A spokesman on Monday said the governor will “review the legislation” when received, but would not commit to Scott’s approval.
The legislation is a priority of Chief Financial Officer JimmyPatronis, also the state’s Fire Marshal. Patronis and Scott, both Republicans, are political allies.
“The Governor’s Office has been very supportive,” Patronis told Florida Politics Monday night. “I think they are just erring on the side of caution. I talked to the governor earlier today … he is passionately fighting for a lot of issues.”
The House passed the Senate’s version of the measure (SB 376) on a 114-0 vote earlier in the day, sending the legislation to his desk. The Senate on Saturday had unanimously passed its bill.
Democratic Sen. LaurenBook of Plantation, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, carried the bill in the Senate; Rep. MattWillhite, a Wellington Democrat and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue captain, sponsored the House version (HB 227).
Rep. ErinGrall, a Vero Beach Republican, gave an emotional speech about DavidDangerfield, a 48-year-old Indian River County Fire Rescue battalion chief who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2016.
“Before his death, Dangerfield made a Facebook post about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder as a firefighter,” TCPalm reported. “He encouraged others to get help if they need it and for the people around them to be supportive.”
The issue has been one of “life or death,” Patronis said earlier Monday in a statement. “Our firefighters are attempting suicide at a rate five times higher than the general population, and they are thinking about suicide at a rate nine times higher than the general population.
“We’ve heard horrific stories about loss of life, and the impact tragedy has on our first responders and their families,” he added. “First responders show up for us every day, without hesitation or questioning our politics, and today Florida showed up for them.
“Last year four states, including Texas, increased mental health benefits for first responders. I’m proud we can now add Florida to that list,” Patronis said. “To those who refused to support this measure from the beginning: We got it done without you.”
Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration last year was unable to spend $18 million in federal funding to help mentally and physically disabled students after it failed to fully implement a federally-mandated system on time.
Beaven has been working to get some of those dollars for her organization, which helps disabled students transition into the workforce or college — the goal of the state-federal program.
But when determining who is to blame for the state allowing millions of dollars to fall through the cracks last fiscal year, it depends on who you talk to.
Vendors say the blame is on an “ill-thought-out process” and a “sloppy rollout” of the program; state education officials say the problem was a lack of qualified vendors and professionals.
“The first fiscal year that we got the money, for as many eligible candidates that we had, there weren’t enough vendors and professionals to spend money on,” said Meghan Collins, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.
Collins said she is “confident” the department will be able to use the federal money this fiscal year because it has done more outreach and there are now more vendors who have the credentials and training to partner with.
Susanne Homant, the president and CEO for The Able Trust, a public-private foundation established by the Florida Legislature, said her organization helped about 1,600 disabled students enter the workforce last academic year, without going through the program. She cited compatibility issues.
“We are trying to match what we are doing to the [federal] program to create the flow of those dollars,” Homant said.
Beaven echoed that one of the biggest problems in getting funds is that the state’s requirements do not always mirror what goes on in the student’s life.
“We will be here when the Department of Education finally realizes that what they created in a boardroom doesn’t square with the realities of the classroom,” said Beaven.
The program is designed to provide students ages 14-21 who are mentally or physically disabled with services that can help them transition into the workforce or to college. Mental disabilities that would meet the criteria include depression, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Once admitted into the program, youths participate in work-based learning experiences, like internships, self-advocacy training and career exploration counseling to sharpen their skills as they seek employment.
“The intent of the law is phenomenal, but states being able to get things in place 100 percent takes a little bit of time,” said Allison Flanagan, the division director for the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which runs the program.
Since 2015, when Congress passed the federal law known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, 63 out of the 74 school districts in the state have a system in place to refer qualifying students to the program.
“We have made strides and am proud of what we are doing, but there is always room for improvement,” Flanagan added.
Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.
The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language, which itself does not expressly say medicinal cannabis can be smoked. The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates medical marijuana.
House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however.
Attorney JonMills, arguing against the ban at a January court hearing, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind.
Despite concerns raised by Senate Democrats that it would “tie the hands” of future legislators facing emergencies, the Florida Senate passed a measure Monday that would make it harder for the Legislature to increase taxes and fees in the future.
“This can tie the hands of future legislators in difficult times,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez in reference to the costs that climate change and rising sea levels could bring in the coming years.
The legislation would mandate a two-thirds vote in both chambers before any tax and fee hike can be imposed on Floridians. Because the change would amend the Florida Constitution, it will need 60-percent voter-approval to take effect. They will vote on it in November.
“It’s the people’s money, not ours. Yes, two-thirds is hard to get. It should be hard to raise taxes because it is the people’s money, not ours,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley said.
The upper chamber pushed through the proposal on a 25-13 vote, with three Democrats — Sens. Lauren Book, Linda Stewart and Bobby Powell — voting with Republicans. Republican Sen. Tom Lee voted with Democrats.
