Every July Fourth, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston reads a copy of the Declaration of Independence reprinted in the Tallahassee Democrat.
“I always sit in the morning with a cup of coffee and read back through that,” Polston told members of the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee this week. “I just enjoy doing that.”
The sharing of his holiday indulgence made sense. Polston, who served as chief justice 2012-14, followed it with a thoughtful explanation of the judiciary, including how the Supreme Court acts almost like a “board of directors.”
Appointed to the bench in 2008, Polston spoke of the court having to handle cases sparked by the Great Recession. The justices encountered nuanced issues related to foreclosures and delinquent properties that stumped even Polston, a former CPA who keeps his license current.
Legal minds across the state were tasked with confronting problems with “shadow inventory” — delinquent properties that had not yet been foreclosed, and “ghost towns,” abandoned properties that attracted undesired or criminal activity, Polston explained.
“This presented a great problem,” Polston said, but eventually led to the court clearing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of foreclosed property cases between 2013 and 2017.
A father of 10 children, six of whom are adopted, Polston said he was dealing with a grueling and lengthy adoption process when he was appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist.
He recalled a reporter asking him if the issue would weigh on his decision-making at the bench. The answer? Yes.
He remembered telling the reporter, “Justice delayed, to me, is justice denied.”
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:
‘Stand your ground’ under fire — Following the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a parking lot dispute in Pinellas County and a decision not to pursue charges because of the state’s “stand your ground” law, elected officials across the state are calling for the Legislature to reconsider the statute immediately. Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg this week called for a Special Session of the Legislature to address the issue. He was later joined by Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and House Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee. Democratic candidates for office also have gone public with criticisms of the controversial law, promising to fix the issue should they be elected.
State agrees to early voting change — Secretary of State Ken Detzner has decided to go along with a federal judge’s decision last week that struck the state’s practice of keeping early voting sites off college and university campuses. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in his ruling had called the practice “facially discriminatory on account of age.” Detzner’s decision to comply, however, doesn’t automatically guarantee early voting sites will be available at college campuses for the 2018 midterms. The News Service of Florida reports that at least three counties’ supervisors of elections say they cannot open early voting sites before the Aug. 28 primary — and are unsure whether they’ll be in place by the Nov. 6 general election.
Proposed greyhound ban struck down — A circuit court judge this week struck down Amendment 13, a ballot proposal seeking to end dog racing, because the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective.” The court decision is a small victory for the Florida Greyhound Association, which had sued to keep the amendment off the November ballot. The state, however, already has appealed the decision, asking the case be heard in the 1st District Court of Appeal. That freezes the status quo, meaning unless a higher court decides otherwise, voters will see and be able to vote for the amendment on the November ballot. Whether those votes count remains to be seen.
Economists predict changes in higher education — Economists with the state Revenue Estimating Conference released estimates for Bright Futures, a state-backed tuition scholarship program, this week that are largely in line with what the Legislature accounted for when expanding the program during the 2018 Session. The total appropriation for the program increased from a December estimate of $340.2 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year to $519.7 million, which matches what the Legislature appropriated for the changes, according to one member of the conference. The most significant changes came with the continuation of the Academic Scholars program funding of the technology fee and tuition differential as part of the 100 percent tuition scholarship and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) program covering 75 percent of tuition and fees, as well FMS’ expansion into coverage of summer courses.
State estimates PECO growth dip — State economists this week predicted the funding source behind the Public Education Capital Outlay trust fund (PECO) would grow more slowly than expected over the next few years. PECO projects, used for constructing new state education facilities and maintaining, restoring and repairing existing facilities, are funded by gross receipts taxes. The Revenue Estimating Conference is reporting that actual gross receipts collections for the fiscal year 2017-2018 were almost $10 million lower than previously forecast. That estimated drop continues in the upcoming years, with FY 18-19 $15 million lower than initially anticipated; $27 million lower in FY 19-20; and $37 million lower in FY 20-21.
CORRECTION — In last week’s edition of ‘Take 5,’ we mischaracterized the results of an investigation into former Sen. Jack Latvala by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. To be clear, the agency’s report said its investigation “did not develop an indication that Latvala exerted his influence as a Florida senator to assist Ms. (Laura) McLeod in any issues she presented as a lobbyist in exchange for a continuing sexual relationship.” We regret the error.
Back-to-school tax break begins
Florida’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Saturday and ends on Monday.
Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Department of Revenue Executive Director Leon Biegalski issued joint statements encouraging Floridians to take advantage of the chance to save on school supplies.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for families to save money while purchasing the supplies their students will need for school,” Stewart said. “The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for Florida students, and the back-to-school sales tax holiday makes it easier for parents and students to prepare for a successful year.”
“We are pleased to partner with the Department of Education to promote the Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. This is a great time for families to gather the supplies needed for a successful school year,” added Biegalski.
According to Revenue, “qualifying items will be exempt from tax including certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item, and clothing, footwear, and certain accessories selling for $60 or less per item.” More information is available on the agency’s website.
Anti-cancer kits heading to firefighters
Decontamination kits are on their way to Florida’s fire departments, in hopes they’ll reduce the risk firefighters face from carcinogens — cancer-causing substances — that they encounter on the job.
When many items catch fire, such as tires, the burning can produce cancer-causing compounds.
The first kits have already reached 48 fire departments. In all, 405 departments will benefit, said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as state fire marshal.
The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is also contributing to the program.
“In 2016 alone cancer caused 70 percent of career firefighter line of duty deaths across the nation, and firefighters have a nearly 15 percent higher risk of dying from cancer,” Patronis said. “Cancer prevalence in firefighters is not up for debate, and we must make sure these heroes have the tools needed to stay healthy and safe.”
A $1 million grant is financing the program. The kits include 5-gallon buckets and heavy plastic bags, dish soap, duct tape, brushes, hoses, spray bottles, hoses and nozzles, and instruction materials.
Patronis pushes pool safety
Florida leads the nation in the number of children dying in pools and spas, at a rate that increased by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017. Now Chief Financial Officer Patronis has issued guidelines intended to reverse the trend.
“Over the past few months, I’ve met with firefighters across the state, listening to their top issues and concerns,” Patronis said. “One issue that continues to emerge is the concern of pool safety among residents and visitors to our state.
“As our population grows, and new families move to our state where pools are very common, we must keep raising awareness about the potential dangers.”
More than 90 percent of the pools in the state were built before Florida passed a law mandating safety standards for swimming pools, including barriers and pool covers. Some 80 percent of the deaths in 2017 involved children younger than 5.
The top tip was to closely supervise kids in pools: “In the time it takes to put in a load of laundry, a child can drown,” Patronis said. He also recommended motion alarms; teaching kids how to swim; and learning how to perform CPR, even if you aren’t a parent.
Instagram of the Week
The Week in Appointments
Florida Commission on Ethics
Fellow commissioners unanimously selected Guy W. Norris as chair for the 2018-19 term. Norris was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. He is a resident of Lake City and a partner in Norris & Norris, P.A. Kim Rezanka was unanimously selected vice-chair. She too was appointed by Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. A resident of Cocoa, Rezanka is an attorney with Cantwell & Goldman, P.A.
Holmes County Hospital Corporation
Gov. Scott reappointed Larry Cook, 56, to serve a term ending Aug. 22, 2020. A resident of Bonifay, Cook is the owner of Son’s Tire, Inc.
Southeast Volusia Hospital District
Gov. Scott appointed Dr. Jan McGee to serve a term ending March 31, 2022. Succeeding Harold Smothers, McGee also is the principal of Burns Science & Technology Charter School.
West Florida Regional Planning Council
Gov. Scott appointed Karen “Kasey” Cuchens to fill a vacant seat for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. A former member of the Freeport City Council, Cuchens, 58, is now the vice president of Choctawhatchee Bay Piling and Dock, Inc.
Commercialization of Florida Technology Board of Directors
Gov. Scott appointed Jim O’Connell for a term ending Nov. 3. O’Connell, 54, of Gainesville, is the assistant vice president of technology transfer at the University of Florida. Scott also reappointed Renee Finley for a term ending Nov. 3. Finley, 51, of Jacksonville, is the founder and former president of innovation for GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation.
State celebrates breastfeeding
The Florida Department of Health is joining partners across the state to recognize World Breastfeeding Week, which began Wednesday.
“We know that an infant’s first 1,000 days are a crucial time for ensuring the child grows up healthy and thriving, and breastfeeding can significantly improve health outcomes for both mothers and infants,” said Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “Supporting mom and encouraging breastfeeding in the first days of baby’s life are essential steps.”
This year’s celebration theme emphasizes how the maternal practice is the “foundation of life,” according to the department. The agency claims that choosing to breastfeed helps to improve an infant’s overall health and can lead to lifelong positive effects for both parties. Mothers who breastfeed their children have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
In addition to health, there are economic benefits associated with breastfeeding. According to the department: “Breastfeeding is a low-cost way of feeding babies and can reduce costs to the health care system and employers by decreasing costs of hospitalizations, medications and reduced absenteeism.”
The health department says it is working actively to promote breastfeeding in the state and is asking Floridians to encourage their employers and communities to support the healthy practice.
State pushes back-to-school immunizations
With Florida students gearing up to return to school in the coming weeks, the Florida Department of Health is reminding parents to double-check their child’s immunization record to ensure they have the required vaccinations.
Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip said “making sure your child is fully immunized not only protects them, but it also protects children who cannot receive immunizations for medical reasons.”
According to the Health department’s website, K-12 students should have at least four shots of Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) and Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).
As well, the same students should have two doses of vaccines for Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and Hepatitis B (Hep B), one for Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) and two doses of Varicella vaccine, with some exceptions. Ask your child’s pediatrician.
The health department provides a free centralized online registry that records immunization records for children. That database can be accessed here. According to DOH, the registry is endorsed by the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc., Florida Medical Association, Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, and the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.
FDLE renews accreditation
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has once again been recognized with an “Accreditation with Excellence Award” from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). It’s the eight consecutive award for FDLE.
“Over the past 50 years since our founding, FDLE has grown into one of the nation’s premier state law enforcement agencies, and our nearly three decades of national accreditation bears that out,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
“Florida’s citizens and criminal justice partners can trust that FDLE remains dedicated to providing the highest level of professional service, all while staying at the forefront of new trends and best practices for law enforcement professionals.”
After conducting an internal assessment, CALEA found FDLE to comply with 484 standards, completing what CALEA describes as the ‘Gold Standard Assessment.’
FDLE first received accreditation in 1990. Since then, “the department has undergone rigorous inspections which include on-site visits, employee interviews and an extensive review of policies, procedures and records.”
Florida Family Action ranks lawmakers
Florida Family Action, the legislative arm of the Florida Family Council, released its legislative scorecard this week, ranking state Senators and Representatives on votes recorded during the 2018 Legislative Session.
Led by John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and longtime conservative activist, FFA lobbies the Legislature each year for policies that protect and defend life, marriage, family and religious liberty.
This year’s scorecard gave legislators a letter grade ranking (A-F) based on their votes of 10 issues identified by FFA. In the House, the average Democrat score is 34 percent, and the average Republican rating is 96 percent. In the Senate, the average Democrat score is 23 percent, and the average Republican is 82 percent.
Among some of the more widely known concerns of FFA during Session were bills that would have expanded religious liberty in schools, restricted abortions by banning ‘dismemberment abortions,’ and required the state Department of Health to expand its involvement in crisis pregnancy centers that encourage childbirth.
The FFA and its affiliated organizations have staunchly opposed the Competitive Workforce Act, which would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ individuals. FFA, in an article attached to the scorecard, called the legislation “the worst bill in the world,” saying it would “punish Christians for exercising Free Speech Rights and the Free Exercise of Religion.”
League launches voter prep guide
Less than 100 days out from the 2018 elections, The League of Women Voters of Florida is out with a new website to help voters before they show up at the polls — or seal the envelope on that mail-in ballot.
BeReadyToVote.org is a one-stop where Floridians can get directed to the information they’re looking for, be it registration status or early voting dates, without having to navigate the maze-like structure of their home county’s supervisor of elections website.
The League’s website also includes a link to a nonpartisan voter guide on the candidates running for office. Those a bit cynical about the progressive organization’s ability to give info on Republicans running for office need not fret — the Vote411.org guide includes candidate responses to questions without editorial narrative.
The website also includes bullet points for the 13 amendments slated for the ballot with plain English summaries of what a vote for or against would entail, as well as a list of the political committees working for or against the measures.
While information on registering to vote is available on the site, first-time voters looking to tick a box in the Aug. 28 primary election have missed the boat if they aren’t already on the books. Eligible Floridians face an Oct. 9 registration deadline if they want to cast a ballot in November.
Anti-rail group grades candidates
Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) is advising Floridians with similar interests on how to vote for Treasure Coast region candidates up and down the ballot in the upcoming election.
CARE FL is primarily concerned with All Aboard Florida and the Brightline trains. The high-speed rail operations travel through Treasure Coast communities. After sending a survey gauging candidates on their prospective, rail-related policy positions, CARE FL released a report card this week, doling out letter grades to each candidate.
“We are pleased so many incumbents and candidates are finally echoing the public safety concerns that have been expressed by so many members in our communities,” said Brent Hanlon, chairman of the CARE FL Steering Committee.
“This is more than a regional issue, and there should be nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s residents, and visitors alike. We applaud the elected officials who have steadfastly stood with us — and for that, they are recognized in this report card as Champions.”
Topping the list as recognized ‘Champions’ are Congressmen Bill Posey and Brian Mast, along with state Reps. Erin Grall, Gayle Harrell and MaryLynn Magar, Indian River County Commissioners Peter O’Bryan and Joseph Flescher, and Stuart City Commissioner Troy McDonald.
Harrell is running for state Senate District 25, and her opponents, Belinda Keiser and Robert Levy both received A grades. The only graded candidate for Governor, Democrat Philip Levine, received an A rating.
“We believe these scores will help inform voters as they cast their ballots in the upcoming election,” said Jane Feinstein, a member of the CARE FL Steering Committee who serves as the chairman of the group’s survey initiative.
“For many residents in our region, a candidate’s position on high-speed rail is a deciding factor. We need to ensure that our elected officials know that keeping our communities safe is a top priority.”
Able Trust chips in
The Able Trust, an organization that helps students with disabilities prepare and enter the workforce, also is assisting organizations who support children who have been abused, neglected or assaulted.
This week, the organization presented the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) with a $35,000 grant to help ECCAC carry out its mission of helping children in need.
“This grant will help the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center continue to provide its vital services,” said Dr. Susanne Homant, president and CEO of The Able Trust. “Making sure programs are available to help and protect children is of the utmost importance.”
ECCAC, serving children in Okaloosa and Walton counties, “assists children and their families from the investigation process through healing and restoring their childhood,” according to a news release announcing the grant.
In accepting the grant, the head of ECCAC cited the importance of groups like The Able Trust: “It is through acts of generosity and kindness that we are able to continue to care for and protect the children of our community exposed to child abuse,” said Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center board president, Tammy Pierce.
FSU launching Peace Corps prep
Florida State University is rolling out a new program this fall tailor-made to help prepare students to volunteer in the Peace Corps.
Dubbed the Peace Corps Prep program, the university will partner with the federal volunteer agency to “help undergraduate students (with) the skills they need to be a competitive applicant for those positions,” according to the university. Administered by FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, the program is currently accepting applications for fall.
The partnership enlists the College of Education to help students understand and navigate the application process for Corps prospects.
“FSU is delighted to extend its ongoing work with the Peace Corps through this program,” said Helen Boyle, associate professor of education and program coordinator. “It will be invaluable for undergraduates who are thinking about international careers in government, development or teaching abroad.”
Since 1961, FSU has produced 856 volunteers. Thirty-eight currently serve, according to the university. The Corps established the prep program in 2007, and more than 75 other institutions have formed similar partnerships. The university anticipates the effort will help increase its ranking among all other public universities.
Get growing with Leon County
Those looking to harvest their own vegetables this fall can jump-start their garden with a little help from Leon County.
The 2018 Fall Seed Library Launch is back again this year, and will take place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the Woodville Branch Library, 8000 Old Woodville Road. The location offers lessons in seeding, composting, cooking, pollination and site selection as part of the one-time event.
As long as supplies last, library patrons across the county can check out three seed packets per card per month from any of the seven public library locations.
Among the seed varieties: Arugula, Di Cicco Broccoli, Danvers Carrots, Champion Collards, Tronchuda Kale, Flashy Lightning Lettuce, Mizuna Green Mustard Greens, Giant of Italy Parsley, Easter Egg Radishes and Long Standing Bloomsdale Spinach.
The seeds are made available through the Seed Library Program. Now in its third year, the initiative seeks “to promote noninvasive, heirloom vegetable seed planting in Leon County and to encourage residents to grow their own nutritious food,” according to county officials.
Tallahassee Senior Services ‘invigorates’
Tallahassee Senior Services’ Lifelong Learning Extravaganza (L3X) returns during September for its ninth year and “exemplifies lifelong learning at its finest, offering educational fare for everyone’s palette,” a news release said.
The month-long program provides adults (18 and older) with the opportunity to gain knowledge about art, music, culture, science, nature, history, literature, food, drink and more. More than 50 different activities are available, including lectures, tours and field trips from hands-on soap making to viewing stalagmites.
To preview some of the planned L3X activities, Tallahassee Senior Services is hosting launch parties, which are open to the public, on Monday, Aug. 6, 8:30-10 a.m. and Tuesday, Aug. 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Interested participants will be able to pick up a course catalog, meet instructors and sponsors and enjoy refreshments. While these launch parties provide a preview, they are not required for registration.
Members of the Tallahassee Senior Center Foundation will be able to register for L3X classes beginning Wednesday, Aug. 8. The general population can start registering on Monday, Aug. 13. To view the course catalog and register online, visit TallahasseeSeniorFoundation.org.
Registration is open until a class fills up. Early registration is encouraged; many classes fill quickly.