Gov. Rick Scott – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Guns and Trump form backdrop of Rick Scott

Guns and Trump.

Let’s just cut to what figures to be the essence of a showdown between three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and two-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott for a Florida U.S. Senate seat.

Scott’s entry into the race, long a foregone conclusion, becomes official Monday and signals the start of what could the most expensive and nasty race in the country. These days, that’s a high bar to hurdle but it can be done here.

There also could be a false assumption about this election.

So, you think Democrats are building toward a blue tsunami this fall? You think Donald Trump’s record unpopularity will suck down Republican candidates like the vacuum effect from a sinking ship?

Maybe so.

As we know in Florida all too well though, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about politics. And Scott’s candidacy already is a problem for Democrats.

To have any hope for their party to gain control of the Senate, Nelson must win. To do that, he will need lots of money from the national Democratic machine, potentially taking resources away from races in other states.

Scott, meanwhile, could again choose to self-fund a large part of his campaign, which would be heaven-sent to Republicans.

There are 33 Senate races this fall and nearly a dozen are expected to be competitive. Democrats must defend 25 seats, including 10 in states where Trump won in 2016. Eight of those seats are considered tossups.

Florida, of course, is one of those and it figures to be the big prize for both parties. Polls have been all over the place in this race so far.

That brings us back to the two things that matter most in this campaign: Guns and Trump.

Scott has been joined at the hip to Trump, which Nelson’s camp will exploit to the max. It may not matter as much as Democrats would like, though.

While Trump’s approval is hovering around 40 percent, and perhaps a little higher in Florida, his people will turn out and vote no matter what. In a mid-term election, turnout is the key and Democrats have fallen short there in the past.

The X factor is whether the slaughter of innocents at Parkland brings out thousands of new voters. If so, it could turn the election in Nelson’s favor.

Although Scott pushed through and signed a law imposing modest gun restrictions after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he still is closely identified with the National Rifle Association.

Nelson, on the other hand, proudly points to his F rating from that organization. And in an interesting twist, he has developed a close working relationship with his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Marco Rubio.

They have appeared together several times, and Rubio has vowed he will not campaign against Nelson.

Scott is not happy about that.

There’s another bit of unpredictability tossed into the stew. Start with how they got to this position.

Neither candidate is dynamic on the stump. Even their record of election wins comes with question marks. Nelson won three races against Republican opposition that seemed to get weaker every time.

Scott likely will be a tougher opponent, but by how much? He won both his gubernatorial races by about 1 percentage point. A win is a win, but wins like that are hardly an overwhelming mandate.

Democrats will attack Scott’s record on the environment, various scandals that popped up during his two terms, and – did we mention – he endorsed Trump.

He is friends with Trump.

He hangs out with Trump.

Trump. Trump. Trump.

Guns. Guns. Guns.

The question becomes whether making that argument to voters over the next seven months will convert hearts and minds or just reinforce existing opinions.

My guess is the latter. We’ll find out soon enough.

Game on.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Weather affects ‘Springtime’

Predictions of bad weather are befouling plans for the annual Springtime Tallahassee festivities in the capital.

Organizers on Friday canceled the Jubilee in the Park, which usually features arts and crafts booths from hundreds of vendors, and rescheduled the parade for 10 a.m., the Tallahassee Democrat reported late Friday.

The National Weather Service was forecasting “showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 2 p.m.,” adding that “some of the storms could be severe.”

Before the bad weather reports, city officials had been expecting a crowd of more than 150,000 to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary.

It’s Springtime Tallahassee again.

The celebration will affect traffic, a news release said. Below are the planned road closures for Saturday:

6:30 a.m.-12 p.m. for Parade Staging Area

— First Avenue eastbound at Duval Street.

— Thomasville Road between Monroe Street and Seventh Avenue.

— Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues between Adams Street and Thomasville Road.

6:30-10:30 a.m. for Springtime Tallahassee 10K (if it still goes on as planned)

— Monroe Street between Apalachee Parkway and Seventh Avenue.

— Call Street, Franklin Boulevard, Lafayette Street and various roads surrounding the Capital City Country Club and within the Myers Park and Woodland Drive neighborhoods will have staggered closures during the race.

9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. for Parade Route

— Monroe Street between Gaines Street and Seventh Avenue.

— Jefferson Street, College Avenue, Park Avenue, Call Street, Virginia Street, Carolina Street, Georgia Street, Brevard Street and Tennessee Street between Adams Street and Calhoun Street.

— Madison Street between Macomb Street and Monroe Street.

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

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

State appeals ex-felon order — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are appealing U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling that the state must devise a new system for restoring voting rights to ex-felons. Attorney General Pam Bondi has promised to continue to appeal Walker’s order to the highest court. Walker permanently blocked the state’s clemency system in March calling it “fatally flawed.” He then gave Scott and the Cabinet a monthlong deadline to revamp the system. Scott’s office contends that felon voting rights restoration should be determined by elected officials. Florida is one of few states that disenfranchise felons after they’ve completed their sentences and is home to roughly 1.5 million ex-cons whose voting rights are pending.