The proposal has been a big priority of Gov. Rick Scott, who has also tried to push the supermajority vote mandate through the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.
Upon passage of the bill, Scott praised the Legislature.
“We have cut taxes more than 80 times since I’ve been in office because we know that Florida families and businesses succeed when we put their tax dollars back in their pockets,” the governor said.
“I look forward to this important amendment being on the ballot to protect families from unfair tax increases.
There is “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment in the Legislature, leaders say, but an ethics reform package that would create new rules and penalties for sexual harassment may not become law this year.
The Florida House unanimously passed the proposal this week, but Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley is blocking the bill in the Senate because he wants to discuss the issue in more detail.
“I think we need more time and contemplation of what to do with this issue because it is so sensitive,” Baxley said. “I don’t want to rush on something that serious.”
The proposals were filed with the Legislature right before the start of the 2018 legislative session after back-to-back sex scandals rocked the state Capitol — the most prominent ones in the Senate.
The bills filed in the Legislature had the early backing of Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who said the legislation passed in the House is “the strongest in the nation.”
If approved, HB 7007 would require Florida government agencies to set new policies preventing, prohibiting and punishing sexual harassment, which includes language that would keep the identities of accusers confidential to protect them from retaliation.
Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat leading the effort in the Senate, added language to her bill that incorporates any type of sexual contact — whether engaging in it or directing others to do it — into the state’s gift ban.
Baxley said he is concerned the bill would affect too many people in the state and that there is too little time to discuss the consequences.
“When you address all employees in the state, that is a lot of people you are affecting, and I wanted to be more cautious when dealing with that,” Baxley said.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Senate calls rare Saturday Session — In a rare move, the Senate will meet Saturday to consider school safety legislation. With the Session clock ticking down, Senate President Negron announced the weekend sitting Friday morning in a memo to fellow senators. The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end Friday. A floor session is planned for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to hear the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
Budget conference kicks off— The House and Senate formally kicked off final budget negotiations this week and on Friday all unresolved issues were bumped to Budget Chairs Rob Bradley and Carlos Trujillo. If they don’t resolve the issues in question before 10:30 a.m. Sunday, those items will go to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to decide. Still in question is how to fully fund the school safety initiatives. Other lingering issues include a $172 million difference over Florida Forever funding and $4 million over private prison operations.
Gaming bills brought back to life — With a week left in session, the House and the Senate heard their gambling proposals on Friday. A strike-all amendment has been OK’d on the Senate’s legislation (SB 840) which is ready for the floor. Later Friday and the House bill (HB 7067) was discussed and rolled to third reading. Senate President-designate BillGalvano has said he hopes to get the bills into conference next week.The two chambers—as is usually the case in gambling—are still far apart on policy. That includes differences on one provision that authorizes slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties where voters previously OK’d them in local referendums. That was added to the Senate bill Friday; it’s not in the House’s bill.
Scott makes rare plea to Legislature — In a rare political move, Gov. Scott and the father of a 14-year-old Parkland shooting victim jointly addressed the House and Senate floors Thursday and asked legislators to set aside differences and ensure schools are safe sans armed teachers. “I want to make sure there is law enforcement in our schools,” Scott told reporters upon exiting the chambers. “I don’t believe in arming teachers.” While talking to each chamber, Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, who was gunned down on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told legislators he is in support of the governor’s proposal, which does not include arming teachers. Petty said he supports Scott’s proposal without the assault weapon ban because he wants action now.
Omnibus education bill gets bigger — The Florida Senate sent House Speaker Richard Corcoran back his priority education bill with a bunch more language added into it on Friday. The Senate included a provision that would make financial literacy courses a high school graduation requirement and increase the amount someone can give to the Hope Scholarship program meant to give vouchers to bullied students. Negotiations happened behind closed doors, according to the Times/Herald. HB 7055 will now go back to the Florida House for final approval before it can go to Gov. Scott.
Scott urged to veto crisis pregnancy center bill
More than a dozen organizations including Planned Parenthood signed on to a letter this week urging Gov. Scott to veto HB 41, which was passed by the Legislature in early February.
The bill, sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, would require the Department of Health to work with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to up the availability of pregnancy and wellness care by subcontracting out to centers that “solely promote and support childbirth.”
“This bill attempts to establish Pregnancy Support Services (also referred to as Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPC’s) as legitimate wellness centers and codify permanent taxpayer funding for what are in reality, fake women’s health centers,” the letter says.
“These anti-abortion, often faith-based centers are not required to be staffed by licensed, qualified medical personnel. Furthermore, CPCs have a documented history of imitating legitimate women’s health clinics, falsely posing as medical providers, and purposely leading women away from accessing the full range of reproductive health care services.”
The following organizations signed onto the letter: Broward County National Organization for Women, Broward Women’s Emergency Fund, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health, Florida NOW, League of Women Voters of Florida, National Abortion Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, Organize Florida, Pro-Choice Coalition of Broward County, Progress Florida and the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.
Cabinet considering $660K conservation plan for Spanish mission site
Gov. Scott and the Cabinet will decide next week whether to shell out $660,060 to conserve a Madison County site that is home to a 15th-century Spanish mission.
The plan would have the state purchase a conservation easement on the property, owned by R.N. and Charlene Koblegard, which allows the land to continue being used for certain activities, such as agriculture, but blocks new development.
The Koblegard project is part of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural & Family Lands Protection Program. According to the meeting agenda, the project’s approval would mark 42,276 acres preserved under the RFLPP.
The 772-acre site is situated on the south of Interstate 10 on the southern edge of Sampala Lake. The Spanish mission, San Pedro y San Pablo de Protohiriba, is one five missions established by the Spanish in the 1600s.
The week in appointments
Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board — Dawn Warren is a property manager for Altamonte Heights Condos and Lake Tyler Condos and will succeed Tamara McKee.
He will serve a term ending Oct. 31, 2020, and is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority — Toni Appell of Marathon, is a retired paraprofessional for the Monroe County School District, is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.
David Ritz, of Key Largo, is the president of Ocean Reef Community Association and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.
Robert Dean, of Key West, is the owner of Dean Lopez Funeral Home and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.
All three appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.
DOH doles out $16 million to research smoking-related diseases
The Florida Department of Health announced this week that it is handing out $16.2 million to fund 20 research projects focused on developing treatments and cures for cancer and other smoking-related diseases.
The money was awarded through the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program and the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. DOH said the selections were made based on “rigorous peer review” and the application process included 224 researchers seeking funding.
“Florida is at the forefront of cancer research and innovation, and I am proud to announce the recipients of more than $16.2 million for cancer research grants,” Gov. Scott said. “These 20 new projects will assist Florida’s world-class researchers in discovering more about how to prevent and treat these terrible diseases. Cancer impacts so many lives, and I am proud of the work of our incredible research institutes as we fight to find a cure.”
The University of Miami topped the list with $5.5 million in grants for seven projects plus another $57,000 for a joint project with the Miami Veterans Affairs. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute followed with $4.5 million for five projects. UF will receive $3 million for three projects; UCF, USF and the Mayo Clinic will each get a single project funded at $815,000; and FAU will receive $708,000 for one project.
FWC law enforcement division reaccredited
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this week that its Division of Law Enforcement was reaccredited.
“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement continues to maintain the highest standards of credibility, effectiveness and professionalism,” FWC director Eric Sutton said. “Our staff worked diligently to uphold these important standards each and every day. Reaccreditation by the Commission validates the hard work they do, and provides a strong vote of confidence in their ability to protect the public and conserve Florida’s natural resources.”
The division has held accreditation through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation since 2009 and has now gone through the reaccreditation process four times.
Accredited law enforcement agencies must consistently meet or exceed 240 prescribed standards over a three-year period to maintain their status.
“Accreditation is a voluntary but important process intended to hold an agency to a higher level of accountability by an external source,” said Col. Curtis Brown, who heads up the division. “We are very pleased with the CFA’s determination that reaccreditation of the Division was earned.”
Florida Lottery celebrates 30 years
It’s been 30 years since the Florida Lottery began and it’s celebrating the milestone with a heap of new scratch-off games.
At the $30 level is “FLORIDA 100X THE CASH,” which features eight top prizes of $15 million. The Florida Lottery said 100X was only the second $30 game it’s put out.
The $5 game, “MONEY MACHINE,” features 16 top prizes of $250,000 and over $58 million in total cash prizes; the $2 game, “$30,000 LUCKY WIN,” has a total prize pool of $32 million; and for a buck, players can pick up “TRIPLE PAYOUT” which features 84 $3,000 prizes and a total prize pool of $12 million.
The lotto said the new games would start hitting retailers by the end of the week.
Voters approved the constitutional amendment creating the lottery in November 1986 by a 2-to-1 margin. The Florida Lottery started operating a little over a year later in January 1988.
Reinsurance surcharge repeal advances in Senate
Legislation to repeal a reinsurance surcharge on consumers is advancing in the Florida Senate. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes’ SB 1454 has cleared the Banking and Insurance Committee and is headed for the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.
“This is a welcomed development for Florida’s insurance consumers,” said Jay Neal, President and CEO of FAIR, The Florida Association for Insurance Reform. “This bill would offer a significant 8 percent to 10 percent rate reduction for homeowner’s insurance consumers.”
The surtax was designed to replenish the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund following bad storm seasons in 2004 and 2005, but the account now has enough money to cover similar losses twice over.
Senate celebrates Military Appreciation and National Guard Day
The Florida Senate considered a string of bills helping active duty military, veterans and their families this week in honor of Military Appreciation and National Guard Day at the Capitol.
“My Senate colleagues and I are committed to enacting policies that keep Florida the No. 1 state for active duty members of our armed forces, veterans and their families,” said Senate PresidentNegron. “The legislation we discussed today sends a clear message that Florida is truly the Welcome Home State.”
