It looks like Sen. Gary Farmer has been keeping up with the news.
ProPublica and the Naples Daily News both published in-depth investigations last year that highlighted a state law used by businesses and insurers to profit from undocumented workers and then dump them after they’re injured.
One of the reports found that nearly 800 undocumented workers in the state have been charged with workers’ comp fraud for using illicit Social Security numbers to either get their jobs, file for workers’ compensation benefits, or both.
A week before Session started, Farmer — a Lighthouse Point Democrat — filed a bill (SB 1568) that would address this issue by clarifying in statute that undocumented workers are not to be excluded from workers’ compensation benefits once they are entered into the system.
Rich Templin, the director for the Florida AFL-CIO who has worked on the issue with Farmer, said the intent of the bill is not to change immigration law.
Florida provides workers’ comp benefits to undocumented workers despite their legal status. Tremplin says the bill intends to make it clear that being undocumented does not constitute fraud.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, a note to our “Sixty Days” readers: That evening newsletter is taking a day off Monday in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Now, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Rick Scott’s Trumpian win — The Trump administration gave Gov. Scott a significant political victory this week by citing him as the reason why Florida was off the table for offshore oil drilling. Scott, who is likely to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, was quick to oppose the president’s plan to expand offshore drilling in the state. The policy announcement was widely opposed by Florida Democrats and Republicans alike, but Scott got all the credit for convincing the president the practice shouldn’t be done in the Sunshine State. His win, however, has sparked criticism from governors across the country, environmentalists and Democrats in the state convinced the decision was a political ploy.
Bright Futures on horizon — Senate President Joe Negron unanimously voted to bring significant changes to the state’s higher education system by slashing tuition bills of thousands of top students in Florida. If the House passes the bill, the Bright Futures Scholarship Program would invest $124 million in students and could bring back full tuition rides for students in public colleges and universities. A companion bill in the House was referred to three committees. Last year, the measure was vetoed by Gov. Scott.
Don’t seek ‘sanctuary’ here — The Republican-controlled Florida House passed its first bill of the 2018 Session Friday: a proposal that bans so-called “sanctuary cities” in the state and threatened local officials with fines and removal from office if they don’t fully comply with federal immigration authorities. This is the third year in a row the measure is proposed, which has received support from House members in the past, but has not gotten much backing in the Senate. This year, there are no signs that things will be different. Sen. Aaron Bean, who is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate, said the issue would be a “nail-biter” this year. He said he hopes his bill will be heard in committee next week.
Make citrus great again — Recent Florida citrus estimates are steady for the first time since Hurricane Irma struck Florida, but forecasts for the orange production are still dismal compared to past years. The USDA in October projects 54 million boxes of oranges produced for 2017-18. In November, that prediction dropped to 50 million and then decreased again in December to 46 million. The January estimate remains at 46 million boxes. Citrus industry production is at the lowest it’s been in more than 75 years, according to Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp. The industry is facing challenges after it was hit by both Hurricane Irma and the citrus greening epidemic.
On affairs and admissions — Miami Sens. Oscar Braynon and Anitere Flores admitted to having an affair on the first day of the 2018 Session after political spies published footage that allegedly showed one of them leaving the other’s apartment in Tallahassee. In a joint statement, both lawmakers confirmed their relationship and apologized to their families and constituents, saying they didn’t want “gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people.” The news comes as the Senate tries to improve its “culture” in the wake of two senators resigning because of sexual misconduct with people in the legislative process. A day later, The Associated Press reported House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he “personally confronted former state legislators who sexually harassed others.” Corcoran, who has criticized the Senate sex scandals, did not name names, but said none of the legislators who engaged in misconduct are in office.
Florida Job Growth Fund cuts first check
The Florida Job Growth Fund, an $85 million pot of money Gov. Scott fought hard for last year, cut its first check this week.
The School Board of Manatee County voted to accept $201,500 in funding from the fund to buy high-tech equipment needed to expand a training program that helps prep students for jobs in manufacturing and production technology.
