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March 22, 2017

Jeb Bush joins board of Boca Raton communications-tower firm


Jeb Bush has joined the board of directors of Vertical Bridge, a communications-tower company based in Boca Raton.

In a statement released by the company, the former Florida governor and 2016 presidential hopeful praised Vertical Bridge's growth "and the smart capital deployment" of its parent Company, Digital Bridge.

"I have long been a strong proponent of the role that improved telecommunications infrastructure can and should play in enhancing our quality of life in so many diverse ways," Bush said. "I look forward to contributing to the continued progress at Vertical Bridge."

The company, which is three years old, says it's the largest private owner and manager of telecommunications assets in the country. It's looking to Bush's expertise as the federal government moves to expand infrastructure for an integrated communications network for first responders, said Marc Ganzi, Vertical Bridge's executive chairman and co-founder.

"Public safety is going to be a big growth area," Ganzi said. "Having a public servant like the governor on our board -- who understands public safety, first responders and public agencies -- that was the real, strategic push for why we brought him in."

Ganzi's relationship with the Bush family dates back decades. (Ganzi even interned in then-President George H.W. Bush's White House.) Jeb Bush also sits on the board Dock Square Capital LLC, a Miami-based merchant back whose affiliate, Dock Square Communications LP, is investing in Vertical Bridge now that Bush is one of its directors.\

This post has been updated to correct Ganzi's title.

Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Latvala: Corcoran 'just wrong' for House vote on Enterprise Florida

One by one, Republican lawmakers delivered dreary news at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's "Capitol Days" Tuesday in Tallahassee. On issue after issue, pro-business bills are stalled, from curbing growing abuses in property insurance claims to changing the workers' comp system. Business is battling a lawyer-friendly bill to require courts to add interest payments in cases won by plaintiffs.

"Trial lawyers are on the march," Steve Knopik, CEO of the Bealls clothing retailer, told Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who didn't argue. "It feels like we're just getting trampled on."

The news didn't improve when Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, described a legislative response to court-ordered workers' comp rate hikes as "a reasonably okay bill."

Interest groups like the Chamber sometimes create doom-and-gloom scenarios to rally members or raise money, but this session looks bleak for business. Despite overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers, key Senate committees include trial bar-friendly Republicans. Senate President Joe Negron wants to abolish a decades-old tax break for the insurance industry. Some Republicans want to repeal no-fault auto insurance that could drive up accident lawsuits and legal costs. Under Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who like Negron is a lawyer, the House has dismantled most statewide economic development programs.

That brought denunciations from Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said it's "just wrong" for Corcoran to force House members to go on record on such a controversial issue when it has no chance of passage because a similar JL bill isn't teed up in the Senate.

"We made all those House members, including my son (Rep. Chris Latvala), who I love very much, take a very tough vote because the speaker made them, even though he knew there was not a bill to match up to in the Senate, and that's just wrong," Latvala told Chamber members. "That's putting personal ambition before the body that you are the presiding officer of."

Latvala said it's the first time in his 15-year Senate career that business has to "play defense." He blamed term limits -- championed by Republicans three decades ago -- for a system in which most lawmakers want to be career politicians and have no business experience. "We have a constant stream of people who get elected who were aides in the legislative process," Latvala said. "They've never run a business. They've never had those responsibilities."

"Capitol Days" continues Wednesday in the capital with a panel discussion that asks: "Is Florida closed for business?"

Senators poised for first major medical marijuana hearing



Florida's new medical marijuana market will start to take shape today as a panel of senators workshops five proposals to put the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing the drug into place.

The Senate Health Policy committee, chaired by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, will consider issues related to the five proposed bills and hear public comment, the first step toward passing legislation and the first time members of the public will hear what key senators think about how medical marijuana should be implemented.

Voters approved Amendment 2, which opened up the state to medical cannabis, with 71 percent support. By the end of their regular session, the House and Senate are expected to pass a more detailed plan.

But they're dissatisfied with how the Legislature has progressed, according to a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll first reported by Politico on Tuesday. It showed that more than half of Amendment 2 supporters though the Legislature was moving too slowly and 40 percent of all voters disapproved of the job they are doing to implement the voters' will.

When the Health Policy Committee convenes this afternoon, here are the proposals they will discuss. They will likely be consolidated into a new bill, which the panel is expected to consider at a later date.

* SB 406 by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island: Maintains the current system of requiring businesses to both grow and sell cannabis but expands the number of businesses by five when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and every 100,000 thereafter. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy a 90-day supply. 

* SB 614 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg: A largely open market of growers, dispensaries, labs and delivery companies with no cap on the number of businesses involved, though it limits retail shops to no more than 1 per 25,000 residents. It allows smoking and edibles and lets people buy a 90-day supply of cannabis.

* SB 1388 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami: Largely modeled after SB 406, this proposal requires independent labs do testing, allows smoking and lets people buy a 45-day supply.