Among the bills heard by the chamber were SB 100, which waves driver’s license fees for veterans; SB 460, which allows Florida colleges to waive fees for students who are active duty military and using military tuition assistance; SB 440, which would establish the Florida Veterans Care Program, an alternative to Veterans Affairs; and SB 330, which would rename a portion of State Road 10 in Walton County as the “Lieutenant Ewart T. Sconiers Highway.”
Also on the docket was a resolution by Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson to honor the Florida National Guard for their service during the 2017 hurricane season.
“When Floridians are facing some of the most challenging times, the Florida National Guard is at its best springing into action at a moment’s notice to help Floridians in need,” she said. “We are so grateful for their courageous service to our state during the recent hurricane season.”
Coastal management bill clears Senate
A bill aimed at helping preserve and maintain Florida coasts cleared the Senate this week with a unanimous vote.
SB 174, by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill, revises the criteria used to help the Florida Department of Environmental Protection prioritize coastal restoration projects based on need and importance.
“This is a bill for all Floridians, and the millions of visitors to our state annually, to preserve and maintain our state’s most unique, natural assets — our beaches,” Hukill said. “Coastal management is beneficial for conservation, recreation and tourism.
“I would like to thank my Senate colleagues and all of the support we’ve received from around the state. This legislation will ensure that our beautiful state and its unique natural resources are properly maintained and protected.”
SB 174 now moves to the House where a similar bill, HB 7063, is also prepped for a floor vote.
Loomis named FTC member of the year
The Florida Technology Council this week presented ISF CEO Cyndy Loomis with its “2018 FTC Member of the Year” award.
“I’m honored to receive the FTC Member of the Year Award, and I’m proud to advance FTC’s mission to champion the priorities of the technology industry in the State of Florida to our state government leaders,” Loomis said.
In addition to running the Jacksonville-based software company, Loomis has served as the FTC board chair since 2016.
The award was presented by James Taylor, the executive director of the tech company trade association, at the FTC Legislative Reception in Tallahassee.
FTC said Loomis was “recognized specifically for her outstanding service in driving the effectiveness, reach, and membership growth of the Council.” A half-dozen others were presented with awards at the event.
Applications open for AmeriCorps funding
Volunteer Florida this week announced the 2018-19 criteria for getting proposals funded through AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps funding is granted to address critical community needs including education, disaster services, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.
Sample activities include tutoring and mentoring youth, response to local disasters, restoring natural habitats and job training/placement. AmeriCorps members also mobilize community volunteers and strengthen the capacity of the organizations where they serve.
Funding requests can be sent in through April 5. Those who have a proposal but don’t know the ins and outs of the application process can log in to the “AmeriCorps Budget 101 Webinar” March 15. Technical assistance conference calls are also available for new and continuing applicants.
To register for a call or the webinar, fill out the RSVP form online. More information on the formula funding rules is available through the Volunteer Florida website.
Detzner announces March of Museums round two
Secretary of State Ken Detzner kicked off the new month by announcing the second annual “March of Museums,” a celebration of the variety and versatility of Florida’s museums.
“As Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer, I am proud of the success of last year’s ‘March of Museums’ and I am excited to expand this initiative statewide Detzner said. “From art to animals, from sports to science, and from history to horticulture, Florida has an incredible array of museums that encourage exploration and learning.”
The Department of State encouraged Floridians — and visitors — to use “March of Museums” as an opportunity to spend some time at a Florida museum, whether nearby or off the beaten path.
To help facilitate, the department is hosting a website that lists museums by region and highlights the mission and collections of the institutions, as well the events each is holding this month.
Volunteer Florida, Uber collect 3,540 items for #SuitsForSession
Volunteer Florida and Uber said the third annual #SuitsForSession at the Capitol collected 3,540 donations of professional attire for job-seekers statewide. Also, Uber drivers picked up items across Leon County for free this past Tuesday.
Here are the highlights:
— Number of suits collected: 373 (237 women’s, 136 men’s).
— Number of women’s items collected: 2,270.
— Number of men’s items collected: 743.
— Other items (shoes, belts, etc.) collected: 527.
— Number of bags of clothing donated through the Uber app: 27.
— Number of participating organizations that collected clothing: 26.
Volunteer Florida CEO VivianMyrtetus said in a statement, “The people of Tallahassee matched these donations by bringing and sending in their own business apparel. Uber has been a tremendous partner to Volunteer Florida and we are so thankful for their participation in another successful year of #SuitsForSession.”
Added Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson, “It was great participating in another #SuitsForSession clothing drive. My staff and I are always proud to support this service project that helps job seekers throughout our state.”
Donated items will be delivered to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America (statewide locations), and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee throughout the coming days.
Capitol halls lined with Florida student art
The lower level of the Florida Capitol got a bit of a makeover this week as it began hosting the second annual Art in the Capitol Competition.
