate Rule 1.5 ‘to provide the measure of full transparency the public demands from their elected officials.’”

Rader, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the Department of Agriculture, said he was not made aware of the issue during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Was it a cover-up?” Rader posited. “Was it a way to rubber stamp what they knew they had already done?”

Similarly, in the state House, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, whose district encompasses Parkland, wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking him to convene the House Government Accountability Committee and the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to address the report.

Miami Democrats chip in for new Coral Gables fire station

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and state Rep. Nicholas X. Duran this week presented a $1.5 million check to the City of Coral Gables for the purchase of land required to build a much-needed new fire station.

Funding for the land purchase was secured during the 2018 Legislative Session. It will help Coral Gables take the first step toward constructing a fire station in Cartagena Park. Currently, traffic congestion has limited first responders’ access to the area.

Jose Javier Rodriguez and Nicholas X. Duran present $1.5 million to the City of Coral Gables.

“Ensuring and supporting the public’s safety is a top priority for the City of Coral Gables. Senator Rodriguez and I are proud to support added protection measures by continuing to work closely with our municipal partners,” Duran said in a prepared statement. “Efforts to secure increased safety and expand green space is undoubtedly a win for all residents.”

Following the land purchase, the city is expected to build its fourth fire station at the park, which connects to an 11-mile bike trail along Old Cutler Road. Per a news release, “The fire station will provide necessary supervision to the area as well as enhanced safety for all visitors enjoying this regional attraction.”

Dana Young delivers check to Redefining Refuge

A Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth got a visit this week from Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, who arrived with a $500,000 check from the state in tow.

Dana Young awards $500K to a Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth.

“Redefining Refuge fights for women and children who have been victims of sexual abuse and works to end the domestic sex trafficking of minors,” Young said. “Redefining Refuge ensures those they serve receive the specialized care they need and deserve, providing fundamental needs, such as safety, shelter, clothing and food, as well as educational, psychological or emotional support.”

Redefining Refuge founder and director Natasha Nascimento thanked Young and the Legislature for the funds, which will help the nonprofit expand its suite of services for victims.

“This appropriation will truly have a significant impact on the women and children we serve, by allowing us to further our positive contribution to the lives of human trafficking victims by equipping and empowering them to build strong foundations for their futures,” she said.

Rene Garcia wants DACA fix ASAP

Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia used his platform at the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairmen to call on Congress to pass permanent fixes for DACA, an Obama-era policy that protects from deportation young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Rene Garcia wants a DACA fix … now!

Garcia and the BHCC said they were in support of a proposal being pitched in Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” alongside stricter border security laws. Garcia commended CD 26 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo for helping push that permanent fix.

“DACA has been great for the U.S. economy and recipients are estimated to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to economic growth over the next decade. Congress must take a pragmatic approach in ensuring a path for Dreamers, while also strengthening our safety and enhancing border security,” Garcia said. “Through bipartisan compromise, Congress has an opportunity to find middle ground, push politics aside, and protect not just the Dreamers, but also all people who call the United States home.”

The alternative to that proposal, preferred by hard-line House conservatives, would give Dreamers temporary protection in exchange for ending rules that allow legal immigrants to sponsor their family members entry into the U.S., a practice derogatorily referred to as “chain migration.”

FSU Medicine among most selective schools

When prospective medical students apply to Florida State University’s College of Medicine, the odds are stacked against them.

Of the 7,200 FSU med-school applicants in 2018, just 120 were admitted. That’s a 2.6 percent acceptance rate, giving FSU the third spot in U.S. News and World Report’s list of medical schools with the lowest acceptance rates. The Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Stanford University took the top two spots, respectively.

FSU College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty.

“We’re obviously pleased to see so much interest in this medical school and our unique, community-based and patient-centered approach, but we are even more excited about what a quality pool of applicants means in terms of helping us achieve our mission,” College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty said.

Moreover, while the med school may be selective, it boasts a diverse student population. The Class of 2022 includes 69 women and 51 men, as well as 15 black students and 15 Spanish, Hispanic or Latino students.

Those numbers make it among the top 10 for enrollment of both black and Hispanic students — the only school to do so within the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Career fairs for evacuees

Nineteen local workforce boards will host a statewide, construction industry-focused job fair beginning June 12 in cities and towns across Florida. The events bring together construction and related companies seeking to hire Floridians and individuals displaced by Hurricane Maria for a variety of high-paying jobs.

