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Takeaways from Tallahassee — An army of (election) lawyers

The two major parties are likely “actively recruiting” lawyers for any election-related disputes that arise Nov. 6.

That’s according to Dr. Susan MacManus, a retired University of South Florida political science professor, who moderated an election controversy panel during the 2018 Florida Bar Reporters’ Workshop this week.

Addressing a room of media, MacManus discussed with supervisors of elections and attorney Mark Herron the legal issues that come on Election Day.

Tallahassee-based election law attorney Mark Herron is gearing up for a host of election-related disputes come November. (Image via Phil Sears)

Herron, familiar with the elections litigation process, said complications ranging from a polling location losing power to campaign activists violating distance restraints could spark legal action.

“Sometimes polling locations don’t open on time,” Herron added. “Recognize that, for these big elections, there’s an army of lawyers out there.”

The panelists — Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley and Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles — addressed a new report from the ACLU, released last week, suggesting vote-by-mail ballots cast by younger and minority voters are more likely to get rejected.

Edwards said her team takes “extra care” with every mail-in ballot, to ensure fraud doesn’t occur.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process,” Earley added, noting that issues stem from verifying signatures, which he suggests are more apt to change among younger voters.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Scott talks red tide — Gov. Rick Scott called into a meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to discuss red tide, a naturally occurring toxic algae outbreak that is responsible for the massive fish and sea mammal kills happening along Florida’s Gulf Coast. “I know we’re not going to stop working until all of our communities recover,” Scott said, according to the News Service of Florida. “We all know that more has to be done.” Scott, reports the News Service, “repeated his call for the commission to create a Florida Center for Red Tide Research, re-establish the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force and request additional funding next year from the Legislature for red tide research.” On Thursday, Scott announced that another $3 million in red tide cleanup money went to Pinellas and Lee counties. That money is part of $13 million in DEP grant funding provided by the agency to communities impacted by red tide.

State responds to NRA anonymity dispute — Attorneys for the state recently filed a brief requesting the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals uphold a prior ruling that all listed parties be named in a National Rifle Association lawsuit challenging a state law. Not doing so would violate a federal court mandate, the state argues. Known now as Jane Doe and John Doe, the NRA seeks to shield the two plaintiffs’ identities, fearing “they would suffer harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence if their true identities and participation in this controversial litigation were made public,” according to an earlier brief filed by lawyers for the NRA. The Second Amendment group is challenging a state law that upped the rifle purchase age from 18 to 21 years old. The unnamed plaintiffs are 19 years old.

Scott responds to appointments lawsuit — In a response filed this week with the Supreme Court, lawyers for Scott contend the term-limited Governor has the authority to convene the Judicial Nominating Commission to float names for three soon-to-be vacancies on the high court. Scott’s power to do just that was challenged last week in a “writ of quo warranto” filed by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Florida. The groups argued the nomination process could not start until the vacancies occur. Lawyers for Scott countered by arguing that judges have been appointed similarly in the past and jump-starting the nominating process now is essential to avoid extended judicial vacancies. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince face mandatory retirement in January.

Chamber convenes on state concerns — The Florida Chamber of Commerce held its 2018 Future of Florida Forum this week, hosting leaders in government, business and technology to discuss the evolving needs of the Sunshine State. “Florida is changing. Our economics, our demographics and our politics are all changing, and these changes bring both opportunities and challenges,” Chamber CEO Mark Wilson said. Delivering remarks were Gov. Scott, who was honored for his pro-business tenure, and CFO Jimmy Patronis, who shared his anti-insurance fraud agenda. University of West Florida’s Dr. Eman ElSheikh was brought in to discuss cybersecurity, on which he is an expert. He suggested all businesses provide at least some form of cybersecurity training to help mitigate risks of data breaches.

The Florida Chamber Foundation Future of Florida Forum, which took place this week in Orlando. (Image via Colin Hackley)

State settles with Uber for $8.2M — Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week that ride-sharing company Uber will pay the state $8,246,606 as part of a national settlement reached for a data breach. In 2016, hackers accessed data stored by Uber, including driver’s license information, according to Bondi’s office. The company tracked down the hackers and prevented the data from further spreading, but Uber ultimately did not report the breach to the state until a year later, “allegedly failing to comply with the Florida Information Protection Act and other related laws,” according to Bondi’s office. “Data breaches need to be dealt with in a very urgent and responsive manner,” Bondi said in a prepared statement. “Not only are they often serious crimes, but people with compromised information need to be alerted immediately, so they can take steps to guard against identity theft and financial losses. Hopefully, this settlement will send the clear message that faster reporting is essential.” In total, Uber will pay out $148 million to the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Bustamante’s scholarship legacy

JereimaJeriBustamante’s meaningful career and life will in part be remembered by a scholarship for aspiring high school seniors.

Gov. Scott announced the news this week at Miami Beach Senior High School, Bustamante’s alma mater.

Rick Scott announces a scholarship fund in honor of former press secretary Jeri Bustamante. (Image via Miami Dade Schools)

Scott appointed Bustamante press secretary in 2014. She helped the Governor learn Spanish and often accompanied him on trips to South Florida. She was primed to support the Governor’s U.S. Senate campaign but died before its official launch.

According to Miami Dade Schools, the Jeri Bustamante Memorial Scholarship will cover two years of state college and two years of university tuition for a deserving student.

“This 4-year scholarship will help a student to live their American Dream,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “We’ll always remember Jeri & can think of no better way to honor her.”

Scott authorizes $50M opioid grant

The Department of Children and Families can begin using more than $50 million in federal grant money to fight the opioid epidemic, Gov. Scott announced this week.

The money will be used to increase access to treatment to reduce opioid overdoses. The grant funding will also “equip professionals with the necessary tools” to fight the drug scourge, according to the Governor’s Office. That includes more than 40,000 Naloxone kits.

The $50M opioid grant money authorized by Rick Scott is for 40,000 Naloxone kits, among other tools.

“In Florida, we are standing with families who are fighting opioid addiction and will continue to find ways to help our communities and law enforcement agencies,” Scott said. “This more than $50 million in additional funding will provide important recovery services for many families and aid in our fight against the national opioid epidemic.”

The federal grant is in addition to the $65 million attached to landmark opioid legislation passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Scott this year.

“The department remains committed to helping people who are living with an opioid use disorder, supporting their families, and equipping the treatment industry with the right tools for the most effective treatment,” DCF Interim Secretary Rebecca Kapusta said.

Patronis helps Tampa firefighters

First responders in Hillsborough County received cancer-fighting decontamination kits this week, courtesy of the state’s chief fire marshal and CFO Patronis.

When many items catch fire, such as tires, the burning can produce cancer-causing compounds.

Jimmy Patronis announces the award of cancer-fighting decontamination kits for Hillsborough County first responders.

The kits, available through a partnership with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine will help mitigate firefighters’ exposure to such dangers.

In a statement, Patronis noted that cancer caused 70 percent of line-of-duty deaths in firefighters in 2016.

“These numbers are unacceptable and cancer prevalence in firefighters is not up for debate,” Patronis added. “We must continue to ensure these heroes have the tools needed to stay healthy and safe.”

The 70 kits delivered to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue are part of the more than 1,000 already delivered across the state. In all, 4,000 kits will be distributed throughout Florida.

State delivers food to Florence victims

Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the state has delivered “thousands of servings of food” to victims of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.

The deliveries were made possible via a partnership between Florida and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Florida has delivered thousands of pounds of food to victims of Hurricane Florence, says Adam Putnam.

The running tally: More than 122,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and juice; nearly 46,000 pounds of meat, poultry, fish and protein-rich foods; and more than 12,000 pounds of whole grains and pasta, according to the state.

During emergencies, FDACS provides the necessary food and water to affected areas. North Carolina officials this week estimated the state took a hit of more than $1.1 billion to its agriculture industry.

“We knew the losses would be significant because it was harvest time for so many of our major crops and the storm hit our top six agricultural counties especially hard,” said North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “These early estimates show just what a devastating and staggering blow this hurricane leveled at our agriculture industry.”

Patronis: Florida families should plan ahead for college

In his capacity as a watchdog over the state’s finances, Chief Financial Officer Patronis is reminding Floridians to prepare ahead for the financial burden associated with higher education.

His advice: Take advantage of the Florida Prepaid College Program.

“Florida’s public universities and state colleges continue to offer the best education for some of the lowest rates in the country,” Patronis said. “With student loan debt climbing each year, I encourage Florida families to take advantage of Florida’s Prepaid College Program to help their children become debt-free adults.”

According to data cited by Patronis, the average graduating student in 2016 owes more than $37,000. The default rate for those students is 10 percent.

“I’m advocating for the Legislature to hold the line on tuition rates so that education can remain an affordable option,” Patronis said.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

This week, Gov. Scott announced the following appointments and reappointments:

Commission on Ethics

Willie Meggs, 75, of Tallahassee, is a former State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. Meggs also served as Leon County Deputy with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and has served as President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending June 30, 2019. Garrett Richter, 68, of Naples is the President and Chief Executive Officer of First Florida Integrity Bank. He is a former State Representative and Senate President Pro Tempore. Richter served both in the U.S. Army and Air Force Reserve and was awarded a Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending June 30, 2020. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors

William Kastroll, 47, of Naples, is the owner of Harbour Insurance, LLC. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending July 31, 2019.

Department of Elderly Affairs Advisory Council

Kerry Marsalek, of Clearwater, is the manager for the Clearwater Office on Aging. She is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2020. Dr. Mohammad Choudhry, 52, of Leesburg, is a neurophysician. He is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2019.

Santa Fe College District Board of Trustees

Caridad Lee, 67, of Alachua, is the owner and president of Florida Blue Farms. She received her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree from the University of Florida and a second master’s degree from Loyola University. Lee is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022. Robert Woody, 65, of Gainesville, is director of youth services at the Gainesville Police Department. He received his bachelor’s degree from State University at Oneonta and his master’s degree from Rollins College. Woody is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022. Jeffery Oody, 49, of Starke, is the president and chief executive officer of Community State Bank. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Florida, his master’s degree from Liberty University, and his doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Oody is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022. These are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Palm Beach State College District Board of Trustees

Philip Ward, 63, of Jupiter, is the managing partner and attorney at Ward Damon, Attorneys at Law. He received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his juris doctorate from the University of Miami Law School. Ward succeeds John Dowd and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2022. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Highlands County Housing Authority

Tod Schwingel, 56, of Sebring, is the senior minister at Sebring Christian Church. He is reappointed for a term ending June 14, 2022. Deborah Wood, 59, of Avon Park, is a resource teacher for the Highlands County School Board. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending June 14, 2021.

District Medical Examiners

Dr. David Stewart, 60, of Tallahassee, is the chief medical examiner of District 2. He is reappointed for a term ending July 1, 2021. Dr. Rebecca Hamilton, 53, of Alva, is the chief medical examiner of District 21. She is reappointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.

Florida Developmental Disabilities Council

Bobbie Lake, 73, of Live Oak, is the former executive director of The Arc North Florida, Inc. He succeeds Ronni Bianco and is appointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2019. Lisa Miller, 41, of Lakeland, is a volunteer and advocate for persons with disabilities. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2019. Allison Flanagan, 47, of Tallahassee, is the director of vocational rehab for the Florida Department of Education. She succeeds Alesia McKinlay and is appointed for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. Cherie Hall, 48, of Tallahassee, is the chief financial officer of Disability Rights Florida. She succeeds Maryellen McDonald and is appointed for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. Cassandra G. Pasley, of Tallahassee, is the director of the division or children’s medical services for the Florida Department of Health. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor.

Hernando County Housing Authority

Paul H. Sullivan, 73, of Hernando Beach, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and former county commissioner for Hernando County. He is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2022.

Polk County Board of County Commissioners

Rick Wilson fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Melony Bell. Wilson, 65, of Bartow, is a small-business owner. He is a member of the Polk County Cattleman’s Association, Florida Cattleman’s Association and Rotary International. He is appointed for a term beginning Oct. 1.

DEO launches Rebuild Florida

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will provide $616 million to help Floridians rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Irma.

The effort, Rebuild Florida, is part of a partnership between the state and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Holly Raschein speaks at the DEO Rebuild Florida news conference this week in Marathon.

Federal disaster money will flow through Rebuild Florida centers, the first of which opened this week in the Florida Keys, an area that suffered extensive damage as Irma swept through the state in 2017.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, of the Keys area, said she’s “excited to have these resources available for our residents as we continue our long-term recovery and work to make sure the Florida Keys come back better and stronger than ever.”

Rebuild Florida locations are listed here. More information is available here.

Joyner named to Ruth’s List board

Former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner was appointed this week to the board of Ruth’s List Florida.

The Tampa Democrat, a former Senate Democratic Leader, is credited with breaking racial and gender barriers throughout her career. According to Ruth’s List, Joyner was the first black woman to serve in the Legislature since Reconstruction and first to practice law in Hillsborough and Polk counties. She is the longest practicing black woman lawyer in the history of Florida.

Arthenia Joyner is the newest member of the Ruth’s List Florida Board of Directors.

“I am very happy to join the Board of Directors of Ruth’s List Florida,” Joyner said. “Not only because it represents the chance to continue public service, but because this pioneering organization is dedicated to ensuring that ALL members of the public are truly served.

“I look forward to continuing that mission, and helping women take their rightful position in our democracy, representing the Citizens of Florida.”

“Ruth’s List Florida is honored and thrilled to add the Honorable Arthenia Joyner to our organization’s strong leadership,” Pamela Goodman, president and CEO of Ruth’s List Florida, said.

“She has served Florida citizens throughout her life, but women especially have benefited from her wisdom, courage and determination for equal and civil rights. Her contribution to our team is going to be a priceless addition.”

Ruth’s List supports pro-choice, Democratic women running for office. It has funneled $5 million to candidates since its founding in 2008.

Florida Bar recognizes journalists

The Florida Bar honored journalists this week during an evening reception on the 22nd floor of the Capitol.

The awards, which take the namesake of the late attorney Parker Thompson, recognized state-based reporters for work related to the legal field. Thompson died in 2017 after a meaningful career that included work on behalf of the Miami Herald in critical cases that preserved the First Amendment right of the press.

The Florida Bar honors Miami Herald reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch for their much-heralded series “Fight Club.” (image via USC Annenberg/Benjamin Dunn)

Taking home prizes in print were the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch for their widely recognized “Fight Club” series that exposed the state’s violent and troubled juvenile justice system.

The second-place print award went Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times for his reporting on juvenile sentencing.

In the television category, WESH’s Greg Fox received the first-place honor for his series, “Veterans, Mental Health & Guns.” WTSP’s Noah Pransky was awarded second place for Florida Texting Laws.”

In radio, WLRN’s Wilson Sayre was honored for “Cell: Florida’s Death Penalty in Limbo,” which examined the state’s death penalty laws and effect on prisoners.

Florida manufacturers celebrated

The Manufacturers Association of Florida honored four Sunshine State product makers at a recent awards banquet in St. Petersburg.

The association received a record amount of nominations this year. A statewide panel judged each nominee on leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus and operations.

Employee-owners of Pelican Wire in Naples were recognized as ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ award in the small business category.

Securing the award in the Small Manufacturer category was Pelican Wire of Naples. BASF of Quincy topped the Medium Manufacturer category; Sandvik Mining and Construction USA of Alachua took home the award in the Large Manufacturer category; and Mettler Toledo of Lutz, with more than 501 employees, topped the list in the Extra-Large Manufacturer category.

“These winners truly rose above the ranks of their competition and reminded us the industry is at a turning point in history,” said Amanda Bowen, executive director of MAF. “Manufacturing is being disrupted by technology changes, economic regulations, gender roles and culture shifts.

“Each of our winners demonstrated an ability to challenge these issues in a respectable way, all while making significant strides in their sector and raising the bar for manufacturing in Florida.”

Nominations for next year’s awards will be accepted beginning Spring 2019. More information is available here.

Publix expands HQ

The Publix headquarters in Lakeland will add 700 more jobs by the end of 2027, the grocery giant announced this week.

Publix President and CEO Todd Jones, who was joined by Gov. Scott in announcing the expansion, said the move is the result of a loyal customer base and dedicated associates.

“These additional jobs will help us support our store associates as they continue to provide the premier service our customers expect,” Jones added. “We are proud of the role we continue to play in the great state of Florida.”

Publix is expanding its headquarters to create 700 new jobs in Lakeland. (Image via the Lakeland Ledger)

The Florida-based company was founded in 1930 by George Jenkins. It currently boasts 1,198 store locations across the southeastern U.S. and employs more than 190,000 people.

“Publix is one of Florida’s greatest success stories, and we’re proud of their growth,” Scott said.

Insurers highlight ‘bad faith’ study

New research shows third-party bad faith lawsuits added an average of $106 in claim costs to every insured vehicle in Florida in 2017.

That has caught the attention of the regional chapter of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, or PCI.

Automobile accidents are just one of the reasons why Florida leads the nation in ‘bad faith’ litigation abuse.

“Florida continues to be the worst state in the country for bad faith litigation abuse,” said regional PCI manager Logan McFaddin. “Frivolous lawsuits, often targeting automobile insurers, create unnecessary expenses that place a heavy burden on consumers.”

The study referenced, conducted by the Insurance Research Council, estimates bad faith suits have resulted in $7.6 billion in additional claim costs over the past 12 years.

“It’s clear we need to look for a legislative answer that protects the public and prevents needless lawsuits from being filed by third parties looking to make money off consumers,” added McFaddin.

“Now is the time to start looking for a solution that potentially shields Floridians from higher insurance costs, combats abuse, and prevents lawsuits from clogging up the court system.”

FSU professor to study Native American health

John Lowe, a decorated nursing professor at Florida State University, has received a $1.275 million federal grant to examine ways to reduce health risk among Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Lowe’s work will be Florida-centric, focusing on urban areas in the state. He aims to find prevention research for substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis among young adults belonging to the races as mentioned earlier.

FSU nursing professor John Lowe receives $1.275M grant to work toward reducing health risks among Native American and Alaska Native young adults in urban Florida. (Image via FSU)

“There remain enduring health disparities, substantial service gaps and a large, unmet need for state of the science prevention for substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis among urban American Indian and Alaska Native young adults in Florida,” Lowe said.

The results of the project, funded the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, should “contribute significantly and meaningfully to closing this gap,” Lowe added.

“Lowe’s work in reducing health risks such as substance abuse, HIV and hepatitis is a vital area of public health research,” FSU Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander said.

FSU gets violence prevention grant

A $300,000 grant is on its way to Florida State University to encourage prevention and response to personal violence.

Specifically, the money is tailored to curb “power-based personal violence” on campus, which encompasses sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

FSU’s Angela Chong is celebrating a ‘big win’ grant to study violence prevention. (Image via Miguel Gonzalez/FSU)

“This grant is a big win for Florida State University,” said Angela Chong, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “It certainly positions Florida State as a leader in the prevention of power-based personal violence.”

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Justice and in part will fund a project drafted by University Health Services: “Collective Empowerment: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Caring for Tallahassee College Students.”

It seeks to “ensure that information on resources, awareness events and programming,” according to the university.

“Our upcoming initiatives through this grant will demonstrate that these crimes will not be tolerated,” interim UHS director Amy Magnuson said. “They will send a clear message that perpetrators will be held accountable and that holistic services are available for survivors.”

Capitol Directions

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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