On hypocrisy and Parkland reforms
The 2018 Legislative Session is behind them, but Florida Democrats aren’t relenting in opposing a plan to arm non-teacher personnel in schools.
As school districts statewide determine whether to implement the optional Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, the Democrats are using the opportunity to dish out arguments critical of their Republican colleagues.
During a conference call with media Thursday, Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park harped on what he sees is a lack of state control over how districts implement the Guardian Program, should they choose to do so.
According to the new law, participating local law enforcement must appoint ‘guardians’ who have a valid driver’s license. They also must pass a psychological exam and drug test, complete 132 hours of training and 12 hours of diversity training.
Jones worried Guardian vetting might fall short in some local governments, who have leeway in not only adopting the Guardian Program but choosing how they’ll appoint Guardians beyond what’s been put forth by the state.
Jones expressed concerns that ‘Guardians’ could profile students, and that some appointees could slip through the cracks.
“Someone like George Zimmerman could get a job,” said Jones, referring to the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin on a Sanford street in 2012. He was later acquitted.
Jones also mentioned Omar Mateen, the shooter killed by police after gunning down 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016.
He also said the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to give local governments so much discretion is contradictory, given their staunch support of pre-empting gun control issues to the state.
“If that’s the case, Republicans are hypocrites,” Jones said.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Corcoran opts out — House Speaker Richard Corcoran surprised everyone when he announced Wednesday that he wouldn’t enter the Republican gubernatorial primary or any other race in 2018. Instead, the term-limited Land O’ Lakes Republican endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Adam is sincere, he is authentic, he is principled, he is passionate,” Corcoran told media. “He loves this state.” Corcoran’s remarks over the past year, along with his hefty fundraising and spending totals as an undeclared candidate, led many to assume his entrance into the Governor’s contest was a given. An affiliated PAC had raised close to $7 million on his behalf and spent a large chunk of that money promoting the Speaker’s Conservative ideologies in ads earlier this year. But early polls had Corcoran in single digits, while Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican also in the hunt for the Governor’s Office, stumped along and surpassed Corcoran’s fundraising totals and poll numbers with ease.
Advocates eye prison funding — News broke earlier in May that the Department of Corrections would be slashing funds to substance abuse and mental health treatment in facilities and re-entry programs. The department needs to cover a budget shortfall. Now activists are calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to find funding for such programs. The Tampa Bay Times reported that St. Petersburg saw the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, alongside the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, host a news conference pushing state government to address the issue. The cuts to substance abuse and mental health treatment come at a time when the opioid crisis is wreaking havoc on the state. The cuts to those programs total $9.1 million, or 40 percent of prior funding for such services.
Agency staffing decisions scrutinized — The Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) faces criticism after a newspaper report raised questions regarding recent employment decisions of key personnel inside the agency. As The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reports, former staffers of Gov. Scott’s Office of Policy and Budget were recently given jobs inside DOR, which is “overseen by Scott and three independent Cabinet officers, making it a safer place to guarantee job security than the governor’s budget office, which will get a new chief executive after the November elections.” Klas reports that most top staff members within DOR’s Office of Property Tax Oversight have been replaced with new employees who are close to DOR head Leon Biegalski and Scott. Biegalski refused an interview with the Herald, but issued a statement saying: “I’m proud of the highly qualified team we have in place with a demonstrated history of successful public service that I know will directly benefit everyone we serve.”
State recognizes flaws in gun checks — State officials are now acknowledging that a delay in entering mental health issues into a background check database is cause for concern and a risk to public safety. Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports, the delays were discovered in a 2016 audit and when crafting gun restrictions during the 2018 Legislative Session — which resulted in laws restricting those with a history of mental health issues from purchasing guns. The results of the audit “went unnoticed by state lawmakers and the governor’s office until POLITICO asked about the issue.” Now, officials are requesting the Department of Justice to fund a pilot program to enter mental health information into the background check database in a reasonable time frame.
