Posts Tagged ‘Opinions’

Joe Henderson: Miami trial shines light on smuggling Cuban baseball players to U.S.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

It is not unusual when a Major League Baseball team signs a Cuban defector. There is a lengthy list of players who fled that island nation so they could barter their skills for the considerable cash that comes with playing in the United States.
Usually, those stories have been treated as valiant escapes from a repressive government and the search for a better life.
A trial that concluded Wednesday in a Miami courtroom though painted a different story. Instead of something heroic, the way some players escaped was judged to be a felony.
The trial pulled back the curtain on how that process works — or at least worked in the case of agent Bart Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada. Both men face five years in prison after being found guilty of smuggling Cuban players to this country in return for receiving a big chunk of their contracts that could total in the millions of dollars.
The Miami Herald reported that Hernandez and Estrada deceived the U.S. government into granting visas to two dozen Cuban players. The players were transported by what the Herald called “an underground pipeline” that included Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Testimony showed Hernandez and Estrada paid off boat captains and falsified immigration documents. In return, they charged players up to 30 percent of their contracts.
Players include Leonys Martin, who signed a $4.8 million contract this season with Seattle, and Jose Abreu, who signed a $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. Abreu testified that he ate pages from his fake passport and washed it down with a Heineken beer while on a flight from Haiti to the United States.
He admitted he was traveling illegally because, he told jurors, “If I had not been there on that particular day, the deadline, then the contract would not be

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Matt Gaetz: Keep working to repeal and replace Obamacare

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

President Trump has endorsed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. His plan, called the American Health Care Act, is described as the first of three immediate steps occurring to end this nightmare. Remember, Obamacare was implemented over several bills, with tons of executive overreach. Administrative corrections and legislation clearing the 60-vote Senate threshold must follow.
For this bill, we need 51.
I’ll be frank — I’m not crazy about it. I wanted to like it, especially after hearing from Obamacare’s victims: prices skyrocketing, premiums rising, plans closing, coverage decreasing. I wanted to like it because the thought of government forcing people to buy anything — much less health insurance — disgusts me.
We know Obamacare is a wet blanket over our economy, smothering the job-creating ambition of small businesses. I wanted to love it; I just didn’t.
We should be going bolder. We should get the federal government out of health care completely, not just diminish its role.
Then I remembered Tom. I met him at Waffle House. His hash browns were smothered and covered; his question was direct: “How will you decide which way to vote on stuff?” he asked while wiping ketchup from his mustache.
I told him I’d vote for bills that got power out of Washington — and against ones that didn’t. He grumbled on the way out, “Don’t lie to me” — and took a bumper sticker.
There is no debate that the American Health Care Act means less power for Washington. Specifically, under Trump’s plan, the federal government cannot provide taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood; enroll illegal aliens in health care entitlements — only to check their status later; tax people for not buying government-mandated health insurance; stop associations or groups from forming their own risk pools; punish businesses for hiring more employees; or force you away from your doctor or plan.
It

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Spotted at the Governors Club: The last troubadour of Real Florida

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Jeff Klinkenberg is not the kind of guy who does “luncheons,” but there he was at the Governors Club Tuesday, entertaining Friends of the First Amendment — some real, some fake — at the First Amendment Foundation’s annual fundraiser.
He looked a lot more comfortable later that day at Sally Bradshaw’s bookstore, telling true tales about things that “make Florida unique” to an appreciative audience of people who like to choose their reading material in a venue that does not sell toilet paper and tampons.
Klinkenberg coined the term Real Florida and cornered the knowledge market on everything worth knowing about people who do not need Disney to fire their imaginations or casinos to pump their adrenaline. To people genuinely committed to Florida, Klinkenberg is the Scheherazade of storytelling, revered by regular folks and by fellow A-list writers.
One of them, FSU professor and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis showed up at Klinkenberg’s book signing to pay his respects. It was like watching Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page trade licks.
“Did you ever skinny dip with Jane Wood Reno?” Sachochis asked Klinkenberg. It was a question that could have come only from an author and journalist who knew and loved Florida long before the state became an international punchline.
Skinny dipping with Jane Wood Reno is one of the few Real Florida experiences Klinkenberg has not had. But she and her famous offspring have been in his database since 1966, when Klinkenberg was a 16-year-old stringer for The Miami News, where Reno was an esteemed reporter in an era when newspapers didn’t even have to pretend to take women seriously.
As a kid in Miami, Klinkenberg developed a passion for fishing, playing with snakes, and reading the inspired “About Florida” columns of the Miami Herald’s Al Burt. “I wanted to grow up to be Al Burt,”

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Pat Neal: Prosperity for our families and future

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Pat Neal
Thanks to the efforts of Governor Rick Scott and the state’s committed business leaders, Florida has one of the strongest economies in the country. With our unemployment rate under 5 percent, Florida continues to exceed the nation’s annual job growth rate and tourism, one of the state’s economic drivers remains strong, with just under 113 million visitors in 2016, an increase from just 86 million visitors just three years ago.
Much of this success has been a result of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
Their contributions are critical to our state’s recovery and continue to be important drivers in Florida’s economic well-being. The two organizations are responsible for helping create thousands of jobs in conjunction with private businesses, and the organizations allow us to compete with other states for businesses and visitors, many of whom have significantly increased their business and tourism marketing programs to entice companies and visitors.
It is important to have a business climate that allows companies to flourish, people to be able to find high-paying jobs and to ensure that we are economically competitive on a national level.
Political differences in the Capitol are putting the success of the Sunshine State at risk. Members in the Florida House have filed numerous pieces of legislation taking aim at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The bills call for drastic cuts or the complete elimination of the two public-private partnerships, outcomes that would undoubtedly slow down or even reverse the good economic fortune of Florida.
As an employer of hundreds, I hear every day how important it is for Florida families to have good jobs that pay well and build a more prosperous future for our children.
Research from Florida TaxWatch shows that Florida’s targeted economic development incentives have generated positive return on state investment by enticing qualifying businesses to bring high-wage jobs to

