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March 15, 2017

Rick Scott to hold rally at Carlos Beruff's building near Sarasota


Manatee County homebuilder Carlos Beruff (Photo by Giorgio Viera/Miami Herald)


Gov. Rick Scott will have little trouble finding the location of his latest “Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable” near Sarasota on Thursday.

Scott’s 9:30 a.m. stop in Manatee County will be at 1651 Whitfield Avenue, which just happens to be the same address as former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff’s homebuilding business.

Beruff and Scott have become tight political allies. Scott has appointed Beruff to head an informal health care cost cutting committee, publicly praised his run for the U.S. Senate against fellow Republican Marco Rubio last summer, and two weeks ago picked him to be the chairman of the powerful Constitution Revision Commission, a 37-member commission with the power to put proposals directly onto the 2018 ballot.

Scott’s office lists the Thursday rally as being at PropLogix. That real estate lien search company subleases space from the building Beruff had built for his homebuilding business, Medallion Home. It also is a company whose management includes Jesse Biter, a Sarasota businessman who is a member of Enterprise Florida’s Board of Directors and whose father was considered for the CEO position of Enterprise Florida last fall.

The rally is part of what is now a two-month push by Scott to travel the state call out Republican legislators by name for voting for a bill to kill Enterprise Florida and another to severely hamper Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. Scott has also used rallies to praise legislators who voted with him, even if it has meant praising Democrats.

Scott will technically be in House District 70, the home district of State Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg. Just on Tuesday Scott praised Newton at a rally in Tallahassee for being one of 28 House members to vote against the bill to kill Enterprise Florida. He'll also be a stones throw away from Rep. Joe Gruter's District 73. Gruters has been one of the biggest defenders of Enterprise Florida, speaking out against the House Republican leadership bill on the floor and proposing a separate bill that would preserve Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

PolitiFact Florida: Is being in the United States unlawfully a crime?


via @loujacobson

As Florida House members took up a bill that would increase penalties for certain violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, participants noted a fundamental but often overlooked issue in the overall immigration debate: If you are in the United States illegally, does your mere presence in this country mean that you have committed a crime?

It first came up in comments by Ingrid M. Delgado, associate for social concerns for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. She had come to the Florida House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on March 15, 2017, to testify against HB 83, a bill sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, that would heighten the penalties for certain violent offenses -- including sexual battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, murder, and the use of a destructive device such as a bomb -- if the defendant was in the country illegally.

Delgado said, "Unlawful presence is not a crime. It is a civil violation."

A few minutes later, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, spoke in favor of the bill, saying she wanted to remind her colleagues about the legal status of the people the law targets.

"It amazes me, honestly, that we've even been talking about this as long as we have," she said. "I feel like in the midst of this, something has gotten lost that is a crucial, main point. And that is the fact that we're talking about people who are here illegally. That means that, legally, they are breaking the law."

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Miami Herald photo of a protest outside of Miami-Dade County Hall related to the county's policy on federal immigration detainers.

House committee approves FPL-backed bill to overturn court ruling that blocked transmission lines in wetlands

The victories continued for Florida Power & Light Wednesday as the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee unanimously passed the House companion to a Senate bill that will allow the company to install transmission lines without following the City of Miami's development rules.

The bill, HB 1055, by Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, overturns a Third District Court of Appeal ruling last year on behalf of the City of Miami, which ruled that the governor and the Cabinet — acting as the state siting board, which oversees power plants — failed to consider the city of Miami’s development rules when it approved FPL's plan to string 88 miles of line atop towers standing 80 to 150 feet high. The bill also clarifies that the Public Service Commission has exclusive authority to require that power lines be put underground.

Just as occurred in the Senate committee on Tuesday, the vote for HB 1055 happened with no debate and little discussion. David Childs, lobbyist for the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, was the only person to testify. He said the bill provides "important clarifications to ensure that the Power Plant Siting Act will continue to apply as it has historically occurred in this state." 

In May 2014, the siting board signed off on the two controversial power lines and a backup plan as part of an approval for two proposed new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, the plans for which have since been delayed. The court found that the governor and Cabinet failed to take into account the damage done to wildlife and Everglades marshes by FPL building roads and concrete pads in a corridor that would cross fragile wetlands.The decision was challenged by the county and cities of Miami, South Miami and Pinecrest, which argued the board ignored local rules.

If the bill were to become law, FPL is expected to bring the issue back before the governor and Cabinet and it will likely get approval again.



Gov. Rick Scott's broken promise to drug test welfare applicants



A father-son lawmaking duo from Clearwater is breathing new life into Gov. Rick Scott's campaign promise to require drug testing for welfare recipients.

The promise hit a roadblock when federal courts struck down a 2011 law that Scott signed as "warrantless, suspicionless drug testing."