CRC ‘style’ committee wraps — The influential Style & Drafting Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission has drafted and approved 12 ballot items for consideration of the full commission. To appear on the ballot in November, each proposed amendment must win the approval of 22 members of the 37-person panel. The 12 items are a consolidation of 24 proposals that met the initial approval of the CRC. Six proposals were not combined with others, including four that did not meet the 22-vote threshold in the preliminary approval phase. Five other amendments already have reached the ballot, meaning Floridians could potentially consider 17 amendments in the general election. Sixty-percent voter approval is required for each to pass.

Leaders pressure feds for farm aid — Gov. Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have recently ramped up efforts to get much-needed funding distributed to Florida farmers affected by Hurricane Irma. Tailing off Scott’s and Putnam’s talks with the federal government, Rubio and Nelson joined other senators in penning a letter this week to encourage timely distribution of a $2.3 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump in February. The letter was addressed to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Perdue’s office announced this week that sign-up and eligibility information should be available to affected farmers in the coming weeks. In total, it’s estimated that Hurricane Irma caused a $2.5 billion loss to Florida agriculture.

Gaming special session uncertain — Legislative leaders this week began zeroing in on a possible date for a special session to iron out gambling issues left unresolved during the 2018 Legislative Session — but the overtime might not be necessary. House Speaker Richard Corcoran alerted the possible need to reconvene legislators because of the potential loss of gambling revenue from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. However, the Tribe this week said it will continue paying its share to the state, which totaled a little more than $290 million last year. No Casinos, an anti-gambling organization, is asserting that the Tribe’s commitment should end further talks of a special session.

Scott ramps up exposure — Ahead of his widely expected entrance into the U.S. Senate race, Gov. Scott is appearing across the state for public bill signings. Scott this week visited Ponce Inlet to ceremoniously sign Ponce’s Law. The bill was crafted following the death of a nine-month-old Labrador, Ponce, in Ponce Inlet last year. The dog’s owner, Travis Archer, allegedly beat the animal to death, but under Florida’s current animal cruelty laws, Archer does not face a mandatory prison sentence if convicted. Ponce’s Law bumps animal cruelty to a level 5 offense up from level 3, meaning convicted offenders are more likely to serve prison time. The Governor also signed a bill in Orlando that prohibits the state from doing business with Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro’s regime and a bill at Fort Walton-based software company Bit-Wizards that is expected to benefit military, veterans, and their families.

Scott touts Florida building codes

Florida took the top spot in a recent report ranking the residential building codes of hurricane-prone states, much to the delight of Gov. Scott.

“In Florida, we know how important it is to be prepared for hurricanes while doing everything possible to keep families safe. Florida’s building codes have consistently ranked among the strongest in the nation and I’m proud that we have now been ranked first for building code strength by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety,” Scott said.

DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Jonathan Zachem also praised the ranking, adding that “the importance of effective, well-enforced building codes was demonstrated in our state during the 2017 hurricane season. I’m extremely pleased that the state of Florida was ranked first in this landmark report.”

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety report gave Florida’s codes a score of 95 out of 100, an improvement of one point over its score in the last iteration of the report, released in 2015. The bump was enough to move Florida past Virginia, which topped the rankings three years ago.

Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’

Clearing the final batch of bills off his desk this week, Gov. Scott vetoed a measure that would have, in part, encouraged the use of purified reclaimed water to replenish the aquifer — a provision that has led environmental groups to dub the measure the “toilet-to-tap” bill.

Citing potential creation of “confusion in our water quality and aquifer protection regulatory structure,” Scott said the “worthwhile provisions” in the bill do not outweigh his concerns of “protecting Florida’s aquifer.”

Rick Scott flushed Bobby Payne’s ‘toilet-to-tap’ proposal.

“Florida has stringent water quality standards, and we are going to keep it that way,” Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

The bill, HB 1149, was ushered by Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who along with WateReuse argued that critics of the legislation overlooked that there is no such thing as “new water.”

Those against the measure, which included the lobbying force of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists, claimed it was tailored to benefit development interests.

The bill cleared the House with an 86-21 vote and the Senate with a 27-10 vote in the final week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

The week in appointments

Board of Optometry — Dr. David Rouse, of Cooper City, is an optometrist with Rouse Family Eyecare. He succeeds Dr. Tamara Mule and is appointed for a term ending October 31, 2021. Dr. Katie Spear, of Pensacola, is a practicing optometrist. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending October 31, 2018. Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Palm Beach State College District Board of Trustees — Darcy Davis, of Palm Beach Gardens, is the chief executive officer of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County. She received her bachelor’s degree from Mercer University and her master’s degree from Troy State University. Davis succeeds Charles Cross Jr. and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2021. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors — Marc Dunbar, of Tallahassee, is a partner at national law firm Jones Walker. He was appointed by CFO Jimmy Patronis. Gov. Scott also appointed Dunbar to the Northwest Florida Water Management District, where he served from 2015 to 2018. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the Florida State University College of Law. Dunbar succeeds Don Glisson and his term begins immediately, expiring on July 31, 2019.

