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February 15, 2017

Enterprise Florida CEO says agency is 'worth saving'


As 43-day tenures on the job go, Chris Hart’s has been about as tough as you can get.

Hart, the new CEO of Enterprise Florida was once again testifying before a committee in the Florida Legislature today, trying to convince lawmakers to simply let his agency continue to exist. Hart took over in January with a mission to restore trust in Enterprise Florida, which had been criticized for excessive spending in the past.

It was weeks after he took the job that the Florida House proposed a bill to wipe Hart’s entire agency off the map.

“It’s been a whirlwind, as you can imagine,” Hart told a Senate budget writing subcommittee on Wednesday.

Hart said the agency has cut back office space, reined in travel cost and better focused the agency on its core mission of helping businesses grow in Florida.

“We would like you to understand that we take our fiduciary responsibility very seriously and we want to be good stewards of the public tax dollars that you have provided us with,” Hart said.

After the hearing, Hart said he understands the criticism of Enterprise Florida. Lawmakers have complained that the agency hasn’t been transparent enough and not always accountable to the Legislature. Already the agency is heading in the right direction on both fronts he said.

“I think this is worth saving,” Hart said.

Hart was speaking to a friendlier audience in the Senate. While Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has been critical of Enterprise Florida in the past, he has called for “recasting” the agency, not eliminating it like the Florida House has proposed. Brandes is chairman of the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations subcommittee.

House leaders have argued that Enterprise Florida is simply corporate welfare that puts the government in the position of picking winners and losers in the free market.

Ambassador Jeffrey Loria?

Marlins Sale Baseball

Sacré bleu! The New York Post reports that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is being floated by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as the next U.S. ambassador to France.

"So far, Priebus has pushed — and won signoffs — for Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria to head to France, GOP activist Georgette Mosbacher to Luxembourg, financier Lew Eisenberg to Italy and hedge funder Duke Buchan to Spain," the Post reports.

The White House and the Marlins declined to comment about the Post's story.

Loria, a New York art dealer who donated at least $125,000 to President Donald Trump during the campaign, is reportedly in talks to sell the team to a group that includes Joshua Kushner, the brother of Trump son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner.

--with Barry Jackson

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

State legislator Fine warns Gov. Scott about publicly calling out lawmakers


As Gov. Rick Scott travels the state calling out legislators by name in their home districts for voting against his top priority, legislators are firing back warning the governor to be careful of how far he pushes it.

For the third day in a row, Scott was traveling the state on Wednesday criticizing legislators on one House subcommittee by name for voting in favor of a bill that would kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The bill has a long way to go and it chances of passing the full Legislature are slim. Still, that hasn’t stopped Scott from admonishing House members who voted to allow the bill to continue to be debated.

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, said he knows Scott is heading to his area soon because he is one of nine Republicans on the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee that voted for the bill. But Fine isn’t worried. Instead he sent a preemptive letter to the governor on Wednesday warning him against making enemies and encouraging him to speak with him in person, rather than taking shots at him in the media.

“Economic development is not a concept to me, it’s something I’ve spent my career doing,” Fine said in his letter. “But in my business, I always found the best outcomes come by sitting down in person and finding common ground. Rather than us talking at each other in the media, I’d prefer to talk to you in person.”

Fine added: “We don’t want to be your enemy, we want to be your partners in making Florida the best place in America to start, build, and grow a business.”

This week, Scott has been in Cape Coral, Tampa, Flagler Beach and Panama City to specifically single out lawmakers. Others on the committee say they are expecting the same treatment.

Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, said he’s all for Scott visiting his district, but he said it won’t cause him to back down from his stance on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. He said it was a tough vote to kill the agencies, but “it was the right thing to do.” He said the House is determined to question whether the government should be involved in handing out taxpayer funding to private companies.

Miami U.S. attorney, who was appointed by Obama, to step down

via @jayhweaver

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, who served almost seven years in the longest tenure for South Florida's top law enforcement official, said Wednesday that he will be stepping down on March 3.

Ferrer, who will be replaced temporarily by his first assistant, career prosecutor Ben Greenberg, announced his resignation so he can begin considering other opportunities in the legal community while the newly elected president, Donald Trump, decides his permanent successor.

Ferrer, the son of Cuban immigrants who rose to the top of his class at Hialeah Senior High School and the University of Miami before obtaining his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, told the Miami Herald that it has been a “sad day, but it was time.”

Ferrer, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2010, oversaw an office with nearly 250 lawyers that stretches from Key West to Fort Pierce. It has been recognized for decades as one of the busiest and most colorful districts for federal criminal prosecutions in the country.

More here.

VIDEO: 'We have heard loud & clear,' say lawmakers who want to reform testing schedule


Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores says lawmakers "have heard loud and clear from parents, from teachers, from students” about Florida schools' "over-testing and the over-emphasis of testing" -- which is why she and Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr., of Hialeah, and Chris Sprowls, of Palm Harbor, want to shift all student assessment tests to the final three weeks of the school year, starting in 2017-18.

They unveiled their proposal this morning at the Capitol. Full details here.

Negron names 6 Republicans and Chris Smith to the Constitution Revision Commission

Florida Constitution Florida MemorySenate President Joe Negron named eight Republicans and one Democrat to the powerful Constitution Revision Commission Wednesday that he said each have a "tireless work ethic" and a commitment to revising the state constitution to reform state education laws.

"The appointees are strong advocates for school choice opportunities that celebrate the power of the parents to determine what form of education is best for their child,'' Negron said in a statement.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran each have nine appointments to the 37-member commission that meets every 20 years to put constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot.

Gov. Rick Scott has 15 appointments to the panel, and will name its chair, and Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga made his three appointments to the panel last week. Attorney General Pam Bondi is also automatically a member of the commission. 

Negron made his selections from a list of 100 applicants and among those he rejected were  two sitting senators, Dana Young, R-Tampa and Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. 

Negron and Corcoran have both indicated they will choose applications to the panel who are committed to education reform and increasing school choice options for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Corcoran has said he wants the panel to recommend disabling the "Blaine Amendment," which prohibits state money from going into religious education programs, and both have been vigorous defenders of Florida's school voucher programs and the state's expansion of charter schools.

Continue reading "Negron names 6 Republicans and Chris Smith to the Constitution Revision Commission" »

In campaign throwback, Trump schedules Saturday rally in Melbourne

Campaign 2016 Trump(2) (2)

President Donald Trump will return to his favorite part of campaigning -- holding massive public rallies -- Saturday when he once again returns to Florida for the weekend.

Trump has scheduled a 5 p.m. rally in Melbourne, according to an event listed on the website Trump used as a candidate. It will be held Orlando-Melbourne International Airport's AeroMod Hangar.

The president will spend the third consecutive weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. He's expected to arrive in Florida on Friday.

Photo credit: John Locher, Associated Press (from a September rally in Melbourne)

Florida lawmakers in Congress pledge to deal with water issues

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Florida's congressional delegation, which stretches from the far left to the far right, has successfully joined together to fight oil drilling efforts. Now the lawmakers are seeking common cause on a broader array of water quality issues facing the state.

A group of Republican and Democratic members met this morning to discuss algae blooms, red tide, Everglades restoration and Apalachicola Bay, even the sewage situation in St. Petersburg.

“Let’s get the politics out of this and make a difference,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, co-chairman of the delegation. “We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state’s beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida’s thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife.”

It was the first meeting of the delgation this year and members posed questions to officials from the Army Corps and NOAA.

Attending the meeting was Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.

"We are a powerful delegation when we united together," Wasserman Schultz said, recalling the effort to fight oil drilling. She and Buchanan are preparing new legislation against drilling. 

Buchanan said he wants the group to develop a multi-year plan. "A lot of things have been brushed under the rug for too long and now we need to get a comprehensive vision."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

House wants higher ethical standards for cities, special districts

The Florida House is forging full speed ahead with a plan to impose higher ethics laws on most city and town elected officials and to thousands of political appointees to local boards, including the Pinellas outfit that's the target of a grand jury investigation following a series of reports in the Tampa Bay Times.

The controversy that has engulfed the Pinellas Construction Licensing Board is likely to provide more impetus for the House proposals, part of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's policy agenda. Under the House proposal, most elected city officials would have to file the more detailed Form 6 statement of financial interests, which requires a reporting of assets and liabilities, property owned and the sources and amounts of income.

That's the form that legislators, county commissioners and constitutional officers must file, and the change has been a priority of the Commission on Ethics. As written, subject to change, the bill would require the use of Form 6 in every city that collects more than $5 million a year in taxes. A number of former legislators have been cited in recent years for violations of the ethics code for Form 6 omissions.

The House bill also creates Florida's first statewide local lobbyist registration system. Everyone who's paid to lobby local government would have to pay annual fees. Also under the House bill, every appointee of every board of a special district would be required to take an annual four-hour ethics course on conflicts of interest and other issues.

"We often hear people say, 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse,'" said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, chairman of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee. "The other side of that coin is proper information about the law so they're not ignorant."

Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole (right), the only Pinellas lawmaker on Metz's committee, received assurances from Metz that the   IMG_6980 ethics training would apply to the Pinellas licensing board because it was created as a special district under a 1974 state law. Asked if the board needs some schooling on ethics, Ahern said: "I think so. Absolutely."

St. Petersburg building official Rick Dunn, the licensing board's interim chairman, also likes the idea. "I would support the requirement for the four-hour class," Dunn said, noting that contractors and other private citizens who serve on boards often aren't familiar with laws that govern elected and appointed officials.

Florida has about 1,840 special districts overseeing community development, fire protection, health care, mosquito control and transportation. The House's proposals would have to pass the full House and Senate and Gov. Rick Scott's signature to become law.

-- With reporting by Mark Puente, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott's teacher incentive proposal gets pushback in Florida Senate

Pam stewart_021517


Florida senators in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget for next year aren’t sold on Gov. Rick Scott’s ideas to incentivize future teachers so they enter and stay in the profession.

Scott proposes the state spend $58 million on a variety of new initiatives — including $10 million for a “one-time hiring bonus” for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam for the subject they’ll teach.

MORE: "Teachers get a top focus in Florida governor’s budget"

That idea, in particular, drew some resistance Wednesday from some senators on the pre-K-12 education budget committee, mainly due to its similarity to the current “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program, which controversially rewards top teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school.

“Best & Brightest” has been a House priority the past couple years, driven by now-Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Senators were reluctant to renew it last year through the annual budget but ultimately agreed to do so as a compromise with the House.

This year — even with half of the senators new — the reservations about the program’s rationale remain. And they’re seeping into discussions about Scott’s proposal (which notably does not include renewing “Best & Brightest”).

“It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said.

Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, agreed.

“It seems to me that rather than just giving a check to a teacher upon graduation from college with no strings attached, we could perhaps offer some financial assistance with a contractual commitment while they’re in schools of education,” Young said. “If we’re looking at recruiting and retaining, that seems a more targeted and efficient use of our taxpayer dollars.”

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended Scott’s proposal, saying research shows “when an individual has strong content knowledge, that does translate into better [student] performance in the classroom.”

Photo credit: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart answers questions from the Senate pre-K-12 education budget committee on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Florida Channel