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Glenn Burhans, Jr.: #CashMeOutside – Another Florida pol tripped up by campaign finance laws

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Glenn Burhans, Jr.
Another Florida politician has been nicked by the feds.
Former Florida State Rep. Dwayne Taylor was recently indicted on nine counts of wire fraud stemming from the alleged embezzlement of campaign funds. He is accused of taking more than $62,000 in campaign funds via ATM withdrawals, checks and petty cash, and depositing them into his personal bank account or using them for personal expenses. Taylor is also accused of submitting fraudulent campaign expenditure reports to cover up the alleged embezzlement.
While not readily apparent from the expenditure reports, one red flag the feds seem to have focused on is a number of ATM withdrawals by Taylor from his campaign account. Candidates for state office in Florida would be well advised to avoid using campaign debit cards for cash withdrawals and personal purchases. Using campaign checks made out to “cash” can also be problematic because the use of petty cash is tightly restricted. While misusing campaign cash or violating the petty cash limits could lead to an election law violation, it was the alleged use of ATMs and computers networked to servers located outside of Florida (“wire communication in interstate commerce” in fed-speak) that led to Taylor’s federal indictment even though he was a state candidate at the time.
If convicted, he faces a harsh penalty: up to 20 years in federal prison for each count, plus forfeiture of the funds (or property he purchased with those funds).
Do we see a pattern?
This past September, then State Rep. Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two federal counts related to the alleged misuse of campaign contributions. He was similarly charged with diverting the money into the account of a limited liability company that he owned, and then using it for personal use. He was also accused of submitting fraudulent campaign expenditure reports. Fullwood, like Taylor,

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Joe Henderson: ‘Shy’ Rick Scott needs to pipe up on Medicaid expansion

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t been shy about sharing his feelings on the Affordable Care Act. Like any good Republican, he hates it. He wants it to go away.
Now that Republicans have a legitimate proposal on the table to replace Obamacare, though, Scott has gone into stealth mode on the subject. In an Associated Press story, the governor did the Rick Scott Shuffle when asked for his reaction to the plan now being debated intensely in Washington.
Scott said he was glad there is “good conversation” happening on the subject. Not exactly a stop-the-presses comment.
He even met recently with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is pushing a plan that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said could leave up to 24 million Americans without health insurance.
Would the governor like to let us mere mortals in on what was discussed? People in Florida will be greatly affected by whatever finally becomes law, especially if it has a significant impact on Medicaid.
Florida depends heavily on federal money for Medicaid funding, and under the plan being discussed more than 4 million residents here would see their benefits reduced. That probably suits budget hawks in the state House just fine, but wouldn’t be good for many of the state’s elderly and low-income residents.
That’s where Scott needs to pipe up on this subject. In 2014, remember, he went to war (and lost) with the House over Medicaid expansion. Scott pushed for it; now-Speaker Richard Corcoran was intractably against.
Given his background as a hospital administrator before he went into politics, there are few people in the state better versed on health insurance than Scott. He could help frame the debate if he chose.
He certainly hasn’t been shy about making his opinions known recently on other subjects. He has been outspoken about his trying to save Enterprise Florida and Visit

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Florence Snyder: Ain’t no Sunshine where Scott’s gone

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Just in time for Sunshine Week, Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman reminds us how focused, how ruthless, how relentless Gov. Rick Scott’s flacks are in their taxpayer-financed efforts to keep information out of the hands of taxpayers.
Florida’s Ministries of Disinformation have been around since the Chiles administration, but “paranoia about the press” has ramped up significantly on Scott’s watch. Here’s how Connie Bersok, who devoted 30 years of her life to protecting Florida’s fragile wetlands, described current events at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to Pittman and Times researcher Caryn Baird:
“When I first started, if the press called, you could talk to the press, you just had to document it for your boss. Then it became: You had to get permission first, but you could still talk.
“Then it became: The press office would approve of anyone talking with a reporter, but they had to be on the line.
“And now that’s changed to: ‘You do not talk to the press.’ As a result, a lot of the information that’s expressed to the press wasn’t much information at all.”
Bersok’s now retired and able to exercise her First Amendment rights on behalf of former colleagues who don’t dare violate the government gag order for fear of joining the hundreds of DEP employees who have been disappeared since Scott took office.
Purges are always drenched in lies, especially when the purges are aimed at nationally respected professionals with decades of dedicated public service. It’s an uphill battle keeping the air fresh and the water clean in the face of relentless pressure to build high-rises and strip malls in places that God did not mean for people to live.
It’s impossible when the scientists and planners are subject to being fired with no notice and for no reason, and no amount of Florida sunshine and

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William Large: Florida must end assignment of benefits abuse, self-serving windfalls

