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February 14, 2017

Rubio backs broad investigation into Russian meddling

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio says questions into Michael Flynn’s dealings with the Russians are best handled as part of a broader investigation into Russia’s involvement in U.S. affairs.

“There’s an ongoing, bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Rubio, a member of the committee, said Tuesday at the Capitol. “I believe the scope of that would cover anything that has to do with Russia and its involvement in before, during and after the election. …

“I have full confidence that the intelligence committee is going to do a good job. If they don’t, I’ll let everyone know that we didn’t, but I believe that we can and I believe that we will.”

Yesterday, Rubio made similar remarks. “We are going to go wherever the truth leads us,” he said.

Rubio did not directly comment on the Flynn situation.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott targets House members who voted to kill job incentive agency


Gov. Rick Scott was in Tampa on Monday where he singled out State Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, as one of nine Republicans who voted for a bill that would kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida (Photo courtesy of Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa)


Call it the Rick Scott retribution tour.

Sure, the Republican Governor’s office called his stops in Cape Coral, Tampa, Panama City, and Jacksonville this week the “Fighting for Florida’s Jobs” tour. But they all coincidentally have one big thing in common.

All four stops have been in the districts of four of the nine House Republicans who last week voted to killed two of his most cherished agencies: Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. And in each stop Scott was sure to remind business leaders that their locally elected representative was part of the group of 9 Republicans defied him and voted to completely eliminate those two agencies, which Scott says have been keys to Florida creating 1.2 million private sector jobs since he was elected.

House Republicans have moved to kill the agencies, saying both are a forms of “corporate welfare” that put the government in the role of picking some companies over others to get funding.

In Tampa on Monday, Scott responded by literally standing in Rep. Shawn Harrison’s district at Tampa when he went off on the Republican for backing the plan.

“I am shocked, right here locally Shawn Harrison voted against Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida,” Scott told reporters after repeatedly telling business leaders at the Museum of Science and Industry that Harrison voted for the bill to kill the agencies.

Harrison responded on Twitter, telling supporters that as a small business owner he's never taken incentive dollars and that "taxpayer funded job creators should prove themselves!"

Later it was off to Flagler Beach, where Scott launched into Rep. Paul Renner, whose district include Flagler Beach.

“I was shocked last week your local state Rep. Paul Renner presented a bill in a House committee to completely eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida,” Scott told dozens of local business owners.

In case anyone didn't catch the name, Scott went after Renner two more times during the roundtable and singled him out again when speaking to the media later. At one point he accused Renner of essentially saying he thinks Flagler Beach has enough jobs and doesn’t need any more.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott targets House members who voted to kill job incentive agency" »

Lobbyist muscle will be major force in medical marijuana fight


FullSizeRenderLast week, hundreds of hopeful patients, caregivers and business interests filled meeting rooms across the state to tell health officials how they want Florida’s medical marijuana program to go into effect after 71 percent of voters approved it.

In Tallahassee, the picture is a little different. Instead of patients, lobbyists pack committee hearings.

Lobbyists, paid to represent various interests, are normally the ones watching as state lawmakers cast votes, but their interest in pot is so great that the first House subcommittee meeting on the subject was standing-room only. Sergeant-at-arms staffers blocked the door, turning people away.

At the final stop in the Department of Health's statewide tour of public hearings, Chelsie Lyons, a Tallahassee-based activist with Minorities for Medical Marijuana called out the process that will turn Amendment 2 into a state laws and rules governing medical cannabis.

"The elephant in the room is that this is about business," she said. "It's about palliative care and treating people, but in the back of everyone's mind, there's dollars and coins and cents rolling around."

More than 150 lobbyists are registered to represent more than 100 different interest groups, according to lobbying disclosure data published for the first time this year by the Florida House. (However, lobbyists tell the Times/Herald those numbers are high because some people accidentally registered all of their clients as interested in cannabis and were unable to change their entry in the House’s system.)

Still, that means the loudest voices in setting cannabis policy are likely to be those of lobbyists and the groups they represent.