The competition, hosted jointly by the Department of Management Services and Department of Education, is aimed at encouraging middle school students to try their hand at art. The only rules are the art has to be 2D and original.
“As the custodian of the Capitol complex, DMS is proud to host this event and share these inspiring works with Capitol visitors,” said DMS Secretary Erin Rock. “These are our future leaders, and that is what makes it such a joy to be able to get a glimpse at the soul and spirit of these kids through their art.”
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart added that the competition wonderful way to recognize Florida students’ creativity.
Making it to the walls this year were 35 middle schoolers, each of whom was paired up with a lawmaker to sponsor the artwork. The artwork is viewable online via the Art in the Capital webpage.
Tallahassee airport aces FAA inspection
Tallahassee International Airport said it landed a perfect score during its annual Federal Aviation Administration airport certification and safety inspection.
“The Airport is extremely proud of this accomplishment and remains committed to ensuring the highest levels of safety and security for our patrons, visitors and tenants,” said David Pollard, interim director of aviation at TLH.
All airports that offer commercial service go through the test yearly. The multiday inspection covers everything from airport safety to firefighting to the markings on the tarmac.
TLH said acing the FAA inspection is icing on the cake after a string of victories over the past month, including the maiden flight of between TLH and Reagan Washington Airport in D.C. and the successful opening of a Transportation Security Administration pre-check enrollment center.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis on Thursday denounced Florida Legislature efforts to tighten gun restrictions and said the mass shooting two weeks ago at the Parkland high school should be seen as “a catastrophic failure” by the Broward County sheriff and the FBI.
DeSantis, a congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, has made similar comments in television appearances on Fox News in the past two weeks, but otherwise has been largely silent within Florida about his response to the massacre, drawing heatfrom other gubernatorial candidates, particularly Democrats. On Thursday he broke that, taking a hard line against any gun measures, and condemning those being considered now in the Florida Legislature.
He also called for the resignation of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for not having responded to numerous reports, prior to the Feb. 14 mass shooting, that suggested Nikolas Cruz was dangerous; and for the firing of anyone in the FBI who might have failed to pick up in advance on the shooter’s intentions.
And while DeSantis called on the Florida Legislature to back off proposed gun restrictions, presumably such as one to raise the minimum age for firearms purchases to 21, he was not specific in his statement.
DeSantis said he supported much in Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed school safety package to “harden schools” and also supports one idea Scott rejected: arming teachers. He also said the state should enlist the help of veterans and law enforcement officers to help protect schools.
DeSantis faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow in the contest for the Aug. 28 Florida primary nomination to run for Governor. The leading Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Winter Park developer Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, DeSantis contended, was the result of law enforcement failures and mental illness, and should be addressed as such.
“Given that the issues of bureaucratic incompetence, school safety and mental health demand immediate attention, I’m disappointed that the Florida Legislature is rushing to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens,” DeSantis said in his statement.
“When dealing with a right that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution, blanket restrictions that diminish individual rights are suspect. Better to focus on denying firearms to dangerous individuals, which avoids infringing on constitutional rights and is also more likely to be effective. The goal should be to keep our students safe, bring accountability to the officials and institutions that failed, and protect the rights of Floridians,” DeSantis continued.
Declaring that Florida lawmakers are failing to respond to post-Parkland calls to address guns, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King said Wednesday that the people of Florida deserve a special session.
King, a Winter Park businessman, advocated for a ban on military-style assault weapons and comprehensive background checks on gun purchases, and contended that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and others responding to the Feb. 15 massacre deserve action on such measures, rather than the “too little, too late” they’re being offered.
Republicans are pursuing instead packages that would address increasing the purchase age for guns to 21, expanding background checks to all weapons, and, in Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal, spending up to $500 million on programs ranging from mental health services to tightening school security. But King cited a report by the Tampa Bay Times that suggests even those measures leave loopholes open.
“If our lawmakers fail to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation, they will owe the Stoneman Douglas students and people of Florida a special session to enact real solutions to ban assault weapons and close the loopholes in our gun laws,” King said in a news release issued Wednesday. “The proposals offered by Gov. Scott and Florida Republicans are too little, too late – their plans have gaping loopholes that would still allow dangerous people to get their hands on deadly weapons.
“Otherwise,” he added, “Florida Republicans will prove themselves as the party of ‘proud NRA sell-outs’ once and for all.”
King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary in the governor’s contest. The leading Republicans are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
Graham released a similar statement last week, urging a special session.
The National Rifle Association grew into an organization with outsized influence because it keeps lawmakers in line with the threat of political and economic pressure. Its leaders have long understood that politicians can be controlled with those strong-arm tactics.
In recent days though, the reverse is becoming reality. In the wake of the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, major sponsors are disassociating with the NRA and even some political leaders – most notably Florida Gov. Rick Scott – offered proposals they wouldn’t have made a month ago.
