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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New DEP secretary sees no conflict in political side businesses

Noah Valenstein

Florida Office of the Governor

Noah Valenstein

When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state's top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying groups, many of whom sought to influence the administration’s policy or advance the governor’s political fortunes.

Valenstein, the current executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, was appointed DEP secretary Tuesday by the governor and Cabinet. He was hired by Scott in December 2012 as the governor’s policy coordinator for energy, agriculture and the environment and worked in that position until he left for the water management district — its board is appointed by Scott — in October 2015. He took a three-month leave of absence in 2014 to advise Scott’s re-election campaign.

Before he joined the governor’s office, Valenstein was director of legislative affairs for the non-profit Everglades Foundation from August 2011 until December 2012. …

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Governor signs 16 bills into law, including $3.75 million child abuse settlemement

Nubia Barahona, the victim of one of the most horrific child abuse crimes in state history.

Miami Herald files

Nubia Barahona, the victim of one of the most horrific child abuse crimes in state history.

Gov. Rick Scott signed 16 bills into law Tuesday, agreeing to pay the surviving victim of one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history $3.75 million in legal damages, another bill to end "gotcha" public records requests, and a bill that will give families with foster children 50 percent discounts on all state parks.

After three years of waiting, Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, will receive money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, under SB 18, which will has now become law.

The state admitted negligence in 2014 after 10-year-old Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder.

The governor also approved SB 80, a compromise proposal between public record advocates and lawmakers who wanted to crack down on a small group of serial records abusers who attempt to snag unsuspecting public officials into violating public records laws in an effort to coerce a financial settlement. …

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Adam Putnam: Too much of education bill was done 'behind closed doors'

2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott talk on the first day of the Legislature's annual session in March.


2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott talk on the first day of the Legislature's annual session in March.

Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam joined the chorus of critics of the Florida Legislature’s massive K-12 education bill that heavily favors charter schools over traditional public schools.

“I have concerns about the way that that bill along with much of the budget was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors,” Putnam told reporters on Tuesday about House Bill 7069.

A key part of HB 7069 is $140 million for a new “Schools of Hope” program, which is largely an incentive for specialized charter schools to set up in low-income areas and essentially compete with struggling traditional public schools. The bill also allocates $234 million in teacher bonuses, both through the controversial “Best & Brightest” program and through a new scheme — whereby “highly effective” teachers would be guaranteed $1,200 bonuses for each of the next three school years and “effective” teachers could get up to $800 each year, depending on how much money is available. …

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John Morgan ready to bet big on medical pot

John Morgan is going to bet on medical marijuana.

Tampa Bay Times

John Morgan is going to bet on medical marijuana.

From the Miami Herald's David Smiley:

John Morgan spent nearly $7 million pushing two statewide ballot initiatives to expand medical marijuana throughout the state of Florida.

But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the wealthy Orlando attorney and possible gubernatorial candidate says he’s prepared to invest in the industry now that it’s about to explode.

In a series of emails with the Miami Herald, Morgan said he intends to plunge up to $100 million into “the right opportunities.” He also acknowledged that he’s interested in owning a stake in a state-licensed dispensing organization, though he said he’s not yet invested in any cannabis companies.

“I am prepared to invest significant monies in this industry and I plan to,” he wrote. “I have learned a great deal about the miracles of marijuana over the last five years. And what better person than me to be involved?” …

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Pam Bondi on Sunshine exemption sealing criminal records: What about sex offenders?

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says she’s “concerned” about a new exemption to the state’s Sunshine Law, which would virtually eliminate Floridians’ access to millions of criminal and arrest records.

Approved unanimously by lawmakers last month, SB 118 would require clerks to seal more than 2.7 million criminal records and hundreds of thousands of arrest records for individuals who were found not guilty, acquitted at trial, had charges against them dropped or dismissed, or weren’t charged after being arrested.

That would effectively prevent people from knowing whether someone was arrested or charged with a crime when they ultimately aren’t convicted in a court of law.

“What concerns me about this — just as a career prosecutor: Sex offenders,” Bondi told reporters Tuesday. “I think some of those cases are very important, to be able to know about the past and the history. That does concern me.”

“We all know how difficult it is to convict a sex offender, and if they have a case again in the future, I think it’s important for people to be able to know about that. Those are the ones that concern me the most,” she added. …

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Why's Pam Bondi raising money? Not to run for office, she says

Attorney General Pam Bondi


Attorney General Pam Bondi

Term-limited Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi may have restarted her political fundraising, but she says she's not considering a run for another public office.

In early April, Bondi's fundraising engine started back up, bringing in more than $82,000 to her political committee, called Justice for All. It raised questions about the aspirations of a Republican attorney general who can't seek reelection and who has already declared she would not run for governor in 2018.

