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January 12, 2017

Koch brothers company argues against Gov. Rick Scott's job incentive programs


The uphill battle Gov. Rick Scott faces in getting $85 million of job incentive funds approved by a reluctant Florida Legislature was hard to miss this week.

While new Enterprise Florida CEO and President Chris Hart IV on Wednesday afternoon made his for the Legislature to revive job incentives to lure businesses to Florida to create jobs, he had to do so while sitting next to a pair of ardent opponents, including one with ties to the Koch Industries.

Fatima Perez, regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector, while testifying before the House Careers and Competition subcommittee, praised Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran for his opposition to giving tax incentives to private companies to spur jobs.

“I would tell you that Koch fully supports continued legislative efforts to end corporate welfare programs whether they come in the form of subsidies, mandates, or tax incentives among others,” Perez said.

Moments later Florida State University economist Shawn Kantor testified that incentive programs like what Scott has sought funding for are inherently unfair because they award some businesses over others.

“I’m not convinced they provide any benefit at all to the economy,” Kantor said.

It was after that, Hart, who has been on the job for just over a week, made his pitch to 15-member subcommittee, saying the incentive money does help Florida draw businesses to the state. Last year, the House rejected Scott’s request for $250 million to support that program and gave him nothing. This year, Scott has asked for $85 million.

The subcommittee’s chairman Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, said he wanted Koch Companies to testify to make sure the subcommittee heard more than just support for the incentive programs.

“You can’t have a one-sided panel that is all for them,” Beshears said. “Here you have a huge employer that’s saying we don’t need corporate incentives to come to Florida.”
Beshears said a better use of state funding might be to invest in infrastructure and education - items businesses often list as top draws to relocate.

January 11, 2017

Jacksonville congressman collapses in U.S. Capitol

via @learyreports @PatriciaMazzei

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville, collapsed during voting Wednesday night and was removed from the Capitol on a stretcher, according to reports.

"He appeared to be receiving oxygen through a mask," according to The Hill. "GOP lawmakers emerged from the vote a short time later, saying Rutherford had been 'stabilized.' "

An email to Rutherford's office has not yet been returned. The Florida Times-Union reported Rutherford, a 64-year-old freshman and former Jacksonville sheriff sworn in eight days ago, was "conscious and alert" at the hospital, according to a spokesman.

Later Wednesday, Rutherford's chief of staff, Kelly Simpson, said in a statement the congressman had not suffered a heart attack, contrary to some media reports.

"Congressman Rutherford is conscious, alert and in good spirits," she said. "He did not suffer a heart attack, but he continues to be evaluated by doctors. A further update on the Congressman's condition will be provided once doctors have finished their evaluation.

"The Rutherford family appreciates the prayers, thoughts and support they have received this evening."

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel in the spotlight after Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

Israel pixAP


Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was exercising in a Davie park when the message came over the dispatch system on his phone: There was a shooting at the airport.

His first thought: disbelief.

“You hope it was sent in error,” Israel told the Miami Herald. “You read it again and hope it’s not Broward County. You start to digest it. You are angry. You pray.”

And then, Israel said, “a switch flips and you go from all of those emotions as a citizen to being the sheriff of Broward County and leading.”

Over the next several hours, Israel’s leadership was under a microscope, as he faced the biggest nightmare of his career: a shooting rampage at Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywoood International which left five people dead, stranded thousands of terrified passengers and shut down one of the busiest airports in the nation. In less than 90 seconds, BSO had the suspect, Army National Guard veteran Esteban Santiago, in custody.

A married father of 20-year-old triplets, Israel said he didn’t have time in the moment to reflect on what it would have been like if his own children were there. (His sister-in-law was at another terminal at the time of the shooting, and at one point he spoke to her on the phone and told her that the tarmac, where police had moved many passengers, was safe.)

“I didn’t have the ability to do those things and allow those emotions to take place,” said Israel, who said a deputy drove him to the airport so he could work while enroute. “I was handling an active-shooter scene. I was the sheriff; we were talking about traffic, the SWAT team, an orderly clearance.”

Keep reading here.

Did Florida overpay $16 million for a private prison contract? Rep. Richardson's reviews numbers

Richardson and K9via @MaryEllenKlas

For the last several years, Florida prison officials have used an opaque pricing scheme that inflated payments to a private prison company operating Lake City Correctional Facility, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in excess charges instead of producing the promised savings, according to an independent financial audit by a Miami Beach state legislator.

Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat and retired forensic auditor, investigated seven years of state payments to Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), now known as CoreCivic of Tennessee and concluded the pricing scheme approved by the Florida Department of Corrections resulted in at least $16 million in overcharges over the past seven years and was either the result of massive government ineptitude or a calculated fraud against taxpayers.


“The award of this contract under the terms and conditions provided was a colossal government failure,” Richardson wrote in a nine-page summary of his findings, which he made available to the Herald/Times. “... It represents nothing more than government waste and abuse. It is surprising that so many government employees and entities could be involved in these matters and the price estimating trickery went undetected.”

Richardson, who has been on a one-man crusade to bring accountability to Florida’s troubled prison system, delivered a copy of his two-inch briefing book and a summary of his report to Florida’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel. He asked Miguel to conduct an investigation into potential criminal violations surrounding the Lake City Correctional Facility contract, as well as the six other Florida prisons operated by other vendors. This is the only prison CoreCivic now operates. Story here. 

Tillerson says he'd urge Trump to keep Cuban embargo


Sen. Marco Rubio got Rex Tillerson to make news Wednesday afternoon about Cuba.

In Rubio's second round of questioning President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, he asked Tillerson of he'd urge Trump to veto any potential legislation calling for doing away with the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo. Yes, Tillerson said.

He also said he'd oppose allowing unfettered travel by Americans to the island, though Tillerson added that any changes to President Barack Obama's Cuba reengagement policy would come only after a top-to-bottom Trump administration review.

More here.

Attorney sues to disqualify Bittel from Florida Democratic Party chairman ballot


A Bernie Sanders presidential delegate and long-time Democratic activist have sued the Florida Democratic Party, Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Juan Cuba, and prominent progressive donor Stephen Bittel, accusing the latter two of ballot-stuffing during a recent party election that could serve as the springboard to propel Bittel to the state party chairmanship.

The suit, filed in Miami-Dade court Friday by attorney Bruce Jacobs and Mae Christian, claims the local party violated multiple bylaws last month when electing Bittel as a precinct committee member and then as state committeeman. Jacobs and Christian -- who support former state Sen. Dwight Bullard for party chairman -- want to remove Bittel from the Jan 14 ballot.

Cuba says the lawsuit is politically motivated and "has no merit."

In their complaint, the duo say local party leaders erred in early December when they suspended party rules and swore in new precinct and committee members, including Bittel, and again on Dec. 20 when they allowed hundreds of new members to participate in the local party election between Bittel and Bullard for state committeeman after voting to accept their own membership applications.

"Imagine Mr. Jacobs and his law school classmates overwhelmingly voting to make themselves members of the Florida bar," the complaint states.

(Bullard, who was on a previously scheduled family vacation, did not attend the election. He has since moved his voter registration to Gadsden and secured a local post there, making him eligible to run for party chairman.)

Jacobs and Christian say Bittel should be disqualified as state committeeman, and have asked a judge to approve a temporary injunction blocking him from the election. Court dockets show the state party, which according to the complaint has scheduled a Jan. 13 hearing to hear Jacobs' allegations, has objected to the injunction.

Cuba said he's hoping the party can put the issue behind it. The candidates for state party chairman, including Bittel, Bullard, Leah Carius, Alan Clendenin and Lisa King will be in Pompano Wednesday evening to discuss their candidacy.