“I am proud to announce that Manatee Technical College has been selected as the first recipient of the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. This program was designed to support economic development projects that enhance workforce training programs, such as the Manatee Technical College manufacturing program, so Florida can continue to compete in this global economy,” Scott said. “Ensuring a well-trained workforce is vital to bringing new job opportunities to families in our state, and I look forward to announcing additional Florida Job Growth Grant Fund recipients in the near future.”
The Governor’s office said the Manatee program was picked because it promised a healthy return on investment for the state.
“Our agency has worked diligently to evaluate more than 200 Florida Job Growth Grant Fund proposals to ensure that these funds are spent wisely. Manufacturing skills are needed throughout our state, but specifically in Manatee County where there are hundreds of manufacturers,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Director Cissy Proctor. “Manatee Technical College has a successful existing program that will be enhanced by these funds. We look forward to the opportunities this funding will bring to the families of Manatee County.”
Scott announces 2018 Black History Month contests
Gov. Scott and First Lady Ann Scott this week announced a trio of contests for Black History Month, which takes place in February.
“Ann and I are proud to join Florida families in celebrating Black History Month this February and encourage every Florida student to participate in the 2018 Black History Month contests and nominate one of our state’s great educators for the Excellence in Education Award,” Scott said.
The theme of the 2018 contests is “A Celebration of Innovative African-American Leaders.” Kindergartners through third-graders can participate in an art contest, while fourth-graders through high school seniors may participate in an essay contest.
“I hope every student takes advantage of this opportunity to learn about our state’s history and potentially earn a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship,” said Ann Scott. “We are also honored to recognize this year’s featured artist, Thomas H. Lewis, whose beautiful one-of-a-kind stained glass art is displayed around the country.”
Two winners will be selected for the art contest; three will be chosen for the essay contest. Additionally, three teachers will earn the Excellence in Education Award. One elementary school, one middle school and one high school winner will be selected for the essay contest and education awards.
Graduation rate hit new high in 2017
Florida’s statewide graduation rate hit 82.3 percent in the 2016-17 school year, marking its highest point since Gov. Scott took office in 2011.
“I am proud to announce that Florida’s high school graduation rate has reached a 14-year high. We want every Florida student to have access to a world-class education so they can succeed in the classroom and their future careers, and that is why my recommended Securing Florida’s Future budget includes historic funding for education for the sixth consecutive year, including significant investments for teachers and students in our K-12 system,” Scott said.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session to make sure our students have the resources they need to continue to build on this accomplishment for years to come.”
The newly released numbers are an improvement of 1.6 percentage points over the 2015-16 graduation rate and represent a gradual, 23.1 percentage point increase over the 2003-04 school year.
Students who are disabled saw the largest jump in graduation rates over the past five years with a 13.7 percentage point increase, followed by black students who saw a 10.2 percent increase and Hispanic students who saw a 6.4 percent increase. Poor students also saw a nearly 10-point bump last school year over the 2012-13 rate.
“I am thrilled to celebrate our state’s students and educators on this monumental accomplishment,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “Excelling in high school opens doors to opportunities that provide students long-term benefits, and Florida’s steady increase is promising for our state’s and students’ futures.”
State continues work with FEMA to aid Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria remains a “top priority” for the Gov. Scott administration which continues to work with FEMA to make sure federal resources are available for transitional housing.
In a call with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long this week, Scott was told the federal Transitional Sheltering Assistance program will be limited to individuals whose homes in Puerto Rico have not yet been determined by FEMA to be restored to safe and livable conditions and have power.
“During my call with Administrator Long, we discussed the importance of ongoing federal, state and local support in the delivery of services to Puerto Rican families,” Scott said.
Scott said he wants to make sure “all families from Puerto Rico in Florida know exactly what federal resources are available to them” and can do so by visiting Disaster Recovery Centers in the state for information and assistance.
“We have worked nonstop to ensure families from Puerto Rico coming to Florida are offered every available state resource and the assistance they need to get back on their feet following Hurricane Maria,” Scott said.
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
Gov. Scott this week announced the following appointments and reappointments:
— Ron Howse to the Florida Transportation Commission
Howse was reappointed to the Commission. The 57-year-old, of Cocoa, is a self-employed investor, licensed civil engineer and land surveyor.
