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February 15, 2017

Should teachers punish students with no recess? Lawmakers aren't weighing in this year.

Recess Bill 01 EKM


An elementary student acts up in class. No recess for him.

Another student didn’t turn in her homework. Five fewer minutes of recess for her.

While some school districts, like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough or Pinellas, ban such practices, no state law prohibits public school teachers from dangling recess time before their students — a carrot to keep them in check and, if necessary, revoke as a tool to discipline them.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 considered prohibiting teachers from using the threat of limited or no recess as a punishment, but that detail isn’t in the conversation at all this year as the Legislature again contemplates making daily recess mandatory in public elementary schools.

The provision was stripped from this year’s legislation (SB 78/HB 67) — at the request of two, now powerful Republican House members who were the only ones who voted to oppose the recess bill last year.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kindergarteners Trenevia Desiree and Jenny Farias, right, get some push-ups in during the 20-minute daily recess at Miami Gardens Elementary School on Feb. 3. The school is part of a pilot program in Miami-Dade County that allows students recess time five days a week. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Emily Michot / Miami Herald

February 14, 2017

Rubio and wife to dine with Trumps at White House

GOP 2016 Rubio

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, will dine privately Wednesday night with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

The Rubios will join the Trumps at 6:30 p.m. in the Blue Room, according to the White House. Trump has met with a number of lawmakers in Washington, but none has had a one-on-one dinner, wives included, on the schedule.

Trump and Rubio put aside the colorful exchanges they had during the Republican presidential primary (think "Little Marco" and...hands) once Rubio sought reelection to the U.S. Senate and received Trump's endorsement. Rubio also backed Trump's candidacy, even after a slew of controversies, though he didn't publicly campaign with him.

Rubio harshly questioned Rex Tillerson when Trump nominated him for secretary of state but ultimately voted for his confirmation.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Rick Scott getting help from Democratic mayors on job incentives


Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn met with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee on Tuesday to strategize over how he can help save Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida from Republican critics in the Florida House. (Jeremy Wallace/Tampa Bay Times)


A day after attending a rally with Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was in Tallahassee on Tuesday meeting with the governor yet again.

Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, both Democrats, said they met with the governor to offer their help in protecting Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida - two agencies that some state lawmakers have vowed to eliminate.

“I’d be more than happy to go anywhere and speak to anyone about the importance of these incentives for us to be able to grow our economy,” Buckhorn said after his meeting with Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called the incentive programs forms of corporate welfare that put too much government influence in the marketplace. Last week a House subcommittee voted to kill both agencies. The bill still has a long way to go, but supporters of the two agencies are pulling out all the stops to protect both.

Buckhorn said on Tuesday that if Florida doesn’t have job incentive money to offer companies, other cities and states will have a competitive advantage in convincing them to go elsewhere.

Buckhorn acknowledged he’ll take some heat from Democrats who question him being on the same side as the Republican governor and even sounding a little like him in defending the programs.

“There will be people who are mad at me because I stand up there with the governor, but ultimately it’s to the benefit of my city and it’s what I was hired to do - what I was elected to do,” Buckhorn said.

On Monday, Buckhorn attended a meeting with Scott in Tampa that had all the feel of a pep rally for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. At that event, Buckhorn told the crowd the incentives have benefited Tampa and need to continue.

Rating company warns: It's downgrading 10-15 Florida insurance companies because of losses from claims abuse

An Ohio insurance-rating company has warned that recent court rulings and skyrocketing losses from water-damage claims have created an “uncertain operating environment” for Florida’s property insurers and that it will downgrade the financial stability of 10 to 15 Florida-based companies, potentially threatening the solvency of thousands of homeowners policies.

Demotech, Inc., a company which rates the financial strength of 400 companies nationwide including 57 in Florida, said Tuesday that the company is likely to reduce the financial stability rating of the Florida-based companies from A to B, below the level needed for federally backed mortgages, beginning in March.

The decision could put the mortgages of thousands of homeowners in jeopardy because mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require property insurance to be A-rated or the policies could be in default. Story here. 

Chaffetz wants answers on Mar-a-Lago security

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - A top House Republican wants the White House to answer questions about President Trump's handling of sensitive information while at Mar-a-Lago as North Korea tested a ballistic missile.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz sent a letter Tuesday to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asking for details about documents seen in photographs, whether classified information was discussed in open and the vetting of Mar-a-Lago guests.

The inquiry comes as Trump's administration is reeling from the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn -- a matter Chaffetz says he won't investigate.

The White House contends classified information wasn't discussed in public and scenes of Trump, Japanese officials and others at Mar-a-Lago reflect planning for a news conference to address North Korea.

The letter:

Continue reading "Chaffetz wants answers on Mar-a-Lago security" »

Despite $100 million in legal bills, Florida loses water wars argument; special master rules for Georgia

Apalachicola Patrick FarrellA special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Florida Tuesday and in favor of Georgia in the 16-year water war over water rights to the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River Basin.

The ruling by Ralph Lancaster, Jr., a civil attorney from Portland, Maine, concluded that Florida failed to prove that new limits on Georgia’s water consumption were needed. He made the ruling after five weeks of hearings last summer and more than $98 million in attorneys fees spent on the case by the state of Florida.

“Florida has failed to show that a consumption cap will afford adequate relief,”  Lancaster said in a 70-page ruling.In his ruling, Lancaster’s suggested that Florida made a serious tactical error by not including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a party to the lawsuit.

“Without the Corps as a party, the Court cannot order the Corps to take any particular action,” Lancaster wrote. 

The Florida House of Representatives  has called into question the cost of the litigation as authorized by Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Office of the Attorney General. It found that in the last two years, after Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and the court appointed a special master to resolve the dispute, the state spent $54.4 million on legal help from four law firms. 

According to a spreadsheet obtained by the Herald/Times, the numbers showed that the lead lawyers, Washington-based Latham Watkins, would be paid $35.9 million between 2015 and 2017.

Foley Lardner, the Florida firm where Steverson’s predecessor, Hershel Vinyard, works and where Steverson is now headed, would be paid $2.6 million over the same time. Two other firms also were paid lesser amounts: $1 million to Blankenau and $966,000 to Carlton.

The records also show that Latham Watkins charged the state for 32 to 35 full-time legal staff for 40 hours a week over four months. The firm also charged significantly more than the other firms for lawyers of comparable experience.

Photo: Oyster fisherman on the Appalachicola River by Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald




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.