Chief among them, six of the seven nurseries that currently hold licenses to grow and sell cannabis in Florida have lined up significant lobbying muscle. The dollar figures of these contracts are not yet available but expect big money to be spent lobbying the implementation of Amendment 2.

Trulieve/Hackney Nurseries in Gadsden County: 12 lobbyists from five firms (Ballard Partners; Capital City Consulting; Colodny Fass; Broad and Cassel; and Pittman Law Group)

The Green Solution/San Felasco Nurseries in Alachua County: Nine lobbyists from five firms (Smith, Bryan & Myers; Unconventional Strategies; Macy Island Consulting; Lindstrom Consulting; and Igniting Florida)

Surterra Therapeutics/Alpha Foliage in Hillsborough County: Seven lobbyists from two firms (Ron Book, Corcoran & Johnston and the Rubin Group).

Modern Health Concepts/Costa Farms in Miami-Dade County: Six lobbyists from three firms (Southern Strategies; Impact GR; and Broad and Cassel).

Knox Medical in Orange County: Two lobbyists from one firm (Floridian Partners).

CHT Medical/Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua County: One lobbyist from one firm (SKD Consulting).

This list does not include the many other interests at play: Patient groups, organizations for doctors and other medical professionals, cities and counties that want zoning and regulatory power under the new laws, and plenty of growers, dispensaries and testing facilities that lost out in the existing system.

Advocacy groups pushing for a more open medical marijuana market are lining up hired guns, as well.

Florida for Care, the group that pushed the constitutional amendment, has hired Brecht Heuchan and the Mayernick Group, as well as having two registered lobbyists on its own staff.

And lobbyists Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl from Capitol Alliance Group started a Medical Marijuana Business Association in 2014 to be a source of information to the policy process. Capitol Alliance Group also represents several interests, including some who want to become licensed growers and even a cannabis-focused bank.

This post has been updated.

Photo: A House committee room is standing-room-only as lobbyists pack in for a public hearing on medical cannabis. The room was so packed, staff in the sergeant-at-arms' office had to block entrance to latecomers. (Michael Auslen, Times/Herald)

Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits have cost Palm Beach County sheriff $1.5M and counting

From the Associated Press:

Donald Trump's visits to his South Florida estate since he was elected president have cost the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department $1.5 million in overtime costs.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is confident the money his department has spent while assisting the Secret Service will be reimbursed by the federal government.

"I do hope he is correct," said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

The county sent letters to federal officials in December seeking reimbursement for the overtime security costs from Trump's five-day visit to the estate called Mar-a-lago in November, the Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday.

Those costs were originally estimated at $250,000, but Bradshaw said the total will be closer to $300,000. Based on the revised number, the sheriff said told the newspaper the security costs are amounting to about $60,000 a day during Trump's visits to the county.

More here.

GOP senators to Trump: Keep and grow Guantánamo

via @carolrosenberg

A group of Republican senators has written President Donald Trump to not only keep the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but to suspend the parole-style review board and grow the prison population.

Four of the 11 senators who wrote Trump represent Colorado, Kansas and South Carolina — states the Obama administration had considered as possible sites for relocation of the last 41 Guantánamo detainees.

They called the prison a “vital mission” and “an invaluable asset” and criticized former President Barack Obama’s releases and closure ambition as “blatant disregard for the safety of the American people.” About 780 captives have been held there across the years; most were released by former President George W. Bush, who opened the detention center in 2002.

The senators wrote that Guantánamo “should continue to serve in detaining terrorists who engaged in, aided, or abetted, or conspired to commit, acts of international terrorism and other adverse acts against the United States.”

More here.

Jewish fears of White House mount on eve of Trump visit with Netanyahu

via @katieglueck

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Donald Trump in Washington this week, he will do so against the backdrop of an American Jewish diaspora more fearful and skeptical of the U.S. government than it has been in decades.

Interviews with more than a dozen top Jewish political operatives and leaders across the country reveal deep discomfort with a refugee ban than hits close to home, alarm about some of Trump’s top advisers and, most of all, overwhelming concerns about the administration’s rhetoric on the Holocaust and its approach to dealing with anti-Semitism.

Those worries were present throughout the 2016 presidential election, as some of Trump’s most vocal supporters included avowed anti-Semites, and his campaign occasionally employed the veiled anti-Semitic messages and images associated with the white supremacist community.

Now, concerns about the White House’s tolerance of anti-Semitism have burst to the fore after the president’s team said it intentionally omitted a reference to Jewish suffering in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement in an effort to be “inclusive.” Worse yet, in Jewish leaders’ minds, Trump’s team repeatedly dismissed ensuing criticism as “pathetic” and “asinine.”

Indeed, on the eve of Netanyahu’s meeting Wednesday with Trump, it’s hard to overstate just how much that approach has rattled the Jewish community.

“Nobody can understand why the administration continues to fight efforts to just simply acknowledge, yes, the Final Solution was focused on the Jews. Hitler wanted to destroy the Jewish people,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said in an interview with McClatchy, slamming his fist on a wooden table in a dimly lit community center here in Pompano Beach, north of Miami.

More here.

Orlando housing investor emerges as 2018 Democratic contender for Florida governor

02132017_205054_chrisking_8colvia @adamsmithtimes

Christopher King, a 38-year-old housing investor from the Orlando area, is exploring a run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018 and sounds more likely to run than not. The President and CEO of Winter Park-based Elevation Financial Group has been interviewing with potential campaign staffers and we hear has all but lined up several top tier consultants, including Obama alums Larry Grisolano of AKPD Message and Media and Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies.

"We have to make a decision in the next 30 to 60 days," said King, whose father, David King, was the lead attorney for the Fair Districts redistricting reform coalition in 2014.

King specializes in affordable housing and said what drew him initially into exploring a run was state leaders steadily depleting the state's affordable housing trust fund. That, combined with watching the redistricting process and state leaders balk at expanding access to health insurance for hunndreds of thousands of Floridians, fired him up.

He has never run for office before and faces the prospect of taking on experienced politicians including mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Philip Levine of Miami Beach, as well as former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and personal injury lawyer John Morgan. King said he would bring a businessman's perspective to the debate about best to grow jobs and opportunity in Florida.

Hat tip to Scott Powers

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

House Speaker Richard Corcoran's next target: the Florida Lottery

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has demanded extensive financial records from colleges, universities and tourism and economic development boards. He refused to pay "outrageous" legal fees to a state agency. He threatened to sue the chief justice of the state Supreme Court over the question of a retired justice's continued participation in cases.

Now Corcoran plans to file a lawsuit against the Florida Lottery for signing a long-term contract for online games, including a new smartphone app, that costs nearly $700 million but would bind future legislatures, which Corcoran considers a violation of state law. If Corcoran succeeds, the contract would be thrown out and the Lottery would have to bid it all over again.

There's no comment yet from the speaker's office, but the Times/Herald has learned that a lawsuit could be filed as early as Thursday. The start of the 2017 legislative session is three weeks away, and the speaker of the House is planning to sue a state agency under the control of Gov. Rick Scott.

Because the Lottery is a state agency, a lawsuit will be seen as another frontal assault by Corcoran on Scott, who appoints the Lottery director. Here's the news release saying the Lottery inked a contract with International Game Technology (IGT) to provide games for a 13-year period through 2031.

"We are in the business to sell tickets and generate money for education," said Connie Barnes, a Lottery spokeswoman, when the IGT deal was announced last September. 

February 13, 2017

Miami Republican lawmakers praise Trump for sanctioning Venezuelan VP


The Trump administration's move Monday to sanction Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and accuse him of being a drug kingpin drew immediate support from Miami Republican lawmakers.

Five days ago, 34 members of Congress from both political parties -- led by Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez -- urged President Donald Trump in a letter to target El Aissami and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's inner circle. The letter was also signed by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and several Florida representatives.