Graham welcomes ‘overdue’ opioid suit

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham offered some tepid praise for Attorney General Bondi’s decision to go after pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“After months of inaction and years of sticking her head in the sand — I am glad that Pam Bondi is finally heeding my call to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable,” the former congresswoman said Friday.

Gwen Graham gives weak praise to Pam Bondi for her opioid lawsuit.

“As governor, I will hold the drug companies accountable and use all the powers of the office to address the opioid epidemic. I will ensure that this case gets the proper support and resources — building a legal dream team like Governor Lawton Chiles and Bob Butterworth did to take down tobacco.”

Bondi announced the decision this week, saying it was important Florida file its own case rather than join another. She did not give a timetable for filing the suit.

League lauds lawmakers

The Florida League of Cities this week gave awards to 20 lawmakers in recognition of their “tireless efforts” to protect home rule.

“On behalf of Florida’s 412 cities and thousands of municipal officials, both elected and appointed, the Florida League of Cities and its advocacy team are proud to recognize these Home Rule advocates for their continued support,” said Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley.

Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley pumps up for legislative wins.

“We believe the government closest to the people should make the decisions that affect the quality of life of the citizens they have been elected to represent. These hardworking legislators continually supported that ideal, and we owe them a great deal of thanks.”

Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose and Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Mel Ponder were named “defenders of home rule,” while the remaining lawmakers received appreciation awards.

The following lawmakers received Legislative Appreciation Awards: Sens. Daphne CampbellGeorge GainerBobby PowellJose Javier RodriguezDarryl RousonWilton SimpsonLinda Stewart, and Perry Thurston as well as Reps. Joe GellerKristin JacobsEvan JenneSam KillebrewLarry LeeRobert “Bobby O” OlszewskiPaul RennerRichard Stark, and Wengay “Newt” Newton.

Shaw highlights failing grade from Florida Chamber

With an ironic spin and almost certainly in jest, Democratic state House Rep. Sean Shaw via Twitter touted an F grade on his Legislative Report Card from the Florida Chamber.

Over an image of his poor mark, Shaw tweeted, “Incredibly excited to be recognized as the top consumer advocate & fighter for workers this year by the Florida Chamber of Commerce!”

Sean Shaw is all smiles over his ‘F’ grade from the Florida Chamber.

The Chamber released its annual rankings on Thursday. Each year the pro-business group arrives at scores for lawmakers after tabulating their votes on measures expected to make Florida a more competitive marketplace.

Shaw, who’s vying for the Attorney General seat this year, interpreted his grade as meaning he’s on the side of consumers and workers, rather than job creators.

Republican state legislators performed well in the eyes of the Chamber. Of the 15 “Distinguished Advocates,” recognized this Session, just one is a Democrat: St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond. He was honored for championing a lawsuit-limiting amendment — but he earned a C overall.

Pharmacy panel suggests unifying legislative efforts

A panel charged with overseeing pharmacy professionals went a bit off script this week when its chair suggested that there should be more of a “concerted effort” for pharmacist-backed legislative initiatives.

“If we’re really interested in moving things through the Legislature, I honestly think that there has to be a better process to achieve a consensus,” said Jeenu Philip, chair of the Florida Board of Pharmacy. He said it seems like legislators hear one thing from a pharmacist or association, and the opposite from a different pharmacist.

Jeenu Philip (left) is chair of the Florida Board of Pharmacy.

In recapping pharmacy-related bills, Philip spoke a bit about legislation that would’ve provided patients more access to flu remedies. Sponsored this year by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, the bills (SB 524 and HB 431) would have let some pharmacies, under the guidance of a physician, test for and treat influenza.

Both pieces of legislation died in committee, something Philip questioned given the severity and uptick of recent influenza cases.

“In light of the past flu season, if there was any year that this bill should’ve passed, this was the year,” Philip said.

Volunteers spotlighted during April

The start of April may bring pranks for some, but for the state, it marks the start of Volunteer Month — and this year, it’s no joke.

Volunteer Florida, the lead service agency in the Sunshine State, is highlighting a Floridian volunteer every day this month as part of its newly launched #VF30in30 initiative.

In announcing the outreach campaign, Gov. Scott pointed to the public’s altruistic efforts to help the state bounce back from Hurricane Irma.

“I’m glad to recognize the service of volunteers across Florida who dedicate their time to make a difference in their communities,” Scott said in a statement. “Floridians dedicated millions of hours during last year’s devastating hurricane season, and we are proud to honor them in April.”

Each day a new volunteer is spotlighted by Volunteer Florida. Kicking off the month was Steve O’Brien, a legendary history teacher in Miami who founded Castaways Against Cancer. The organization raises money each month by kayaking 160 miles from Miami to Key West.