He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 11 and ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
— Jay Beyrouti to Enterprise Florida, Inc. Board of directors
He also was reappointed. Beyrouti, 65, of Redington Shores, is the president of Monicarla L.T.D. He is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 11 and ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment also is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
CRC panel tosses electricity provider proposal
A Constitutional Revision Commission panel rejected a proposal (P51) that would have granted Floridians freedom to choose their electricity provider.
The move angered the Florida Energy Freedom coalition, which vowed to push for legislative action on the issue.
“It’s clear that there is growing public interest and demand for electricity freedom so Florida consumers can choose their own electricity providers,” the coalition said in a statement. “We are near a tipping point on this issue and will continue to make the case to the public, business community and Florida Legislature.”
The proposal would have allowed customers to choose from third-party power suppliers and would have exempted some municipalities, which would have allowed them to continue collecting utility fees.
Volunteer Florida announces $1.21M in disaster grants
Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism and national service announced this week that 42 organizations working to help Hurricane Irma survivors will be awarded a combined $1.21 million in round two of Florida Disaster Fund disbursements.
“Volunteer Florida is proud to award this second round of funding through the Florida Disaster Fund so we can continue to serve individuals and families across the State of Florida. We are grateful for the work of these great organizations,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus.
The organizations getting money from the Florida Disaster Fund this go-around range from local groups such as food banks and HandsOn offices to statewide operations including Goodwill, Farm Share and the Catholic Charities of Florida.
Volunteer Florida said it raised more than $15 million to date for Irma victims.
Those funds are paid out to groups that can give immediate assistance to Floridians in need, whether they provide food for the hungry, shelter for the displaced, or cash assistance for people who can’t make ends meet due to the storm affecting their work.
Three announced for ‘Florida Folk Heritage Awards’
Secretary of State Ken Detzner this week announced the picks for this year’s Florida Folk Heritage Awards, which are given to folk artists and advocates who have made long-standing contributions to Florida’s folk culture.
Taking home the awards this year are Cuban-born musician and arranger Pedro Bullaudy, African Heritage Cultural Arts Center Director Marshall Davis, and author and former Tampa Bay Times “Real Florida” columnist Jeff Klinkenberg.
“We are honored to recognize these individuals for their commitment to fostering Florida’s folk arts and cultural heritage,” Detzner said. “Their contributions have led to a greater appreciation and recognition of the importance of traditional arts and artists in our state.”
The Folk Heritage Awards have been given out since 1985 and winners are chosen based on public nominations and recommendations from the council of the Florida Folklife Program, a component of the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources aimed at documenting and presenting Florida’s folklife, folklore and folk arts.
Florida CHIP funding will soon run out
Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program will likely run out by the end of February, according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.
Money is likely to run out in the next weeks due to inaction by Congress. In Florida, more than 370,000 children depend on CHIP for their health care.
American Bridge spokesperson Joshua Karp blamed Florida Republicans and Gov. Scott for their “silence and inaction.”
The report says that Florida is one of 11 states that will likely burn through their share of short-term CHIP funding before the end of the month.
FAHP lists legislative priorities for 2018
The Florida Association of Health Plans put out a list of its priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session this week, and topping that list is a reform to protect patients transported by air ambulance from price gouging.
FAHP President Audrey Brown said the group had championed a ban on balance billing to help save Floridians from shockingly high bills after medical emergencies, and making sure life flights are priced right is the next step in ensuring care is both affordable and accessible to consumers.
“It is unacceptable that when someone’s life is in danger and they must be transported by air, that they will face crippling bills when they recover,” Brown said. “We look forward to leading the discussion on how to end this practice during the upcoming session.”
FAHP will work against legislation that would change up prior authorization and step therapy, which Brown said “ensure the highest standard of safety and effectiveness in a number of ways” such as helping prevent preventing drug abuse and fraud. The health plan trade also plans to oppose any bill to add more carve-outs to the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care (SMMC) program.
“Coordinated, comprehensive care is the hallmark of the SMMC program, and we do not want to turn back the clock on the progress made and return the state to a fragmented system of care that failed to provide reliable, critical services to Floridians in the past,” Brown said.
AIF puts out its 2018 wishlist
The Associated Industries of Florida’s plans for the 2018 Legislative Session is to push policies that lower the cost of health care for businesses and fight back against bills backed by the Trial Bar.
“AIF is proud to always be involved in a multitude of industries that fuel our economy from the Panhandle to the Keys. This year is no different. AIF plans to continue our fight to protect Florida’s job creators in our state Capitol,” said AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney.
The pro-business group said it wants prior authorization and the retroactive denial of claims on the chopping block when it comes to health care, while it plans to fight against the removal of step-therapy protocols. When it comes to slashing litigation costs, AIF said prejudgment interest is its top priority.
The group is also backing the Gov. Scott’s final budget, which clocks in at $87.4 billion.
“The Governor’s spending plan, which includes $180 million in tax cuts, will go a long way in continuing to help our state achieve prosperity and growth Florida’s families deserve,” Feeney said. “We are optimistic our state leaders share this goal and will adopt a budget that includes a pro-growth, pro-jobs tax-cut agenda.”
Insurers say put consumers first in ‘no-fault’ repeal
The Florida Senate is weighing a bill to end Florida’s “no-fault” auto insurance system in the 2018 Legislative Session, and as they do, the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida said they need to keep the impact it’ll have on consumers’ wallets top of mind.
The proposal (SB 150) by Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would replace the no-fault/PIP system in 2019 with a fault-based system requiring all motorists to carry bodily injury coverage of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence as well as mandatory medical payments coverage of $5,000. Those coverage levels ratchet up to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per incident after three years.
“If the Senate’s intent is to manage the cost of auto insurance for Florida drivers, high mandatory minimum levels of coverage, mandatory medical-payments and a new system without a third-party bad faith fix is not the solution,” said PIFF President Michael Carlson. “If we move from No-Fault to a tort-based system, we urge lawmakers to protect consumers’ freedom of choice by allowing the market to determine the right mix of coverage limits and price.”
PIFF, which represents 45 percent of the private passenger automobile insurance market, said high bodily injury limits, mandatory medical payments coverage and the failure to address third-party bad faith litigation could all drive up costs for premium payers.
“As the debate on repealing PIP unfolds, PIFF is committed to working closely with legislators to ensure that Florida’s motorists receive the best coverage at the best prices possible while avoiding unnecessary mandated coverages and litigation costs that drive up the price of auto insurance for everyone,” Carlson said.
FRLA wears blue in support of DHS campaign
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association this week that showed that it was on board with the Department of Homeland Security’s “Blue Campaign” to raise awareness and help combat human trafficking.
FRLA encouraged their membership to be vigilant when it comes to combating human trafficking in Florida, and said its employees and members would participate in “Wear Blue Day.”
The day is a component of the DHS campaign that helps raise awareness through participants wearing blue clothing, snapping a picture and posting it on social media with the hashtags #WearBlueDay and #WeWearBlueBecause.
“With 113 million visitors coming to our state each year, Florida’s hospitality industry must serve as a leader in the fight to combat human trafficking. We strongly encourage our 10,000 members to join us in this important fight and to #JoinFRLA #WearBlueDay January 11,” said FRLA President Carol Dover.
“Our entire industry must work diligently to raise public awareness and provide the necessary tools to protect victims from this atrocious crime.”
Hundreds of Floridians join ‘Dear Florida’ campaign
Hundreds of Floridians have sent elected officials emails and social media message about policy issues over the past several weeks as part of a campaign done in collaboration with SEIU Florida and local unions.
“It is not surprising that Floridians are more outspoken in 2018,” said Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida.
Russo, a Democrat who failed in her bid to be the next leader of the Florida Democratic Party last year, said Republicans legislators’ “willingness to listen to their constituents is nonexistent.”
“Even though their plan is to work without listening to those they represent,” she said, “we will continue to speak up against the horrendous policies they are ramming through to break a part our community.”
According to a statement sent by SEIU Florida, the most common issues discussed during the campaign were related to education, protections for the immigrant community and workers’ rights issues.