“Puerto Rico evacuees, veterans, Hispanics and other job-seeking Floridians are encouraged to attend,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Julio Fuentes with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Whether an entry-level laborer or a skilled engineer, hiring companies offer paid, on-the-job training, so applicants of all experience levels are welcome to apply. Additionally, Uber is providing discounted rates to all individuals traveling to and from the career fairs using discount code CAREERSOURCEFL.

Locations holding a one-day career fair between June 12 and July 11 include Bradenton, Clearwater, Crestview, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Lake City, Lauderdale Lakes, Madison, Milton, New Port Richey, Ocala, Rockledge, Stuart, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach. For dates and locations, click here.

FSU sports get props from Scott, Cabinet

At a Cabinet meeting this week, Gov. Scott and the Cabinet celebrated the long-term success of Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and the newly cemented legacy of the Florida State softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

The one lauding the 2018 Seminoles softball team, fresh off winning their NCAA tournament, listed off accomplishments including their “do-or-die heroics” against Louisiana State in the Super Regional and their six-game run from the elimination bracket to their sweep of the University of Washington in the championship series.

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet honors Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and legacy of the FSU softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

Individuals getting enshrined in the doc include WCWS Most Outstanding Player Jessie Warren, ACC Pitcher of the Year Kylee Hanson and the ACC Freshman of the Year Sydney Sherrill.

The resolution celebrating Martin recounted his first win for the ‘Noles, which came against rival Miami in 1980, before rattling off some of the most impressive stats among active NCAA baseball coaches — in his 39 seasons at the helm, FSU baseball has “won 1,987 games; scored 21,606 runs; recorded 21,623 strikeouts; hit 2,956 home runs and placed 49 former players in Major League Baseball,” the resolution said.

He also got a clap on the back for being the all-time winningest coach in NCAA baseball and having the second-best winning percentage in the record books.

Correction

Ed. Note — We misspelled the name of Collier County School Board and Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds in last week’s Capitol Directions. We regret the error.

Capitol Directions

Delegation for 6.15.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Trump proves he calls the shots for GOP

It is now official. President Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party.

Perhaps those who cannot bring themselves to admit that reality, perhaps they can dissociate themselves from the GOP and just use the generic term “Trump’s party.” Either way, the 45th president is calling the shots and setting the tone.

It’s Donald Trump’s party now.

A Google search going back to 2016 will find multiple analysis pieces proclaiming Trump as the party boss at various points before June 12, 2018. The stars aligned this week in such a way that allowed any previous claims to Trump ownership are now superseded.

While Trump was jetting home from Singapore following the previously-unthinkable summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, voters in South Carolina, Virginia and other states were choosing candidates for the fall elections. Among those seeking another term in Congress: “Never Trumper” Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Trump blasted Sanford via a tweet while on Air Force One, while praising his opponent Katie Arrington, finishing the post with “VOTE Katie!”

Arrington pulled off the upset.

In the Virginia Senate primary, Trump did not get directly involved as he did in South Carolina. The nominee who emerged to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November, Corey Stewart, is described in a USA Today opinion piece as “Trumpy before Trump was.”

Sanford’s fall sends a clear message that crossing Trump is suicide in a primary and could cost them Republican votes in November. Democrats demanding Republicans abandon Trump know full well the odds of a blue wave would rise if they took that politically dangerous step.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tiptoed around criticizing Trump this week when Rubio called him out for his description of Kim (see “Rubio skeptical” below) as a “talented guy.” Rubio has also sharply criticized Trump’s easing of penalties on Chinese telecom firm ZTE.

His tone would likely be different if he was on the ballot this year.

Democrats celebrating the change of command at the top of the GOP should pause and reflect. Many are making the same mistake Republicans did 20 years ago when they depended upon scandal to lead them to electoral success.

In 1998 with Lewinsky-gate rocking Washington, the GOP prepared for big gains in the midterm elections. President Bill Clinton’s job approval ratings helped Democrats defy the odds and actually pick up five seats that year.

The blue wave could still happen, but “Trump collusion” will likely have as much effect as Clinton’s personal problems two decades ago. As Trump’s job approval numbers now reside in the mid-40s, Republicans are cheering up.