Florida Council of 100 releases educational ‘beacons’

In an ongoing education-focused project tailored to “light the way” for America’s future, the Florida Council of 100 unveiled a research-backed set of values for grades 4-8 over the next 25 years.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group comprised of business, civic, and academic leaders is throwing its weight behind four pivotal topics, or ‘beacons’: nurturing adolescents’ academic growth, personalizing education to meet the unique needs of each adolescent student; minimizing the disruption caused by school transitions; and making the school like a second family.

Miami’s Kingdom Academy is a model for value-based education.

“Adolescent students are unique — physically, intellectually, morally, psychologically, and especially social-emotionally,” said David Dyer, project leader and former chair of the Council’s PreK-12 Education Committee. “It takes a special kind of teacher to successfully reach these kids.”

The value-based approach intended for schools to model is the result of a culmination of studies, which included touring successful schools such as Miami’s inner-city Kingdom Academy, where fourth-grade students are learning how to budget, apply for jobs and maintain a bank account.

John Kirtley, chair of the Council’s PreK-12 Education Committee, noted that student success often declines in middle grades. “To reverse this, it is vital that we tailor instruction to the special needs of each adolescent, providing them with a portfolio of educational options,” Kirtley said.

Desloge tours areas still recovering from Irma, Maria

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge was among a small delegation of National Association of Counties (NACo) leaders who recently toured parts of Florida and Puerto Rico ravaged by some of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history.

The delegation visited communities in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico that experienced loss of life, property and critical infrastructure as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

“It’s important that we learn from one another and strengthen our capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” said Desloge, also Immediate Past President of NACo. “There is no higher priority than keeping our residents safe, especially in the face of devastating natural disasters.”

As communities across the country continue recovering from the historic 2017 hurricane season, NACo continues to work with local governments to ensure critical funding and assistance to help communities rebuild. As immediate past President, Desloge serves on the NACo Executive Committee and represents more than 3,000 countries across the nation.

NSF re-ups MagLab grant

The National Science Foundation is renewing its support for the FSU-based National High Magnetic Field Laboratory — the world’s most powerful magnet lab — with a $184 million grant.

The funding will head to National MagLab facilities over the next five years, bringing NSF’s total investment in the project to $867 million. In addition to the lab HQ at FSU, satellite facilities at the UF and Los Alamos National Laboratory will also get some support.

National Science Foundation Director France Córdova tours the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, just before it re-upped with a new $184M grant.

“This announcement means that the world’s most prestigious magnet lab will remain headquartered right here at FSU in Tallahassee, anchoring our university’s pre-eminent science and research efforts and facilitating discoveries that could change our world,” said Gary Ostrander, FSU VP of research.

Anne Kinney, an NSF assistant director, added that the foundation “is proud to support a facility that has broken — and holds — many world records in magnet technology.”

MagLab’s unique instruments include the world’s strongest continuous high-field magnet, which produces a magnetic field 2 million times stronger than the Earth’s. More than 1,700 researchers a year use MagLab to advance their research.

FSU Great Give sets records

The Great Give, Florida State University’s 36-hour online giving campaign, recorded its most successful campaign to date, raising $413,147 for academic programs, student activities and scholarships, the school said this week.

The 7th annual event, which took place March 22-23, drew support from 3,376 donors, including 1,791 Florida State alumni.

FSU sets records with the 7th annual Great Give.

“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support that was displayed during this year’s Great Give,” said Robyn Bertram, donor engagement officer for the Florida State University Foundation Office of Annual Giving. “This event has grown consistently since its inception, and the incredible response we received demonstrates a shared dedication toward advancing our university.”

Throughout the campaign, 12 incentive challenges totaling more than $23,000 fostered a friendly competition among FSU’s donors to give back and boost their chosen project’s chances to receive cash prizes. Departments and units could win incentives for meeting specific criteria such as most donors during a certain time period.

The FSU Marching Chiefs took the $7,500 grand prize with the most alumni donors (299) during the 36-hour campaign. The Student Veterans Center, Home Stretch Microgrants and the colleges of Music, Education and Communication & Information also claimed incentive wins.

Donors may still make a gift to Florida State by visiting give.fsu.edu or calling (850) 644-6000.

Tallahassee dubbed ‘Solar Star’

A new national report shows that the Sunshine State’s capital city is making good use of one its most prevalent resources.

Environment Florida released this week a new report, “Shining Cities 2018: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America,” that highlights Tallahassee as a leading “Solar Star” for its commitment to harnessing the sun’s energy.

Tallahassee is becoming a ‘solar star.’

In terms of megawatts of solar energy per capita, the capital city edged ahead of Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando.

“Tallahassee stands out as an example for other cities to follow in Florida and throughout the South. The city is listening to local customers like me who want solar energy in their homes and their communities, and it’s giving different types of solar room to grow,” said Scott Thomasson, the southeast director with Vote Solar.

The ranking stems in large part from the 28-megawatt solar farm contracted by the city. The Tallahassee Solar program provided 20,000 slots for businesses and residents to purchase solar electricity at a fixed rate for the next 20 years.

“Cities like Tallahassee are leading the way to a future powered by clean, renewable energy,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida Research & Policy Center.

Tallahassee Earth Day plans

Tallahassee announced a list of planned activities this week to celebrate “Earth Month,” most of which will be held when Earth Day hits on April 22.

“As we observe Earth Month in the City of Tallahassee, I encourage everyone in our community to make the commitment to reduce our negative impacts on the environment,” Mayor Andrew Gillum said. “If we are all more environmentally-conscious, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a clean, healthy community to grow up in.”

Tallahassee Earth Day celebrations include the ‘In-Home Longest Table,’ a series of simultaneous events hosting 6 to 8 people each.

Planned events include “Cash for Trash,” where those with bulky items, electronic waste, paint, or batteries can drop it off at the Solid Waste Services facility, located at 2727 Municipal Way for a $5 credit on their utility bill.

The docket also includes the city’s Earth Day celebration to be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Thomas P. Smith Water Reclamation Facility, and the “In-Home Edition of Longest Table,” where at 6 p.m. over 100 dinners, each including six to eight guests, will take place simultaneously in homes, restaurants and public spaces throughout the community.

RSVP to the Longest Table by calling 891-8728 or visiting www.longesttable.com.

Old Capitol to go purple for Victims’ Rights Week

In recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 8-14, Marsy’s Law for Florida will light Florida’s Historic Capitol in purple lights all week “as a reminder that victims should be entitled to equal rights and protections under the law.”

Florida’s old Capitol building goes purple for victims rights.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is “an effort to place clear, enforceable rights and protections for victims in Florida’s constitution,” the group said.

The old Capitol is at 400 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Rick Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’ measure

There’ll be no “toilet-to-tap” in Florida this year.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday vetoed a water-related measure (HB 1149) from the 2018 Legislative Session, which includes a contentious provision that’s come to be known as “toilet-to-tap.”

The proposal would have allowed chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifer, an effort supporters say will boost the state’s supply of potable water.

But critics, including the Sierra Club, have said that could contaminate Florida’s supply of drinking water.

The wide-ranging bill (HB 1149) also addresses a variety of water-related issues, including rules regarding rebuilding single-family docks and the operation of the C-51 reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.

“While there are many worthwhile provisions in this bill, they do not outweigh my concerns that this legislation presents toward protecting Florida’s aquifer,” Scott wrote in a veto letter.

Scott, term-limited as governor this year, urged lawmakers to again take up the other parts of the bill next Session. The Naples Republican is widely expected to declare a 2018 run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson on Monday.

He added, “I do not believe that approving HB 1149 is worth risking Floridians’ confidence in our existing water quality regulatory system … Florida has stringent water quality standards, and we are going to keep it that way.”

But Rep. Bobby Payne, the Palatka Republican who sponsored the measure, had said any water being pumped into the aquifer must meet clean water drinking standards.

“Reclaimed water can start out as many different kinds of water,” Payne told members of the House Government Accountability Committee in February. “We often have reclaimed water that we use in irrigation. But this water will be sanitized and reused as (to) the drinking water standard.”

The reclaimed water will help combat saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, Payne said.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, has said his group opposes the measure because of the potential long-term negative impact caused by the use of chemicals. Cullen objected to “stuff we don’t know about” at wastewater treatment plants being used to treat water that would go into the aquifer.

“It’s the Pottery Barn rule,” Cullen said. “You break it, you bought it — for decades, perhaps generations.”

Friday’s veto marks only Scott’s second veto of legislation this year; the first was of a bill that would have expanded the governing board of the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Clearing the desk: Rick Scott signs last bills of 2018, vetoes one

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday acted on the last of the bills passed during the 2018 Legislative Session, signing 17 and vetoing one that had become known as the “toilet-to-tap” bill.

Bills OK’d by the governor will “increase student access to computer science instruction,” increase penalties for trespassing at airports, and devolve reviews of “developments of regional impact” to local governments.

A separate story on the “toilet-to-tap” measure (HB 1149) is here.

Bills signed Friday are below:

HB 55 Sale of Firearms – This bill requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s procedures for firearm background checks to allow electronic payment methods, including credit or debit cards.
HB 141 Transportation – This bill makes several changes within the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), including providing additional categories under which FDOT can contract with local governments for turnpike projects and expanding existing toll exemptions to include law enforcement in unmarked vehicles on official business.
HB 411 Public Records and Public Meetings/Firesafety Systems – This bill creates public record and public meeting exemptions for fire-safety system plans and information relating to fire-safety systems.
HB 417 Public Records/Child Advocacy Center Personnel and Child Protection Team Members – This bill creates a public record exemption for information of current and former employees of Child Advocacy Centers and Child Protection Teams.
HB 449 Children’s Initiatives – This bill codifies two existing children’s initiatives in statute.
HB 483 Unfair Insurance Trade Practices – This bill increases the maximum limit of advertising, promotional gifts and charitable contributions permitted by insurance companies or agents from $25 to $100 in any calendar year.
HB 495 K-12 Public Education – This bill increases student access to computer science instruction and expands protections for students.
HB 523 Trespass on Airport Property – This bill enhances criminal penalties for trespassing with the intent to injure another person, damage property or impede the operation of certain areas of an airport.
HB 529 Florida Fire Prevention Code – This bill revises regulations relating to combustible waste and refuse in apartment buildings.
HB 533 Unfair Insurance Trade Practices – This bill allows a property and casualty insurer to condition the sale of insurance on the purchase of certain motor vehicle services.
HB 577 High School Graduation Requirements – This bill allows students to use apprenticeship and preapprenticeship programs to satisfy elective and arts high school graduation requirements.
HB 703 Water Management District Surplus Land – This bill provides flexibility to water management districts when selling certain surplus lands.
HB 705 Public Records/Water Management District Surplus Lands – This bill authorizes a public records exemption for certain information during the process of selling surplus lands for water management districts.
HB 1009 Closing the Gap Grant Program – This bill adds Lupus as a priority area for the Closing the Gap Grant Program.
HB 1151 Developments of Regional Impact – This bill eliminates state and regional review of existing Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs), eliminates the Florida Quality Development (FQD) program, and transfers the responsibility for DRI and FQD development orders to the local governments in which the developments are located.
HB 1173 Lands Used for Governmental Purposes – This bill prioritizes purchase of available military base buffering lands by the Division of State Lands, adds additional criteria for the selection of lands under the Military Base Protection Program, and creates a way for certain counties to use tourist impact tax revenues for affordable housing.
HB 1383 Tax Deed Sales – This bill makes changes to the tax deed sale process.

Rick Scott, Cabinet appeal voting rights ruling

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will appeal a federal judge’s order to devise a new process for restoring voting rights to felons.

The Governor’s Office announced the move Wednesday morning. The appeal will be filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“People elected by Floridians should determine Florida’s clemency rules for convicted criminals, not federal judges,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement. “This process has been in place for decades and is outlined in the both the U.S. and Florida constitutions.”

But a citizen initiative resulted in a proposed constitutional amendment getting on the November statewide ballot that would automatically restore the voting rights of certain nonviolent offenders. Now, former prisoners have to wait at least five years before they can vote.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker first decided in February that “Florida’s vote-restoration scheme is crushingly restrictive,” calling it “arbitrary and discriminatory.”

In late March, he permanently blocked Florida’s “fatally flawed” process of restoring voting rights, giving Scott and the Cabinet, which is also the state’s Board of Executive Clemency, one month to come up with a new system of giving back the right to vote to ex-cons.

Florida is home to about 1.5 million citizens who have been stripped from their voting rights, and is one of a few states that disenfranchises convicted felons who have served their sentences.

Solicitor General Amit Agarwal also moved for a stay of the case while the appeal is pending, mentioning a “substantial likelihood” of the state’s success.

“Plaintiffs in this case have not pleaded—much less proven with ‘clear evidence’—that the duly-elected constitutional officers serving on the Board discriminated against them,” he wrote.

“Since adopting the current Rules of Executive Clemency on March 9, 2011, the Clemency Board has ruled on more than 4,200 applications for the restoration of civil rights,” another filing says.

Walker had said the “burdensome” state system felons go through to regain their voting rights relied on a “panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.” He added that “no standards guide the panel.”

“The governor will always stand with victims of crime,” Tupps said Wednesday. “He believes that people who have been convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities.”

Board of Executive Clemency member Adam Putnam, the state’s agriculture commissioner, issued his own statement on the appeal later Wednesday.

“For the federal judge to interfere at this stage and say that this process, which has been in place since 1968, is now unconstitutional is extreme,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to improve it, but, as a member of the Clemency Board, my top priority is to make sure the victims have a chance to be heard.”

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Background for this post from The News Service of Florida. 

Rick Scott highlights money for military, veterans in Tampa

Gov. Rick Scott visited USAA in Tampa on Monday “to highlight $180 million in total funding in his Securing Florida’s Future Budget to support active military, veterans, and their families.”

The Governor’s Office announced the event in a press release.

He also signed HB 29, which will “increase opportunities and reduce fees for Florida military, veterans and their families.”

The bill, known as the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Family Opportunity Act,” expands legislation signed into law by Scott in 2014 (more here) by reducing professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans, and their spouses.

This bill also designates March 25 of every year as “Medal of Honor Day” to honor the individuals recognized with the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force in the Armed Services of the United States.

The “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Family Opportunity Act” was named after the late Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, a veteran and a member of the Florida House of Representatives who passed away last year.

Mike Miller releases first digital ad in FL CD 7 race

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller has released his first digital campaign ad in his quest for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, turning comments from Gov. Rick Scott into campaign support.