Scott now wants the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida increased to 21. The confessed killer in Broward County is 19 years old and legally bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the massacre. He also has refused to support the NRA proposal to arm teachers in public schools.
The NRA, naturally, opposes raising the minimum age to buy a weapon. In the Miami Herald, lobbyist Marion Hammer dismissed it as “political eye wash” and said it will “punish law-abiding gun owners.”
The NRA, according to the profile, has about 300,000 members in Florida, a state with more than 20 million people.
That amounts to 1.5 percent of the population, but Hammer’s ability to summon NRA members en masse to meet any perceived waffling by puppet politicians makes that number seem a lot higher.
She has been able to keep her team in line because opponents have never been able to organize a serious counter challenge. This boycott suggests that might be changing.
The hashtag #BoycottNRA has been attacked by conservatives, who promise companies that go along with it will pay dearly. Major airlines like Delta and United announced they will no longer offer special deals to NRA members, and some hotel chains and credit card companies are doing the same.
The big showdown is with Amazon, YouTube and Google, which thus far have resisted calls to sever ties with the NRA that includes showing its videos online.
Determined opponents have called for such things as canceling memberships to Amazon’s lucrative Prime program. If that begins to catch on, the public backlash against the NRA could turn into an avalanche.
The NRA is fighting back, of course, but we go back to the numbers. It claims to have 5 million members in a nation of about 325 million. We’re back on that approximately 1.5 percent number again.
That also assumes every NRA member is in lockstep with the loudest voices in the organization. In the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas killings, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Well, if any gun restrictions get through the Florida Legislature, mild as they probably will be, that’s a start. Democrats will be running hard for state offices and congressional seats on anti-gun theme, and that really could change things.
If the NRA boycott spreads, it could impact the organization’s ability to distribute pro-gun literature and send campaign donations to favored politicians.
The seeds of change are there.
Public opinion is turning, some reliable politicians are deserting, and determined Stoneman Douglas students are eloquently demanding change.
That’s how it works.
Pressure. And time.
The NRA, finally, is learning what its like to be on the other side of that game.
As House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority education bill is pushed through the Senate committee process, some watching this week were perplexed by the vote of one sometimes perplexing Republican lawmaker.
Sen. Tom Lee, who has helped carry Corcoran’s policy in a sometimes-hostile Senate, voted with Democrats to gut language from the omnibus bill that would decertify teachers’ unions if their membership does not stay above 50 percent of total eligible employees.
Versions of the language, deemed “union busting” by opponents, have been the subject of partisan slugfests all session.
Lee told Florida Politics he voted for Sen. Perry Thurston’s amendment out of an “abundance of caution.” But insiders said there may be another reason: former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Jimmy Patronis for chief financial officer, a role Lee says he is mulling a run for.
The connection is this: An education reform foundation founded by Bush has been a big supporter of the House measure, and by him voting down on that provision, it would be a jab at them.
Lee says he is not always in lockstep with the foundation, as many Republicans are, but his vote was based on needing more information on the impact of the issue, which critics say is a “spiteful way of taking rights away from workers.”
“I tend to be an ally of the Speaker and expect to continue to be so, but at the end of the day, you take your orders from the people who elected you,” Lee said, “and not the former governor or the House Speaker.”
Lee said he gives Senate President Joe Negron “a lot of credit” for sending HB 7055 through the Senate committee process. The bill will be heard next week the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley.
Whether the proposal will be a hiccup in budget talks remains to be seen.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Arming teachers — A week after the worst school shooting in the state’s history, the Republican-controlled Legislature unveiled their proposals, which include training school employees to become armed “marshals.” It’s something President Donald Trump agrees with, but Gov. Rick Scott does not. House Speaker Corcoran said teachers who have the requisite hours to act as trained law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools, adding that it is a “first of its kind proposal” in the nation. With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers and the governor are also pushing for more school resource officers and boosting funding for mental health services.
Unprecedented gun law proposals — After thousands of students, parents and teachers came to Tallahassee to speak to legislative leaders seeking more restrictions on the purchase of “war weapons,” both chambers and the governor all agreed to raise the minimum age of owning and possessing “all firearms” to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks. Gov. Scott said a ban on assault weapons would “not fix the problem” and would hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The House and Senate plans also include a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
Scott on mental health services — Gov.Scott wants to expand mental health services teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services. He also wants every Sheriff’s Office to have a crisis welfare worker embedded in their departments to work on repeat cases in the community. This would mean adding 67 more employees at the Department of Children and Families by July 15.
Budget slap fight — With less than three weeks to go in a legislative session, the direction of which has now been overcome by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate aren’t just stalled, they’re not happening. The first indication that the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers is not on track surfaced Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press’ Gary Fineoutreported that House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo said there has been “no progress” on allocations and, instead, that legislators are focused on responding to the tragedy in Parkland.
Criminal justice reforms move ahead — A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate. The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future. Another measure that would ease mandatory minimums in certain drug trafficking cases also headed to the Senate floor this week.