* SB 1666 by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: This plan would maintain the current system but would require 10 new licenses be awarded by October and allow four more for every 25,000 patients. It maintains a provision of existing law allowing only nurseries that have been in business for 30 years to become growers. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy 90-day supplies, including some non-residents of Florida.

* SB 1758 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring: This maintains the existing market, including the 30-year requirement for nurseries, and allows three new licenses be awarded for every 250,000 patients. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets patients have a 45-day supply, including non-residents.

There are lots of questions on the table as the Senate committee meets. Want to follow along? Stream online at the Florida Channel at 1 p.m., or follow @MichaelAuslen and @SunBizGriffin.

Photo: Associated Press

March 21, 2017

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Miami Beach mayor's claim about Airbnb



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company.

Airbnb posted the article by Sunshine State News on social media. Levine, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, fired back in the comments.

Levine wrote that Miami Beach commissioners aren’t the only opponents of Airbnb, which allows property owners to rent out houses and apartments, or a bedroom, to visitors across the world. The city generally bans short-term rentals except in limited multi-family areas.

He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why?

“Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment.

We decided to tackle two of Levine’s attacks: that Airbnb decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.


Rick Scott's spokeswoman calls Richard Corcoran 'hypocritical'

Gov. Rick Scott's chief spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz, called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran Tuesday for being "very hypocritical" in his efforts to abolish Enterprise Florida as the state's taxpayer-funded program to attract jobs to the state.

JackieSchutz (at left in photo) asked the Times/Herald if she could comment in response to a story about an unusual coincidence in which Corcoran's law firm, Broad & Cassel, has earned more than $235,000 doing legal work for Enterprise Florida and two related corporations over the past three years. Corcoran, who has called Enterprise Florida an "absolute cesspool," had no role in any of the legal work and said he was not aware that his firm did work for Enterprise Florida. (The previous reporting is here).

Said Schutz: "It's hypocritical for him to attack EFI when they're helping out small businesses, but in turn it's OK for his company to help EFI. It just seems very hypocritical."

UPDATE: Corcoran's spokesman, Fred Piccolo, said: "Pay to play is exactly the kind of corruption Speaker Corcoran is leading the charge to fight. It is clear she didn't read the article because what it said was that Speaker Corcoran is a principled leader who can clearly never be bought politically or professionally."

Scott's fight with Corcoran will continue Wednesday when he travels to Pinellas County for another jobs roundtable with local business owners to rally support for Enterprise Florida.

The county's six House members were evenly split when the House voted on March 10 to abolish Enterprise Florida. Joining Corcoran in voting to kill the agency were Republisans Larry Ahern, Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls. Voting to keep Enterprise Florida were Republican Kathleen Peters and Democrats Ben Diamond and Wengay Newton. 

Cubans favor better U.S. relations, poll finds

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- A rare poll of Cuban public opinion has found that most of the island's citizens approve of normal relations with the United States and large majorities want more tourists to visit and the expansion of private business ownership.

In a poll of 840 people taken in Cuba late last year by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, 55 percent said that normal relations with the U.S. would be mostly good for the country.

"I'd love for the two peoples to be even closer," Rebecca Tamayo, an 80-year-old retired museum worker, said Monday in Havana. "If there were better relations, more products would be entering the country. There'd be more opportunity to buy things."

Among Cubans aged 18-29, approval of closer relations with the U.S. rose to 70 percent. An overwhelming eight of 10 respondents said they believed tourism to Cuba should be expanded.

President Donald Trump has pledged to reverse former President Barack Obama's 2 1/2-year-old opening with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic relations and allowed a dramatic expansion of U.S. travel to the island. Trump has said little about the matter since taking office, but his administration says it is conducting a full review of Cuba policy with an eye toward possible changes.

More here.

Photo credit: Desmond Boylan, AP file

Critics: Bill to implement solar tax breaks has become a vehicle for solar barriers

Solar panelsA bill moving through the Florida House to implement the August ballot initiative by giving tax breaks to businesses that install solar energy panels is under fire for doing what the utility industry could not do this election cycle - impose impediments to rooftop solar installation.

The bill, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee Tuesday but only after several legislators expressed reservations and members of the solar industry warned that a long list of “consumer protections” in the bill will actually serve to keep legitimate companies from doing business in Florida.

In addition to authorizing language that prohibits tax assessors from increasing the taxable value of a home or business because of a solar installation, Rodrigues added language he said he modeled off an Arizona law that he says will provide consumer safeguards against “bad actors” in the solar industry.

He acknowledged that there are no problems with solar industry installations today in Florida but, because removing the tax barriers will result in “an uptick” in new solar expansion, “the time to do it is now rather than waiting until consumers are taken advantage of.”

Under the bill, any company that installs rooftop solar would be required to file more than 20 financial disclosures relating to their business practices, calculate a customers’ energy savings based on future, not past, energy rates, follow new codes and standards and face new imposes penalties for violations.

In addition, the Florida Public Service Commission would have new power to impose new rules related to solar safety and performance, in addition to those already in place under state and federal law.

But members of the solar industry told the committee that safety requirements are already in place, and the Solar Energy Industry Association already requires its members to adhere to best practices and disclosures intended to weed out bad actors and benefit consumers.

“This goes way too far,’’ said Jeff Sharkey, lobbyist for Tesla, Solar City and the Energy Freedom Coalition of America. “At the end of the day, these are going to be confusing to consumers, potentially provide obstacles, and make it a little more difficult to purchase and install these energy saving devices on their homes.”

Continue reading "Critics: Bill to implement solar tax breaks has become a vehicle for solar barriers" »

Lawmakers continue to target immigrant 'sanctuary' policies as House bill advances



The Florida House has put a target on cities and counties that have “sanctuary” policies protecting undocumented immigrants picked up by police.

Legislation (HB 697) requiring local officials do away with those policies or risk fines and removal from office is moving fast in the chamber. The bill would require police detain people for 48 hours — at local taxpayer expense — if they receive a request to do so from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it would let victims or their families sue elected officials if a crime is committed by an undocumented immigrant in a community where sanctuary laws are in effect.

“With porous borders and a lack of internal enforcement, if we simply say that if you can get here you can stay here and we don’t care about the legal distinctions, we’re going to have more and more people coming here illegally and fewer and fewer coming here through the legal immigration system,” bill sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said.

The House subcommittee on local, federal and veterans affairs passed his bill on a party line vote Tuesday with nine Republicans in favor, five Democrats opposed. Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, was not in the room to vote.

The bill must still clear the House Judiciary Committee, and its Senate companion has not yet been put on the agenda for its first hearing.

Not one Republican debated in favor of the bill Tuesday, other than its sponsor, and none of the 27 members of the public and lobbyists who spoke at the meeting expressed support.

Democrats raised concerns that the bill is unconstitutional, immoral and said it was a policy indicative of “Donald Trump’s America” that targets immigrants. What’s more, they said, it advances a stereotype that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, when studies show the opposite is true.

Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, an Army veteran and hospital executive who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 12 urged her House colleagues to vote against the bill because immigrants are “the spine of this nation.”

“I achieved the American Dream, I suppose, and if you think this story is unique and beautiful and one of achievement, I have to tell you it’s not. It’s every immigrant’s story,” she said, adding that, “I have never felt as vilified as I have now.”

But Democrats also rebuked one member of the public, Gail Marie Perry of Plantation, who told the subcommittee that “This is one step toward Nazism in the United States.”

Republicans beat down a series of amendments offered by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, to gut components of the bill.

Smith's amendments would have: 
* Required a warrant from a judge before police have to detain someone at ICE’s request.
* Exempted state colleges and universities, where undocumented “DREAMers” are afforded in-state tuition, from the bill.
* Given witnesses and victims of crimes additional protection.
* Funded the detention requirements.
* Cut language allowing the governor to remove local officials from office if they vote against ending sanctuary policies.

Photo: Protester Joan Wynne, center, chants anti-Trump and anti-Gimenez slogans in downtown Miami on Jan. 31 during a protest over Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's controversial order assuring the Trump administration that Miami-Dade is not functioning as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. (AP)

Latino group pushes Curbelo, Diaz-Balart to vote against GOP health plan


A liberal Latino group has become the latest organization to release ads to pressure Miami Republicans to oppose the House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

NCLR Action Fund -- as in the National Council of La Raza -- issued a "call to action" Tuesday asking lawmakers in key districts to vote against the American Health Care Act on Thursday. Among the targeted legislators: Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart.

"The Affordable Care Act has provided over 4 million Latinos health insurance and millions more have gained greater access to quality health care," NCLRAF's political director, Rafael Collazo, said in a statement. "Latino voters want their federal officials to protect those gains. Voting for the AHCA would be an immense setback for Latinos."

The organization plans radio and digital ads in seven districts with significant Latino populations. The other five districts are represented by Will Hurd of Texas, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Jeff Denham of California, David Valadao of California and Darrell Issa of California.

Levine has already put $2M into likely bid for Florida governor

via @adamsmithtimes

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he has not committed to running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018 and has has no time table for deciding except probably "before the end of the year." He is travelling the state meeting with people and discussing a possible campaign and issues facing the state.

"I'm out talking to the customers. Before you launch a product or think about launching a product, you should talk to the customers," said Levine, who began his career advising cruise ship passengers about port activities and ultimately created a cruise industry media company generating $400 million in annual revenue.

Levine is paying for his listening tour through his political committee, All About Florida, which he said is relying one "one schmuck" for funding: Philip Levine, who is worth "north of $100 million."  He has put $2 million into that committee so far and said if he decides to run for governor he is "100 percent" open to funding the campaign himself, much like current Gov. Rick Scott.

"I've been successful in Florida, started from nothing, and any business opportunity I've ever had and for an opportunity in life, I believe you should put skin in the game," Levine said. "Before you ask other folks to put money into something, if you have it you should put a few bucks of your own into it. At the same token, I'm open to the idea of self-funding the campaign if I decide to run."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Jon Durr, Miami Herald