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Michael Van Sickler, Tampa Bay Times

Michael Van Sickler

Michael has been with the Tampa Bay Times since 2003. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, he graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and got his master's degree at the University of Florida. He has worked at the Ledger and the Palm Beach Post. For the Times, he has covered everything from mortgage fraud, growth and development in Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg City Hall and state government in Tallahassee. After a stint as assistant metro editor for the paper, he is now the government and politics editor.

Phone: (727) 580-9650.


Twitter: @MikeVanSickler

  1. Echoing Trump, Adam Putnam blasts NAFTA


    From the News Service of Florida's Jim Turner and Jim Saunders....

    Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who may be getting closer to announcing a bid for governor, continued lambasting the North American Free Trade Agreement this week as President Donald Trump backed off, for now, on withdrawing the U.S. from the pact.

    Putnam's office said Wednesday he has implored U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about the need to investigate Mexico for unfair trade practices --- dumping fruits and vegetables on the U.S. market --- to the detriment of Florida farmers.

    "I urge you to initiate an investigation into Mexico's unfair trade practices, which have allowed Mexican producers of specialty crops to --- in a matter of 20 years --- become the dominant supplier of specialty crops into the U.S. market," Putnam wrote in a letter dated April 19. "These unfair trade practices have resulted in the continued decline of domestic production of these crops, which play such an important role in our diets and ensure the proper nutrition and development of Americans of all ages."

    Such a request from Putnam isn't unexpected, as his rhetoric on the issue has been growing.

    At the Strawberry Salute Breakfast in Plant City last month, Putnam went after the trade deal, talking of higher tariffs among possible options.

    And last November, while Florida trade leaders expressed hope that Trump wouldn't simply ditch NAFTA, Putnam decried the pact.

    Putnam said at that time the most helpful thing Trump could do is enforce protections in the trade agreement that were supposed to keep American producers from being undercut through measures such as product dumping and currency manipulation.

    "Prior administrations just didn't enforce the letter of the treaty to begin with," Putnam said. "Gosh, just that alone would be a step in the right direction."...

    Adam Putnam
  2. Rick Scott: Trump cares about environment, state lawmakers don't


    Is Gov. Rick Scott already lining up reasons to veto the proposed $83 billion budget, as some Capitol reporters are noting?

    Today, Scott was in West Palm Beach, where he urged the Florida Legislature to include $200 million in the state budget for the Herbert Hoover Dike.

    Scott said President Donald Trump told him last week that he would be a "partner" to make sure improvements are made to the dike. Scott wants the dike to be finished by 2022. ...

  3. Rick Scott to Trump: Trade more with Argentina


    As the Legislature was considering eliminating Enterprise Florida, the agency's biggest champion was visiting Argentina. And yes, he was there on an Enterprise Florida trip.

    Meanwhile, his office released a letter from Scott to President Donald Trump, touting Argentina....

    Rick Scott in Argentina
  4. Aramis Ayala receives noose in the mail


    From the Orlando Sentinel's Christal Hayes:

    The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala was sent a noose in the mail.

    Ayala’s office reported the incident to the Sheriff’s Office after receiving two threatening and racist letters in the mail, one of which included a noose, an incident report states....

  5. Artiles' apology not enough: Democrats, Equality Florida, NAACP call for his removal


    Sen. Frank Artiles may have said he's not resigning minutes after he apologized Wednesday for earlier using a racial slur and directing profanity at another senator.

    But other groups are calling him to quit. Others are criticizing how Artiles apologized.

    Here's a mid-afternoon sampling of the fallout.

    Equality Florida's public policy director, Hannah Willard, at 3 p.m. ...

  6. VIDEO: Frank Artiles apologizes on Senate floor for racial slur, profanity


    Less than 24 hours after he issued an apology to Sen. Audrey Gibson for using a racial slur and profanity, Sen. Frank Artiles did so again.

    This time, he did so on the floor of the Florida Senate.

    "I apologize,” Artiles, R-Miami, told Gibson. “I am so sorry for the tone and words I used...My harsh words reflect more on me than you."

    Over drinks after 10 p.m. on Monday at the private Governor’s Club, Artiles called Gibson a “f------ a------,” a “b----,” and a “girl,” according to Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston....

  7. Artiles backlash builds: Negron, Galvano, Democrats respond


    The blowback is getting something fierce in the latest controversy involving Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

    At about 9:40 p.m., Senate President Joe Negron's office released this statement from Negron:

    “(Senate Minority Leader Oscar) Braynon reported this incident to me earlier today, and I was appalled to hear that one Senator would speak to another in such an offensive and reprehensible manner. My first priority was to ensure that this matter was promptly addressed between the two Senators involved, which occurred this evening.  Racial slurs and profane, sexist insults have no place in conversation between Senators and will not be tolerated while I am serving as Senate President. Senator Artiles has requested a point of personal privilege at the beginning of tomorrow’s sitting, during which he intends to formally apologize to Senator Gibson on the Senate Floor.”...

  8. Lisa Edgar, fomer PSC commissioner, charged with DUI


    Lisa Edgar, who served 12 years on the Florida Public Service Commission before a brief stint as state parks director, was arrested late Saturday on two charges each of DUI with property damage and leaving the scene of a crash with more than $50 in property damage.

    A report by the Tallahassee Democrat said Florida Highway Patrol troopers received a call about 11 p.m. from a motorist who said a Mercedes Benz was unable to stay in its lane on Centerville Road in Tallahassee and hit his driver's side mirror. Troopers said they later determined the Mercedes was driven by Edgar, who lives in Tallahassee....

    Former PSC Commissioner Lisa Edgar arrested Sunday on DUI and property damage charges
  9. Ron Book: Trump's proposed HUD cuts too harmful


    From the Miami Herald's David Smiley:

    The chairman of Miami-Dade's Homeless Trust has warned members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that HUD cuts in President Donald Trump's proposed budget would harm hundreds of women and children who rely on the county's continuum of care for help.

    Ron Book, a prominent lobbyist and registered NPA, wrote in an April 6 letter that the proposed elimination of HOME grants would cut funding for a rental assistance program run by Lotus House in Overtown that helps more than 100 women and 170 children pay for housing. Another 50 households, he said, are assisted through the Citrus Health Network....

    Ron Book
  10. Pam Bondi bribery case dropped for lack of evidence


    From the Associated Press:

    The Florida prosecutor assigned to investigate a bribery complaint against President Donald Trump and state Attorney General Pam Bondi has found insufficient evidence to move forward. 

    Fort Myers-area State Attorney Stephen Russell presented Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday with the results of an investigation. 

    The complaint stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation about the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. ...

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi displays her President Donald Trump button at the Tampa Yacht Club just prior to the annual Gasparilla Invasion and flotilla this January.
  11. NSF: 10 big issues at the mid-point of session


    From the News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders:

    Halfway through Florida's 60-day legislative session, almost all major issues remain unresolved.

    That's not unusual: Lawmakers always leave tough stuff to the end. But the House and Senate will have to resolve key differences if they hope to end the session as scheduled May 5.

    Here is an update on 10 big issues:

    BUDGET: The House and Senate next week will pass budget proposals that top $80 billion, setting the stage for negotiations on a final spending plan. But with the two chambers at least $2 billion apart on their proposals --- and disagreeing about crucial details --- even Republican leaders are publicly raising the possibility that a special session will be necessary to pass a budget. The House and Senate need to come to agreement before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

    DEATH PENALTY: With Florida's death penalty on hold since January 2016 because of a thicket of court rulings, the House and Senate quickly passed a bill last month to resolve one of the most-important issues. The bill, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, requires unanimous jury recommendations before defendants can be sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court in October struck down a law that required only 10 of 12 jurors to agree on recommending death sentences.

    ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, have been locked in a battle about the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida. The Corcoran-led House has voted to abolish Enterprise Florida and to cut funding for Visit Florida. Scott has barnstormed the state to try to build support for the agencies, which he says are important to job creation. Senate leaders have largely sided with Scott, and the dispute could play out in the budget negotiations.

    EDUCATION: With Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, making the issue one of his top priorities, the Senate has passed a bill that would lead to wide-ranging changes in the higher-education system, including revamping parts of the Bright Futures scholarship program, tightening performance standards for state colleges and universities and encouraging more students to graduate on time. Meanwhile, Corcoran has targeted low-performing public schools that he calls "failure factories" and is pushing for expanded school choice.

    GAMBLING: The House and Senate have taken vastly different positions as they head toward negotiations on a gambling bill. The Senate passed a measure that focuses on changes in the pari-mutuel industry, including allow slot machines in eight counties where voters have approved them and allowing nearly all tracks and jai alai frontons to do away with live racing or jai alai games, a process known as "decoupling." The House plan, meanwhile, focuses on reaching a new gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and seeks to prevent an expansion of gambling.

    GUNS: Lawmakers appear likely to reach agreement on a bill that would shift a key burden of proof in "stand your ground" self-defense cases, a priority of the National Rifle Association. But some other high-profile bills are stuck in the Senate. Those bills include proposals that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses or to openly carrying firearms in public.

    HEALTH CARE: House leaders have renewed efforts to reduce regulations in the health-care industry. The House, for example, has passed a bill that would allow patients to stay longer at ambulatory-surgical centers and allow the creation of what are known as "recovery care centers" for additional post-surgical care. The Senate has scuttled such proposals in the past, and it remains unclear whether it will go along this year. Health care also will be key in budget negotiations, with both chambers proposing cuts in hospital funding.

    MEDICAL MARIJUANA: After voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November, lawmakers are grappling with how to move forward with a broad expansion of the state's medical-marijuana laws. A heavily lobbied issue focuses on the number of businesses that will receive potentially lucrative licenses to grow, process and sell cannabis. Under current law, seven businesses have such licenses, and the House and Senate disagree about issues related to adding more licenses.

    WATER: Negron has made a priority of a plan to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to alleviate discharges of polluted lake water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. But the plan has faced heavy opposition from farmers, including the politically powerful sugar industry, and local officials south of the lake. Negron this week took steps to try to make the plan more palatable to opponents and House leaders, and the issue likely will play a part in budget negotiations.

    WORKERS' COMPENSATION INSURANCE: After a 14.5 percent rate increase began taking effect in December, business and insurance groups came into the legislative session lobbying for changes to reduce workers' compensation insurance costs. But those groups, at least at this point, are not happy with House and Senate bills. The most-controversial issue in the debate stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year that rejected strict limits on attorney fees in workers' compensation cases. Lawmakers are considering allowing fees up to $250 an hour for workers' attorneys --- an idea opposed by business and insurance groups....

    Tick tock tick tock tick tock
  12. Canadian medical marijuana firm expands in U.S., buys Florida distributor


    From the Miami Herald's David Smiley:

    As Florida lawmakers grow closer to establishing the parameters for an expanded medical marijuana industry, one of the state's seven licensed cultivators and distributors appears to be cashing out.

    CHT Medical, an Alachua cannabis distributor owned by Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, is on the verge of selling most or all of its assets to a private company affiliated with Aphria, a publicly traded Canadian medical marijuana corporation based in Ontario....

    A growing business
  13. Photo op...or photo not?


    Political stagecraft can be an art. George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Donald Trump on the down escalator. 

    Of course, good stagecraft is in the eye of the beholder.

    Take the above photos. They were taken when Gov. Rick Scott visited Boston Whaler in Edgewater on Tuesday to tout the 160 jobs the company has created since 2015. The governor's press office then distributed them to media outlets....

    Rick Scott visits Boston Whaler in Edgewater on Tuesday.
  14. Randolph Bracy in NYT op-ed: 'Florida's vengeful governor"


    Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, unloaded on Rick Scott in a New York Times op-ed:

    Florida’s Vengeful Governor

    ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott of Florida overreached last month when he issued an executive order stripping a state attorney of her authority to prosecute a man charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. On Monday, he also removed her from 21 other murder cases....

    Sen. Randolph Bracy
  15. Adam Putnam says he will prevent the Californication of Florida


    It's a good thing Adam Putnam isn't running for governor of California.

    All that glitters in the Golden State isn't all that special to Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture.

    In a fundraising letter sent out last week and signed by Putnam from his political committee, Florida Grown, California is described as a "failed big government model" that "powerful and angry special interests" want to apply to Florida....

    Putnam's least favorite state?