Scott to sign bill replacing Confederate statue with McLeod Bethune
Gov. Scott will soon sign a bill that will make Florida the first state to commemorate an African-American historical figure in the U.S. Capitol.
The state House and Senate have approved legislation that will honor civil-rights leader MaryMcLeodBethune at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue will replace that of Confederate General EdmundKirbySmith. The Legislature agreed to remove Smith’s statue in 2016.
Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. PatrickHenry sponsored the initiative in the House, which cleared the measure Tuesday. PerryThurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, sponsored the Senate version.
“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida,” Thurston said. “Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity.”
Bethune served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She was an appointee of President HerbertHoover to the White House Conference on Child Health and was an adviser to President FranklinRoosevelt. Bethune also founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The school has offered to cover the cost of Bethune’s statue.
Each state is allowed two representatives in Statuary Hall. The Sunshine State’s other statue commemorates JohnGorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
The week in appointments
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — Scott appointed Maggie Montalvo to fill a vacant seat in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
Montalvo, 53, is the executive vice president and the chief operations officer of First Colony Bank of Florida. She received a degree in banking from the American Banking and Accounting Institute.
Her term ends April 16, 2020, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
St. Johns River Watch Management District — Scott appointed Allan Roberts, the owner and operator of First Coast Cattle, to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Roberts, 70, is currently a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
He will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending March 1, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Floridians flocked to CRC hearings in Melbourne, Jacksonville
The Constitution Revision Commission held two meetings in its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week, and much like the first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, turnout was healthy.
An estimated 600 people went to the Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. Among them were 240 individuals who filled out a speaker card.
The Jacksonville stop, held on the University of North Florida campus Feb. 20, more than 500 showed up, with 210 requesting a chance to speak before the commission.
The next tour stop is a Feb. 27 hearing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, followed by a March 5 hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral and a March 13 stop at University of South Florida — St. Petersburg.
House Democrats still working on AR-15 ban
Among the state House’s most visible actions while Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors were in Tallahassee was a no vote on advancing an assault weapons ban bill to the chamber floor for debate.
The 71-36 party-line defeat in the HB 219 vote was met with astonishment and tears by students in the gallery, but Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t giving up on getting a bill to ban semi-automatic rifles to the House floor before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.
McGee said semi-automatic assault rifles, particularly the AR-15 model used in the Parkland shooting, are a “common denominator” in mass shootings and lawmakers need to discuss the issue before they can “move on.”
McGee didn’t reveal his strategy for getting such a ban through the GOP-controlled House, but Senate Democrats this week said they would attempt to attach gun legislation, including an AR-15 ban, to bills moving through the Legislature.
FDP chair calls out Republicans for AR-15 vote
The Florida Democratic Party chair said state House Republicans turned their backs on the survivors of the Parkland shooting this week when the chamber voted not to hear a bill banning semi-automatic assault weapons.
“[Tuesday’s] vote is just one more reminder that Gov. Scott,Corcoran and the GOP-led legislature continue to fail to provide the leadership needed to put an end to senseless mass shootings,” said FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“If tragedy strikes again and innocent children and citizens are gunned down in a classroom, a dance club or an airport, we can look to yesterday as another example of elected officials that care more about special interest money than keeping our kids safe from harm.”
The House voted 71-36 against hearing the bill, HB 219. No Republican voted in favor of the measure.
Car dealer bill stalls in House committee
A bill aimed at making changes to car dealership regulations stalled out in its second House committee this week over objections it was tailored to hand a single industry association a monopoly on dealer training.
The bill (HB 595) by Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel would make changes to various legal definitions relating to car dealers.
But a strike-all amendment also by Rommel would have required new car dealers to take a four-hour course each year to keep their license. That would put them in line with requirements set for used car dealers.
That training could only be offered by “a Florida-based, nonprofit, dealer-owned, statewide industry association of franchised motor vehicle dealers.”
Only one group in the state (probably not coincidentally) qualifies under that definition: the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.
FADA representative John Forehand testified that the cap isn’t necessarily indicative of the charge the group would levy but was there as a protection since the language would make it the sole source for the training.
“Why not $200? $300?” asked St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. No matter: The bill later was temporarily postponed.
FCUA names Jones ‘Lawmaker of the Year’
The Florida Credit Union Association this week named West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones as their “2017 State Lawmaker of the Year.”
FCUA recognized Jones as a longtime friend of credit unions, and for sponsoring a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session to exempt credit unions from regulation and lawsuits under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trades Practices Act.
“Representative Jones has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, who heads FCUA’s parent organization, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.
“He has sponsored legislation to include credit unions in an exemption under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act and understands the critical role that credit unions play in Florida’s economy and in serving Floridians throughout the state.”
FCUA honored Jones in Tallahassee last month during the Florida Advocacy Conference, where the lawmaker addressed credit union leaders gathered to help promote the industry at the state capitol.
Senate fracking ban bill on life support
A fracking ban sponsored by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young didn’t make the agenda for the Feb. 27 Senate Appropriations Committee, and anti-fracking groups are laying the blame on Appropriations Chair Bradley.
Floridians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of anti-fracking groups and businesses, put out a statement this week blasting Bradley not allowing the bill to be heard.
“The fracking ban has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers because the people of Florida have been demanding it to protect our water, our tourism economy and our natural resources. If a fracking ban does not end up on the Governor’s desk to sign this session, it will be seen by the people of Florida as a failure of leadership,” said Brian Lee, the group’s legislative director.
Floridians Against Fracking suggested in the same release that Senate PresidentNegron bring the ban bill up for a vote directly on the Senate floor, or in a future, unscheduled Appropriations Committee.
The fracking ban was a major campaign pledge of Young’s in the 2016 cycle. The House companion has not yet been heard in any committee, though the House has said it would take up the Senate version of the bill should it pass.
Business rent tax debate flares up on Twitter
The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida and the Florida AFL/CIO’s Rich Templin had a little back and forth on Twitter this week about the business rent tax cut when the tax package was up in House Appropriations.
It’s the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation. Gov. Scott and trade groups have long called to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.
Shot by NFIB: “The small and independently owned businesses NFIB represents overwhelmingly support the biz rent tax cut; #smallbiz drives the economy, and saving them money creates jobs, improves benefits and keeps the dollars in our backyards.”
Chaser by Templin: “This bumper sticker sloganeering doesn’t equate to sound fiscal policy. The overwhelming bulk of this tax cut will go to larger retailers based out of state. The taxpayers shoulder the burden & services workers & small businesses need are hindered.”
Background: Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.
AOB reform ad hitting Florida airwaves
Radio stations across the state this week started playing an ad warning Floridians of the dangers of “Assignment of Benefits,” which allows insurance policy rights to be signed over to third-party contractors.
The Consumer Protection Coalition, one of the chief organizations pushing AOB reform is led in part by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a member of the coalition, is footing the bill for the ad.
Listen to the new ad here:
“On the heels of the Florida Justice Reform Institute releasing a new report showcasing the need for AOB reform, the Consumer Protection Coalition felt it was important to alert Florida home and auto owners on how the AOB scheme works and why it is important for them to engage in asking Florida lawmakers to support meaningful AOB reform,” said Florida Chamber VP Edie Ousley.
The ad goes over how AOB works — or at least how it can be abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vendors. The radio ad is available on CPC’s website.
FSU prof to help on Hamer doc
A Florida State University professor is teaming up with Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary on civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
FSU’s Davis Houck, the current holder of an endowed chair named after Hamer, will serve in an advisory capacity on the film, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” and the corresponding civil rights K-12 curriculum, “Find Your Voice.”
“Having Fannie Lou Hamer’s name attached to my work and Florida State University is inspiring and daunting,” said Houck, a professor at FSU’s School of Communication.
“The project is inspiring because of the life she led in pursuit of justice, and it is daunting because her fearlessness — often in the face of grinding and lethal adversity — sets an enormously high bar for anyone seeking to walk in her footsteps.”
Hamer was a leader in the civil rights movement known for her powerful speeches, songs and activism. The K-12 component focuses on youth empowerment and community engagement in the Mississippi Delta, and it intends to connect students and teachers to the region’s history during the civil rights movement.
Tallahassee a ‘Great Small Town for Big Vacations’
The Travel Channel listed Tallahassee as one of “10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations” this week, much to the delight of the capital city’s officials and its tourism marketing arm.
“The uniqueness of our area continues to gain the attention of national media that recognize Leon County’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “We know that we live in an exceptional part of Florida and we think it’s time the rest of the nation, and the world, knows it, too.”
The slideshow article says what Tallahassee “lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure.” Recommendations included Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish at the Bradfordville Blues Club, and the abundant nature tourism in the area.
Article author Steve Larese’s visit resulted from an invitation by Leon County to give the area a look. He was one of many of travel writers who visited the Leon County area while researching stories for various publications.
“To be counted among the country’s small towns for big adventure demonstrates the hard work of Leon County Division of Tourism in elevating and promoting what our community has to offer both visitors and residents,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:
Gov. RickScott on Friday ordered flags at half-staff for former state Rep. RobWallace.
Wallace, a Republican, represented House District 47, comprising northwest Hillsborough and northern Pinellas counties, from 1994 to 2002. He lived in Tampa, and owned and operated a civil and environmental engineering company.
The 65-year-old died earlier this week after jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass in Hillsborough County, according to law enforcement.
Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, Tampa City Hall, and the State Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Monday.
“He was a true family man who loved and cared deeply for his community,” said Wallace’s daughter, Amber Loper.
In addition to his daughter, Wallace is survived by his sons, Robert, Scott, and Connor Wallace, and his wife, Ann. He had three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz on Monday at 1 p.m.