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

William Large
A state law that was originally intended to give individual policyholders special rights in disputes with their insurance companies is instead being used by some repair vendors and their lawyers to generate a self-serving windfall. The problem is serious and growing, and it’s driving insurance costs higher and higher.
The so-called “one-way attorney fee” allows a policyholder to collect their legal fees from their insurer if they win a claims dispute. But, if the policyholder loses in court, they don’t have to pay the insurer’s legal fees.
Some repair vendors, though, are tricking policyholders into signing an assignment of benefits or AOB. This allows the vendor to seize control of the policyholder’s special rights, file a claim and sue the insurer, often without the policyholder’s knowledge or consent.
Now, this litigation-for-profit scheme has become an incentive for lawyers and their vendor clients — often water damage remediation firms, roofers, or auto glass shops with aggressive marketing schemes — to clog the courts with lawsuits and generate big paydays for themselves.
Recently, the Florida Justice Reform Institute revealed how the growing use of AOBs and the one-way attorney fee by third parties is increasing litigation and costs.
Using the Florida Department of Financial Services’ service of process database, we discovered some startling insights.
From 2000 to 2016, Florida’s population increased 26 percent, while total litigation filed against insurance companies increased about 280 percent.
In particular, AOB litigation increased by over 66 percent from 2010 to 2011, fell briefly after the 2012 auto insurance reforms, and then started rising again. From 2014 to 2015, AOB litigation increased 10.7 percent, and then 21 percent from 2015 to 2016.
AOB lawsuits initiated by vendors who provide water cleanup, restoration, drying, mitigation, mold detection, or remediation services were overwhelmingly concentrated in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. On average, these three counties

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Martin Dyckman: Memory of FSU professor’s enduring lesson on free speech, tolerance

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

An enduring lesson on what freedom of speech should mean to a college campus was taught more than a half-century ago by one of my favorite professors at Florida State University, Lewis M. Killian.
I hadn’t taken his class or even met him at the time but something I had written was a hot discussion topic that day.
It was a letter in the student newspaper, the Florida Flambeau, mocking the Kappa Alpha fraternity for wearing Confederate uniforms and waving the Rebel flag during homecoming festivities. As I recall, there was a reference to the hind end of General Lee’s horse. I was a freshman, and the hyperbole was sophomoric.
It was a fortuitous time to have taken ill and be in the campus infirmary. Some young men, I was told, were looking for me.
“He didn’t have a right to write that,’ exclaimed a student in one of Killian’s sociology classes.
The professor exploded.
“You can disagree with it all you like,” he said, “but don’t ever say in MY class that someone doesn’t have a right to write something.”
This is the place to mention that Lew Killian had grown up in Macon, Georgia, with an accent thick as clabber. In his memoir, he called himself a Cracker.
And he was the faculty adviser to the Kappa Alpha chapter at FSU.
Outgrowing his background, he had become emblematic of the conscience of a new South.
Knowing both worlds, he taught his most popular class, race relations, with strict objectivity and sensitivity to the irascible emotions of the time. Because of his support for students engaged in the lunch counter sit-ins of December 1960 the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce wanted him fired. So did the more racist members of the Board of Control, which had the power to do it. Nothing doing, said FSU President Robert M. Strozier, whose

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Joe Henderson: After Enterprise Florida fight, Rick Scott has little political capital left

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Rick Scott went to Tallahassee in 2011 as an outsider. He often has operated like one as well, and not always in a good way.
In a private company, stubborn employees can get fired for standing up to the boss. In politics, though, defiance can be considered a virtue. Eventually, people who vow to run government like a business learn you can’t just issue orders and expect things to get done.
Real democracy can be a free-for-all.
That brings us to the current state of affairs in the capitol city, a time that has the seen the governor behaving less like a CEO and more like a politician trying to win friends and influence people.
To save his most-favored Enterprise Florida agency, the governor put a public campaign that included visits, robo-calls, videos and a public mocking of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
It didn’t work, at least not yet.
The House dealt the governor a stinging rebuke last week with by passing HB 7005 – or what Scott calls “job-killing legislation” – by an overwhelming 87-28 vote.
Scott responded with a statement reading in part, “Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear – a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”
Everyone waits now to see what happens in the Senate, where Jeff Brandes has a bill that would keep Enterprise Florida but with much greater state oversight. Scott, meanwhile, is keeping up the pressure.
His office sent out eight news releases Monday within 19 minutes touting job gains in cities around the state. He made sure to credit the embattled jobs agency.
It was easy for Scott to get his way when he arrived in Tallahassee on a populist wave, promising to produce jobs and get Florida out

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Michael Carlson: Don’t trade a tax cut for a tax increase – preserve the salary tax credits for insurers

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Michael Carlson
For three decades, Florida has offered insurance companies a highly effective, performance-based tax credit that has resulted in tens of thousands of good jobs being created or imported to our state. Not only does this credit bolster our state’s economy in a transparent, accountable way, it also helps ensure insurance rates for Floridians stay as affordable as possible.
Senate Bill 378 by Sen. Anitere Flores would bring that to an unfortunate end. It would repeal tax credits available to insurers as a way to lower the communications services tax currently levied on telecommunications, video, cable and satellite television and other related services.
Cutting one tax but increasing another is a bad trade that would do more harm than good. It would eliminate tax credits that have been working exactly as intended and sets a bad precedent for other businesses considering a move to Florida based on the availability of similar tax credits. Importantly to consumers and businesses, it would amount to a $300 million tax increase that could translate to higher insurance rates for everyone.
The insurance premium tax credits allow insurers to deduct 15 percent of the employee salary for each job they create or import to Florida from the premium tax they pay each year to the state. For taxpayers, the essential fact is this: Insurers only get the credit if they actually create or import a job. They don’t get a credit for a mere promise of creating jobs. And if the insurance company eliminates the job, they lose the credit.
An independent evaluation of the tax credit in 2013 found it had led to the creation of 40,000 insurance industry-related jobs since 2008 – a tremendous return on the state’s investment. In other words, while many industries were being hit hard and laying off workers during the Great Recession,

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Florence Snyder: Rick Swearingen plays J. Edgar Hoover while Broward burns

Friday, March 10th, 2017

While Bald Badasses Rick Scott and Rick (“We know the terrorists are here!”) Swearingen are busy playing dress-up like Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, Florida’s criminal justice basics are increasingly under the command of the Keystone Kops.
The governor and FDLE commissioner are looking to raid state trust funds to “fight terrorism” by adding 46 new Counterterrorism Avengers to the payroll. It’s a good way to grab a cheap headline, and deflect attention from truly terrifying tales of our collapsing criminal justice infrastructure.
Speaking to a legislative committee this week, Swearingen had the gall to invoke the memory of the five travelers who were shot to death in January at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The shooter, Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago had an easy target in a facility that has suffered from years of budget cuts and bad management. As passenger traffic grew by millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.
We know that because Gannett’s Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley followed the trail of public records and reported that there were no armed deputies in the terminal when Santiago opened fire. In the decade before Santiago’s rampage, the number of deputies assigned to the airport had dropped by roughly the number of Homeland-types Swearingen seeks to hire. Crisis-trained deputies had been kicked to the curbs to direct traffic, deal with drunks, and reunite children with their lost stuffed animals.
Down the road from the Ft Lauderdale Airport is another threat to public safety that we know about because of journalists and not because of grandstanding politicians. Florida Bulldog reports that Broward’s new courthouse is, to put it mildly, “riddled with security issues.” The $276

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Martin Dyckman: What have we become in the time of Trump?

Friday, March 10th, 2017

A young woman who works at a store that we frequent told of a recent experience that haunts my mind, as I hope it will yours.
She and her husband were homebound from a European vacation. As the aircraft waited on the tarmac at Amsterdam’s airport, an announcement told three named passengers to identify themselves to a flight attendant.
Every name, she noted, sounded Middle Eastern.
Each was asked to produce a passport, even though all the passengers had had theirs inspected at least twice before boarding.
A young man near her was one of those singled out. As he stood to retrieve his bag from the overhead bin, she saw that his hands were trembling. She wondered whether he would even be able to handle the bag.
A flight attendant checked the passport and left him alone.
He took his seat, still shaking.
“Are you all right?” she asked him.
“I am an American,” he said. “I was born here.”
So that is what we have come to in the time of Trump.
Concurrently, wire services reported that Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parent who denounced Donald Trump at the Republican convention and challenged him to read the U.S. Constitution, had canceled a speaking engagement in Canada after being told, or so it was said, that “his travel privileges are being reviewed.”
His son, Captain Humayun Khan, was protecting his troops in Iraq when he was killed by a suicide bomber.
“This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why,” Kahn said. The statement did not say who told him about it.
The cancellation was announced on the same day as Trump signed a new travel ban targeting Muslims abroad.
The speech Khan had been scheduled to

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Bryan Avila: Paving the way for Florida’s 5G future

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Bryan Avila
We have all seen the recent stories about Florida’s job boom and our strengthening economy. It is undeniable that we are headed in the right direction. As my colleagues and I prepare for the coming legislative session, it is essential that we focus on the future of our economy. Recently, my colleagues in the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee learned more about the future of connectivity and the exciting opportunities that are on the horizon for towns and cities across our state – opportunities that are fueled by small cell deployment and 5G capabilities.
House Bill 687 offers a path to those opportunities. House Bill 687 is about investment in new, modern infrastructure. It is about paving the way for Florida’s 5G future.
This bill is about investing in success for neighborhoods and communities across Florida. Areas like Hialeah, the sixth largest city in the state.
This bill is about increasing capacity on networks across the state to better allow Floridians to stay connected with their families, to communicate about what’s happening in their communities, and to stay informed on issues of importance.
It’s about providing the network that Florida businesses – both large and small – will need to increase productivity and engagement with their customers. Businesses like Hialeah Hospital, in the heart of District 111, or its parent company, Tenet Health Care, with 10 hospitals across South Florida, will be able to maximize efficiency for its patients, health care professionals and facilities.
This bill is about Smart Cities, with better traffic flow, more sustainable and efficient utilities, and greater resources for public safety. It’s about the future of travel. As we prepare for increasingly connected vehicles and driverless cars, this bill will ensure Florida is leading the charge in wireless connectivity.
For years, leaders in Florida have worked hard to keep our state

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Joe Henderson: ‘Stand Your Ground’ lacks common sense, legalizes lethal impulse

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Supporters will argue that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is vital to individual safety, but the measure never took judgment and common sense into the equation. It legalizes impulses that can be deadly.
On Friday morning in a Dade City courtroom, Judge Susan Barthle ruled that retired Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves’ impulse when he shot Chad Oulson to death after an argument didn’t convince her that he was in sufficient fear for his life.
This clears the way for the 74-year-old Reeves to stand trial for second-degree murder. He could win acquittal there if a jury of his peers find his story more believable than the judge. Fox 13 in Tampa reported she wrote in her ruling, “The physical evidence contradicts the defendant’s version of events.”
Reeves’ version of the fatal afternoon when his argument with Oulson got out of control can be summed up in a statement he made last week during his testimony: “At that point (in the argument), it was his life or mine.”
I can’t crawl insides Reeves’ head and neither can you to know if he was using “Stand Your Ground” as a ready-made excuse after realizing what he had done. But I can say that this tragic situation is exactly what people who oppose this law warned could happen – and likely will happen again.
There is a proposal in the Legislature to make prosecutors prove a defendant didn’t feel threatened.
Imagine the havoc that could unleash.
This law assumes that anyone under duress will be cool enough under pressure to use lethal force only to save themselves or their family from a real threat. This isn’t a movie set though, where James Bond calmly dispatches three or four bad guys trying to kill him and then orders a martini, shaken not stirred.
In the real world, a jittery old man

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Melissa Larkin-Skinner, Roger Johnson: Solving Florida’s critical psychiatrist shortage

Friday, March 10th, 2017

It’s no secret by now that our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Overdose deaths are at an all-time high, with no signs of slowing down. If the epidemic hasn’t already touched you or someone you know personally, the odds are that it will soon.
Tragically, our great state is not immune to this crisis. In fact, the statistics in south Florida are among the most alarming nationwide. Officials in this region estimate that someone overdoses every two hours, and overdose deaths in just three counties — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach — were on track to exceed 800 last year. Manatee County has had the highest per capita death rate for the past two years.
At the federal, state and local levels, there are several education, prevention and treatment-related initiatives aimed at combating this addiction crisis. For example, recent federal policy changes are allowing psychiatrists to treat more patients with Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), one of the primary and most effective tools we have in fighting addiction.
A significant challenge we face, however, is a severe shortage of psychiatrists across our nation and here in Florida. If you’ve tried to make an appointment with a psychiatrist recently, you likely know how serious this shortage is. According to Florida’s 2015 Physician Work Force Annual Report, 14 counties in our state have no psychiatrists, and nine counties only have one. Professional physician recruiters estimate that there are about 250 vacant positions for psychiatrists in Florida. There are simply not enough doctors available to treat the number of Floridians who need critical, lifesaving help.
It is estimated that two-thirds of physicians remain within 50 miles of where they complete their residencies. Thus, filling the vacancies in our state means that we need to recruit more medical students to the field of psychiatry and

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You know you talk like a toddler, right?

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

A recent and deeply disturbing addition to the Word Salad Hall of Shame is the painfully frequent use of the word “right” pronounced in the earnest tone of a toddler in need of constant reassurance.
“I pooped in the big girl potty, right? so I can play with my Legos, right? and then we can go to Granny’s, right? and we can have hot dogs for dinner, right?” is an adorable, if exhausting, indication that a little one is learning how to win friends and influence those closest to her. Soon, she’ll leave the need for constant reassurance behind and make her way in the bigger world of classrooms and playgrounds.
Even a small dose of “right?” is anything but adorable in the mouths of politicians, pundits, and other professionals who get paid to persuade us that they know what they’re talking about.
It was bad enough when adults in positions of authority took to ending simple declarative sentences with a “right?” Now, they’re tacking it on to the end of each clause.
Many of the hackneyed expressions that make up the iceberg lettuce-base of Word Salad are used primarily by Valley Girls and Someone’s Ne’er Do Well Nephew that we aren’t listening to, anyway. By contrast, “right?” has metastasized to some really smart people at every point along the political spectrum.
We’d listen to them more if they weren’t in constant need of soothing, like the brilliant baby-man that Beck Bennett plays so brilliantly.
It’s a good time to buy teddy bears, right? and baby blankies, right? because we seem to be having an adult onset insecurity epidemic. Right?
 
The post You know you talk like a toddler, right? appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Joe Henderson: Bob Buckhorn made the right call not to run for Governor

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Bob Buckhorn is a gregarious, ambitious and determined man, and I think he would have made a fine governor for the state of Florida. He certainly ranks among the best mayors the city of Tampa has ever had.
But I also believe he made the right call when he announced in an email to supporters Thursday morning that “I am not planning to be a candidate for Governor in 2018.”
Now, saying “I am not planning …” does leave a little wiggle room in case Democrats come storming to his door, but that is not likely to happen. There could be several viable options for Dems in 2018, including Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.
But Buckhorn wasn’t kidding in that email when he said, “I have a job I love.” In his case, that was not the usual politician-speak for “I’ve sized up the field and decided I have no chance.”
Tampa has had some fine mayors dating back more than 40 years – people like Dick Greco, Bill Poe, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez, Pam Iorio – and none of them wanted the job more than Buckhorn. He loved saying that Tampa had its “swagger” back. Trust me on this; no one has more swagger than he does.
And Buckhorn came along at the right time, too. When he assumed office in 2011, the city’s knees were buckling from the Great Recession (Iorio deserves credit for how she guided Tampa during that time). But Buckhorn moved ahead with an ambitious plan to reshape downtown from a dead place where the streets didn’t wait until 5 p.m. to roll up.
There are so many things going on now that the biggest downtown problem is a lack of parking.
That’s not to say the mayor hasn’t had issues. Not everyone

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Repeal and replace — The end of traditional conservatism

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

As a lifelong Republican and a former Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, I have always preferred voting for the Republican and conservative candidate.
Preferably, the candidate is both Republican and conservative, although that is not always the case.
For only the second time in my life, I did not vote for the Republican presidential nominee:  I found him neither Republican nor conservative. I know there are different strands of conservatism: classical, neo-cons, libertarians, religious and economic conservatives. I found Donald Trump to be none of the above.
Trump did appeal to conservatives by supporting regulatory reform, lower taxes, unleashing the private sector and rolling back the administrative state. At the same time, Trump supported existing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, which he called untouchable, and backed new entitlements like a paid family leave program.
Until the election of Trump, Republicans venerated Ronald Reagan and his brand of conservatism. This included support for free trade, a centerpiece of conservative economic policy. Trump has denounced free trade by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which conservatives uniformly backed. Trump also plans to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which Republicans helped to pass.
Another litmus test for modern conservatism was for America to play a major role in world affairs. Reagan addressed the first Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in 1974 and argued that America “cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so.”
Reagan cited Pope Pius XII’s remarks after World War II that “Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of mankind.” Under Trump, American First has become the guiding philosophy.
Republicans and conservatives have generally opposed entitlements and big government. Trump has made Social Security and Medicare untouchable, even though most conservatives believe these programs are not sustainable given the demographic changes in American society.
Trump has called

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Florida doesn’t need an elected secretary of state, or agriculture commissioner

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

It would tax the imagination to come up with anything that Florida needs less than to elect a secretary of state once again. Why would the Legislature even consider that?
Sen. Aaron Bean, the sponsor, explained it the other day. As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, the Fernandina Beach Republican told the Senate ethics committee that in the main he wants a fifth position on the Cabinet to avoid tie votes that require the governor to be on the prevailing side or the motion fails.
Actually, he and nearly everyone else are incorrect when they refer to that group of four as “the Cabinet.” Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the Cabinet to consist of an attorney general, a chief financial officer, and a commissioner of agriculture. The governor is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a member of the Cabinet.
And because they are elected, it’s not “his” Cabinet even though the members too often vote as if it were. They oversee 12 agencies in their collective role as — to put it accurately — “the governor and Cabinet.”
To the extent that the tie vote issue is a problem, there’s a simpler and less expensive way to deal with it than the creation of yet another statewide pooh-bah with yet another six-figure salary.
That’s to get rid of the elected agriculture commissioner. Let the governor appoint the position, as does now with the secretary of state. Or have the governor and the remaining two Cabinet members jointly select someone in the same manner as the head of the office of financial regulation.
But avoiding a tie vote situation strikes me as the lamest possible pretext to elect the secretary, which Florida last did in 1998.
The more important issue is how best to oversee elections, which is the function of the office that the

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Jason Fischer: Florida needs to say yes to American energy independence, no to proposed fracking ban

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen much-needed economic legislation put on hold out of fear of how it’d affect the environment.
Ditto for the mounds of environmental priorities placed on the back burner because of apprehensions about what they might do to the economy.
At one point, this all made sense. The technology wasn’t quite there. Energy and environment was an either-or proposition. One side was going to lose, when we wanted both to win.
But those times have passed. Thanks to technological advancements and remarkable improvements in extraction techniques, we no longer have to choose between having a stable and affordable supply of energy resources and being good stewards of the environment, no matter what the naysayers suggest.
And record-setting upticks and enhancements in hydraulic fracturing is the biggest reason why.
Just look at the numbers, economically and environmentally.
Per reports, shale gas production and its accompanying lower natural gas prices contributed $156 billion to real disposable income in 2015 — meaning the average American family kept an extra $1,337 in their pocket. Another analysis, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), said that fracking improved the average cost of living for most Americans by nearly $750 per year since 2008.
Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generations, meanwhile, are down to their lowest levels in decades, the EIA reports, and monthly carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are the lowest they’ve been in more than a quarter century. Perhaps a Forbes headline from last year said it best: “U.S. natural gas rises as America’s CO2 emissions drop.”
It’s not a coincidence. The two go together.
Yet come the next legislative session, Florida lawmakers will again take another look at a regulatory curveball they’re better off not swinging at.
Earlier this year, legislation was filed, SB 442, that closely mirrors a piece of legislation that was proposed

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Just imagine huge can of worms opened by religious liberty bill

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

The Hillsborough County public school district has straightforward rules in its student handbook about religion.
It says students can talk about religion, practice their religion, can be excused to observe a religious holiday, and – most important for the context of our discussion today – decide for themselves whether they want to participate in things such as student-led prayer or other practices.
The basic rule is this: If students lead the religious activity – fine. If teachers or administrators take part – not fine.
Districts in Miami-Dade and Orlando have basically the same policy.
Apparently, that’s not good enough for the state Senate Education Committee, which Monday approved SB-436. It’s a measure designed to protect religious liberty, except that such liberty already exists. The 5-2 vote was along party lines, of course; five Republicans said yea, two Democrats were naysayers.
A statement released by Senate President Joe Negron after the education committee did its work, was a clear indication of what he has in mind.
The statement said: “Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. This legislation makes it clear that the State of Florida stands for religious liberty and will take the steps necessary to protect the free speech rights of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”
A statement released by state Sen. Dennis Baxley was even more to the point.
“We should be encouraging, rather than preventing our students from expressing their religious convictions,” Baxley said. “This legislation safeguards Freedom of Religion by protecting our students from being discriminated against based on the free expression of their religious ideals in spoken word or prayer, attire, school assignments and extracurricular activities.”
I can see worms crawling out of that just-opened can by the thousands – assuming this bill passes. Let’s play a game called “just imagine.”
Just imagine the bill passes and a

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Bad nursing homes benefit from AHCA’s passive-aggressive war on #transparency

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Somebody please give Shelisha Coleman a big fat raise.
The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) high profile flack works hard duty playing hardball with some of Florida’s best reporters, but makes tens of thousands of dollars less than men paid by taxpayers to tell tall tales about #Transparency.
Coleman had to drop a whopping load of horsefeathers on the Orlando Sentinel last week in a laughable effort to justify AHCA’s unlawful redactions to public records.
Taking up the cause of families who love their grandparents, reporter Kate Santich asked AHCA to explain why inspection reports are being scrubbed of “dates, places and pivotal words” that make it possible to gauge the quality and safety of Florida’s nursing homes.
People who pay attention to Transparency and Accountability (T&A) in Florida had no trouble believing the attorney who told Santich “I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now. It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”
Like a lamb to the slaughter, Coleman was dispatched by her better-paid bosses to tell the Sentinel that state officials are merely trying to “provide additional protection of personal health information” as required by federal privacy laws.
After she stopped laughing, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen pointed out the holes in the rationalizations, prevarications and passive aggressive sandbagging served up by Coleman to justify AHCA’s “new redaction process.”
That new redaction process is good news for bad nursing homes. We can hope Santich’s story will embarrass the legislature into doing something about it. But don’t bet Grandpa’s life on it.
The post Bad nursing homes benefit from AHCA’s passive-aggressive war on #transparency appeared first on Florida

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Jackie Pons to taxpayers: DROP dead, part 2

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Jackie Pons is still the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name.
To refresh our recollection on a pol best-forgotten, if he’d only go away, Pons lost his bid for re-election November as Leon County’s Superintendent of Schools.  As a DROP-enrollee since 2014, he was entitled a $6778 monthly pension check and a one-time payment of just under $200,000.
Most folks would call that a comfortable retirement. But behind Door No. 2 at the Florida Department of Welfare for the Rich was the promise of a $400,000 DROP payday if he remains at some public trough or other until 2019, plus a few hundred dollars more monthly walkin’ around money.
With a little help from his friends and a little saber-rattling from his lawyers, Pons is on track to suck every last nickel out of DROP. He’s already made some otherwise serious people look like buffoons. First, it was David Coburn, Chief of Staff to Florida State University President John Thrasher. who managed to keep a straight face while telling the Tallahassee Democrat that in Pons’ capacity as a $50,000 a year “business analyst” with FSU’s admissions office, Pons was “working on a project to recruit students from underserved areas of the Panhandle.“
We don’t know how that project went, but we do know that Pons resigned from FSU just three weeks after he was hired.  Last week, Pons resurfaced at Florida A & M University’s Developmental Research School. As the K-12 school’s “development officer,” he will “provide information to meet (school) goals and objectives” and “develop a fundraising plan.”
As we’ve noted here before, it’s been 10 years since Lucy Morgan double-dipped her Pulitzer Prize-winning plumb line into the murky waters of DROP and its myriad opportunities for mischief. Her reporting resulted in reforms that

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Joe Henderson: This Legislative Session has the chance to be one of the most significant in Florida’s history

Monday, March 6th, 2017

We already know the 2017 Legislative Session that opens Tuesday in Tallahassee is likely to be contentious, but aren’t they all? Big-league politics is a contact sport.
No one will deny the battle between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over spending priorities makes for good political theater (not to mention headlines). When the two most powerful Republicans in the state engage in public spats the way these two have, it does tend to attract attention.
There is a bigger story brewing, though. If lawmakers pass most of what has been proposed, it could become one of the most significant sessions in Florida’s history.
Corcoran’s ambitious package of legislative and lobbying reforms could fundamentally change the way business is done in Tallahassee. Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron worked out a budget compromise Friday that makes a good start on what Corcoran has vowed to accomplish.
Corcoran scored big with a rule requiring all projects added to the budget must be paid for with one-time money. That ends the practice of annually recurring expenses on the base budget, which Corcoran complained hamstrung future legislatures.
This likely will end that time-honored House and Senate tradition of flooding the budget with last-minute additions that can add hundreds of millions in costs. Now, no projects can be added to the final budget that weren’t included in the original plans by the House and Senate – although we can be certain some legislators will try to find ways around that.
Negron released a statement after the compromise praising Corcoran lauding the enhanced “accountability and transparency” in budgeting.
That new policy alone would make this an especially significant session, but there are additional measures that could fundamentally change everyday life for Floridians more directly.
There are bills that, if passed, would greatly expand the number of public places where Floridians with

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Blake Dowling: The road, fast food and Session — all aboard!

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Session is here in the Capital City, beginning with a Monday bash at Associated Industries to welcome those from all over the state.
The Legislative Session kickoff has been on my calendar for a decade now; it is a great event and a nice chance to reflect on the past year and the one coming just ahead.
Mayor Andrew Gillum wants to run for governor, legal pot is everywhere, POTUS can give a good speech. What else? Charlie Christ switched back to the GOP, got a divorce or something like that. It’s hard to keep tabs on Chuckles.
For those traveling from out of town make sure to stay away from fast food. It is hard on the system, makes you fat and decreases your life span.
Wendy’s is making it hard to avoid fast food, as they are leading the pack with devious innovative ways to get a double cheeseburger in your hand (where are they square, by the way).
What are they doing? Self-service kiosks for one thing. I wrote in an earlier column that the model Amazon’s new cashier less smart self-serve store would be appealing to big business looking to save money from a higher minimum wage. The head burger honchos came to the same conclusion. How do they stay highly profitable? Get rid of employees.
So, those are elected officials that always want to raise taxes and the minimum wage.
Stop. I was talking to John Londot from Greenberg Traurig about a minute ago about AI (we are collaborating on something for Leon County next week), and it’s not just minimum wage workers that should be on alert.
We must all be mindful of what sort of impact AI could have on the world. We could have an autonomous utopia on our hands or a scorched wasteland.
I prefer to think positive on the subject

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John Sowinski: Finally, a sensible gambling plan for Florida’s future

Monday, March 6th, 2017

There are two things we can count on in Florida. In any given body of water, eventually the alligators will show up. And in any given meeting of the Florida Legislature, the same applies to gambling lobbyists.
Feed either and they only become more insatiable.
With regard to the gambling interests, unfortunately, the Florida Senate is setting up a buffet of glutinous proportions. Proposed legislation calls for the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.
It literally would recreate our state in Nevada’s image, with casinos popping up in communities from the far reaches of the Panhandle to the end of the Everglades.
There would be two new Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, a region already suffering from a glut of casinos. There would be a massive increase in gambling supply there, without a corresponding increase in gamblers, creating a dynamic in which the casinos could only survive by cannibalizing each other’s customers. Even the gambling industry’s own financial experts predict that 95 percent of the patrons would be locals, not tourists.
This type of gambling over-saturation is what brought the industry crashing down in Atlantic City, but not before it eviscerated existing local jobs and businesses from restaurants to retail stores.
But the Senate bill does not stop with more gambling in South Florida. Initially, casinos would spread to eight other counties. That only would be for starters because under Senate Bill 8, every horse track, dog track or jai alai fronton could become a casino.
Getting back to the alligator analogy, what the Senate is proposing is akin to taking 500 bags of marshmallows out into the middle of Lake Okeechobee at midnight and tossing them in the water.
Even worse, the regulators now have allowed banked games in pari-mutuel card rooms despite state law that bans them, a clear violation of Florida’s gambling

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Alan Snel: Dear Mr. President, let’s ride bicycles when you’re in Florida (so that you keep off the Twitter)

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Alan Snel: Bicycle Writer
Dear Mr. President,
It’s so cool that you enjoy Florida!
You’re back in South Florida today — and I live here too.
Today is such a sweet March day here in the Sunshine State for both of us. Strong tropical breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, yet the humidity is still low so that we’re not sweating our balls off!
Yet, for some reason, when you come to Florida you seem kinda, well, stressed out and those fingers of yours go running across your cell phone and out pops another tweet that really grabs America by the . . . hmmmm, I’m not sure I better finish that sentence.
Well, anyway, you were back in Florida and back on the Twitter and out jumped this twittery gem.

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Man, that’s quite the doozy!
You’re one intense dude.
So intense, that you threw in an extra “p” into “tapp.”
Talk about ppassion!
So, here’s the deal. Even your closest pals think you’re overdoing it a bit with this Twitter thing.
SAD!
So, I have an idea.
Let’s go bicycling instead of you twittering when you come to Florida.
Didn’t you hear? Bicycling is the new golf!
I get stressed out, too, sometimes — just like you.
But instead of tweeting I go biking.
I love bicycles.
You love bicycles. Well, maybe once you did, when you put on the Tour de Trump bike race back in the late 1980s.
You had the golden touch even back then.
This protest stuff is not new.
Check out some of these folks way back in 1989 at your bike race.
Anyway, I’m happy to take you out on a bicycle ride.
I have a bicycle for you. Or, I have lots of friends who would be happy

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Bruce Janz: In these troubled times of public discourse, is there still a place for dialogue?

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Carl von Clausewitz, the great theorist of war, said: “War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.” What he meant was that even in the time of war, there are other kinds of dialogue happening, and war is not an act that happens because of the failure of dialogue, but is just another component in it.
This thought raises a central question in these troubled times of public discourse. Is there still a place for dialogue, and if so, what is it?
In the democratic foundations of the nation, dialogue is essential to bringing about the goal of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The entire structure of government is an exercise in dialogue – it is why there are checks and balances. The assurance of freedom of speech and of the press, the limitations on government power over citizens – it is all meant so that we can address the problems of the nation by using reasoned discourse rather than violence.
But what if dialogue itself becomes war by other means?
We often have an optimistic view of dialogue, which is that well-meaning people come together and work out their problems through understanding and compromise.
But dialogue can, of course, be many other things. It can be used to forestall action on a problem; we can indefinitely talk about something rather than acting on it. It can be used to placate someone, to “keep them talking,” while proceeding with a controversial action. Powerful parties in a dialogue can define the terms and assumptions of that dialogue, making it more restricted, or more abstract, or less historically aware than others might want it to be. Dialogue can be used to make a position seem completely rational, when in fact its

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A birthday card for the unofficial, undisputed queen of Tallahassee

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Rosanne Dunkelberger is President of Dunkelberger Consulting, Editor-at-Large for Extensive Enterprises, and formerly editor of Tallahassee Magazine.)
It’s a Milestone Birthday for Rosanne Dunkelberger, and her kids have asked millennials she’s mentored and friends who knew her before she was an award-winning magazine editor to tell them what we remember most about the Unofficial Undisputed Queen of Tallahassee.
To the Geritol Generation of media lawyers who knew Rosanne in the disco era when she worked as staff director for The Florida Bar’s Committee on Media and Communications Law, she’s the woman who did all the work that we got all the credit.
Back then, the Bar’s annual Media Law Conference was a signature event. Hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists attended to engage with and learn from speakers of statewide and national prominence.  For years, the Conference commanded the personal attention of the Bar President, who hosted a pre-conference dinner, usually in his home, where Bar leaders built significant and sustained relationships with media and political leaders, and nobody ever dreamed there’d come a time when the legislature would set about to castrate the courts.
Rosanne’s larger-than-life work ethic, and her genius at conjuring pleasant settings for meaningful conversations, helped to create and to nurture countless relationships that operated above and below the radar, and always in the public interest.
The Conference was funded in large part by underwriting from law firms and news organizations. With big money and bigger egos involved, there were opportunities aplenty for disaster. Rosanne’s extraordinary talent at wrangling donors; massaging egos, and arranging place cards were at the center of many of the Bar’s greatest conference hits.
Rosanne was also instrumental in creating a new “Florida Bar product,” the Reporter’s Workshop, an invitation-only seminar aimed at print and broadcast journalists who were new to the legal beat. One has

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