Because we assess promises based on outcomes rather than intentions, we rated Scott's campaign pledge as Promise Broken in 2015 when he gave up his battle in court and chose not to appeal.

But Rep. Chris Latvala in the House and his father Senate appropriations chair Jack Latvala have proposed a rewrite of the 2011 state law that focuses on applicants with a track record of drug use. A House committee approved the bill on March 13.

Keep reading our update from PolitiFact Florida and check out Scott's progress on all of his promises on our Scott-O-Meter.

Lawmaker: House should 'put Florida Supreme Court in position of telling us that we're wrong'

Florida Legislature (4)


Some Florida House Republicans have issued a challenge to the state’s top court — saying if the Legislature moves forward and enacts a constitutionally questionable measure seeking to impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants, then the Florida Supreme Court should prove them wrong.

HB 83, which passed its first House committee Wednesday, is rife with questions about its constitutionality because it subjects undocumented immigrants convicted of severe crimes to enhanced charges — and potentially longer prison sentences — solely on the basis of their immigration status.

But some House Republicans said a bill’s potential unconstitutionality shouldn’t be a factor in whether lawmakers approve it.

“I would submit to you that perhaps we sit in here one day and the Florida Supreme Court has told us this vote is wrong,” Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant said, but “I would encourage all of us to put the Florida Supreme Court in the position of telling us that we are wrong.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. Florida House.

Travel industry groups get more aggressive in fighting Florida House



Travel industry interest groups are taking a more aggressive public role in fighting the Florida Legislature's proposals to dramatically cut support to state-funded travel marketing programs.

A coalition of travel industry groups have partnered together to fund ads on the internet and a website directing supporters to talking points to counter state legislators and giving easy links to office addresses and telephone numbers of state legislators to make sure they don't follow through on threats to cut tourism spending.

"Mirror mirror on the wall killing jobs takes some gall," one of the web-based ads on the internet says.

Of course, House Republican leaders insists they are not going after Visit Florida's state funding to kill job. Instead, State Rep. Paul Renner, the lead sponsor of the legislation targeting the agency, said his efforts are in response to the embarrassing situations that Visit Florida has put the state in of late. The Flagler County Republican has specifically cited a secret $1 million contract with music star Pitbull to promote Florida as a "Sexy Beaches" destination as proof.

Renner's bill calls for stricter regulations on Visit Florida and would prevent the agency from ever entering into another contract of that size without first getting legislative approval - something no other agency is required to do. His plan would also require Visit Florida to get a private match of every dollar they receive from the state - a restriction Visit Florida has said will cost them millions of dollars because they rely on in-kind matches from the private sector, not hard dollars.

The web ads and website - -  is backed by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Associations of Destination Marketing Organizations, and the U.S. Travel Association.

Those groups have also been a part of rallies like the one on Tuesday in the Florida Capitol with Gov. Rick Scott and the elected members of the Florida Cabinet.

"Do Florida lawmakers really want to tell the 1.4 million Floridians depending on the travel industry, most of them middle-class wage earners, that their jobs don't matter," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association and a Pinellas County resident. "We think not, and that's why this campaign is so important."

Summer is coming. So is Zika.



Three months after Gov. Rick Scott stood in Miami Beach and declared that the Zika virus was no longer spreading in Florida, mosquito control experts are warning people not to be complacent.

Zika could come back.

“Those same risk factors that we saw in 2016 are also still present today,” said Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

Among them: The presence of Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito that can transmit the virus and the risk of tourists or Florida residents bringing the virus with them from countries where it is more prevalent. All of it made worse by a warm winter that could have helped more mosquito eggs survive the season than usual.

Zika, which has been linked to birth defects when pregnant women are infected, put mosquito control districts, once an obscure government bureaucracy, at the front lines of a public health crisis.

Last year, Florida had 1,093 cases of Zika picked up by people traveling abroad. Another 279 were infected as Zika spread in Florida, most of that in Miami-Dade County, according to the state Department of Health.

To fight Zika this summer, mosquito control districts are asking the state for $3.8 million to pay for research and a helping hand to counties that have small anti-mosquito budgets.

“As you know, mosquitoes do not recognize county borders,” Leal said Wednesday in the state Capitol. “While some larger counties may have very robust mosquito control programs, smaller neighboring counties may not have similar local budgets, which can greatly reduce our overall effectiveness.”

The Legislature regularly helps fund mosquito control. This year, lawmakers put $2.6 million into it, and Scott recommended the same amount for the 2017-2018 budget year. An additional $1.2 million would help what Leal called a “very challenging mosquito season.”

The Florida Mosquito Control Association has a useful ally in state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who has made their case in Tallahassee. But the state’s resources are limited, which makes every interest group’s request for taxpayer dollars a tough sell this year.

