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Rebekah Bydlak crosses $100K mark for state House campaign

Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak has raised nearly $108,000 for her campaign to take over for Rep. Clay Ingram in House District 1.

Bydlak raised $6,725 last month, bringing her fundraising total to $107,987 since filing for the seat in August. She also sent $2,656 during the reporting period, leaving her with about $88,000 on hand heading into March.

The February numbers follow nearly $14,000 in contributions received in January.

Bydlak brought in 28 contributions last month, including a pair at the campaign maximum of $1,000.

The max checks from Rich Howard and Cliff Maloney were complemented by another four checks for $500, one each from the Pensacola Indoor Shooting Range, health care exec Anna Benson, former Rep. Susan Goldstein and Jason Broxson, the son of Gulf Breeze Sen. Doug Broxson.

Spending included $2,141 in payments to Gainesville-based Data Targeting Research and $350 to Robinson Hanks Young & Roberts for accounting work. The remainder took care of credit card fees from fundraising platform Anedot.

Bydlak is far ahead, moneywise, in the HD 1 race. She faces former Rep. Mike Hill in the primary for HD 1. Democrat Vikki Garrett is the only other candidate to file for the seat.

Hill, who served in the House from 2013 through 2016, added $1,220 in February and spent $2,416. Since filing in September, he’s raised $32,265 and had about $22,000 of that money in the bank at the end of last month.

His report showed 11 contributions, with retiree Diane Dobson, attorney Edmund Holt, rancher Jamie Siegmeister and investor Michael Price tying for the top spot with $200 checks.

Garrett showed $620 of new money in her report and has raised $12,575 through seven months in the race – somewhat impressive, given the district’s hefty Republican advantage.

Only one Democrat has made the ballot in HD 1 since it was redrawn – Gloria Robertson-Wiggins in 2014 – and without counting loans, she raised just $750 throughout her campaign.

Garrett finished the month with about $7,500 on hand.

HD 1 covers the western inland portion of Escambia County, including Brent, Bellview, Ensley, Ferry Pass, Gonzalez and Molino. Ingram went virtually unopposed in 2012 and 2016, and in 2014 defeated Robertson-Wiggins with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

All four Democratic gubernatorial candidates commit to Tampa debate

The Tampa debate is on for all four major Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

The campaigns for Andrew Gillum and Philip Levine joined those of Chris King and Gwen Graham Thursday in announcing they have committed to a debate being planned in Tampa on April 18.

After Gillum challenged his rivals to agree to a series of debates Thursday, in quick succession King’s and Graham’s campaigns, and then Gillum’s and Levine’s all announced they have committed to one at WTVT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Tampa.

Gillum’s campaign said they were the first to pledge to that debate but kept quiet about it, waiting for the station to firm everything up and announce.

“We’re pleased two of the other campaigns [King and Graham] have agreed to debate on stage there, and we look forward to adding more debates. Democrats deserve to hear from all of the campaigns all over the state,” said Gillum’s Campaign Communications Director Geoff Burgan.

Around the same time he was issuing that statement, Levine’s campaign also announced his commitment.

“Mayor Levine looks forward to participating in the April 18th debate in the Tampa Bay area, and share his vision for Florida, coupled with his record of progressive accomplishments as a successful two-term Mayor,” said his consultant Christian Ulvert.

The station has not announced any details about time or format.

Andrew Gillum issues debate challenge; Chris King, Gwen Graham say they’ve confirmed

Is a debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidates at a Tampa TV station on April 18 in the works? The campaigns for Chris King and Gwen Graham say yes, while the campaign for Andrew Gillum, who’s been challenging his rivals to debates, and the campaign for Philip Levine are mum.

On Thursday afternoon, Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, renewed his call for a series of debates between Democratic gubernatorial candidates. King’s campaign quickly responded by not only saying he agrees with the call for debates, but that he has committed to one on April 18 in Tampa.

Graham’s campaign then confirmed that she, too, has agreed to a proposed debate at WTVT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Tampa.

Since those responses raising the prospect of the Tampa debate came in, there has been no reaction from Gillum’s campaign, nor any response from the campaign of Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor.

Officials at WTVT-TV were not immediately available Wednesday to confirm their plans, or those of any candidates.

“Last October, we challenged our fellow Democratic campaigns to at least six debates in red and blue counties across our state. We are now less than six months from primary election day, but unfortunately we’ve been met with silence,” Gillum’s campaign Communications Director Geoff Burgan said in a news release. “As the policy differences between the candidates have become clear recently, we know it’s time to take this discussion directly to voters. Floridians deserve to know where we stand on expanding health care to every Floridian, transforming the economy for working people, consistently fighting for gun safety, standing up for public schools, and protecting our environment. We hope our fellow candidates will stop avoiding these debates and give our voters a chance to kick the tires.”

We’re in, responded King’s campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe.

“Our campaign has already accepted a televised debate invitation from WTVT-TV in Tampa and we hope the other candidates will join Chris at their studios on April 18,” Jaffe said in a written response issued by King’s campaign.

When advised of King’s campaign statement, Graham’s campaign said that she also has agreed to be in the WTVT-TV debate, and that she has received a confirmation from the station.

In the statement released by his campaign, King said, “Voters deserve to hear where the candidates stand and I’m ready to offer Floridians my vision for new leadership and fresh ideas. If Florida Democrats want to win, we should face the voters and offer them real solutions in a debate, not stale talking points. We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish-language, African American, Haitian, Caribbean, LGBT and other diverse media outlets are included in these debates.”

Is Florida drilling off the table?

Enterprise Florida, the state’s business-recruitment agency, expects waters off the Florida coast won’t be included in the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plans, despite U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s warning that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told members of Congress this week that “Florida is still in the process.”

“The secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, in front of the Senate Energy Committee today (Tuesday), has just said very confusingly — but bottom line — Florida is still on the table for drilling off of the coast of Florida,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “This is exactly the opposite of what the people of Florida want.”

Zinke flew to Tallahassee on Jan. 9, meeting briefly with Scott and reporters, and announced that currently protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida would not be included in a federal five-year offshore oil and gas drilling program.

Nelson, who is expected to face a challenge this fall from Scott for his Senate seat, called Zinke’s announcement in January a “political stunt” to further the governor’s career.

On Wednesday, Amy Gowder, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin’s Training and Logistics Solutions and a member of the Enterprise Florida board of directors, said officials expect Zinke to keep his word.

“The department has still not revised their maps yet to reflect that agreement, but we expect a report that is due to Congress by the end of the month,” Gowder told members of an Enterprise Florida committee.

As with Nelson, Enterprise Florida views potential drilling as a threat to military installations and the state’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

Philip Levine announces Ed Rendell’s endorsement

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has picked up an endorsement from Pennsylvania’s former governor Ed Rendell.

Rendell served as general chair of the Democratic National Committee during the last two years of the Clinton administration. He served two terms as Pennsylvania’s governor after that, and two terms as mayor of Philadelphia before his DNC post.

Levine is a former mayor of Miami Beach.

“I am proud to support Mayor Philip Levine to be the next governor of Florida,” Rendell said in a news release issued by Levine’s campaign. “As a former two-term mayor myself, I am happy to stand behind another mayor with a strong record of success, who has done the right thing for his community by taking bold action on climate change, raising the minimum wage, and fighting for the values that improve the lives of residents. During my time as governor, I realized I was incredibly well prepared for the challenges I would face because of my service as a two term mayor. As the former chair of the DNC, I also know what it takes to win tough races. Philip has everything it takes to win the Governor’s mansion after over 20 years of one-party rule and bring Florida Democrats together with a bold progressive vision for the future.”

Levine is battling with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor. The leading Republican candidates are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“Ed is a good friend, an incredible mayor, and an accomplished governor in his own right,” Levine said in the release. “Our campaign continues to grow its support because Floridians know we will shake up Tallahassee and focus on getting things done. As governor, I’m committed to move Florida forward as a leader in the 21st century economy by investing in our public schools, our environment, our healthcare, and fighting for the real needs of Floridians.”

Poll: Voters unsure on offshore drilling ban, ballot amendment rules

A new poll found Florida voters have mixed feelings on Constitution Revision Commission proposals that would ban offshore drilling and move the goal posts on ballot amendments.

The Clearview Research poll found 54 percent of voters were on board for a constitutional amendment to ban offshore oil and gas drilling, while 42 percent were against the measure, contained in CRC Proposal 91.

“Somewhat surprisingly, a ban on offshore oil drilling does not poll as high as one might have guessed given Florida’s history on this issue,” said Clearview President Steve Vancore. “At 54 percent – 42 percent and a very low number of undecided voters (only 4 percent), this would have a hard time crossing the 60 percent threshold.”

Still, the poll found most in favor of the idea were resolute in their support – 43 percent said they would definitely vote yes, while 11 percent said they would probably support the amendment.

The opposition was a little softer.

Of the 42 percent who said they were against the ban, just 14 percent said they were firm no-voters, while 28 percent said they were leaning in that direction.

Another proposal that would change the rules on how constitutional amendments are approved received a similarly tepid response in the poll.

CRC Proposal 97 would require ballot amendments to get 60 percent of the total vote in an election to pass, rather than 60 percent of those who mark their opinion on their ballot.

In the 2016 election, Floridians cast nearly 9.5 million votes yet only 9.1 million marked “yes” or “no” on the medical marijuana amendment.

Under Prop 96, the amendment would need to achieve 60 percent support among the 9.5 million voters who participated in the election rather than the 9.1 million who voted for or against it – a difference of nearly a quarter million votes.

The poll found 55 percent supported the change, while 27 percent were opposed.

Among the backers, 26 percent were strongly in favor and 29 percent were leans. About one in six voters said they were strongly against the proposal, while 11 percent were leaning toward voting against it and 18 percent were unsure.

Vancore said the breakdown puts it “on the cusp of passing.”

The poll contacted 750 likely Florida voters between March 1 and March 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.58 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The firm has also released polls this week measuring the Rick Scott v. Bill Nelson U.S. Senate race and two others, each measuring voter sentiment on three CRC proposals.

Clearview Research assumes 41 percent of voters in November will be registered Republicans and 39 percent will be Democrats.

Poll: Florida voters overwhelmingly want ‘Marsy’s Law’

Voters are overwhelmingly in favor of a Constitution Revision Commission proposal that would add victims’ rights to the Florida Constitution.

The proposal, known as “Marsy’s Law,” establishes a Victim Bill of Rights which would require crime victims to be told about their rights as well as services available to them and entitles them to updates on criminal proceedings, to be informed of meetings between the accused and state attorneys before plea deals are handed out, and gives them the option to attend and speak during court proceedings.

The proposal is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. All but 15 states, including Florida, enumerate victims’ rights in their constitutions.

A Clearview Research poll, released Thursday, found more than three-quarters of voters would vote for such an amendment if it was on the 2018 ballot.

Marsy’s Law is contained in CRC Proposal 96, sponsored by Commissioner Timothy Cerio. The proposal scored similarly high marks in past polls Florida voters and on Tuesday a pair of state attorneys offered their endorsement.

“The so-called Marsy’s Law proposal is a near lock to pass as it sits at 78 percent support and voters seem to clearly want the rights of crime victims to be expanded,” Clearview Research President Steve Vancore said. “In fact, both ‘rights’ proposals lead the pack in term of support, with the nursing home residents’ rights drawing 86 percent and expanded victims’ rights pulling 78 percent.”

Of those who were in favor, 52 percent said they would definitely vote in favor of Marsy’s Law, while 26 percent said they would likely vote for the amendment.

Only 13 percent of those polled said they were against the proposal, including 7 percent put themselves down as definitely voting no, while 9 percent said they were unsure how they would vote.

The Clearview Research poll contacted 750 likely Florida voters between March 1 and March 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.58 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The firm has also released polls this week measuring the Rick Scott v. Bill Nelson U.S. Senate race and two others, each measuring voter sentiment on three CRC proposals.

The poll estimates 41 percent of voters in November will be registered Republicans and 39 percent will be Democrats.

New state budget lands on Rick Scott’s desk

The clock is now ticking on Gov. Rick Scott to act on his final state budget.

The Legislature sent a newly passed $88.7 billion fiscal plan to the governor’s office Wednesday, giving Scott 15 days to decide the line-by-line fate of how lawmakers want to spend money, from big-ticket items such as education and health care to numerous local projects backed by individual lawmakers.