Health companies challenge Medicaid contracts — Twelve health plans have filed challenges to the way the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration doled out Medicaid contracts estimated at $90 billion, reports Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida. The newly approved contracts edge out companies that have previously administered the managed-care programs. Attorneys for one company, Magellan, claim a competitor was chosen “despite not submitting a bid” for the area in which it seeks to practice, Sexton reports. Other companies filed complaints alleging that competing health plans were “out of order” and that AHCA skimped on an internal agreement to extend the bid deadline in one company’s case.
Putnam: Help on the way for Florida citrus
On the heels of another dismal citrus production forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Putnam reminded state growers that aid is coming soon.
“Today’s citrus crop forecast is another reminder of the continued struggles of Florida’s iconic citrus industry since Hurricane Irma inflicted unprecedented damage last year,” Putnam said in a statement. “But thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Florida’s agriculture industry and our elected leaders, a much-needed disaster relief package is on the way to help growers get back on their feet.”
Putnam also thanked the federal government in a Facebook video, which you can see by clicking the image below:
The package Putnam refers to is the $2.36 billion in federally authorized funds going into the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program. In April, Florida leaders, including Putnam, Scott and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, increased pressure on USDA head Sonny Perdue to release details of the program.
Since then, Perdue has offered a rough timeline of the disaster aid program. His agency plans to hold a ‘sign-up’ no later than July 16. An additional $340 million federal block grant will be made available to Irma-affected Florida growers.
Patronis launches fraud investigation into Tallahassee case
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has directed his Division of Investigative and Forensic Services to investigate potential insurance fraud following the arrest of Denise Merrell Williams, who was charged this week in the capital city with the first-degree murder of her husband, Mike Williams, almost 20 years ago.
Denise Merrell Williams collected $1.75 million worth of life insurance following her husband’s death. Mike Williams purchased the policy from Brian Winchester, who later married Denise Williams, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
“As a result of the recent findings surrounding Mike Williams’ death, I have directed my office to investigate whether his death was part of a scheme to fraudulently profit from his life insurance policies,” Patronis said in a statement.
Those with any information about the case are asked to contact the CFO’s Fraud Tip Hotline by calling 1-800-378-0445. Anonymity is offered, and potential cash rewards are available.
‘Balance billing’ ban restricted
A federal appeals court has left the family of a child killed in an auto accident on the hook for more than $17,000 in air ambulance fees not covered by his Florida personal injury protection insurance.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the federal Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts a Florida law that forbids such “balance billing.”
Air Methods Corp. transported Lamar Bailey to a West Palm Beach hospital following an accident in 2013. The boy later died of his injuries. His parents’ insurers, adhering to reimbursement rules under Florida’s PIP laws, paid nearly $16,000 of the company’s nearly $28,000 bill.
A three-judge panel said the company could go after the parents for the balance.
“The ADA pre-empt the application of the balance billing provision to air carriers,” the court said. “Because Bailey’s claims invoke the balance billing provision as a means to guide and police AMC’s rates, the ADA pre-empts his action.”
Instagram of the week
Andy, Camille Gardiner recognized with honorary doctorates
Former Senate President Andy Gardiner and his wife Camille got some more recognition for their work to improve the lives of disabled Floridians.
Beacon College in Leesburg, a school aimed at educating “students who learn differently,” announced this month that it awarded honorary doctorates to the Orlando couple in recognition of the former lawmaker’s work expanding what’s now known as Gardiner Scholarships.
The Gardiners were named as honorary degree recipients alongside Sheikha Jameela, the VP of the UAE’s Supreme Council for Family Affairs.
College President George Hagerty said all three honorees “embody the true character of civic leaders by virtue of their vision, perseverance and humility.”
“Sen. Andy Gardiner and his wife Camille have shared a common pursuit — that of improving the quality of educational and life experiences for Floridians with disabilities,” he said.
The college announced the honorary degrees May 1 and awarded them during its 29th Commencement Exercises May 5.
The week in appointments
Polk State College District Board of Trustees
Mark Turner, 55, of Winter Haven, is a partner at Straughn & Turner, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his juris doctorate from Stetson University College of Law. Turner is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.
Teresa Martinez, 63, of Lakeland, is the president and founder of the Institute of Spanish Communication Inc. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. Martinez is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.
These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council
Dotti Groover-Skipper, of Tampa, is the anti-trafficking director for The Salvation Army Florida Division. She is reappointed for a term ending September 6, 2021.
John Van Delinder, of Callahan, is the executive director of the Sunshine State Association of Christian Schools. He is reappointed for a term ending September 6, 2021.
Florida Trauma System Advisory Council
Dr. Mark McKenney, 59, of Miami Beach, is a professor of surgery at the University of South Florida. He is appointed for a term ending April 30, 2021.
Florida Center for Nursing Board of Directors
Dr. Michele Heston, 58, of Avon Park, is the dean of health sciences for South Florida State College. Dr. Heston was recommended by the State Board of Education pursuant to s. 464.0196, Florida Statutes. She succeeds Dr. Louise Pitts and is appointed for a term ending June 30, 2020.
DEP celebrates ‘Clean Air Month’
Gov. Scott has proclaimed May as Clean Air Month, “recognizing the importance of clean air for Florida’s public health, environment and economy,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said in a news release earlier this week.
“Maintaining good air quality is vital to our state’s public health and natural resources — which is why it is a focus of the work we do at DEP,” said Jeff Koerner, director of DEP’s Division of Air Resources Management. “By monitoring air quality, promoting pollution prevention and coordinating with local, state and federal clean air programs, Florida continues to enjoy some of the cleanest air on record.”
Because the success of this work depends on public awareness, DEP is launching a Clean Air Florida initiative this month to help educate Florida’s residents and visitors on clean air, pollutants, and the science behind maintaining good air quality in Florida.
The initiative will remind Floridians of simple steps to help in the effort:
— Change home air conditioner filters monthly. The system will run more efficiently year-round and use less energy.
— Plant a tree in honor of Clean Air Month. Trees play a vital role in cleaning our air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They also save energy by providing shade in the summer and allowing sunlight in the winter.
— Properly inflate tires to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.
Learn more about Clean Air Month here, including the state’s efforts and how Floridians can do their part to protect Florida’s air quality.
Registered School Nurses honored
On May 9, Florida’s School Nurse Day, the Florida Department of Health honored more than 1,177 registered professional school nurses serving Florida’s 2.8 million students.
“This special day is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of Florida’s registered professional school nurses,” said Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement.
“We know that healthy students are better learners, and Florida’s hardworking school nurses are dedicated to minimizing all health barriers to learning that public school students might face,” she said. “The Governor’s proclamation serves as a reminder of the important role school nurses play in ensuring the long-term health and success of our students.”
During the 2016-2017 school year, 724,573 chronic and complex student health conditions were reported by local school health programs, according to the department.
Also during the 2016-2017 school year, Florida’s school nurses and the staff they supervise provided 26,154,777 health services in Florida’s schools. These school nurses are employed by local school districts, county health departments and community partners.
School nurses develop individualized health care plans for students with health conditions to ensure they receive needed services, referrals and resources to reduce health barriers to learning. These health care plans promote health equity so the students of all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds have the same opportunity to enjoy their highest level of health.
Nicholas Duran presents funding to Little Havana Centers
This week, Democratic Rep. Nicholas X. Duran of Miami presented a check to the Little Havana Activities & Nutrition Centers (LHANC) Child Care Program for $100,000 to support a child care subsidy program for working families.
These funds are dedicated to subsidizing childcare costs for struggling families. LHANC’s program will allow children 5 years of age and under to have a quality learning environment and offers an array of resources to both children and their families.
“We need to continue investing in programs that alleviate the burden of child care and provide meaningful care in the early years of development,” Duran said in a statement. “By offering these subsidies, we ensure more families in our community will be able to access child day care services and have a level of peace-in-mind that their children are safe and learning while they are at work.”
LHANC will be moving to a state-of-the-art facility capable of nearly doubling its child care capacity for families in the South Florida area.
Florida Tech Council positioned to influence
At its annual board meeting in Tallahassee this week, the Florida Tech Council repaid its funds owed to lobbying groups and elected a new board of directors, priming the association to begin influencing the Legislature.
“When Florida established the Agency for State Technology, as the fourth iteration of a Florida state technology office, we had a good idea of where things were headed,” said lobbyist Claudia Davant of Adams St. Advocates. “The state needed an unbiased advocate speaking on its behalf or we would soon head back down a familiar path, placing Florida further and further behind technology leaders in Texas, Michigan and Florida.”
Looking ahead to 2019, members at the Council’s three-hour meeting reviewed “sponsor-ready legislation providing protection and support for technology-focused education and existing Florida tech businesses,” a news release stated.
Also discussed: “a much-needed technology economic impact study concentrated on tech job growth, higher wages and a stronger technology education base to support an already existing need for qualified employees.”
The Florida Tech Council has doubled its size each year. Forty-three members, board members and guests came out this week, but the Council boasts that its membership is 50-plus strong.
Report: Underrepresentation in census could cost state
Florida TaxWatch is warning that an undercount in the every-10-years U.S. Census “could cost the state billions of dollars,” it said in a statement this week, citing its newest report.
“Although most people think of the 2020 census as a long way off, Florida’s state and local officials need to immediately start ensuring the accuracy of the count by participating in existing intergovernmental processes to verify addresses and residences,” it said.
To wit: “Florida’s population was undercounted in both the 2010 census and the 2000 census, which prevents the state and residents from receiving a fair distribution of federal funding because the data from each census helps determine how annual (that) funding is allocated among the states.”
These federal programs touch nearly all facets from everyday life, including education, health, transportation, water and waste infrastructure, assistance to low income, elderly and disabled persons, affordable housing, economic development, job training, the arts and the environment, the organization added.
In fiscal year 2015, for example, the Sunshine State received fewer grants per capita than every other state in the nation. If Florida received the national average in per capita federal grants, the state would get back $14.6 billion more in taxpayer money, TaxWatch said. The report is here.
Free-market proponent defends Leon County charters
Dr. Bob McClure, president and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Tallahassee, isn’t too happy about the Leon County School Board’s decision to block two new charter schools.
In a recent column published in the Tallahassee Democrat, McClure says the School Board is abusing its power, and that the move to block the charters will actually take more money away from non-charter, public K-12 schools.
“(W)hen the Leon County School Board inevitably loses this case on appeal,” writes McClure, “you and I will end up having to pay not just the (school board’s) attorney’s fees, but the attorney’s fees for the charter schools as well!”
In April, when the School Board voted down the two charters, it was framed as sending a message to the state — the idea being that the Legislature should focus on funding other public schools, rather than expanding charters.
There were also concerns expressed by the School Board that charters would segregate the school district.
McClure wrote that “charters are open to all students, regardless of race or income. Unlike conventional public schools, they cannot discriminate based on neighborhood or ZIP code. As such, charters are philosophically more inclusive than conventional public schools.”
Jaber takes home Tallahassee Women Lawyers award
Gunster lobbyist Lila Jaber was recognized with an award from Tallahassee Women Lawyers during the group’s diversity event earlier this week.
TWL, a group dedicated to promoting the status of women in the legal community, said the former PSC chair was their pick for the Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award due to her efforts to “value, promote, and celebrate diversity within the energy sector.”
“Jaber identified an area where gender diversity is a challenge and made a commitment to a wonderful initiative,” the group said. “TWL also greatly appreciates [Lila’s] leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion through her mentorship and education of others within the legal and energy sectors.”
Those efforts include launching Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, aimed at celebrating the success women leaders in the energy industry and their role in diversifying the industry.
Gunster touted the TWL award on Jaber’s behalf this week in an email listing off some of her other recent accomplishments, including an appearance on the Tallahassee Democrat’s list of “25 Women You Need to Know.”
Leon County first to sign Sierra Club Clean Energy Initiative
Leon County has furthered its commitment to clean energy and sustainability by signing the “Mayors For 100 Percent Clean Energy” endorsement, according to a news release this week. Previously only available to cities, Leon County is the first county in the nation to sign this endorsement.
Launched by the Sierra Club in 2017, the Clean Energy endorsement has been signed by 196 cities across the United States. The endorsement declares support for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy in the community and pledges the County to work with community partners and citizens to realize the goal.
“As local leaders, our Board is committed to supporting a vision of a healthier, stronger future that includes 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox in a statement. “We know firsthand that taking steps to reduce carbon emissions will lead to clean air, strengthen the economy, and improve our quality of life.”
For more than a decade, Leon County has demonstrated its commitment to clean energy through multiple initiatives: Retrofitting one of the first Net Zero government buildings in the nation, performing energy upgrades to buildings that save more than $1 million in utility costs annually, and expanding solar energy on several County facilities.
Leon County hosts 9th annual Safety Fair
The yearly Safety Fair will be held Saturday, at the Governor’s Square Mall, 1500 Apalachee Parkway, near the J.C. Penney parking lot, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Hosted by Leon County Emergency Medical Services, the event will feature free exhibits and activities to help educate children and families on bicycle safety, including a bicycle rodeo, a bike helmet giveaway and CPR demonstrations.
EMS personnel will host a child safety seat checkpoint; parents and guardians can have car seats inspected.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to engage with first responders and explore emergency response vehicles. Other presentations and activities include first aid demonstrations, thank-a-veteran letter writing booth, and other educational activities.
Face painting will be on-site, and an appearance by Leon Lifesaver — a small robotic ambulance — will teach children about calling 911 and ‘stranger danger.’
Tallahassee honored with Governor’s Sterling Award
Dubbing it a role model for other local governments, Gov. Scott this week honored the City of Tallahassee Underground Utilities & Public Infrastructure with the Governor’s Sterling Sustained Excellence Award.
It marks the city program’s second recognition from Scott, who in 2015 honored the utility with the Governor’s Sterling Award. The city department is now a first-time recipient among all private or public utilities to have received the Governor’s Sustained Excellence Award.
Also recognized this year was the Florida Department of Health in Broward County.
In congratulating the two, Scott said the winners “reflect our focus of making Florida the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”
Scott also suggested the award incentivizes government programs to operate with prudence, saying the honor is “an efficient tool for all organizations that save Florida businesses millions of dollars annually.”
Serving the capital city, the merged utility provides effective water services to approximately 72,000 customers. It’s managed to keep wastewater nitrogen levels exceptionally low. The Tallahassee utility also was recognized for effectively marketing natural gas services, reducing carbon monoxide levels.
Progress continues toward Urban Forest Master Plan
More than half of Tallahassee is covered with trees. At 55 percent, Tallahassee’s tree coverage is the highest on record among comparable cities throughout the nation, according to an Urban Tree Canopy Analysis that was performed using high-resolution satellite imagery.
Further analysis shows the community’s tree canopy has increased by 60 percent since 1954, while Tallahassee’s population has grown over six times.
As part of the City of Tallahassee’s commitment to responsible tree management, the City Commission voted last year in favor of developing an Urban Forest Master Plan to help balance the needs of the community’s iconic tree canopy with growth and infrastructure needs.
This week, the Commission heard an update on the status of the plan, which includes working with community members, as well as a consultant, to assess the current state of the tree canopy and to determine the community’s priorities for preservation and planting.
Information gathered thus far from the Urban Tree Canopy Analysis, sample inventory, community feedback and other sources will be used to develop recommendations for the plan’s goals, which will come back to the Commission for review later this year. New goals will likely include species expansion and reduction of invasive species. Specific strategies will then be developed to accomplish the outlined goals, along with a timeline for achievement.
The final Urban Forest Master Plan is expected to be completed this fall.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: