Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 4 of 106 - Florida Politics

White House backs Everglades reservoir

The White House has backed Florida’s effort to secure federal funding for a reservoir intended to move water away from Lake Okeechobee and reduce discharges that residents blame for repeated toxic algae outbreaks spreading on both coasts.

The request by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include funding for the roughly $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, approved by the state Legislature last year, now heads to the U.S. Senate. The plan is expected to be included as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

The reservoir was a priority for Florida Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office in November.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio quickly welcomed the White House action.

“This project, spearheaded by state Sen. Negron and coupled with existing efforts, will greatly reduce the harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges once again threatening our coastal communities,” Rubio said in a press release before discussing the algae outbreak on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“I am encouraged by the administration’s continued engagement on Florida’s water issues, and I look forward to working with the president to fund the expedited construction of these critical Everglades restoration projects.”

On Wednesday, Rubio asked the Small Business Administration to provide help to small businesses adversely affected by the algal blooms.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has close ties to President Donald Trump, took to social media to praise the White House action, which came a day after the governor took a boat tour of the impacted waters in Southwest Florida and issued an emergency declaration regarding the outbreak.

“This critical project will help us move & store more water south of Lake Okeechobee,” Scott, a Republican running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, tweeted Tuesday.

The state is banking that the federal government will pick up the tab for half of the project, projected to cost about $1.6 billion.

“This reservoir is an indispensable component to finally eliminating the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are polluting our estuaries and waterways,” Negron said in a statement Tuesday night.

Negron expressed hope that the initial permitting and engineering for the reservoir can begin within the next few months.

“This is an emergency; time is of the essence,” he said.

Tuesday’s approval by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget came a day after Scott imposed an emergency order for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties over the reemergence of toxic algae outbreaks in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. A similar outbreak of “guacamole-thick” algae blooms spreading across the Treasure Coast spurred the Legislature to advance plans for the reservoir two years ago.

Scott’s emergency declaration Monday also enlisted a number of state agencies to address the toxic waters.

The governor directed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District to waive various restrictions and regulations to store water in additional areas south of the lake.

Also, Scott ordered the DEP to set up a grant program to help local governments pay for clean-up services. The governor told the Department of Economic Opportunity to assist businesses impacted by the algae outbreak.

And Scott ordered state health officials to inform Floridians and visitors of the dangers of algal blooms, and directed tourism officials to find ways to reduce the impact of the outbreak on the state’s travel industry.

Updated 1 p.m. — Scott in a statement said he has “aggressively fought for these communities since I became Governor … The approval of the reservoir project is a tremendous step toward storing more water south of Lake Okeechobee.

“Once again, our communities are facing a threat from water being released by the federal government from Lake Okeechobee. In Florida, to minimize the impact of these water discharges, we have taken decisive action to find more water storage to protect our rivers and coastal estuaries. This includes the reservoir project that I worked with the Florida Legislature to accelerate and the critical repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike that we urged to be included in supplemental disaster funding.

“Also, I issued an emergency declaration this week, so the state can do everything in our power to mitigate the immediate threat of the Army Corps of Engineers’ water releases.

“Now that this project has been approved by the White House, there is no excuse for Congress not to advance and fund the reservoir as soon as possible. Congress must act immediately to help find a solution to the water that the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing into our coastal communities.”

It’s ‘Recreation and Parks Month’ in Florida

Gov. Rick Scott has proclaimed July as “Recreation and Parks Month” in Florida, the Florida Park Service announced this week.

“People from across the world come to Florida to enjoy our state’s natural beauty,” Scott said in a statement. “I encourage all Floridians and visitors to take advantage of our 175 state parks.

“Our state parks are the best in the country,” he added. “In fact, the Florida State Park Service is the only park system to win three gold medals from the National Recreation and Park Association. I hope that families will be able to get outside and enjoy our world-class parks this month.”

A press release added: “With students out of school and families planning getaways, July is the perfect time to ride bicycles or horses, paddle kayaks or canoes, enjoy birds and butterflies, set up camp and more.” 

Family-friendly activities during Recreation and Parks Month at state parks include:

— Beach Exploratory Walk, July 6, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach

— Beach Cleanup, July 7, 8 a.m. to noon, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

— Kayaking the Mangroves, July 7, 10 a.m., Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park

— An Evening Under the Stars, July 7, 7:15 to 11 p.m. CDT, Big Lagoon State Park

For more information, visit the park service’s website.

Flags at half-staff to honor victims of Maryland newspaper shooting

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor the victims of the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

The order was effective immediately on Tuesday till sunset.

The U.S. and state flags will “be flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the State of Florida,” Scott said.

Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump directed the U.S. flag to “be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories and possessions” until sunset.

That proclamation came after the mayor of Annapolis said his request to Trump to lower flags had been turned down.

“I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations,” Trump said.

The accused gunman in the attack has been charged with five counts of murder for the shooting deaths of editorial page editor Gerald FischmanRob Hiaasen, an assistant editor, Sunday columnist and brother of author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen; sports reporter John McNamara; sales assistant Rebecca Smith; and editor and community reporter Wendi Winters.

In a statement on the day of the shooting, Scott said: “My wife, Ann, and I are thinking of the journalists in newsrooms in Florida and across the country. The events of today are heartbreaking and a senseless tragedy.”

Appellate court calls out ‘abuse of discretion’ in medical marijuana case

An appellate court delivered the equivalent of a judicial smackdown Tuesday following its decision last month to reinstate a delay on the effect of a lower court’s ruling that medical marijuana can be smoked in Florida.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued a 5-page order calling Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling to allow patients to smoke pending appeal “an abuse of discretion.”

The state’s appeal after Gievers’ decision had placed an automatic stay, or hold, on the ruling pending review.

Gievers lifted that stay. She found that the ban – written into state law – violates the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis, passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016.

But the appellate judges said the smoking plaintiffs “have not shown that compelling circumstances exist to support the order vacating the stay in this appeal,” nor have they “sufficiently demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.”

That also counters Gievers, who previously said “there is no likelihood of success” by the state on appeal.

The 1st DCA left the door open, however, saying in a footnote that Tuesday’s move “do(es) not intend to preclude full review of the issues on appeal.”

John Morgan – the Orlando attorney, entrepreneur and medical marijuana advocate behind the 2016 amendment – organized the smoking ban lawsuit. Smoking was outlawed by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott in an implementing bill approved last year.

The plaintiffs include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who has testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Morgan has called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott, now running for U.S. Senate, to drop further court challenges of Gievers’ ruling.

And he has since said he’s “going to look at starting a fund” toward an initiative to legalize marijuana, including recreational use, on the 2020 ballot.

Attorneys in the smoking case and in a separate case brought by Joe Redner — the Tampa strip club mogul who won a decision allowing him to grow and juice his own medical marijuana — had asked the state’s Supreme Court to take over the appeals. Those requests were denied.

“This is not surprising and why it should go to the Supreme Court now,” Morgan tweeted in response to the latest ruling. “It’s not a matter of if but when. So why waste taxpayers money. Vacating a stay is impossible. This issue will haunt @FLGovScott in November when his ‘stay’ will be over!”

Tuesday’s order was by a unanimous three-judge panel of Joseph Lewis Jr., Lori S. Rowe, and M. Kemmerly Thomas.

Rick Scott orders money for homelessness prevention

Gov. Rick Scott says he has told the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to “file a budget amendment to redirect funding for homelessness prevention services.”

Scott announced the move in a news release Monday.

“The Florida Legislature provided DCF spending authority in the FY 2018-19 budget, but did not provide dollars needed to fund these important services,” the news release said. “DCF has identified $3.1 million in funding that may be redirected to help fill this gap — a process which requires legislative approval through the Legislative Budget Commission.”

“While it’s concerning that that this funding was not provided in this year’s budget, I am proud that DCF will be able to redirect money to combat homelessness,” Scott said in a statement. “I encourage the Legislature to quickly approve this budget amendment that will fund programs that served nearly 13,000 Floridians last year.”

From the news release:

“Challenge Grant” funds are directed to local agencies that coordinate homelessness services to provide housing and support to individuals and families in communities across the state. This grant served approximately 13,000 individuals last fiscal year, primarily through rapid rehousing and prevention, as well as case management.

Other services include emergency shelter and vouchers, housing management information system entry and employment services.

This funding, if approved by the Legislature, would be in addition to $1.7 million in federal Emergency Solutions Grant funding that will carry over and be allocated to the Challenge Grant for homelessness services.

There will also be approximately $5 million in Emergency Services Grant money that will be allocated to Florida from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the beginning of the next federal fiscal year, October 2018.

Teachers union sues over contentious education bill

The Florida Education Association (FEA) is asking a court to declare unconstitutional the Legislature’s controversial education bill that could lead to some teacher unions across the state being decertified.

Among other things, HB 7055, which took effect July 1, expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools.

But it also “unfairly targets teachers unions — and teachers unions alone — for decertification as local bargaining agents,” the association said in a news release.

Its suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court, names members of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission as defendants because they are charged “with implementing and enforcing the provisions” of the law.

Beside the FEA, plaintiffs include county teachers unions and individual teachers, both those who belong to a local union and those who do not.

“This law is a very targeted attack on public school teachers’ rights to organize, speak out as a group and advocate for themselves, their students and their schools,” an FEA news release said.

The suit is directed at the decertification provision in the law, which “it unfairly seeks to target public school teachers unions without touching other public-sector unions, such as those for police and corrections officers,” the news release explained.

It “only comes into play when a local union is up for registration renewal. When that annual renewal date falls varies from local association to local association.”

“Certain interests in this state want to shut our members up and shut us down, and we aren’t having it,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “The Florida Education Association and our local teachers’ unions will continue to be the loudest defenders of public education in this state. We speak up for our students and our schools every day, and we will not be silenced.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Patriotism in the Sunshine State

Patriotism in the Sunshine State 

While the president may have a ‘Winter White House’ in Mar-a-Lago, Florida doesn’t quite make the cut as one of the most patriotic states in the union.

According to a new WalletHub study that compiled the “Most Patriotic States in America,” the Sunshine State could use a bit more of Uncle Sam’s spirit. Florida didn’t become a state until 1845, which perhaps explains its relatively low ‘Patriotic’ ranking (30) among the other 49 states.

The rankings, of course, were somewhat arbitrarily arrived at by assessing “Military Engagement” and “Civic Engagement.”

Unlike this part-time Floridian, not everyone in the Sunshine State hugs the flag this hard. (Image via Getty)

The armed forces metric used weighted, average scores for military enlistees per 1,000 civilian adults (25 points); veterans per 1,000 civilian adults (~8.33 Points); active-duty military personnel per 100,000 civilian adults (~8.33 Points); and the share of civilian adult population in the reserves (~8.33 Points).

The civic metric looked at the share of adults who voted in the 2016 Presidential Election (~10.26 Points) and the share of adults who voted in the primary (~5.13 Points). It also had lower weights attributed to volunteerism, including activity in the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. As well, it looked at juror participation and the “frequency of Google searches for American flags.”

The most powerful weighted item for “Civic Engagement” was the civic education requirement in the state (~10.26 Points).

Virginia topped the list overall, and WalletHub found that Republican-voting, or ‘red,’ states fared better in the rankings than blue states. Florida ranked the worst for volunteerism.

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

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

Take 5

Florida gets minor win in ‘water war’ — The U.S. Supreme Court this week overturned a 2017 special master recommendation that claimed Florida did not adequately demonstrate that putting a cap on Georgia water consumption would benefit the Apalachicola Bay in Florida. In effect, SCOTUS is giving the state another chance to make its case before Ralph Lancaster, the court-appointed special master who issued the recommendation last year. Reports Lloyd Dunkelberger for the News Service of Florida, “Among the key questions Lancaster will have to settle is whether an ‘equity-based cap’ on Georgia’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system would increase the water flow into the Apalachicola River and whether the amount of that extra water would ‘significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has suffered.’” Leaders in state government hailed the decision as a victory. Dubbed the ‘water war,’ Florida has for decades been embattled in a series of litigation addressing water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.

Wildfire sparked by controlled burn — Shortly after a wildfire scorched the Franklin County town of Eastpoint, destroying 36 homes and damaging four more, state officials linked the mishap to a controlled burn overseen by a company that inked a land-management deal with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Wednesday that Wildlands Service, Inc., caused the fire on FWC land. The blaze, which broke out Sunday, burned more than 800 acres of land. After a brief investigation, the state linked the fire directly to Wildlands Service, Inc., ruling out other possible causes, such as lightning, arson and fire accidentally caused by man. Controlled burns are used to clear brush from the forest floor and manage forest growth.

More trouble at Department of Agriculture — Inspector general reports dating back to incidents that began in 2015 documented three Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employees’ admissions to sexual harassment and watching pornography on an agency computer. The inspector general reports were obtained and brought to light by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon. One staff member of the agency’s Jacksonville Division of Fruit and Vegetables office had viewed pornographic material more than 1,000 times on a work computer. He was suspended for five days and is no longer with the department. The other two agency inspectors were found to have sexually harassed grocery store workers in separate occasions. Both still work at the agency.

Discharges temporarily halted at Lake Okeechobee — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week it will stop discharging water from the Lake Okeechobee reservoir into the St. Lucie River for nine consecutive days beginning Saturday. The announcement followed reports of toxic algae in the area, along with pressure from Gov. Rick Scott last week to redirect the flow of water south. After July 8, the Corps will begin discharging water in pulses. Stopping discharges, the Corps hopes, will allow areas like the St. Lucie River to regain salinity. “Water levels in the lake remain high for this time of year,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Jacksonville district deputy commander for South Florida, told Ed Killer of TCPalm.com. “The water conservation areas south of the lake are also above their preferred ranges. We continue to work with the South Florida Water Management District to move water through multiple canals to create storage throughout the region to handle the near daily rainfall events we expect during wet season.”

Force could form behind legal pot — John Morgan, the Orlando trial attorney who backed a 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana, is considering a push to place an amendment legalizing recreational marijuana on the ballot in 2020. “Maybe it’s just time for full legalization,” Morgan tweeted this week. “It would pass with flying colors!” He added: “I’m going to look at starting a fund where we all can donate to get full marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2020. When you mess with the will of the people there are unintended consequences!!” Reports Jim Rosica for Florida Politics, Morgan organized a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. It’s currently making its way through the judicial system. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled the ban unconstitutional, but the state immediately appealed that decision.

Scott highlights affordable housing options

FEMA’s Temporary Shelter Assistance Program, currently providing hotel vouchers for Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, is set to expire Saturday.

Fearing some families will have a continued need for resources, Gov. Scott this week highlighted other state-backed options currently available for those seeking aid. First and foremost, according to the Governor’s office, those needing help should contact the local emergency management office in their county. As well, Scott suggested those in search of housing use a wide array of sources available through the federal HUD and floridahousingsearch.org, or consult a FEMA disaster agent, if available.

Puerto Ricans living in temporary Florida housing face their benefits running out. (Image via Getty)

“Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors both on the island and here in our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “After multiple extensions, FEMA’s TSA program is ending this week and Florida does not have the authority to extend this federal program; it is a decision that must be made by the government of Puerto Rico. We are committed to taking every possible action to ensure every family displaced by Maria in Florida receives the best possible care.”

Additionally, Scott announced this week that federal grants are ready to “repair damaged homes, build new affordable housing and provide grants to impacted businesses.” The grants total $616 million and will be administered by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Through this program, we can continue to move forward with long-term affordable housing solutions for displaced families as well as provide grants to businesses who were impacted by the storm,” Scott said. “We won’t stop working until all of Florida’s communities have fully recovered.”

Scott’s net worth soars

The governor’s worth ballooned to nearly $232.6 million as of the end of 2017, up more than $83 million from a year earlier, according to a financial-disclosure report filed Friday with the state Commission on Ethics.

Scott, who made a fortune in the health care industry and other businesses before entering politics, has put his investments in a blind trust while serving as governor. As a result, the new financial-disclosure report did not detail the reasons that his net worth increased substantially in 2017.

Rick Scott has a reason to smile.

But the report showed the value of the blind trust at $215 million as of the end of 2017, up from $130.5 million at the end of 2016. Overall, Scott reported a net worth of about $149.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2016.

The new disclosure listed a home in Naples valued at slightly less than $14.1 million as of the end of 2017, down nearly $1 million from the previous year. Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, also listed a $1.5 million residence in Montana, with the value unchanged.

Scott’s campaign issued a news release Friday evening that said he will file a federal disclosure report next month that is required for Senate candidates. The campaign said that report will make available additional details about Scott’s investments.

Patronis aids wildfire victims

Quick remedy came from the state for the 36 victims who lost their homes in Eastpoint, the area that was partially consumed by a recent Franklin County wildfire.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis this week dispatched an insurance team he oversees to Eastpoint to assist victims in filing partial settlement claims. Each emergency filing can request up to $5,000 for household and living expenses such as temporary housing, food, clothing or pet care.

Jimmy Patronis, shown at the Florida Association of Broadcasters annual convention, is offering aid to victims of the Eastpoint wildfires.

“Residents who lost everything shouldn’t have to wait for government bureaucracy,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “I’ve directed my staff to get boots on the ground to help those impacted to have an expedited track back to normalcy.”

Patronis’ Division of Risk Management will be sending adjusters to the area. The CFO’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services also have helped assess the initial damage.

“We will continue working to find ways to help Franklin County recover from this tragedy,” added Patronis.

Four other Floridians suffered damage to their homes as a result of the fire. Those who missed the adjusters this week are asked to call the Division of Risk Management at 850.413.3122 for assistance.

State targets cryptocurrency

With the increasing prevalence of digital currencies like bitcoin, CFO Patronis wants the Sunshine State to create a ‘statewide cryptocurrency chief’ to regulate the nuanced legal tender.

“Florida can no longer remain on the sidelines when it comes to cryptocurrency,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. He’s directed his agency to develop a position for a person that “will oversee how current securities and insurance laws apply to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrencies as well as shape the future of these regulations in our state.”

Bill Galvano praises Jimmy Patronis’ effort to create a statewide ‘cryptocurrency chief.’

The CFO acknowledged the validity of cryptocurrency but said he cannot let it grow “unfettered and unchecked.” He assured: “My goal is to keep pace with demand and not deter innovation while monitoring for fraudulent behavior and scams.”

Patronis’ concept for a new regulatory position already has the backing of a powerful member of the state Legislature.

“As technology continues to develop, our state needs to be both on the forefront of emerging trends and ahead of the game when it comes to protecting consumers from those who want to scam our residents,” state Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said. “I applaud CFO Patronis for putting innovative proposals forward and will work with him on any forthcoming policy changes.”

‘Framers’ allowed to enter education case

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Hendry County Property Appraiser

Dena Pittman fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Phillip Pelletie. Pittman, 49, resides in Clewiston and served as the Chief Deputy Hendry County Property Appraiser before June 25, when she took over the top spot. Her term will end Nov. 13.

Franklin County School Board

Kristy Branch Banks fills the District 3 vacancy created by the resignation of Teresa Ann Martin. Banks, 47, of Apalachicola is a lawyer and will serve a brief stint on the Board until Nov. 13. Banks did not qualify for the District 3 post and cannot be elected for another term in the upcoming election.

Children’s Services Council of Martin County

Stuart men James Campo and Joshua Ferraro fill two vacancies on the Council. Their terms will end Dec. 31, 2020. Campo, 54, is the former mayor of Sewall’s Point and a CFP by trade. Ferraro, 38, is an attorney and the current president of the Martin County Police Athletic League.

Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council

Pam Olsen was reappointed for a term that will end July 18, 2021. She is the current Executive Director of the Hilltop House of Prayer.

Northwest Florida State College District Board of Trustees

Major General Don Litke, U. S. Air Force, Ret., was appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term that will end May 31, 2019. His appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation.

Geller, aide recognized for ‘home rule’ efforts

Aventura Democratic state Rep. Joseph Geller and his Legislative Aide Bryan Vallejo were recently honored by the Florida League of Cities for their work protecting local governments.

In accepting an award from the League, Geller pointed to his fight for home rule, the phrase coined for the concept that many governing decisions are best determined at the local level.

Joe Geller was among those lawmakers honored by the Florida League of Cities for protecting home rule.

“In Tallahassee, sometimes our colleagues need a reminder of the importance of Home Rule powers and that the governments closest to the people govern best,” said Geller. “They are on the front lines of what matters most to local citizens and therefore should be protected to ensure their priorities are safeguarded. Every day, I proudly fight for the cities and municipalities that continue to strive to advance our local communities.”

When the Legislature pre-empts powers to the state or passes expensive, unfunded mandates, it is typically regarded as an affront on local governments. The League represents several municipalities as an active voice in the Legislature to fight against these actions.

Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley said Geller and Vallejo’s “dedication to and support of Home Rule is incredible, and we owe them a great deal of thanks.” Vallejo is the first aide to receive the distinction from the League.

Florida think tank supportive of Supreme Court decisions

It was a good week at the high court for the James Madison Institute.

The free market think tank lauded two U.S. Supreme Court rulings: NIFLA v. Beccera, in which the court ruled unconstitutional a California law requiring crisis-pregnancy centers to advertise state-backed abortion services, and Janus v. AFSCME, in which the court ruled public employees could no longer be required to pay dues to government unions.

JMI hailed NIFLA v. Beccera as a First Amendment win. Saying that “liberty was defended” in the ruling, JMI President Dr. Robert McClure pointed to now-retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion.

The James Madison Institute salutes Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Image via Bloomberg)

“Justice Kennedy, in his concurring opinion, put it perfectly when he wrote that, ‘Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties,’” McClure said.

In Janus v. AFSCME, JMI had actually filed a ‘Friend of the Court’ brief with SCOTUS and dubbed the ruling a victory for workers’ rights.

“JMI has been supporting the cause of worker freedom for years and congratulates Mark Janus on standing for what he believes in, for being a superb representative for 5 million employees across the country, and for the character he displayed throughout the process that led to today’s historic decision,” JIM Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo said.

New laws taking effect

To violently paraphrase the theme from David Letterman’s old CBS Mailbag feature, “We got laws, we got sacks and sacks of new laws.”

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

Among laws taking effect:

— HB 21: With Florida still facing an opioid epidemic, the measure will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, but they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.”

— SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. Marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.

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

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

— HB 7055: The measure expands the use of voucherlike scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools.

National parks recognize Florida city for historic merit

The City of Arcadia this week was accepted into the Certified Local Government program following certification from the National Park Service.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the news, declaring the Southwest Florida city as Florida’s 75th Certified Local Government.

Arcadia is Florida’s 75th Certified Local Government, eligible for historic preservation resources.

“As a Certified Local Government, Arcadia will now have access to training, technical support and special matching grants to support local historic preservation efforts,” explained Detzner.

Detzner said the 58-block district “passed a local historic preservation ordinance in 2016 and assembled a qualified historic preservation commission with seven members.”

Established in 1980 by the National Park Service, the Certified Local Government program links local, state and federal efforts to preserve areas deemed worthy of the designation. CLGs have exclusive access to some historic preservation grants.

Progressives to protest at Capitol

A coalition of progressive groups announced they would be “speaking out” on Saturday evening “against Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that separates immigrant children from their families.”

The action starts at 5 p.m. on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee.

“We will also be calling out Gov. Rick Scott and Mayor Andrew Gillum to keep Tallahassee and Florida’s immigrant communities safe and promote safe pro-immigrant sanctuary cities,” the groups said in a joint news release.

“President Trump’s current border separation and deportation policies are horrendous and unacceptable and must be stopped,” they said.

“We call on the President, the Governor and the legislature to protect immigrants in Florida and keep families together by abolishing ICE and ending harsh immigration policies that attack and separate primarily black and brown immigrants.”

The event is hosted by Students for a Democratic Society, the Florida State University NAACP chapter, and Faith in Public Life, and includes members of several local faith institutions, such as from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Islamic Center of Tallahassee, and Temple Israel.

New grants aim to attract skills-based volunteers

A grant fund totaling $360,000 is expected to help nonprofits in the Sunshine State looking to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers.

Volunteer Florida, the Governor’s lead service agency, announced this week that the Volunteer Generation Fund will dole out grants worth $15,000 to 24 recipients in the 2018-19 fiscal year. In total, the grants are expected to help nonprofits manage and support approximately 9,600 skills-based volunteers, who will through their service contribute $1,679,760 to the state.

“As Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism, we are excited to announce this grant funding that will strengthen the operations of nonprofits in the state,” Volunteer Florida National Service Programs Director Cat Keen said. “Our investment will put volunteers to work in diverse and high-impact positions, such as teaching financial literacy, providing disaster recovery and helping job-seekers find employment.”

Volunteer Florida National Service Programs Director Cat Keen. (Image via Tallahassee Democrat)

The grants will help nonprofits needing specialized volunteers like teachers, IT consultants, accountants and attorneys. Volunteer Florida, which will administer the grants, said “special consideration” will be given to groups who specialize in disaster management or preventing drug abuse and addiction.

Nonprofits will match the funding through local investments. A technical assistance call is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 10, via GoToMeeting.

New association represents local government communicators

A new group of Florida professionals formed this week, providing leadership and support for communicators working in Florida’s cities, towns and villages.

Dubbed the Florida Municipal Communicators Association, or FMCA, the group seeks to offer “communications professionals opportunities to learn, share and develop innovative solutions for the municipalities they serve,” according to a news release announcing the association’s formation.

FMCA President Todd DeAngelis (center).

“Regardless of the size of your city or staff, this association can be a valuable resource to your daily operations,” said City of Parkland Public Information Officer and FMCA President Todd DeAngelis. “On behalf of the founding Board, we are confident that FMCA will provide valuable and substantive resources for communications professionals at city halls throughout the state.”

FMCA is affiliated with the Florida League of Cities, which will provide contractual support services to the association.

“The Florida League of Cities has built its reputation on identifying the needs of our member cities and providing the support and resources necessary to meet those needs,” said Florida League of Cities Communication and Education Director and FMCA Executive Director Jenna Tala. “We are thrilled to be part of such a dedicated group of professionals who play an instrumental role in our cities.”

According to FMCA, “membership is open to any person employed by a Florida municipal government who performs communications functions in the regular course of his or her official duties.”

FSU leads schools in graduation rate

With latest data showing 68.4 percent of students grabbing degrees in four years at Florida State University, the school ranks ahead of every other public university’s graduation rate.

The State University System’s 2018 Accountability Plan reported that FSU’s graduation rate is nearly three points higher than the previous year’s cohort — making it the highest graduation rate since SUS began tracking the metric.

Sally McRorie, FSU provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, is celebrating higher graduation rates.

“That’s a very big deal,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “That’s among the Top 15 public universities nationally.”

McRorie said the school has been deliberately working to make sure students are educated in a timely manner.

“We made the decision that student success was our primary goal and the key fulfillment of our mission,” McRorie said. “This success is a return on those investments, which have been major for a university that has the second-lowest state tuition in the country.”

The newest rating tracked the Class of 2013 at FSU and other universities. In a news release, the university noted that its 2005 rate paled in comparison at just 49.3 percent.

FSU President John Thrasher attributed the success to his staff, which he claimed is “putting students on a path toward earning a degree while providing them with a strong undergraduate experience that prepares them to be successful after graduation.”

Tallahassee gets free electric-car charging

Leon County has begun installing electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations for public use, with the first one ready to go at the Leon County LeRoy Collins Main Library, 200 W. Park St., Tallahassee.

“The electric vehicle charging station can charge all new generation electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles,” the county said in a news release. “They are safe, easy and reliable, and as simple to use as just plugging in a cord.”

The station is free and open to the public. By the end of the summer, Leon County also will install another electric-vehicle charging station at the Leon County Eastside Branch Library, 1583 Pedrick Road.

Leon County closures, changes for July 4

The following holiday closures and service changes will occur in observance of the Fourth of July Holiday.

Closed Wednesday, July 4: Leon County offices, Leon County libraries, Leon County community centers, Leon County Animal Control, Leon County Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers and Household Hazardous Waste Center.

Remaining Open: Leon County parks and recreation facilities (parks and boat landings).

The LeRoy Collins Leon County Branch Libraries will close Tuesday, July 3, at 8 p.m. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will close at 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 3. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will resume normal operating hours Thursday, July 5, at 10 a.m. and branch libraries will resume normal operating hours Thursday, July 5, at 11 a.m.

Also, the Leon County Solid Waste Facility and the Household Hazardous Waste Center will close Tuesday, July 3, at 5 p.m. and will resume normal hours Thursday, July 5, at 8 a.m.

In the event of an animal-related emergency, service is available by calling the Consolidated Dispatch Agency at (850) 606-5800. Leon County Animal Control encourages residents to only use this service to report dangerous or aggressive dogs, sick or injured domestic animals and animal cruelty. Injured wildlife calls will be forwarded to the St. Francis Wildlife Association at (850) 627-4151.

It’s scallopin’ time

The coastal waters near the capital city will soon be open for business to eager snorkelers looking to fill their mesh bags with a Gulf of Mexico delicacy.

Beginning Sunday, waters bordering Franklin through northwest Taylor counties will be open to bay scallop harvest. Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties also begin the season July 1. Each county will remain open to harvest through Sept. 24.

FWC chairman Bo Rivard is hailing the start of scalloping season.

“Scalloping is a great way to enjoy Florida’s incredible waters and pristine beaches,” Gov. Scott said in a prepared statement. “I encourage all Floridians to get outside and enjoy our world-class scallop season with family and friends.”

The scallop fishery is overseen by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Added FWC chairman Bo Rivard: “The season brings people and an economic boost to these coastal areas, all the while encouraging conservation and connecting residents and visitors to the wonders of Florida’s outdoors.”

As with any controlled fish or game, Floridians must observe the rules and regulations set forth for the season. Per FWC: “Bag and vessel limits in open bay scallop harvest zones are 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon of bay scallop meat per vessel.”

Some content this week provided by The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

Capitol Directions

Rick Scott, Cabinet delay decision on hiring new OFR head

Despite interviewing five “quality candidates” on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet held off on appointing a new head of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Instead, they decided to keep the application period open through mid-July. Thirty-four people already had applied.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a conference call and interviewed their top five applicants to replace outgoing OFR Commissioner Drew Breakspear.

Meantime, Pam Epting will become interim commissioner at the post’s $135,000 salary. Breakspear’s official last day is June 30.

He recently announced he was stepping down after Patronis pressured him to leave the position. Patronis’ office had said he received numerous calls for a new top regulator from mortgage and security industry leaders who had clashed with the agency.

Any permanent replacement will face a new governor and Cabinet in 2019, as all four positions are up for election in November.

After interviewing the five – including state GOP state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville – Scott balked, saying he wanted more time to make a decision. Scott and the others also agreed to accept more applications and decide at the next Cabinet meeting on Aug. 14.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner.

Fant had been on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

But during his interview Patronis raised the issue of the failure of Fant’s family-run bank amid the recession.

Fant said “community banks” like his family’s were hurt by the federal government’s bailout, which he said benefited only the big banks and left smaller banks in the dust: “Capital wasn’t available to the small companies.”

They were “terrible times for us as Floridians, as Americans,” Fant said, but added he would apply lessons from that experience “to the future.”

Two additional applicants with years of regulatory experience, William Jannace and Kevin Rosen, had been advanced for consideration by Bondi.

Also applying were banking lobbyist Scott Jenkins and Linda Charity, a former OFR official who served as interim commissioner twice.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet. State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

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Ed. Note — A live-reporting Twitter thread with details from the interviews during Wednesday’s meeting is here.

Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski, Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson, and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

Rick Scott won’t say whether he likes Jay Fant as OFR head

Gov. Rick Scott didn’t telegraph his interest in who should be the state’s top financial regulator at a Tuesday campaign stop in Jacksonville for his U.S. Senate campaign.

Earlier, an aide to the Governor at a Cabinet Aides meeting said he would announce his preference later in the day.

When asked whether Republican state Rep. Jay Fant, a political ally, was his pick, Scott said “it goes through the Cabinet process. There are individuals who have applied.

“We’ll go through the interview process and soon as we go through that process, I’m sure (we’ll) pick the right person,” he said, speaking with Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski at a “Make Washington Work” plan rollout event at Bobcat of Jacksonville. 

Scott and Cabinet members will hold a conference call Wednesday morning and are expected to interview applicants and appoint a replacement for Drew Breakspear.

He recently announced he was stepping down as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a member of the Cabinet, pressured Breakspear to leave the post.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner earlier this month. He’s one of five applicants scheduled to be interviewed.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet: Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

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Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

Incumbents make first cut for PSC seats

Hoping to get reappointed for another four years, state utility regulators Julie Brown and Gary Clark are among the six “most qualified” applicants who will be interviewed next month for seats on the state’s Public Service Commission.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council on Tuesday agreed to invite the two incumbent commissioners, along with candidates Anibal Taboas, Amir Liberman, Monica Rutkowski, and Gregory Hill, to interview for the $132,036-a-year positions, which Brown and Clark now hold on the five-member commission.

Interviews will be held July 17 in Orlando. The commission regulates investor-owned utilities.

The six, listed on the council’s website as the “most qualified,” were among 14 people who applied.

After interviewing the candidates, the council — chaired by Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican — will forward a short list to Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the final selections. The current terms of Brown and Clark expire at the end of the year.

Brown, an attorney from Tampa, has served on the Public Service Commission since January 2011. Scott reappointed her in 2014.

Clark was appointed to his seat in September to complete the term of Jimmy Patronis, named by Scott to serve as Florida’s chief financial officer. He replaced Jeff Atwater, who stepped down early from his second term to work for Florida Atlantic University.

Clark previously was a deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Taboas is an executive consultant with Strategic Leadership & Risk Management in Woodridge, Illinois, and a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, according to his application. He interviewed for the commission last year.

Liberman owns Consulting. Net, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale and is a partner in Liberman Real Estate and Victoria Honey Farm, which his wife runs.

Rutkowski is an insurance regulatory compliance consultant from Tallahassee who previously was a vice president of compliance and regulatory affairs for Guy Carpenter and the SmithGroup.

Hill has been an assistant general counsel with the Department of Corrections since March 2017. Previous positions included serving as a senior attorney with the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Among those who did not advance on Tuesday were Alton Drew, an attorney from Atlanta who was a staff member at the Florida Public Service Commission for all but a short time between November 1989 and February 1998, and Steven Petty, a former chief economist for Florida TaxWatch who applied for a spot on the commission last year but failed to get an invitation to the interview process.

The PSC regulates utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co.

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Content has been reprinted with permission of The News Service of Florida.

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