Asked when Scott might act on the budget, a spokesman responded Wednesday in an email, “We’ll keep you updated on this.”

The budget (HB 5001), which was approved by the House and Senate on Sunday, was among 47 bills formally sent Wednesday to Scott, who cannot seek a third term in November.

The 452-page budget, among other things, would increase public-school funding by $101.50 per student, provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. The spending plan will take effect July 1, the start of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Last year, Scott used his line-item veto pen to slash $410 million in projects across the state, saying they failed to “provide a great return for Florida families.”

Included on the 2017 chopping block were $20.9 million for citrus-canker payments in Broward County and $16.5 million for similar payments in Lee County.

Legislators had agreed to pay the money to compensate residents in a class-action suit who had lost orange, grapefruit and other citrus trees as part of a Florida Department of Agriculture program to stop the spread of deadly citrus-canker disease. Attorneys for the homeowners raised property-rights arguments in challenging the department’s actions, and a judgment was entered in 2008.

Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that he vetoed the citrus-canker money due to ongoing litigation.

Legislators this year included $22 million for citrus-canker payments in Broward County and $30 million for similar payments in Palm Beach County.

Along with the budget, other bills that reached Scott desk on Wednesday included:

– HB 21, which would take a series of steps to try to curb the state’s opioid crisis. The bill includes limiting opioid prescriptions to three or seven days for many patients.

– HB 1165, which would revamp state laws about approving trauma centers. The bill comes after years of legal and regulatory fights about new trauma centers.

– HB 1011, which would require homeowners’ insurance policies to make clear that they do not cover flood damages and that policyholders might need to consider buying flood insurance.

– HB 7099, which would ratify a rule requiring nursing homes to have generators and 72 hours of fuel. The Scott administration issued the rule after the deaths of Broward County nursing-home residents following Hurricane Irma.

– HB 1013, which would seek to keep Florida on daylight saving time throughout the year.

– HB 155, which would designate Florida cracker cattle as the official state heritage cattle breed.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Lauren Book’s ‘Walk in My Shoes’ takes to the streets of St. Pete

Survivors, advocates, elected officials and law enforcement turned out in St. Petersburg Wednesday to rally for an end to sexual abuse, taking added significance in light of the growing #MeToo movement.

Hosted by the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids, the rally was part of the 8th Annual Walk in My Shoes, a 13-day Tallahassee-to-Key-West advocacy event led by founder and CEO Lauren Book.

With Wednesday’s 4.8-mile walk, which began at the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters, protesters wanted to send a message: “Enough is enough!”

Since 2010, Book — herself a sexual abuse survivor, advocate, mother of twins and now state Senator from Plantation — has walked throughout Florida every year to raise awareness and eradicate sexual abuse.

In 2018, Walk in My Shoes — along with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — illustrates there is still more to do to remove the shame surrounding sexual abuse, protect Floridians, support survivors and hold abusers accountable.

According to statistics cited on the Lauren’s Kids website, a sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds in the U.S. One in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys in America will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday by someone they know, love and trust.

However, since statistics also show that 95 percent of child sexual abuse can be prevented through education and awareness, Lauren’s Kids has made it a mission to walk through cities across Florida to educate the public.

“We are proud to share the road with the St. Petersburg Police Department, along with survivors, advocates and elected officials all committed to increasing awareness and protecting children,” Book said a statement.  “Our law enforcement partners set the tone as the first responders to abuse reports. This department has long sent a strong message that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse in the St. Petersburg community.”

Walk in My Shoes — which crisscrosses the state every year — began Saturday in Tallahassee, a departure from its traditional starting point in Key West, which is still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

Since she also serves as a state lawmaker, Book postponed the walk until after the recently ended Legislative Session.

During this year’s 60-day work period, Book had sponsored several bills to combat sexual abuse and assault — including those aiming to hold hotels accountable if they turn a blind eye to human trafficking (SB 1044) as well as legislation to combat sexual harassment in state government (CS/SB 1628).

“We recognize that one way to foster a safe community is by proactively aligning ourselves with organizations committed to crime prevention and keeping our citizens safe,” said Sgt. Jason Deary of the St. Petersburg Police Department Crime Watch Unit. “Lauren’s Kids has done a tremendous job increasing awareness about the threat of sexual abuse while empowering children and adults with tools to keep themselves aware and informed.”

While in Pinellas County, the Lauren’s Kids team also visited the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to refresh a children’s intake room with a Dr. Seuss theme. The intake room is designed to be a safe place for children involved in a crime. Participants updated the area to help it become more comfortable and friendly for children experiencing trauma.

After traversing the state, 2018’s Walk in My Shoes will conclude with a celebration in Key West on Mallory Square Friday, March 23.

For a full schedule or learn more, visit LaurensKids.org.

‘It was time for a sabbatical’: Scandals drive Brian Pitts away

After years of being a persistent—sometimes annoying—presence in committee rooms across the Capitol, only one thing was able to make Tallahassee’s best-known gadfly hang up his corduroy jacket: a snowball of scandals.

“Latvala, Clemens, Artiles—all this happened in one year. In one year! No, that is not acceptable and it was too much. It was time for a sabbatical,” said Brian Pitts, a self-described “civil activist” for Justice 2 Jesus.

Former Sen. Frank Artiles stepped down after using the n-word to refer to one of his colleagues in an alcohol-fueled night out in downtown Tallahassee.

Ousted Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Clemens resigned late last year after being accused of having extra-marital affairs with women in their political orbit. Latvala is currently under criminal investigation on accusations that he may have traded votes for sex.

“Latvala was an old fool trying to play with the young bucks as they do,” Pitts said. “Instead of using that institutional knowledge, he goes and acts like the young bucks, and he got caught.”

But Pitts said cases of misconduct began to take a toll on him early last year, before the sex scandals.

First was state Rep. Cary Pigman, who was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Then came former state Rep. Daisy Baez, who resigned for violating residency rules, and later what he calls an “abuse of leadership” by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The last drop, though, was Sen. Oscar Braynon, he said.

The Miami Democrat was sponsoring his claims bill and after Braynon apologized for having a relationship with Sen. Anitere Flores that “evolved to a level [they] deeply regret,” he considered his bill tainted. Both senators are married.

“The Braynon and Flores affair, that was it,” Pitts said. “I gave the Legislature the opportunity to do without Mr. Gadfly or Mr. Preacher.”

That’s why Pitts said he vanished this Session. It wasn’t an illness. Or money issues, he assures. It was the pervasive misconduct that “came short of breaking the law” that pushed him out.

If he would’ve stayed, he didn’t know if he would be able to conduct himself appropriately in committee.

“I would have had to be dealing with them publicly in between their bills to say, ‘y’all got so many issues and are not in the position to deal with Floridians right now,’ and that would have been disrespectful,” the St. Petersburg resident said.

In his absence, the Capitol was stripped from his classic phrases that include “if the bill is too long, you know there’s somethin’ wrong,” “Jesus wouldn’t agree with this,” or “I’m telling you right now, before you shoot yourself in the foot.”

There were also no sightings of Pitts doing research on the lone computer in the corner of the Capitol’s fifth floor, diligently taking notes.

In place of his absence, he left a Twitter rant in all caps—as is his style—as a message ahead of the 2018 legislative session start. And once gone, another person took over his gadfly role: Greg Pound.

Pound, like Pitts, is a man who uniquely testifies on many topics and in many committees. But Pitts is more tame at the podium than Pound, something the Justice 2 Jesus activist says he is trying to teach him how to do.

“I tell him, ‘you still have to have respect for them’ and I say, ‘you are dealing with issues on the bill, this is not a soap box,’” Pitts said. “But he gets whacked out because he doesn’t follow the process.”

One classic example was when Pound marched to the podium and name-dropped an InfoWars article citing Parkland shooting victims as actors. This was said during the first Senate committee hearing on the controversial gun and school safety measure that was crafted in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre where 17 were killed and many others were injured.

His testimony was heard in a room packed with opponents of the bill, including Parkland student survivors and parents who lost their children in the school shooting.

“He gets too emotional, he is a class of his own,” Pitts said.

Whether Pitts will be back next session is unclear, but regardless of what happens, he said he is still keeping an eye on what goes on in Tallahassee. His job is to fight for “whatever is right for Floridians.”

“I continue to watch because I am not done with it. I have to watch because I need to know what is going up there because I need to know how it affect the locals,” Pitts said.

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