This week alone, Trump basked in the glow of the summit, reports that the economy is growing at nearly four percent, the revelation that weekly jobless claims reached a 44-year low, and news that the soccer World Cup is coming to North America.

On Thursday, he celebrated his 72nd birthday as some even give him credit for the World Cup announcement.

Democrats still have a reasonable chance to retake control of the House, but with a strengthening economy, Republicans are feeling better each day about their chances of holding on.

Rubio skeptical of any deal with North Korea’s Kim

Florida’s junior Senator appeared on Fox News Tuesday offering reaction to Trump’s summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. While some of his colleagues were visibly pleased with the pictures and the results, Rubio was more measured.

In fact, some Republicans and conservative media felt he was criticizing Trump. In a tweet, Rubio seemed to mock the president’s reference to Kim as a “talented guy.”

No, Marco Rubio does not believe Kim Jong Un is a ‘talented guy.’

“While I know @potus is trying to butter him up to get a good deal, #KJU is NOT a talented guy,” Rubio said. “He inherited the family business from his dad & grandfather. He is a total weirdo who would not be elected assistant dogcatcher in any democracy.”

He denied his comments were intended as criticisms of Trump. Instead, they were meant to convey his skepticism of any deal that might be reached with Kim.

“The president is optimistic and he needs to be. He’s the guy negotiating and he needs to make the other side feel like he’s serious about getting something done,” Rubio said. “But for the rest of us who are watching and know the history of North Korea, we should be skeptical. This is the county that has made promises before and has broken them.”

Rubio said it was the job of lawmakers to be “clear-eyed about any deal and that Congress should vote it, reflecting criticism of the Iran accord, so it’s a ‘binding treaty.'”

Nelson blasts Trump, Scott over Obamacare lawsuit

With the Justice Department refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in a court challenge from 20 states (including Florida), the entire law is at risk of being declared unconstitutional. Without the law, or a replacement ready to take its place, popular provisions such as health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions would go away.

Gov. Rick Scott, who supports pre-existing coverage, did not criticize the Trump administration’s action. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson pounced on the issue and his re-election opponent.

Bill Nelson attacks Donald Trump, Rick Scott over their failure to defend Obamacare. 

“The Trump administration’s latest sabotage of the health care law would take the guarantee of health care coverage away from tens of millions of Americans, including more than seven million Floridians, with pre-existing conditions,” Nelson said in a statement Monday. “This is nothing but a heartless, political move that will hurt Florida families. I will continue to fight to protect health care for Floridians, as Trump and his allies, like Rick Scott, keep pushing to dismantle the law that improves access to health care for millions of Floridians.”

While not publicly criticizing the president, Scott pointed to an op-ed he wrote last year for USA Today, where he included the need “protecting those with pre-existing conditions” while a year ago in a news release, Scott said “Every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, should have the ability to buy any kind of insurance they want.”

The lawsuit stemmed from the elimination of the requirement every American have some form of health insurance. That requirement, deemed a tax by a majority of the Supreme Court, made the law constitutional.

The individual mandate was repealed as part of the GOP tax cuts passed in December.  

Scott ad compares Nelson to Ford Pinto

The newest ad from Scott uses the image of the Ford Pinto from 40 years ago to paint his opponent as a career politician.

In 1978, Nelson was just starting his career in Congress and the Ford Pinto was at the top of its popularity. The ad goes on to say that the Ford Pinto is obviously past its prime and is rusting away in junkyards across America, but Nelson is still in Washington as a member of the Senate.

The Pinto, a compact car made domestically in the 70s, is infamously known for its rear-mounted gas tank which proved to be a fatal flaw. This meant that the car was prone to explosion if rear-ended. Despite this enormous problem, the car was still the best selling compact even in 1978.

“And besides reading speeches, what has Nelson done all those years?” the ad asks. “Isn’t a half century in Washington enough?”

The ad will air statewide at the cost of $2.7 million. Scott, who according to a Saint Leo University poll holds a 6-point lead, has already spent $17 million on negative ads at Nelson’s expense this cycle.