"We had an open and transparent election. Everyone had an opportunity to be heard. We had attorneys on hand to ensure that our bylaws and procedures were properly followed, and I'm looking forward to putting this matter behind us," said Cuba. " It's unfortunate that Mr. Jacobs is using our court system to further his personal political agenda. It's clear his lawsuit has no merit."

Rubio says he backs Sessions for attorney general

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio today said he supports Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

"Serving with Jeff Sessions over the past six years, I've seen him work relentlessly to uphold the rule of law against the abuses of the Obama Administration, particularly at the Department of Justice. Jeff is a formidable lawyer with an intense passion for defending the Constitution – two of the many qualities that will serve him well as attorney general of the United States," Rubio said in a statement.

“Jeff understands the threats our nation faces, including radical Islamic terrorists within our borders and illicit drugs destroying our communities. I am confident he will make protecting our neighborhoods a top priority. For these reasons, I will support his nomination.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Fact-checking Donald Trump's first press conference since winning presidency


via @katielsanders

In his first press conference since winning the presidency, Donald Trump vehemently denied unverified opposition research reports that he has been compromised by the Russian government and scolded media organizations that published the information.

"It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen," Trump said.

The night before the press conference, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence chiefs presented a  summary of the reports to President Barack Obama and Trump as part of classified briefings on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The documents allege that Moscow had compromising personal and financial information on Trump. As far as we know, no one in the intelligence community or in the media have been able to confirm the claims. Buzzfeed published them in full, which Trump and his administration admonished as "pathetic."

For the first time, Trump himself acknowledged the finding of the intelligence community that Russia ordered cyberattacks to interfere in the election.

"I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people," he said.

The news conference also featured Trump’s attorney, Sheri Dillon, explaining how he would handle his businesses as president.

Here are highlights from some of Trump’s comments. We’ll be fact-checking some of his statements and updating this report as we complete our work.

Keep reading PolitiFact's story by Linda Qiu and Katie Sanders.

Gov. Scott to name Justin Senior to lead health care agency

@MichaelAuslen and @stevebousquet

Gov. Rick Scott will name Justin Senior the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, his office confirmed Wednesday.

Senior, 45, has been serving in the job as interim secretary since October, when the previous secretary, Liz Dudek, left the agency. He earns $142,000 a year.

As secretary, Senior will oversee one of the state’s largest budgets and the department that runs Florida’s Medicaid program. He’ll face confirmation from the state Senate, but the Republican-controlled chamber almost never rejects appointees of the Republican governor.

Senior has been on staff at AHCA since 2007. He figured prominently in the 2015 debate over Medicaid expansion, then serving as deputy secretary of the Medicaid division.

After the state’s program to reimburse hospitals for serving low-income uninsured patients was set to expire, Senior was part of the negotiation team that ensured continued — though decreased — federal funding.

The agency will continue to be a top newsmaker in Florida as federal officials in Donald Trump's administration and the new Congress consider dismantling the Affordable Care Act and revamping health care for low-income people.

Lawmakers haven't proposed medical pot bill, but health officials are moving forward writing rules


B4s_weed010417_17774940_8colThe Florida Legislature has not yet started to put voter-passed medical marijuana into place, but the state Department of Health is about to launch its own rulemaking process.

Facing a "tight" timeline that requires rules be in place by July 3, Christian Bax, director of the Office of Compassionate Use, told lawmakers Wednesday that DOH is starting rulemaking workshops "in the coming days." And they'll take the meetings on the road to each of five regions throughout the state.

Amendment 2, passed by more than 70 percent of voters, gives the health department the job of writing rules for medical pot.

But it's clear the Legislature will weigh in too.

"We are not here to debate whether or not to have a medical cannabis program," state Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, the chairman of the Florida House's Health Quality Subcommittee, said Wednesday. "The voters have spoken convincingly that we will have one."

In the House, the majority leader, Ray Rodrigues, will carry medical marijuana legislation -- a clear signal that leaders are taking the voters' support seriously.

Photo: The state Department of Health has six months to set rules governing the program. The amendment lets doctors recommend marijuana for a long list of conditions. (Associated Press)