GLAAD, Equality Florida release LGBTQ reporting guide
LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD teamed up with Equality Florida to release a guide this week for journalists and media organizations to use when reporting on the LGBTQ community and the issues affecting them.
“How the media covers, or fails to cover, LGBTQ lives defines how people understand who we are, the triumphs we achieve, and the struggles we face,” said Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith. “Accurate and inclusive reporting from the media of our diverse community has the ability to educate the nation, elected officials, and community leaders on a wide array of issues that affect not just the LGBTQ community but all marginalized communities. That’s why Equality Florida and GLAAD continue to invest in media education and provide go-to resources such as this Florida guidebook.”
Southern Stories: A Guide for Reporting on LGBTQ People in Florida clocks in at 36 pages and includes story leads, a glossary of frequently used terms and definitions, as well as outdated or offensive terms to avoid and common pitfalls faced by media.
“As we enter an important year that will impact LGBTQ Floridians, this guide will ensure fair and accurate coverage of our community in the Sunshine State,” said Alexandra Bolles, Associate Director of Campaigns at GLAAD. “This marks the latest co-venture between Equality Florida and GLAAD — a long-standing relationship that will continue into 2018 and beyond.”
Florida Bar to recognize 21 lawyers for pro bono work
The Florida Bar will celebrate 21 lawyers from around the Sunshine State for their work on behalf of poor and indigent clients during a Jan. 25 ceremony at the Supreme Court of Florida.
Florida Bar President Michael J. Higer will present the 2018 Pro Bono Service Awards, which have been given annually since 1981 as part of an effort by the bar to recognize Florida encourage public service commitments among attorneys and to raise public awareness of the many volunteer hours logged by lawyers every year.
One attorney from each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits will receive the award, as will one Florida lawyer practicing outside of the Sunshine State.
Here are the 2018 honorees in order of judicial circuit: Antonio Bruni, Dan Hendrickson, John Kendron, Andrea Reyes, Danialle Riggins, Erica Smith, Pamela Masters, Raymond Brady, John Dierking, Steven Senn, David Alschuler, Robert Young, Jo Ann Palchak, Jennifer Wintrode Shuler, Louis Marc Silber, Ashley Sybesma, Hillary Creary, Timothy Moran, Jeffrey Paul Battista and Colette Kellerhouse.
Anayansi Rodriguez, who practices in Washington D.C., will receive the award for an out-of-state Florida lawyer.
Registration opens for Tallahassee rec sports leagues
Those who like to keep active and be part of a team, or at least coming up with a fun name, might enjoy starting up a softball or flag football team Tallahassee.
The city offers men’s, women’s and coed leagues for each sport, so long as enough teams register for there to be a league.
Those looking to play on the diamonds at Tom Brown Park or the James Messer Sports Complex will need to get their team together and paperwork in before Feb. 7. The season lasts ten games and opening day is March 5. Each team will need to pony up $365, while men’s teams can opt for a 15-game season with a fee of $510 per team.
The flag football season will kick off Feb. 25 and games will be played weekly at the Messer South Complex. Prospective teams have until Feb. 13 to register for the 12-game doubleheader season and the fee is $390 per team.
To register a team for either sport, visit Talgov.com/parks or drop by during business hours at the Tallahassee Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Affairs central office at 912 Myers Park Drive.
Those who want to blow the whistle during games can apply to be a softball ump or flag football ref, but you’ll have to make it through a rules clinic before the seasons begin.
Garbage men (and women) get MLK off, too
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday and while the holiday means many different things to many different people, the city of Tallahassee wants to make sure residents know it means a day off for most city workers.
That means if you usually put your trash cans on the curb for Monday pickup, you’ll want to wait an extra day. Ditto on the time shift for other customers — Tuesday customers will get a Wednesday pickup and on down the line to Friday customers, who will get their trash hauled away Saturday.
Community centers operated by the Parks and Recreation Department will shut down for the day while the StarMetro will treat MLK Day as if it was a Saturday.
The city also made clear that the Animal Service Center, which is always closed on Mondays, will indeed be closed Monday. It’ll open back up at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday as normal.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: