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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Suspensions in suspense

A bill seeking to narrow the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses didn’t get very far during the 2018 Legislative Session.

But the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, promises it will be back next year, when nuanced support from the courts will accompany it.

This week, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled unconstitutional a state law that suspends driver’s licenses for those who do not pay court costs. The judge claimed the statute is “not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive.”

Jeff Brandes looks to clean up Florida’s policy on driver’s license suspensions.

Brandes’ 2018 bill would’ve prohibited suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving — including failure to pay court costs. However, it did not address suspensions for those who fail to pay child support.

When asked about the ruling, the St. Petersburg Republican told us he was “excited” and said it should “wake up the states to the fact that the feds are recognizing the harm this does to an individual.”

While he’s sure he’ll sponsor the bill again next year, he’s unsure how it will fare against the Legislature because the state government built systems upon revenue from license suspensions and renewals. Still, he said, the ruling “helps our side of the conversation.”

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the ruling should stand as a “cautionary tale” for Florida. SPLC supported Brandes’ bill.

“The evidence is there to show that it isn’t an effective way to get someone to pay that debt,” McCoy said. Policy problems aside, he added: “If that system is unconstitutional in Tennessee, that can be a real problem in Florida as well.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew WilsonDanny McAuliffeJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Mammoth ad buy planned for Marsy’s Law— Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment creating a ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’ this week announced a $17 million ad buy to promote its passage. The total statewide ad buy will start mid-September and go into much of October and include Spanish language ads. The measure, also known as Marsy’s Law for Florida, was put on the November ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It must get no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution. The amendment creates constitutional rights for victims or their surviving family members to attend and be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among other provisions. At least six other states have enacted a Marsy’s Law. In Florida, the amendment has been backed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott; Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor; and law enforcement and victims groups across the state.

Feds expedite Herbert Hoover dike repairs— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week it would tap into supplemental funding to fund dozens of projects across the country, including the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the waters of Lake Okeechobee. To fast-track the project, the Corps will take $514 million from a $141 billion supplemental spending package signed into law by the president in February. Upon completion of the improvements, the Dike is expected to be able to contain more water safely, meaning the Corps will have to discharge less to surrounding estuaries. The news follows a report from TCPalm this week that blue-green algae bloom covers 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee.

After glitch, Sunpass resumes collections — The Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system began posting this week what’s come to be more than 100 million transactions that made up a temporary backlog as the state updated its network through a contracted vendor earlier this month. The system had been down 22 days longer than anticipated, forcing some to question whether Floridians would be hit with an excessive amount of tolls to pay in a short period. After being prompted by the public and at least one member of the Legislature, the Florida Department of Transportation announced last week it would waive all late fees. Noah Pransky of WTSP first reported news of the delay in June.

Report reveals more gun permitting issues— Records released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services detail a 2012 investigation showing that 48 employees made mistakes issuing concealed carry permits or other gun-related licenses. While the investigation began in 2012, some of the employees responsible for the mistakes had worked at the agency before Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam took office in 2011, reported The Associated Press’ Brendan Farrington. Putnam, now running for governor, has come under scrutiny after a newspaper last month reported that an employee under his watch failed to conduct a necessary background check on 291 concealed carry permit applicants. Agency inspector general Ron Russo said: “These IG reports show that we learned of a problem, evaluated it thoroughly, took action to hold employees accountable and implemented checks and balances.”

New safety requirements as back-to-school dates loom— Students in 19 districts go back to school Aug. 10, according to the Florida Department of Education. But many counties don’t expect to have the necessary amount of school safety officers in all of its elementary schools at that time. Following the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead, the Legislature rapidly passed a school safety package that, among other things, requires all schools to have an armed person on campus. Florida schools, which generally operate on a 180-day school year, are projected to serve nearly 2.85 million students in the new academic year.

Scott spends Fourth in Kuwait

Gov. Scott spent Independence Day abroad this year with members of the Florida National Guard in Kuwait.

And while Scott was thousands of miles away from home, that didn’t stop him from bringing a few Sunshine State tokens of remembrance to present to the soldiers.

Rick Scott headed to Kuwait on July 4 to visit Florida troops.

According to his office, the Governor brought with him “coffee from Lucky Goat of Tallahassee, Buddy Brew of Tampa and Social Grounds of Jacksonville, as well as fresh orange juice from Sun Harvest Citrus of Fort Myers and Key lime pie cookies from Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies of Naples” to the Middle Eastern country.

“While these brave men and women are serving their country thousands of miles from home, I am sure they are missing the local flavors of Florida,” Scott said. “I am proud to be in Kuwait and to share these products from great Florida businesses with our troops. It is important that we all do what we can to honor our active duty military, veterans and their families.”

While visiting Camp Buehring, Scott also presented the Governor’s Medal of Merit to four stationed soldiers: First Sergeant Raul Rodriguez, Staff Sergeant Christopher Crites, Sergeant Darius Williams and First Lieutenant Jessica Garey.

Bondi thanks legislators for opioid bill

A sweeping package tailored to curb the state’s opioid epidemic drew praise from Attorney General Pam Bondi this week.

The legislation (HB 21), among other things, provides for three-day limits on opioid prescriptions for acute pain. The bill’s provisions came into effect in July.

Attorney general Pam Bondi is thanking lawmakers for their work on the opioid crisis.

Bondi, who’s made a point of targeting the state’s drug crisis during her tenure as Attorney General, thanked the House bill sponsor Rep. Jim Boyd, along with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who sponsored the legislation in her chamber. She also lauded Gov. Scott for signing the bill into law.

“We continue to fight the national opioid crisis claiming 175 American lives every day, and these new limits on prescription painkillers will help bolster our efforts,” Bondi said in a prepared statement.

As the state’s top cop she also advised doctors to be “on notice” for the new restrictions that she says “will be strictly enforced.” She asked patients who are prescribed more than the allotted limit to contact her office.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Broward County Court

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Phoebee R. Francois. Francois, 50, of Sunrise, is a general magistrate/hearing officer for the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County. She received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. Francois fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Claudia Robinson.

Florida Transportation Commission

Scott appointed Julius Davis. Davis, 49, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer of VoltAir, Inc. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida. He succeeds Donald Ellington for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Florida Rehabilitation Council

Scott announced two reappointments and one appointment to the Council. M. Ann Robinson, 61, of Tallahassee, is the intake manager for Disability Rights Florida. She is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2020. Patrick Cannon, 35, of Tallahassee, is a sales associate for Helzberg Diamond Shops, Inc. He is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2022. Allison Flanagan, 46, of Tallahassee, is the director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She succeeds Aleisa McKinlay and is appointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending at the pleasure of the Governor.

FDACS sends firefighters west

Florida is lending a helping hand to a few states west of the Mississippi as they battle large blazes under the hot summer sun.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced this week it would deploy a team of 20 people to fight the Winter Valley Fire in Oklahoma.

Florida is sending 20 firefighters to Oklahoma to fight a series of massive wildfires.

As well, “29 single resources have been assembled from around the state to assist with wildfire suppression in Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Utah and New Mexico.” FDACS oversees the Florida Forest Service.

In announcing the dispatch, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pointed to the skill of Florida’s wildfire combatants.

“Our wildland firefighters are exceptionally well-trained, and we are ready to support suppression efforts out west in any way we can,” said Putnam. “I applaud their selfless dedication to protecting our fellow Americans.”

Florida Forest Service Director and State Forester Jim Karels cited high amounts of rainfall in Florida and an overall low risk of wildfire as justification for sending forest firefighters outside the state. The news, however, follows last week’s blaze in the Franklin County town of Eastpoint, where the fire consumed 36 homes and another four were damaged.

Dog-racing ban garners support

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign Friday announced endorsements from 22 local animal shelters. The group is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, 12 tracks still conduct live dog racing.

Tampa Republican Dana Young is among the advocates for a ban on greyhound racing from Protect Dogs – Yes on 13. (Image via USF News)

“These organizations serve as animal welfare first responders throughout the state, from the Panhandle to Key West,” the campaign said in a statement. “They rescue homeless animals, save lives, and provide an invaluable service to both animals and people in every community.”

The local animal shelters who announced endorsements include some local Humane Society chapters, Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, and the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

State could get new area code

State regulators are expected next Tuesday to approve a new telephone area code for Central Florida.

The Public Service Commission will meet in Tallahassee to consider several items, including “implementation of the 689 area code overlay in the existing 407/321 area code,” an agenda shows.

Staff is recommending “that the Commission lift its suspension of the implementation plan for the 689 overlay (and) also recommends that the Commission direct NANPA to notify the Commission of the proposed implementation date for the 689 overlay once it has been determined.”

NANPA is the North American Numbering Plan Administration. John Manning, its senior director, has said 407 numbers will run out within 12 months, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The 407 area code serves Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and parts of Lake and Volusia counties. New numbers in the 321 area code are exclusively in Brevard County.

Nominations sought for Folk Heritage Awards

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced that the department is seeking nominations for the 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to Florida’s traditional culture.

Florida State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman.

“Each year, the Florida Folk Heritage Awards seek to honor and recognize excellence in folk and traditional arts and the community impact of Florida’s tradition bearers,” Detzner said. “The Florida Heritage Awards reaffirm our state’s unique cultural heritage by acknowledging distinguished Floridians for their skills and accomplishments in the traditional arts.”

Nominees should be individuals whose art or advocacy has embodied the best of traditional culture in their communities.

Folklife includes a wide range of creative forms such as art, crafts, dance, language, music and ritual. These cultural traditions are transmitted by word-of-mouth and demonstration, and are shared within community, ethnic, occupational, religious and regional groups.

For more information, contact State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman at (850) 245-6427. For guidelines, award policies and previous winners, visit this website. Nominations must be postmarked no later than Oct. 1, 2018, and mailed to Florida Folklife Program, Bureau of Historic Preservation, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0250. Nominations can also be emailed to

56-acre peninsula to be conserved

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week announced the permanent protection of the 56-acre Coral Creek Peninsula as an addition to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

The Conservation Foundation worked with DEP to acquire the property through the Florida Forever program. The state’s acquisition will enhance management of the natural resources on both the land and the adjoining state park lands.

Callie DeHaven, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands.

“The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park has been a land acquisition priority since 1972,” said Callie DeHaven, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “The Coral Creek Peninsula purchase is a great example of Florida Forever dollars being used to ensure the vitality and integrity of our spectacular state parks.”

This parcel is within the boundaries of the northern half of Charlotte Harbor. “Adding this vital land to the park will ensure it is also managed for the health and diversity of its natural communities while benefiting the adjoining public lands and significant waterways,” the DEP said.

The 46,000-acre preserve buffers more than 100 miles of the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor National Estuary and over 80,000 acres of aquatic preserves. The variety of habitat supports more than 100 invertebrate species, 200 fish species, and 150 species of shore and wading birds.

Environmentalists cheer Pruitt resignation

Scott Pruitt, the troubled head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, resigned this week following a seemingly endless cascade of reports of extravagant purchases on the taxpayer’s dime and other activities unfit for a public official.

The controversial figure’s voluntary step-down drew pointed praise from Environment Florida, a grassroots advocacy organization that fights against issues like climate change and water pollution.

Scott Pruitt’s exit brings joy to environmentalists.

“It took an endless stream of ethical lapses for Scott Pruitt to lose his job, but he should never have had that position in the first place, nor kept it as long as he did, given his actions to undermine core environmental protections for our air and water,” Environment Florida State Director Jennifer Rubiello said in a prepared statement, citing parent organization Environment America’s initial opposition to Pruitt’s appointment in December 2016.

“Presidents don’t always get a ‘do-over’ so soon after appointing cabinet secretaries who fail to properly serve the American people,” Rubiello continued in the statement.

Then she invoked a history lesson for POTUS to consider.

“We call on the president to remember that conservation is part of being conservative. And we implore him to honor the bipartisan history of environmentalism from Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon through modern administrations by nominating a true protector of the environment — so that his children and grandchildren, as well as ours, can inherit an Earth worth inheriting.”

Marijuana advocates plan protest

Advocates of medical marijuana have been approved to protest on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee, according to the Department of Management Services.

Marijuana advocate Gary Stein will host “CannaFight Tonight” next Wednesday at noon, an online calendar of Capitol events shows.

Joe Redner’s pot appeal sparks protest for cannabis legalization.

It will be a “public protest of the state’s appeal” of two cases: Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan that won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.

Both have been challenged by the state’s Department of Health, which regulates the drug through the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, and reports to Gov. Scott.

Local officials recognized for home rule advocacy

Ensuring their advocates’ work didn’t go unnoticed, the Florida Association of Counties last week awarded county commissioners for their efforts during the 2018 Legislative Session.

The honors were presented at the 2018 FAC Annual Conference and Exposition. The award recipients were recognized for their work to protect and facilitate home rule.

Chip LaMarca is recognized for his work to protect home rule.

“County officials are uniquely positioned to achieve positive change within their counties,” said Ginger Delegal, FAC Executive Director. “During the state legislative session, they can use their position to provide insights on how a policy might impact their communities. We appreciate all of the commissioners who came to Tallahassee to advocate on behalf of home rule.”

Taking home the president’s Commitment to Service Award, reserved for those who go above and beyond in their service to local governments, was Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca. Indian County Commissioner Bob Solari and Levy County Commissioner Bob Meeks took home the Marlene Young Award, presented to officials who show exemplary leadership and commitment to FAC’s mission.

FAC offered the Presidential Advocate recognition to dozens of other local officials for their work alongside FAC.

In Leon County, commissioners Bryan Desloge and Nick Maddox were recognized.

Leon County’s public services among the best in nation

What’s Leon County doing right?

A lot of things, according to the National Association of Counties, or NACo. The group awarded the Big Bend county 10 times this year, recognizing the area as a benchmark for public service metrics like personnel management, employment and training, infrastructure, and energy and sustainability.

What is Nick Maddox’s secret for making Leon County work so well?

If NACo’s awards are any indication, then Leon County’s training on topics like sexual harassment and diversity in the workplace is strong; the county took home awards from NACo in those categories. Many other training programs and initiatives spearheaded by the county were awarded. The group also recognized other efforts, such as the county’s sidewalk prioritization.

“We are so proud to see our local County services and programs continue to receive national recognition as benchmarks for effectiveness and innovation,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “Our citizens can be proud of the many County programs that touch their lives every day.”

Since 2013, Leon has took home NACo hardware 56 times, meaning its systems and practices stand as shining examples for other local governments to follow.

“Our now more than 50 national awards recognize talented and innovative County employees who engage citizens on the challenges and opportunities that face our community,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long. “Earning distinguished national awards like these speak to our organizational culture and our commitment to public service and excellence.”

Tallahassee crews deploying to Eastpoint

City of Tallahassee crews will deploy to Franklin County to assist with recovery needs following the devastating fire that burned more than 950 acres in the neighboring community of Eastpoint June 24.

Crew members from the city’s Underground Utilities and Public Infrastructure will depart Monday (July 9), bringing with them dump trucks, excavators and other equipment and supplies to assist with debris cleanup of the 36 homes that were destroyed during the fire.

More than 950 acres were lost in the Eastpoint fire.

“Tallahassee is a community that cares,” Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a statement. “Our residents immediately began collecting donations and delivering supplies to our neighbors in Eastpoint and the City of Tallahassee offered a lending hand with recovery efforts.

“I am extremely proud of our crews for dedicating their time and energy to helping those in need, and of our entire city for lending a hand when it was needed most.”

Also, crews will bring with them food, clothing and other items that have been donated by city employees.

Eastpoint fundraiser successful, Proof says

In its latest email newsletter, Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co. said its July 2 fundraiser for victims of the Eastpoint fire took in $2,200.

“Many residents lost their homes in the fire that happened June 24,” the brewery said.

Proof Brewing Company reaches out to help victims of the Eastpoint fire.

The event was made possible with the help of Tallahassee Beer Society, Eastpoint Brewing Company, Oyster City Brewing Company, The FRLA, Willie Jewells BBQ, Shell Oyster Bar and Barber’s Seafood.

All money collected goes to the Franklin Promise Coalition.

“Thank you to all that participated, and to those who helped made it happen!” Proof said.

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