The ad shows Miller and Scott meet at a March 21 event at the Orlando Torah Academy in Orlando, where the governor signed House Bill 545, outlawing Florida governments from doing business with any entities boycotting Israel.

While there, as is his custom, Scott praised the local Republican lawmakers who joined in the ceremony. Miller and state Reps. Randy Fine and Bobby Olszewski all were commended by Scott.

Scott’s comments about Miller now are in Miller’s first ad. “The Conservative,” a 19-second spot, begins with a narrator stating, “What’s Gov. Rick Scott saying about conservative Mike Miller? I like Mike.”

The video then has the governor making his comments, saying: “I want to thank Representative Mike Miller for all that he’s done. He’s focused on making sure our taxes are low, everybody can get a job, that we have a great education system, and that people are safe.”

Miller, of Winter Park, faces Scott Sturgill of Sanford, Vennia Francois of Winter Park, and Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs, in an August 28 Republican primary race. They each hope for the chance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the district that covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County. Murphy also faces a Democratic challenger, Orlando lawyer Chardo Richardson.

“Gov. Scott is a great American, and I’ve enjoyed working with him to keep taxes low and make life better for all Floridians,” Miller stated in a news release issued Monday by his campaign. “I appreciate his kind words about me recently, and I’m proud to call him my friend and my governor. I’m fully supportive of whatever Gov. Scott’s next step will be and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Sturgill’s campaign said it had reached out to Scott’s office for clarification about whether the comments in Miller’s video constitute any endorsement in the race. The governor’s office has not yet responded.

Sturgill’s spokesman Frank Torres called Miller’s ad “disingenuous” and a reaction to Sturgill’s statement last week that alleged Miller’s voting record conflicted with Scott’s policies.

“I would expect this from Stephanie (Murphy) but not from a Republican candidate for Congress,” Torres said in a written statement.

Rick Scott signs 18 bills, including booze delivery; vetoes one

Let the good times roll — to your door.

A bill (HB 667) that would expressly allow Floridians to use a smartphone app to order alcoholic beverages for home delivery was one of 18 signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

Services with apps, such as Drizly and Shipt, already deliver in the state. But “current law does not address orders received via the Internet or other electronic forms of communication,” a staff analysis says.

It was supported by retail and restaurant groups, and by Uber and Target.

Another bill Scott approved directly benefits him: SB 186 reinstates a resign-to-run law that requires candidates seeking federal office to give up their state or local elected office in order to run for Congress.

That bill, however, does not apply to those departing office because of term limits.

That means Scott won’t have to step down early in April when he’s expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

“There are no carve outs,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson, tweeted Friday. “From day one, I said if you want to run and think you should keep your seat if you lose, it is unacceptable. Termed out means gone, therefore no need to resign.”

Scott also vetoed one measure (HB 1113) that would have allowed the Palm Beach County Housing Authority to add two additional members.

In a veto letter, he said changes “to the established appointment process for county housing authorities should be uniform … to ensure consistency statewide.”

The list of bills OK’d Friday, as provided by the Governor’s Office, is below:

SB 1392 Criminal Justice – This bill increases transparency in the criminal justice system, authorizes the adult civil citation program, and revises the juvenile civil citation program.
SB 186 The Resign-to-Run Law – This bill makes changes to the law on running for public office for current office holders.
HB 165 Written Threats to Conduct Mass Shootings or Acts of Terrorism – This bill prohibits a person from making, posting, or transmitting a threat to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism in a way that allows another person to view the threat.
HB 185 Redirection of Fees to Tax Collectors – This bill allows Florida tax collectors to retain the processing fees for administering driver license knowledge and skills tests and processing reinstatements of suspended or revoked driver licenses.
HB 215 Motor Vehicles – This bill provides terms of use for autocycles and mobile carriers and prohibits local governments from preventing motor vehicle access to limited transportation points of entry or exit from state universities.
HB 465 Insurance – This bill makes several changes to the insurance statutes, including insurance adjuster license examinations and the documents an insurer can submit for the Own-Risk Assessment compliance.
HB 565 Excess Credit Hour Surcharges – This bill creates a refund for state university students with excess credits who graduate within four years.
HB 667 Beverage Law – This bill allows alcoholic beverage vendors to make deliveries based on electronic orders, such as smartphone applications, and authorizes third-party deliveries.
HB 731 Home Education – This bill provides greater flexibility to families administering home education programs.
HB 961 Beverage Law – This bill provides guidelines for a licensed malt beverage vendor to accept glassware from a distributor.
HB 1091 Early Learning – This bill establishes a statewide program accountability system for School Readiness providers.
HB 1211 Airboat Regulation – This bill requires airboat operators to meet safety requirements to give rides to passengers for-hire.
HB 1265 Alcoholic Beverages – This bill removes the size restrictions on bottles of liquor sold or purchased on intrastate passenger trains.
HB 1285 Florida Business Entities – This bill allows state banks and trust companies to form as social purpose corporations or benefit corporations and renames the Institute for Commercialization of Public Research to the Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology.
HB 6003 Participant Local Government Advisory Council – This bill abolishes the Participant Local Government Advisory Council, created in 2008 to review the administration of the Local Government Surplus Trust Fund.
HB 6009 Write-in Candidates – This bill repeals current law requiring a write-in candidate to reside within the district represented by the office sought at the time of ballot qualification, which was found unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
HB 6049 Medical Marijuana Growers – This bill repeals the requirement that a Recognized Class Member License applicant for a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center be a member of the Florida Black Farmers Agriculturalist Association.
HB 6059 Department of Corrections’ Direct-Support Organization – This bill continues the direct support organization within the Department of Corrections.