On Tuesday, reporters asked Bondi why she had started raising money again. Was she considering a run at public office after all?

"The newest rumor I heard today is that I want to be sheriff of Hillsborough County," she said. "I do not want to be sheriff of Hillsborough County, seriously. We’ll see, but I need a political committee to continue when you all have political questions to ask me."

Asked if she was running for an office other than sheriff, Bondi said, "No. No, I’m not. Not right now, I’m not."



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Florida reaction to Trump's budget proposal: Blah

President Trump's budget proposal brought negative reviews from Florida Democrats and little reaction from Republicans, a telling sign of overall lack of enthusiasm.

"This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps," said Sen. Bill Nelson. "It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”

Nelson said the budget would also eliminate Amtrak service in Florida. More than 950,000 Floridians used the service in the last fiscal year.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart: “As a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, I will thoughtfully review and consider the President’s request. The Constitution is clear in that funding decisions are ultimately in the hands of Congress, and it is critical we ensure hard earned taxpayer dollars are well spent.  I look forward to working with Chairman Frelinghuysen, Chairwoman Black, and the White House to put together a fiscally responsible budget.” …

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Environmentalists praise pick of Noah Valenstein as DEP chief

Two of Florida's premier environmental organizations praised Tuesday's decision by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to appoint Noah Valenstein as the state's new environmental secretary.

Representatives of the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida both hailed the choice of Valenstein, a former executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District who previously served as Scott's environmental adviser.

Anna Upton of the Everglades Foundation and Eric Draper of Audubon both described Valenstein as an excellent listener and consensus builder who will be a strong leader at the Department of Environmental Protection. 

Scott's appointment of Valenstein is subject to confirmation by the three-member Cabinet. Valenstein, who has 15 years of experience in environmental policy, will be paid $150,000 as Scott's third environmental secretary. He succeeds Jon Steverson, who held the post for about two years after Herschel Vinyard ran DEP, an agency that is frequently involved in controversy over wetlands protection, climate change, management of state parks and other issues.

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Florida Lottery secretary leaving for Kentucky lottery job

Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie, left, is resigning June 2 to take a job as the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp.

Steve Cannon / AP

Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie, left, is resigning June 2 to take a job as the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp.

The reason Florida’s lottery secretary will leave his post next week after 17 years with the agency became clear Tuesday: Tom Delacenserie accepted a higher-paying position as the new head of Kentucky’s state lottery.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Delacenserie’s forthcoming departure last Friday, with no details on why Delacenserie was resigning effective June 2.

MORE: Read Delacenserie’s resignation letter.

On Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin publicly appointed Delacenserie as the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp. Delacenserie will begin his new job June 5.

“We’re so excited to have secured such a proven leader and successful CEO for the lottery,” Kentucky Lottery Corp. board chairman Mark Sommer said in a statement. “We look forward to him leading the lottery past the $1 billion sales mark and well beyond.”

“I’m very much looking forward to joining one of the premier lotteries in the country,” Delacenserie added. “My dedication will be to continuing the Kentucky Lottery’s emphasis on increasing both sales and proceeds to the Commonwealth.” …

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Brian Ballard's lobbying shop in Washington get a big contract

Ballard Partners, the Florida lobbying firm led by Brian Ballard, is quickly ramping up in Washington and just landed a high-profile contract: the government of Turkey.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who joined the firm in April, will lead the work and has years of experience dealing with American-Turkish issues. In 2000, he was a founding member of the Turkey Caucus.

“To restate the obvious, it’s a central part of American’s foreign policy in the most critical part of the world,” Wexler said in an interview on Monday.

The goal, he said, is to “enhance American-Turkish relations and all that encompasses.”

That includes fighting terrorism, seeking a resolution to the “quagmire in Syria,” promoting Turkey as an energy hub so that Europe can become less dependent on Russia, and easing the refugee crisis, Wexler said.

“Turkey can play an incredibly important role in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Wexler added. “It also has an essential role to play in counteracting Iran’s aggressiveness in the region.”

The 1-year contract is worth $1.5 million and comes just days after Turkish officials brawled with protesters in Washington. There's also ongoing strife in Turkey. …

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Opinions across Florida: Vanishing lands and Tallahassee overreach

The nearly 250 acres of Busciglio family farm land, as seen from the air on March 24, 2017. Tower Dairy is less than 10 miles from downtown Tampa and the last dairy farm in Hillsborough County, Florida. Although the farm used to be at the end of a dirt road, development has closed in on the property. "They offered them so much money they couldn't afford not to sell it, " Sammy Busciglio said.

Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times

The nearly 250 acres of Busciglio family farm land, as seen from the air on March 24, 2017. Tower Dairy is less than 10 miles from downtown Tampa and the last dairy farm in Hillsborough County, Florida. Although the farm used to be at the end of a dirt road, development has closed in on the property. "They offered them so much money they couldn't afford not to sell it, " Sammy Busciglio said.

Here's a recap of opinions from Florida's news sources:

Ever since voters overwhelming passed Amendment 1 with 75 percent of the vote, the Legislature has refused to follow through on the ballot measure's requirement to set aside money for land preservation.  Turns out, 2017 was no different. As the Tampa Bay Times editorial board points out, time is running out for a state that is seeing 1,000 people move to it every day.

The budget approved by the Legislature set aside absolutely nothing for the land acquisition program called Florida Forever. It once got $300 million a year. And the state is failing to spend enough money from Amendment 1, approved by voters in 2014, to keep land wild in perpetuity.

Another program, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, helps to buy easements to protect ranch and farmland from development while it remains in private hands. It is getting a mere $10 million in the proposed budget. Today, Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet will decide on a plan to spend about $8.5 million to preserve thousands of acres of land owned for generations in Okeechobee and Highlands counties by two ranching families. …

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Rubio on latest Trump news: 'We have to confirm that that's what actually happened. And I'm not disputing that it did'

Sen. Marco Rubio this morning suggested reports about President Donald Trump asking top intelligence officials to squelch the Russia investigation could hurt information sharing.

"We have to confirm that that's what actually happened. And I'm not disputing that it did," Rubio said on CNN's New Day.

"If it does, I would say to you that it goes further in my mind as a member of the intelligence committee than just the focus on the Russia investigation. I think it goes into the very nature of the intelligence community's work and its ability to work with the executive branch and the presidency."

It was Rubio's lastest national TV appearance in which he's discussed Russia issues, if carefully. Asked if Trump's alleged action amounted to obstruction, Rubio demurred, saying all the facts are needed.

He also sounded a pessimistic note about chance for a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, which Trump is attempting to broker.

"Everyone says they want peace. How do you define peace? If peace means Israel can no longer retain their nature as a Jewish state or give up control of Jerusalem, if that's peace -- that's not peace, that's not going to happen," Rubio said. …

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Check out the Florida Democrats' new hires

Florida Democratic Party release:

MIAMI – The Florida Democratic Party continues working to build the strongest statewide grassroots operation in FDP history. Today, Chair Stephen Bittel announced several key hires and promotions within the Florida Democratic Party. 

“Over the past few months we have seen a resurgent Florida Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel. “In large part, this has been thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff. That is why I am very proud to announce two major promotions and several new hires. I’m confident that the new Florida Democratic Party will build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

Below is the list of promotions and new hires. 

Roosevelt Holmes, former Deputy Political Director, will be promoted to Political Director: …

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Will Rick Scott sign or veto 'liquor wall' bill? Two big clues here

If a single House member voted differently, the "liquor wall" bill would not be on Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

Miami Herald

If a single House member voted differently, the "liquor wall" bill would not be on Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

Gov. Rick Scott has until Wednesday to decide the fate of one of the most heavily-lobbied bills in years, the removal of the so-called "liquor wall" so that Walmart, Target and other big box stores can sell liquor. Publix and local chain liquor stores tried mightily to kill the bill but it squeaked through the Senate, 21-17, and the House, 58-57, after years of intense lobbying on both sides. The lobbying is now aimed at Scott -- and the clock is ticking.

If Scott wants to use "the wall" to thank a friend and punish an enemy at the same time, it's not even a close call. Scott's ally on economic development issues, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is a leading critic of the liquor wall bill who voted no, and Scott's No. 1 nemesis, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, is a supporter who voted yes and whose brother, Michael, is a lobbyist for Walmart.

Walmart has made three separate contributions to Scott's Let's Get to Work PAC totaling $110,000, including a $50,000 check on March 31, a week after the Senate sent the bill to the House. If the pro-business Republican governor signs this bill, he'll see headlines connecting the two. …

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Supporters of state parks tell Rick Scott: 'Veto this bad budget'

Tubing at popular Itchetucknee Springs State Park

Tampa Bay Times

Tubing at popular Itchetucknee Springs State Park

Another statewide advocacy group wants Gov. Rick Scott to reject the state budget and call the Legislature back to work. Supporters of state parks asked Scott to "veto this bad budget" passed two weeks ago, accusing lawmakers of turning their backs on land conservation and park protection.

In a release, the Friends of Florida State Parks called the 2017 session "a huge disappointment for our environment and specifically our state parks. Not only did the Legislature zero out dollars for any land acquisitions in Florida Forever, but it also completely rebuffed efforts by Gov. Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection to fully fund the land management requests of DEP."

The group noted that just three years ago, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 to protect and preserve the state's sensitive natural environment. …

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