“In order to be effective, our local mosquito control efforts must have the necessary funds,” Caldwell said. “Increasing that as a response to a threat is important.”

Although most people infected with Zika in Florida contracted it in a few areas of Miami-Dade, Director Dennis Moore of Pasco County Mosquito Control said the entire state needs to be prepared.

“It’s kind of like hurricane season,” he said. “We don’t know where the hurricane is going, and similarly we don’t know where Zika might end up this year.”

Photo: An Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the species that can carry Zika virus, in the lab at Pinellas County Mosquito Control. (JIM DAMASKE | Tampa Bay Times)

'Religious liberties' measures diverge, but advance

Religious liberties

@ByKristenMClark & @loujacobson

Efforts by the Legislature to make explicitly clear the rights students and teachers have to express their religious beliefs in Florida public schools is ready for a floor vote in the Senate, while earning high praise in an initial House hearing.

A fast-tracked measure in the Senate (SB 436) — one of President Joe Negron’s top priorities — passed its second and final committee Tuesday on a party-line vote, shortly before a House panel unanimously advanced its own version (HB 303).

The House conversation was in stark contrast to the Senate’s discussions, where that chamber’s measure has polarized members.

MORE: “Lawmakers push for more ‘religious liberties’ in Florida public schools”

The bills were once identical, but the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee amended its bill to make it more narrow than the Senate’s — removing some of the more controversial elements, such as a requirement that school districts adopt a Florida Department of Education-crafted policy that “establishes a limited public forum for student speakers at any school event.” Such a provision would allow students of different faiths to, for example, pray at school assemblies.

The House’s pared-down bill won bipartisan support and near-universal endorsement from a crowded audience. When the House committee ended its meeting after passing the bill unanimously, one audience member shouted out: “Can we close with a prayer?” The remark drew scattered applause.

Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee chairman, called it “a bit perplexing that we have to be here when these protections are provided for.”

Read more.

Photo credit: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, presents his “religious liberties” bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. The panel sent it to the Senate floor on a 5-4 vote, with Democrats opposed. Louis Jacobson / PolitiFact

March 14, 2017

How many Floridians have Alzheimer's disease?

by @loujacobson 

A Florida physician who specializes in geriatrics and memory care warned a Florida Senate committee that Alzheimer’s disease is both a present and a looming problem for the state.

"Please make no mistake -- we are in the midst of an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease," Rosemary Laird, a geriatrician at the Centre for Senior Health in Winter Park, told the Senate Health Policy Committee on March 14. "Currently, half a million Floridians have Alzheimer’s disease, and in less than 10 years, a 40 percent growth rate means that another 200,000 Floridians will develop this devastating illness."

Laird was testifying in favor of SB 1050, a bill sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, to establish a memory disorder clinic at Florida Hospital in Orange County.

Laird’s office did not return a call, but we were able to find statistics that closely matched what she told the committee.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Florida Senate panel OKs formalizing non-abortion pregnancy centers into law


by @loujacobson

After a brief but divisive debate, the Senate Health Policy Committee Tuesday advanced a bill that would enhance an existing state pregnancy services program that excludes abortion referrals.

SB 1130, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, would for the first time place into Florida statute a program that provides state funds to a network of pregnancy centers. The program has been operating since 2005 outside of statute, with funding provided on an annual basis during budget negotiations.

The Pregnancy Support Services program has fielded 5,796 hotline calls and provided 120,929 services to 24,184 women and families, Bean testified.

“In statutes, we can further direct the Department of Health to firmly establish the program rather than relying on a proviso that could be changed every year,” Bean testified.

Testifying against the bill, Missy Wesolowski, director of public policy for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said her group has seen such clinics use questionable studies -- such as those that aren’t peer reviewed or those that cite results that don’t track with scientific consensus -- as “fact.”

The bill “excludes family planning providers who provide birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and referrals to safe and legal abortion services,” she said.

During the debate, Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, echoed Wesolowski’s concern about Bean’s assurances that the bill requires “factual” information from participating centers.

“Sometimes you and I, we may both cite facts that are opposite,” Montford said. “Is there some assurance that the facts in this network that are used are medically sound?”

Bean responded that “that’s another reason why we should have the bill codified” in statute.

When Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, asked Bean what a center would do if a young woman came in and asked for information on abortion, Bean responded, “They would not refer them to an abortion provider. They would say all of the other choices that are available out there.”

Bean’s response drew audible laughter from opponents of the bill.

Representatives of Florida National Organization for Women and the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida joined Planned Parenthood -- a provider of health services including abortion -- in registering their opposition to the bill at the committee meeting. A representative of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops rose in support.

The measure passed with two votes against: Book and Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach.