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The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Judge removed over campaign misconduct

For the second time in seven days, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday removed a judge from office after an investigation into misconduct in an election campaign.

Justices, in a 4-3 decision, issued an order removing Palm Beach County Judge Dana Marie Santino from the bench as of 5 p.m. Monday because of attacks on an opponent during a 2016 campaign. The move came a week after the Supreme Court removed 7th Judicial Circuit Judge Scott DuPont, who heard cases in Putnam and Flagler counties.

The Supreme Court said a full opinion in the Santino case will be issued later, but justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga supported the judge’s removal. Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson dissented.

The decisions in the Santino and DuPont cases came as justices have shown in recent years an increased intolerance for ethical and behavioral lapses by judges. The decisions also came amid elections this year for judicial seats in numerous parts of the state.

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission investigated Santino because of allegations that she and a Facebook page linked to her campaign consultant impugned her 2016 election opponent, Gregg Lerman, because of his work as a defense attorney.

The Facebook page, for example, said “Attorney Gregg Lerman has made a lot of money trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals. Now he’s running for judge!” It also included a photo of Lerman surrounded by words such as “identity theft,” “rape,” “sexual assault,” “pedophiles” and “murder,” according to a report last year by a hearing panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

The report, which recommended Santino’s removal from office, also pointed to comments made by Santino during the campaign about Lerman’s background as a defense attorney. Santino defeated Lerman in the November 2016 election.

“Candidate Santino did not merely compare her background, qualifications, character and integrity with that of her opponent,” the report said. “She imputed guilt to those that were merely accused. She also expressly stated and implied that Lerman was not impartial, was predisposed to favor criminals, while she was predisposed to victims, and courted votes based on each candidate’s supposed predisposition. Her entire campaign was inflammatory and rife with innuendo. She repeatedly implied that representing persons charged with crimes was, by its very nature, dishonorable and antithetical to the public good.”

But in a document filed in November at the Supreme Court, Santino’s attorneys argued she should not be removed from office, saying that the “campaign violations — considering this (Supreme) Court’s prior campaign violation precedent as well as Judge Santino’s background, character and performance as a judge — do not establish evidence of ‘present unfitness to hold office.’ ”

“Her campaign violations were wrong, and she fully acknowledges her mistakes,” the document said. “This Honorable Court should … levy a serious sanction consistent with this misconduct. As a matter of law, however, in light of her ‘excellent’ work as a judge, lack of any prior Florida Bar discipline, character and mitigation, and full acceptance of responsibility, this record does not demonstrate present unfitness to hold office, and, under Article V (of the Florida Constitution), does not implicate removal.”

The decision in the Santino case followed the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision June 25 to remove DuPont from his post in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Putnam, Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties. DuPont was accused of publishing false allegations against his 2016 election challenger and was investigated for other actions while on the bench.

Rick Scott awards final batch of ‘job growth’ dollars

As the state’s budget year came to an end, Gov. Rick Scott doled out the last of an initial $85 million pot of “job growth” dollars that lawmakers approved in an economic-development compromise.

In a news release late Friday, Scott’s office announced more than $16 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund would be set aside for six applicants, with the largest amount, $5.5 million, going for water, sewer and roadway improvements to assist the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park in Marion County.

The state’s 2017-2018 budget year ended Saturday. And with the new fiscal year starting Sunday, a second pool of $85 million immediately became available to Scott and — depending on how much he uses — his successor after Scott leaves office in January.

“I look forward to even more Florida communities benefiting from this accountable program, so every Floridian can find a great job right here in our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement announcing the latest grants.

The other new awards Friday were $4 million for the construction of a highway for an industrial warehouse and logistics facility in Hialeah; $3.02 million for a manufacturing training center at Immokalee Technical College in Collier County; $2.07 million for improvements to Atlantis Drive to support commercial development in Clay County; $1.9 million to develop a manufacturing training institute at Gulf Coast State College; and $135,000 to create a construction industry training program for high school and postsecondary students at Withlacoochee Technical College.

The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was created in 2017 after a legislative battle about economic-development funding. Scott had sought $85 million for incentives that would be available through the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida. But led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, lawmakers objected to money going directly to specific companies.

Under the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, money is required to go to regional projects, rather than individual businesses. The money is handled by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which received more than 250 applications, collectively seeking $877 million in assistance, during the past fiscal year.

The creation of the fund drew concerns from some Democrats, who said it could become a “slush fund” for the governor.

Scott has made a series of announcements about awarding the initial $85 million. The announcement Friday from his office said the 33 proposals that have received grants are expected to provide a return on investment of “more than $321 million to taxpayers.”

Yet the number of jobs on the table is somewhat difficult to quantify, even though a question on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund application seeks “a description of the number of jobs that will be retained or created.”

Based on the 33 applications that received funding, the money could be tied to nearly 100,000 jobs over the next decade.

But several factors play into the estimates from the applicants.

For example, often the numbers in applications involving college vocational training are based on estimates from business groups, which envision boosts in people landing jobs within a set number of years. Meanwhile, the impact of proposed new roads and infrastructure is often based on projections of commercial centers or businesses attracting new companies and employees.

Also, not every award from the fund matched the amounts of money requested.

In Marion County’s application, which sought $22 million, the state’s contribution is anticipated to help quickly get the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park underway.

The commerce park is envisioned as doubling the “success” of the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park that “has seen the creation of nearly 1,500 jobs, 1.4 million square feet of new construction, and $270 million in capital investment.”

The amount eventually awarded was slightly more than the $4.97 million being put up by the county through sales and gas-tax revenues.

Other job projections also appear to raise questions.

Marianna, which received $1.99 million in March to extend a runway at Marianna Airport Commerce Park, estimated “hundreds, if not thousands” of new jobs, as the lengthened runway would help it compete against similar facilities in Georgia and Alabama.

St. Johns River State College, which on May 30 received nearly $1.4 million to expand an advanced manufacturing and robotics training program, noted in its application that employers in Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties anticipate the program will directly support more than 100 new jobs. The application also said “the manufacturing sector provides thousands of good jobs and is anticipated to grow significantly over the next 10 years, with retirements and new growth due to the completion of the First Coast Expressway.”

Nearby, Florida State College at Jacksonville, which received $710,352 to enhance the Northeast Florida Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics Job Growth program, said it anticipates enrolling 75 participants, with 63 completing the program within one year, from which 80 percent — about 50 — will be placed in jobs.

The school also pointed out in its application that the First Coast Manufacturers Association said that “without this program, manufacturers will continue to struggle to find qualified workers, limiting the economic growth of our region and its people.”

Bill Galvano, José Oliva look to trim lease tax

Florida lawmakers will continue to chip away at a commercial lease tax that has been a target of the business community for most of Gov. Rick Scott’s term, according to the incoming leaders of the House and Senate.

Appearing Friday at the state Republican Party’s “Sunshine Summit” in Kissimmee, incoming House Speaker José Oliva and incoming Senate President Bill Galvano outlined their expectations for the next two years, with many of the ideas a continuation of the direction of recent Republican-dominated legislatures.

They talked of seeking further reductions in taxes and fees, improving security at ports and schools, upgrading transportation, water and electric infrastructure, expanding health-care options and school choice and providing more career options for students by promoting skill-training and technology programs.

Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, said the biggest thing for lawmakers is to mostly “get out of the way.”

“Our job is to build roads, to build infrastructures, to make sure there is a judiciary system for everyone and people’s rights are protected,” Oliva said.

Meanwhile, Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, expressed a desire to revisit the commercial lease tax, which will drop from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent on Jan. 1 as part of a roughly $170 million tax package (HB 7087) that was approved in March. That package goes into effect Sunday with the new fiscal year.

“The commercial lease tax is one I think we need to take another hard look at,” Galvano said.

The lease tax is imposed on commercial rental properties, and the reduction is expected to account for $12.9 million of the tax package in the coming fiscal year.

Galvano said he also wants lawmakers to again consider sales-tax “holidays,” which allowed Floridians to avoid paying taxes on emergency preparation gear at the start of hurricane season and will allow families to avoid paying taxes on back-to-school items during a period in August.

After their panel appearance Friday at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Oliva gave his full support to Galvano’s comment on the lease tax, which in 2015 generated $1.5 billion and has been projected by the state Department of Revenue to grow to $2 billion in 2020.

“I’m opposed to all taxes,” Oliva told reporters.

The lease tax was lowered from 6 percent to 5.8 percent last year.

Under a proposal filed during the 2018 session, the House initially sought to drop the rate to 5 percent, which was projected to save $218 million for businesses.

The House later revised its request to 5.5 percent before agreeing to 5.7 percent after lawmakers shifted spending following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Galvano and Oliva will formally move into their leadership posts after the November elections.

In discussing a need for the state to focus on infrastructure improvements, Galvano told reporters he’s following the private investments being made into “livable cities” in the Tampa Bay area, a proposed private high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando and an enhanced use of autonomous vehicle programs.

“There is a lot that we can look at that is, in my opinion, a role for government, not just trying to cherry-pick certain industries,” Galvano said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Framers’ allowed to file brief in education legal fight

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday allowed 10 members of the 1998 state Constitution Revision Commission to file a brief in a legal battle about whether Florida is meeting its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the former Constitution Revision Commission members filed a motion in May asking for approval to file a friend-of-the-court brief at the Florida Supreme Court.

But attorneys for the state objected.

The Supreme Court issued a one-paragraph order Friday allowing the group to file a brief but also appeared to leave open the possibility that the state could object to parts of the brief, known formally as an amicus brief.

The order said the approval was granted “without prejudice to the subsequent presentation of objections by respondents to specific content of the amicus brief filed.”

The brief stems from a long-running lawsuit led by the group Citizens for Strong Schools, which argues that the state has failed to comply with the 1998 voter-approved amendment.

A Leon County circuit judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected the arguments, leading Citizens for Strong Schools and other plaintiffs to go to the Supreme Court.

The 1998 constitutional amendment says it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system” of public schools.

The plaintiffs argue the state has not met those standards and should be forced to take steps to carry out the constitutional amendment. But the 1st District Court of Appeal said, in part, it is not the role of judges to determine education policy.

The 10 former commissioners who sought to file the brief included former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

New budget, dozens of laws take effect July 1

More than 100 bills that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law from the 2018 Legislative Session will take effect Sunday, including a new state budget that tops $88 billion.

Lawmakers sent 195 bills to Scott from the Session that ended in March. The Governor vetoed two, while signing the rest.

Of the signed measures, 105 will hit the books Sunday.

Of the remainder, 54 went into effect upon Scott’s signature, with the rest effective in October or 2019.

Among the measures slated to take effect Sunday:

State budget

— HB 5001: Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The spending plan increases public-school funding by $101.50 per student, though Democrats and many education officials have argued that a far lower amount will be available for basic school expenses.

Among other things, the budget will provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Lawmakers also included $3.3 billion in reserves and put money into such issues as Everglades restoration, beach restoration, “pre-eminent” universities and helping universities attract “world-class” faculty.

Tax package

— HB 7087. A roughly $170 million tax-cut package provides relief for farmers and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma, provides a sales-tax “holiday” in August for back-to-school shoppers and retroactively covers a disaster-preparedness tax “holiday” in early June that coincided with the start of hurricane season. The package also includes reducing a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent, though that cut will begin Jan. 1.


— HB 7055: The law expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools. The so-called “hope scholarships” will be funded by motorists who voluntarily agree to contribute sales taxes they would normally pay on vehicle transactions to fund the scholarships. Among other things, the bill also boosts the Gardiner scholarship program, which pays for services and private-school scholarships for students with disabilities.

Child marriage

 SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. In the past, minors ages 16 and 17 have been able to get marriage licenses with parental consent, and judges have had discretion to issue licenses to younger minors if they have children or if pregnancies are involved.

Under the change, marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.


— HB 21: With Florida facing an opioid epidemic, the measure is aimed at preventing patients from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and then turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

The bill, in part, will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, though they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.” Cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma would be exempt from the limits. The bill also requires physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances.

Bethune statue

— SB 472: Lawmakers approved placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The statue of Bethune will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who has long been one of Florida’s two representatives in the hall at the U.S. Capitol. The state’s other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

Slavery memorial

— HB 67: The measure will lead to building a memorial on the Capitol grounds to honor the untold number of slaves in Florida history. The bill requires the Department of Management Services to develop a plan and costs for the memorial, with the plan then submitted to the governor and legislative leaders.

Daylight saving time

— SB 1013: The measure seeks to place Florida on year-round daylight-saving time. The change, promoted as a way to help Florida tourism, still needs congressional approval.


— HB 29: Named the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act” after a House Republican who died in December, the measure expands a 2014 law by further reducing professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans and their spouses. This bill also designates March 25 each year as “Medal of Honor Day.”

Foreign affairs

— HB 545 and HB 359: One measure (HB 545) will prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. The other (HB 359) bars state agencies from investing in companies doing business with the government of Venezuela, a step intended to put pressure on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Effort launched to boost Alzheimer’s treatment

Pharmaceutical companies have for the past 20 years barraged the public with commercials about pills that help people lose weight, control cholesterol or soothe irritable bowels.

But there remain only five federally approved drugs for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and none cure or stop the memory-robbing diseases from progressing.

With the estimated number of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease growing exponentially and optimism for better treatment plans fading, AARP, UnitedHealth Group and Quest Diagnostics announced this week a $75 million commitment to the “Dementia Discovery Fund,” which is aimed at developing new drugs for treating dementia.

Yarissa Reyes, state director of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the additional funding is good news for Florida, where an estimated 540,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease live.

“It also helps the caregivers as well,’’ said Reyes, who noted more than 1.1 million people in Florida care for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. “This is a win-win.”

The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and it causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, eventually rendering a person unable to perform simple daily activities.

The number of people in Florida living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase by 33 percent in the next seven years, totaling more than 720,000 by 2025.

AARP announced its funding commitment as it released a new survey of U.S. physicians that shows a lack of optimism that the situation will improve soon.

One in three physicians surveyed said current dementia treatment options are poor, and only 10 percent said they are extremely or very optimistic that effective treatment protocols will emerge in the next five years.

AARP Florida spokesman Dave Bruns said the senior-advocacy group won’t measure the success of its investment in traditional ways. “The hope is that this will pay off in terms of more treatments and fewer patients suffering from dementia,” Bruns said.

David Kang, director of basic science research at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, said the additional funding can help bridge what he called the “valley of death” between academic research and clinical trials done by large pharmaceutical companies.

“The funding can be used to support the development of ideas into small companies,” Kang said, adding, “or to support drugs that are almost there.”

While there have been hundreds of clinical trials about Alzheimer’s disease in the past 15 years, drugs being tested have not come to the market. Patients and caregivers have five drugs to choose from: Aricept, Razadyne, Namenda, Exelon and Namzaric.

The available medicines do not cure Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, they temporarily lessen the symptoms of the disease such as declines in memory, language, and problem-solving skills..

The Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute treated 3,000 people for Alzheimer’s disease last year, said Amanda Smith, the institute’s director of clinical research. Also, the institute is participating in more than 12 active clinical trials, partnering with the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies. Five of the clinical trials are currently enrolling patients, she said.

Meanwhile, Kang said in the past, clinical trials were designed around people with dementia, in part to help those who needed it. But Kang said researchers didn’t fully understand that “any amount of drug” isn’t going to bring the brain back.

“But we know better now,” he said, explaining that trials now focus on prevention and are designed for patients who have warning signs.

Can Democrats turn high court blues into blue wave?

The U.S. Supreme Court and the two Republicans duking it out to succeed Gov. Rick Scott unintentionally helped ramp up enthusiasm for Florida Democrats in advance of the Democrats’ big blue bash this weekend.

The court handed down a series of victories for President Donald Trump, including a union-bashing decision that doesn’t directly affect Florida but will shrink the coffers of public-sector unions that typically dump major dollars behind Democratic candidates.

The court also upheld the latest version of Trump’s ban on travel from some predominantly Muslim countries, creating an uproar among civil libertarians and immigration advocates who accuse the president of having declared war on Islam.

But the most chilling news for Democrats was the decision of 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire, giving Trump the power to reshape the Supreme Court for generations to come by locking down a conservative majority with which Kennedy sometimes parted ways.

Kennedy’s most memorable decisions kept abortion rights intact, cemented same-sex marriage in all states and maintained the use of affirmative-action policies at universities. He also voted to do away with excessive sentences for juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities.

Kennedy’s decision to leave the bench “sends a stark message to the tens of millions of Americans who have long turned to the court for the vindication of many of their most cherished rights and protections: Look somewhere else,” editors at The New York Times warned.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee knows where he wants voters to cast their eyes. He’s the head of the Democratic Governors Association and will be the keynote speaker at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue event this weekend in Hollywood.

“People understand what a threat Donald Trump poses. People understand you can’t depend on the Supreme Court to save us from Donald Trump. You’ve got to have Democratic governors to save us,” Inslee said in a telephone interview.

The Dems have a crowded field of five major candidates vying for the open governor’s seat in Florida, and, like their cohorts throughout the nation, they’ve all made Trump their top target.

Inslee said he doesn’t think that strategy will backfire in November.

“There’s no Republican Party at this point. There’s just the Trump party. We’re not putting this around anybody’s neck. They put the noose around their own neck,” the governor said.

Democrats throughout the country — including in Florida, where Democratic and Republican voter registration is almost evenly split, and independents make up a little more than a quarter of the electorate — “are really, really, intensely, passionately energized about voting” this year, according to Inslee.

Democrats will unite following the primary to support the alternative to GOP gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, who Inslee called “Republicans who are going to be slavishly devoted to Donald Trump.”

“Florida’s a big state, and a dynamic state, and a very winnable race. So for all those reasons, this is a very top-tier priority for us,” Inslee said.

Tampa Electric seeks approval for solar projects

In a second phase of a plan to increase its use of solar energy, Tampa Electric Co. on Friday asked state regulators for approval to recoup money from customers to pay for five solar projects in Hillsborough and Polk counties.

The utility filed the proposal at the Florida Public Service Commission, which last month signed off on a similar request for two solar projects in the first phase of Tampa Electric’s plan.

The Public Service Commission in 2017 approved a settlement agreement that set Tampa Electric’s base electric rates until 2022. Part of that agreement allowed the utility to return to the commission to seek approval to recover money for solar projects.

The projects approved last month were a 70.3-megawatt facility in Polk County and a 74.4-megawatt facility in Hillsborough County, which are scheduled to be finished in September.

The projects proposed Friday total 260.3 megawatts, with a cost of $46 million, according to the utility’s filing with the commission. Two of the projects are slated for agricultural land and old orange groves in Hillsborough County, while three are on agricultural land and reclaimed phosphate mine in Polk County. They would be completed by Jan. 1. Tampa Electric has about 750,000 customers in Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, and Pasco counties.

Family separation case splits Attorney General candidates

Florida would join a coalition of states suing the Trump administration over the separation of undocumented immigrant families if two Democrats running for attorney general had their way.

However, the two Republicans and lone independent seeking to replace term-limited Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has not joined the lawsuit, would stay out of the fight.

Republican candidates Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a state lawmaker from Pensacola, were highly critical of the lawsuit filed Tuesday by 17 states with Democratic attorneys general — Washington, New York, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, North Carolina and Delaware — and the District of Columbia.

The 128-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Seattle, contends a Trump administration separation policy infringes on parents’ rights, violates Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process and is motivated by “animus” toward Latinos.

The separation of children from their parents at the country’s Southern border has led to an intense debate in recent weeks about immigration policy. President Donald Trump ultimately signed an executive order aimed at stopping the separations.

Moody said she “cannot imagine” being separated from her child. However, she called the lawsuit by other states nothing more than “posturing and political stunts” and said it “does not have a substantial likelihood of success.”

“Despite all the misinformation, the actual actions taken by the administration are facially legitimate and bona fide and not contrary to any existing federal statute,” Moody said.

Moody added that she doesn’t support the arguments from the Democratic attorney generals, as “the parents made a choice and that choice was not to enter the United States at a legal point of entry and claim asylum.”

“Instead, they chose to commit a crime,” Moody continued. “I believe that both the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection should improve their processes and look for alternatives that do not involve separation or that minimize disruption and potential harm to the children.”

White went deeper, calling the lawsuit “nothing more than a political witch hunt led entirely by liberal Democrat attorneys general from around the country ganging up against President Trump’s efforts to solve problems.”

“The fact is, our immigration policies have been badly broken for decades, and Congress must get its act together and follow President Trump’s lead by working to secure the border and fix our broken immigration system,” White said.

Moody also said Congress needs to act.

On the Democratic side of the race, state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa tweeted, “As our next AG, I will stand on the side of these families & join this lawsuit immediately,”

“We must #EndFamilySeparation & protect these children!,” Shaw continued in the tweet.

Democrat Ryan Torrens, an attorney from Hillsborough County, called the lawsuit “courageous” against a “cruel and illegal policy.”

“This separation policy violates our deepest sense of humanity and the family values we all share,” Torrens said. “In yet another failure of leadership, Attorney General Pam Bondi has done nothing, while other states’ attorneys general led the fight to end this inhumane separation policy.”

But Jeff Siskind, an attorney from Wellington who qualified last week to run for attorney general without party affiliation, said the state shouldn’t use its resources to join the lawsuit and said Congress must be pushed to end family separations. However, he otherwise doesn’t share the views of White and Moody on the Trump administration policy.

Siskin said such a lawsuit likely would drag on too long, and “we need an immediate reaction to this policy which, while perhaps not being intended to be discriminatory, is instead likely the most discriminatory government policy since World War II — disproportionately affecting Latinos,” Siskind said. “Responsibility for insuring that Florida not become involved in what will for decades be viewed as a monstrous policy must fall on our state’s national elected officials — our members of the U.S. House and Senate — who must immediately condemn immigrant child separation in the strongest terms.”

Siskind added that Florida’s attorney general needs to lobby state lawmakers to prevent “child detention camps” from being set up in the state.

New budget year brings boost in spending

Florida’s new $88.7 billion budget will take effect Sunday, but that doesn’t tell the whole story about spending on education, health care, transportation and other state programs in the new fiscal year.

Projected spending in 2018-2019 is greater than the budget bottom line because lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott approved 16 bills during the 2018 Legislative Session that included additional funding totaling nearly $610 million.

The $89.3 billion in spending is $4.36 billion higher than the 2017-2018 budget year that ends Saturday, representing more than a 5 percent increase. It is more than $20 billion higher than the $69 billion 2011-2012 spending plan, which was the first under Scott, who leaves office in January because of term limits.

The state’s largest expenditures in 2018-2019 will be on human services, which include Medicaid and other health-care programs, accounting for 43.3 percent of the spending. Education will be the second largest component at 28.5 percent.

Among the bills was legislation (SB 4) making permanent an expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program, including covering 75 percent of the tuition and fees in the new academic year for students who are “medallion scholars.” The $123.5 million in spending will also let those students use their scholarships for summer classes in 2019.

An additional $53.6 million will be spent on dealing with Florida’s ongoing opioid crisis through another bill (HB 21).

The largest spending outside the main budget is $400 million for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026), which passed after the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at the Broward County school.

The legislation includes $69 million for mental-health programs in school districts, a $97 million increase to hire more school resource officers, a $98 million grant program for improving school security and $67 million for an initiative that would allow school personnel to be trained as armed “guardians” on school campuses.

The increased safety spending is reflected in a $485 million increase in the funding formula for the 67 school districts in 2018-2019. But since much of the $101.50 increase in per-student funding is earmarked for the safety programs, the school districts will only see a statewide average increase of 47 cents in the “base student allocation,” the primary source for general operations.

State employees will not receive a general pay raise in the new budget, which was approved by lawmakers in March. But there will be targeted increases.

The seven state Supreme Court justices will see their annual pay rise to $220,600, a 24 percent increase.

State law enforcement officers could get a raise up to 10 percent if they have 10 or more years of experience. Department of Juvenile Justice probation and detention officers will get a 10 percent increase.

State firefighters will get a $2,500 annual pay raise, while there will be adjustment up to $4,000 a year for assistant state attorneys and public defenders if they have worked more than three years in their offices.

In health care, the new budget has nearly a $900 million increase to account for additional costs in Medicaid, the state-federal health program for poor and disabled people. There is $128.5 million increase in Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

Nursing home patients will benefit from a $16.9 million increase in their “personal needs allowance,” which will increase by $25 a month to $130. It will allow them to pay for personal services and items like hair styling and clothes.

In the environmental arena, in addition to $101 million for the Florida Forever land-acquisition program, there is $64 million for an Everglades-area reservoir project, $50 million for natural springs restoration, $50 million for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for beach-management grants to local governments.

The new budget has a $9.9 billion “work program” for the Department of Transportation, including $3.9 billion for the construction of highways and bridges and $1.3 billion for resurfacing and maintenance.

More than $454 million is slated to be spent on education construction and maintenance projects in the new academic year. That includes $50 million for maintenance at public schools and $145 million for charter schools.

The budget includes $3.25 billion in reserve funding, including $1 billion in unspent general revenue, $1.48 billion in a budget-stabilization fund and $770 million in the Chiles endowment, which is funded by a settlement with tobacco companies.

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