Legislative leaders ponder special session on gambling

Top men in the Legislature are considering a Special Session to tackle unresolved gambling issues from the 2018 Regular Session, including renewal of a deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

It’s all about the money.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

Corcoran

The sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31, after which point the Tribe is entitled to stop paying. That possibility has House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a fuss.

“The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the forbearance agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget,” Corcoran said in a Thursday statement. “We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.

“The House will be discussing our options, including the possibility of a Special Session, with the Governor and the Senate,” he added.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, the chamber’s point man on gambling issues, quickly added in a separate statement: “At this point, no decision has been made.”

But there are reasons to believe the Tribe will continue to pay.

“Knowing the Tribe, they don’t act precipitously,” Tribe outside counsel Barry Richard said earlier this week. “ … They don’t want to change their relationship with the state. They’ll only do it if they perceive circumstances to be a meaningful threat to their economic well-being. Or if they think if they’re paying a lot of money and not getting what they’re paying for.”

Lawmakers this year were unable to agree on any comprehensive gambling legislation and did not approve a renewed deal with the Seminoles that would have guaranteed $3 billion to the state over seven years.

“The fact the Legislature didn’t do anything doesn’t mean they’re not interested in talking,” Richard said. “I have never known them to be vindictive or unreasonable. That’s not how they operate.”

There’s another incentive for the Tribe to maintain the status quo: Walking away could spur lawmakers to go back and cut a deal with the state’s pari-mutuels, dog and horse tracks that often also have cardrooms and, in South Florida, slots.

This Session, a consortium of pari-mutuel owners had been working on a proposal to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agreed to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums, according to industry sources. The play was to match or beat the revenue share — estimated at close to $300 million a year going forward — coming from the Tribe. 

That, too, would likely require a Special Session — and time is wasting. A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment is on November’s ballot. If that’s approved by 60 percent or more, it will give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

“Calling a Special Session to expand gambling in an election year is a really bad idea—especially when there is a gambling amendment on the ballot in November,” tweeted former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who now lobbies for the Florida Greyhound Association.

The amendment does have a carve-out to allow lawmakers “to negotiate gaming compacts … for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands.”

Galvano

“During the final weeks of session, the House and Senate made significant progress towards resolving a number issues surrounding gaming in our state,” Galvano’s statement said. “With the approval of President (Joe) Negron and Speaker Corcoran, Speaker-designate (Jose) Oliva and I are continuing to explore possibilities to resolve these issues.

“One of our concerns is the possible loss of revenue from the Seminole Tribe and the resulting impacts on the state budget,” he said. “For that reason, there is a potential that we would need to revisit gaming prior to the start of the 2018-19 fiscal year.”

Added McKinley P. Lewis, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott: “The Governor was made aware that the Legislature was looking at this issue. We will review any proposal they put forward.”

Other reactions Thursday focused on legislators’ motivations.

“Sounds like a way to raise $$ from deep pocketed gaming interests before voters pull the plug in November,” tweeted consultant David Bishop, a former Deputy Secretary of the Florida Lottery under Scott and a spokesman for then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Darryl Rouson on voting rights: Fix this now

Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to “fix the ‘fatally flawed’ voting rights restoration process for convicted felons.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of Tallahassee this week issued a permanent injunction declaring Florida’s restoration process in violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments.

“It is past time for Florida to revise and repair its anachronistic and broken voting rights restoration process for felons,” Rouson said in a statement.

“Gov. Scott should hold an emergency Cabinet meeting and remove the required waiting period for restoration of voting rights for all felons and make voting rights restoration automatic upon completion of the sentence,” he added.

Florida is one of only two states where voting rights are lost until completion of a sentence and a mandatory waiting period, according to Rouson. Nebraska has a two-year waiting period while Florida’s is 5-7 years, depending on the offense.

“This isn’t just a voting rights issue—it’s a civil rights issue,” Rouson said. “Selectively restoring voting rights on overly broad and vague criteria with no strict timeline, procedural safeguards or clear standards for restoration of rights denies protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”

A citizen initiative on voting rights restoration, however, will be on the November ballot. If approved by voters, “The Voting Restoration Amendment” would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences.

“This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” according to the ballot summary.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

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