DOJ internal report draws strong reaction

The much-ballyhooed report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General is out and about the only thing Democrats and Republicans agree on is the criticized actions of former FBI Director James Comey. The report found Comey was “insubordinate” when he cleared Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing and wrong when he announced he was reopening the email investigation just days before the election.

The Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, found the overall investigation was not influenced by “political bias,” but had tough words for some involved. A year and one-half in the making, the report took an extra month as the DOJ and FBI had the opportunity for input and responses.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz. (Image via Getty)

Leading up to the report’s release, it is clear many Republicans and conservative media were expecting more. While some FBI personnel were recommended for sanctions, that was not enough for those wanting something much stronger.

That led to a demand from two Floridians who have been among the most critical of both agencies. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and Marineland Republican Ron DeSantis joined with Arizona’s Andy Biggs to seek all drafts of the IG’s report.

“We are concerned that during this time, people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Horowitz. “Per Congress’s oversight authority, we request you supply your original drafts along with the final published form.”

In a tweet, Gaetz said: “The time has come for complete transparency.”

Pulse anniversary brings gun issue back to forefront

Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the domestic terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that slaughtered 49 people. The Orlando delegation was joined by others remembering the tragedy as an attack on the LGBTQ community and a prime example illustrating the need for tougher gun laws.

“Our hearts still ache for the 49 lives lost and countless others physically and emotionally injured,” said Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando. “Our community is inspiring the nation to take a stand against hate. Together, along with Parkland student survivors, we are putting an end to gun violence in America.”

Gov. Rick Scott visits the Pulse memorial to mark the second anniversary of the massacre.

Democratic Rep. Val Demings, the former Orlando Chief of Police, said “We cannot be satisfied with simply remembering the victims of mass shootings. We must work to prevent mass shootings, period.”

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat tweeted “Today should be about remembering all those affected by the tragedy and recommitting ourselves to honoring them with action.”

Nelson mourned “victims of this hateful act of gun violence” and promised to join those “marching and speaking out to help protect our communities from gun violence.” Among Republicans, Scott described the tragedy as “an evil act of terror against our gay community, our Hispanic community, our entire state and our entire nation.”

Deutch bill targets ‘bad actor’ gun dealers

While the Pulse anniversary had many thinking about gun violence, a new bill was filed targeting those who supply firearms to consumers. Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch joined with colleagues to launch the Keeping Gun Dealers Honest Act, which is designed to crack down on what sponsors call “bad actor” dealers who provide the majority of weapons used in crimes.

The bill provides, among other things, tougher penalties for falsifying gun sales records, sanctions for dealers who violate Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) regulations while providing ATF with discretion in issuing gun licenses.

For the second anniversary of Pulse, Ted Deutch is putting ‘bad actor’ gun dealers in his sights.

“Tragedy after tragedy we are told that we don’t need any new gun laws, that we should just enforce the laws on the books,” Deutch said in a statement. “But in too many cases, we’ve seen that the laws on the books are practically unenforceable. The combination of stringent standards and depleted budgets put ATF inspectors in an impossible situation.”

With Republicans in control, prospects for Deutch’s bill are not good. Both co-sponsors are also Democrats.

South Florida Democrats applaud Everglades funding boost

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is set to boost funding for Everglades restoration by an additional $29 billion. That was good news to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings.

The funding increase was included in the COE’s recently-released 2018 fiscal year work plan. The added backing amounts to a 38 percent increase over the initial $76.5 million funding amount sought in the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget request, bringing the overall Everglades restoration funding for this fiscal year to $105.4 million.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among the South Florida Democrats praising Everglades funding. (Image via Getty)

“Committing these extra resources underscores the Army Corps’ commitment to Everglades restoration,” said Hastings, Co-Chairman of the Everglades Caucus. “South Florida depends on this ecosystem for so much, including drinking water and flood protection, so it’s good to see a larger investment being made to protect the well-being of our state.”

Both lawmakers have a history of advocating significant funding for the long-term restoration project.

“Our federal-state partnership to restore the Florida Everglades can only be maintained with strong federal funding,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Restoring this vital and sensitive ecosystem is bolstered with the Army Corps’ latest increase in funding — one which must continue.”

Curbelo-led DACA rebels accept leadership’s truce offer

For now, the faction of Republicans, led by Kendall Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, trying to force a vote on multiple bills designed to deal with the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, has accepted a truce with House leadership. Curbelo and his allies put their insurgency effort on hold late Tuesday after reaching an agreement with leadership and conservatives, though details are still being worked out.

While there will be votes on the issue, the more liberal Dream Act, favored by Democrats, will not be considered. Instead, a conservative measure sponsored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte and a yet-to-be-drafted compromise bill will be the only two considered.

Carlos Curbelo leads the charge to force a vote on DACA.

The compromise came as Curbelo was two signatures away from having enough to force the showdown.

“Hopefully, every time there’s a compromise, everyone can claim some victories,” said Curbelo, who is in a toss-up re-election fight against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Lakeland Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, who was reportedly close to signing the discharge petition, stressed the fact that while some would be happy with the result, others would not. He pointed toward the need to come up with something that could pass the Senate and ultimately be signed by Trump.

“We’ve got to go for the good and maybe not the best. I mean that’s this process,” said Ross. “Sometimes it kills us. Sometimes it moves us along and gets us over to the Senate.”

Democrats voiced their displeasure with the terms of the compromise, pointing to the reduction of bills under consideration. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa summed up the mood.

 “A handful of Republican House members joined a unanimous Democratic Caucus in an attempt to force a vote, but Republicans could not muster two additional signatures on the ‘discharge petition,’” Castor said in an email to constituents “Any immigration votes that Speaker Ryan brings to the floor will be Tea Party-type bills that are unlikely to protect DREAMers.”

On this date in the headlines

June 15, 2010 — With Americans more negative about the federal government’s response to the Gulf Oil spill than they were at a comparable time following Hurricane Katrina, President Barack Obama speaks to the nation tonight facing four questions that could define his presidency. Obama will seek to answer who is in charge, is the federal government up to the task, who pays, and will the constant BP bashing affect relations with Great Britain?

Obama is facing criticism that his government has yet to assemble the expertise needed to solve the problem. They fear those from the Gulf region affected by the disaster may be left with depending on BP to solve the problem.

June 15, 2013 — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a sweeping, $638 billion defense bill that would block Obama from closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and limit his efforts to reduce nuclear weapons.

Ignoring a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted 315-108 for the legislation. Despite last-minute efforts by Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, the House soundly rejected Obama’s repeated pleas to shutter Guantánamo.

Dems beat GOP again, but Scalise just glad to be there

The Democrats routed the Republicans, 21-5 Thursday night in the annual Congressional Baseball Game. While he wanted his team to win, Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise was happy just to be there.

Just one year ago, he was shot on the practice field and nearly lost his life. Thanks to quick work by his bodyguard and Capitol Police, his life was spared.

Congressman Steve Scalise with Crystal Griner and David Bailey, the Capitol Police special agents who protected Scalise when a gunman opened fire at the Republicans’ practice, walked arm-in-arm to second base in the Congressional baseball game. (Image via AP/Cliff Owen)

“I went through a lot of different emotions and different levels of recovery over the last year,” Scalise, the House Majority Whip, recalled. “But those first few months especially, when you’re fighting for your life and you’re not sure, was I even going to be able to come back to Congress and do my job that I love so much? Was I going to be able to walk again?”

He still walks with a crutch, but briefly entered the game on Thursday. A line drive came his way and Scalise was able to catch it in the air as he went down on one knee.

In recent years, Democrats have dominated the game, largely because of the pitching prowess of Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. The game is competitive, but last year’s shooting showed what was important.

Richmond was one of the first to arrive at the hospital after Scalise was wounded. He said later that “having Cedric there meant a lot.”

Mike Waltz ad spotlights ‘conservative values’

Republican Mike Waltz, embroiled in a competitive primary to succeed Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, dropped a biographical ad Thursday spotlighting his “conservative values.”

“Growing up in Florida and serving 20 years as an Army Green Beret,” Waltz asserted, “I learned respect for our conservative values and fought to uphold the Constitution.”

In the 30-second spot, Waltz vows to “work with President Trump to combat illegal immigration, strengthen our military, and create jobs.”

The closing salvo: an affirmation that “courage and integrity matter, and we need those values in Washington.”

Waltz is battling Ponte Vedra’s John Ward and former state Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach in the August primary.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability of the Republican side. As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook). Waltz, who loaned his own campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand.

Costello, with $15,000, lags behind.

Q2 fundraising will be worth watching. Waltz enjoys momentum, including strong Jacksonville support.

Ward, meanwhile, scored a round of unwanted earned media after stating at a forum that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida, comments drawing scrutiny and condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.

CD 6, which runs from southern St. Johns through Volusia counties along the Atlantic coastline, is still a “likely Republican” district according to University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.

However, the race has drawn a trio of Democratic hopefuls including two — Daytona Beach physician Steven Sevigny and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg — who’ve raised well into the six figures.

Jimmy Patronis announces efficiency savings in workers’ comp oversight efforts

Florida employers will save nearly $20 million in workers’ compensation premiums next year because of “sound financial management” of the state’s two compensation trust funds, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Wednesday.

“Just last month, we announced that a 1.8 percent decrease in workers’ compensation rates could mean a $79.5 million savings for Florida businesses,” Patronis said in a written statement.

It was one of two rate decreases since Jan. 1, following a significant increase blamed on Florida Supreme Court rulings making it easier to litigate benefits disputes and secure permanent disability awards.

“Reducing the cost of doing business for workers’ compensation carriers by $20 million means additional savings could be passed on to Florida businesses, easing financial burdens,” Patronis said.

“Anytime we can reduce the cost of doing business we should. Doing so supports our neighborhood businesses and ultimately, both our local and state economy.”

Insurers contribute to the Workers’ Compensation Administrative Trust Fund according to their net premiums received, to cover the costs of overseeing the system. The Legislature abolished another account, the Special Disability Trust Fund, in 1997, but some employers continue to pay to administer earlier claims.

Personnel note: Major B. Harding joins greyhound group’s legal team

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding has joined the Florida Greyhound Association‘s (FGA) legal team.

The addition of Harding, a high court appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, was announced Wednesday by association general counsel Jeff Kottkamp. Harding served on the Florida Supreme Court 1991-2002; Kottkamp was Florida’s lieutenant governor from 2007-11 under Gov. Charlie Crist.

The association, which represents owners and breeders, is now fighting against Amendment 13, a proposed state constitutional change put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The measure aims at ending dog racing in the state. It needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

A lawsuit against the amendment was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court and was assigned to Judge Terry Lewis.

“The suit requests that the court strike Amendment 13 from the general election ballot,” Harding said in a statement. “The basis for our challenge is that the ballot title and summary do not fairly inform the voters of what they are being asked to vote on … In order to maintain the integrity of both the election process and our Constitution, we believe the amendment should be struck.”

Among other claims, the suit says the ballot title and summary “… fail to inform voters that its passage would essentially expand gambling by allowing pari-mutuel facilities in Florida to convert to mini-casinos.” The amendment would allow other gambling activities such as card games to continue at tracks after dog racing ends.

Kottkamp and Paul Hawkes, a former appellate judge and now also on the FGA legal team, have previously opined against the measure, saying the CRC “was never intended to be a ‘super-Legislature’ or a vehicle to propose putting issues in the constitution that ‘can’t get through the Legislature.’

“And, it was certainly never intended they would place proposals on the ballot merely because they were thought to be a ‘good idea,’ ” they said.

Advocates of the racing ban, supported by Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and GOP state Sen. Tom Lee, have launched a “Protect Dogs – Yes on 13” campaign, while opponents formed The Committee to Support Greyhounds to inveigh against the amendment.

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Postscript: Since retiring from the Supreme Court, Harding has been a shareholder at Tallahassee’s Ausley McMullen law firm, specializing in alternative dispute resolution and appellate law.

Earlier this year, Harding registered to lobby for Keep Our Constitution Clean, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, based in Fort Lauderdale. It was formed Jan. 24, state records show, by three principals: Jason BlankRichard Corey and Jason Haber.

Blank and Haber are partners in the Haber Blank law firm of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Corey has his own law firm, also in Fort Lauderdale. They have declined to answer questions about the organization. Critics have privately mused whether it was formed by dog-racing interests.

The nonprofit’s stated aim, however, is to “promote a responsible amendment process,” referring to the CRC.

In February, Ausley McMullen lobbyist Stephen Craig Emmanuel told Florida Politics his clients’ main goal is to ensure the state constitution is “not cluttered by things that should be in state statute.”

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