Here are some key reactions from Monday:


The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent. For years, I’ve talked about how Venezuelan regime officials are committing crimes in Venezuela, stealing from the Venezuelan people and then spending their riches living in the lap of luxury in Miami. Today’s announcement further confirms how true this is, and the extent to which corrupt and criminal Venezuelan regime officials have been allowed to freely travel and prance around U.S. soil with impunity.

I’m hopeful this is only the beginning of making sure the Maduro regime feels pressure to cease its illicit activities, free all political prisoners, tolerate dissent, and respect the will of the Venezuelan people, who voted to abandon the disastrous path of Chavez and Maduro.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo:

The rise to power of Tareck El Aissami has been an alarming development for anyone desiring a future of freedom, democracy, and dignity for the Venezuelan people. These sanctions send a strong message of solidarity to the people of Venezuela and against the gangsters who have destroyed that country and brought so many Venezuelans to the point of starvation. I’m grateful the Administration took such swift action after my colleagues and I urged the President to sanction this Maduro thug last week. I look forward to continuing to work with this Administration to prioritize human rights and hold corrupt regimes accountable.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:

I thank President Trump and his administration for taking swift action on our letter to sanction a corrupt and dangerous Maduro regime operative. I greatly appreciate the ability to work closely with the White House on such an important issue to our national security within our hemisphere. Human rights abuses and corruption inVenezuela continue to escalate, and El Aissami’s recent appointment as Maduro’s right-hand thug will only worsen conditions for the Venezuelan people. El Aissami is an infamous narcotrafficker under investigation by the U.S. government for drug crimes.

I commend the Trump Administration for taking a strong stand against the oppressive, anti-American Maduro regime, and I look forward to working with the White House in pressing for human rights, rule of law and a restoration of democratic institutions for the Venezuelan people.

Ros-Lehtinen (with Menendez):

Adding Tareck El-Aissami and Samark Jose Lopez Bello to the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals list is long overdue, but we welcome these sanctions because they signal a fundamental step in charting a positive role the United States can continue to play given the deteriorating crisis in Venezuela. Last week, we led a bicameral and bipartisan letter to the administration calling for action against Maduro regime officials responsible for the Venezuelan people’s suffering and we welcome this and any additional efforts to support Venezuelans languishing under this corrupt and repressive regime. With democracy under total siege in Venezuela and without any due process or rule of law left, we can and must do more to hold the Maduro regime accountable, including all those in the kangaroo court responsible for the unjust incarceration of Leopoldo Lopez. We commend the Administration for acting quickly and decisively as the human rights violations, political persecution and impunity in Venezuela cannot go unpunished.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston:

Placing Tareck El-Aissami and his key front man Samark Jose Lopez Bello on the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals list is an important move that will allow the United States to play a much tougher role in reversing the dramatically worsening political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

The corrupt Maduro regime has shredded any due process protections, and unleashed a brutal campaign of political persecution and human rights abuses. I strongly support these sanctions, and the swift push to punish those responsible for using it as an excuse to further pillage and punish the Venezuelan people. These sanctions are overdue, and ensure that the United States cannot be used as a financial haven for these illicit, narco-stained assets.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R):

U.S. sanctions Venezuelan vice president

via @DelgadoAntonioM

The U.S. government added Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami to its sanctions list Monday, saying he “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” and freezing his access to a fortune estimated at $3 billion after a lengthy investigation of his alleged links to drug traffickers and Muslim extremists.

The measure also covers Samark Lopez — accused of being the principal front man for El Aissami — and nearly a dozen companies linked to Lopez.

El Aissami and Lopez were the latest of several Venezuelan government officials and supporters listed as alleged drug traffickers by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions. The sanctions were authorized under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

“OFAC’s action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela, and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” said OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith.

“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” Smith added in a statement. “Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department.”

The sanctioned companies own three condos at the upscale Millennium Tower Residences at the Four Seasons hotel in Brickell. The companies paid nearly $7 million for the three units in 2012 and 2013, Miami-Dade County property records show.

More here.

Photo credit: Leo Ramirez, AFP/Getty Images