Gov. Rick Scott – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott announces 427 areas designated ‘Low Tax Opportunity Zones’ under new law

Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his administration’s recommendations of 427 communities across Florida designated as “Low Tax Opportunity Zones,” aiming to use federal tax advantages to encourage business development.

The zones target low-income census tracts in all 67 counties, making businesses and developers working there eligible for deferred capital gains taxes under the newly-approved federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Once designated, the census tracts qualify as opportunity zones for 10 years.

Governors have until Saturday to submit their picks to the U.S. Department of Treasury, which will make the final determination of which areas will get the designations within another 30 days.

“These zones will make a real and lasting difference in some of our highest-need areas by helping to bring new capital investment and more jobs to every county across the state,” Scott stated in a news release issued by his office. “They will also bring additional investment to rural communities and urban areas, ensuring that every Floridian has the chance to live the American Dream in the Sunshine State.’

They also could address an geographic economic inequity that Democrats have been arguing has emerged under Scott, with a handful of urban counties booming with new jobs while numerous others have seen little or no job growth during his seven years.

The program is designed to address distressed communities, providing tax breaks for businesses willing to go or grow there. The evaluation process included statistical analysis of poverty rates, population, unemployment rates and other economic indicators, along with assessing recommendations from more than 1,200 requests. These specific requests came from municipal and county governments, regional planning councils, nonprofits, developers, investors and more.

About 1,200 census tracts were nominated, but states are allowed to select only 25 percent of qualified communities for the list, which in Florida amounts to 427.

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, stated in the news release, “The new Opportunity Zone program will bring the chance for growth home to hundreds of communities from the Panhandle to the Keys. This program will help capitalize on economic development that is already underway and provide a new tool in the toolbox for communities that are looking to grow their economy.”

On the other hand, critics of the program, such as the Brookings Institute, have raised concerns that at least in some areas the tax breaks could lead to or accelerate gentrification that is turning some poor urban areas into trendy new upper-income areas, pushing long-term residents out.

The list includes 108 in Tampa Bay, 72 in Central Florida, 68 in the Miami area, 35 in West Palm Beach area, 34 in the Jacksonville area, 30 in the Fort Lauderdale area, 28 in Southwest Florida, 18 in the Tallahassee area, 13 in the Gainesville area, 12 in the Panama City area, and nine in the Pensacola area.

 

Deal ’em: Rick Scott, Seminole Tribe agree on gambling money

It’s another happy day at Hard Rock.

Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday announced an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that “extends the Tribe’s current commitment to make (gambling) revenue sharing payments to the state through May 2019.” The tribe operates Hard Rock-branded and other casinos in Florida, including the flagship Hard Rock Tampa location.

That means the flow of money, now $19.5 million a month with a balloon payment at fiscal year’s end, will continue through Scott’s last term as Governor, which ends next January, and past the 2019 Legislative Session set for March-April.

It also is well after the November election, which includes a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

“This agreement does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way,” a press release from the Governor’s Office said. 

Sources in the gaming industry, moreover, said Scott’s deal with the Seminoles wouldn’t affect plans by the Legislature to call a Special Session to address unresolved gambling issues.

One source said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, set to take over their chambers after the November election, now are “fully engaged” and were aware of the Seminole deal, finalized around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“This development shows good faith on the part of the Tribe to continue to partner with the State of Florida,” Galvano said in a statement later Wednesday. “This news also helps provide predictability with regard to our state revenues. However, discussions with regard to Special Session will continue.”

Coincidentally, minutes after the announcement, Hard Rock International — the hotel and casino conglomerate owned by the Tribe — separately announced a grand opening date of June 28 for its new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, formerly the Trump Taj Mahal.

“Since I took office, the Seminole Compact has generated more than $1.75 billion which has helped our state make historic investments in things like Florida’s education and environment,” Scott said in a statement.

“With today’s agreement, revenue sharing payments from the Tribe will carry on as the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) continues its work of aggressively following and enforcing Florida’s strict gaming laws and rules.”

Added Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.: “The Tribe is committed to its long term compact with the State of Florida and intends to continue making revenue sharing payments as spelled out in the agreement.

“The gaming compact, which runs through the year 2030, is good for the people of Florida and good for the members of the Seminole Tribe,” Osceola said. “The Tribe is investing more than $2.4 billion to expand its Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and is hiring thousands of Floridians to fill jobs in construction and as permanent team members.”

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement, the Seminole Compact, that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (Exclusivity essentially means freedom from competition.)

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

The sides had been in a “forbearance period” that ended March 31, after which the Tribe was entitled to stop paying. Attorney Barry Richard, who has long represented the Tribe, told Florida Politics earlier this month the Tribe would not stop paying.

The agreement disclosed Wednesday extends that forbearance period. 

Report: Florida shortchanged on Hurricane Irma unemployment assistance

A new report from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund charges that Florida’s workers got shortchanged by state and federal efforts to provide disaster unemployment assistance following Hurricane Irma last fall.

The report alleges Floridians, under Gov. Rick Scott‘s guidance, received far less from the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program than under any Florida governor who has overseen hurricane recovery for the past 30 years.

The federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides cash aid to both workers and small business owners when their paychecks are interrupted due to unemployment after a disaster.

The new report charges that the Scott administration did little to help Floridians find or access the program and contends that led to Florida having the least amount of DUA claims, approved claims, and money compared with relief programs offered for any major hurricane in decades.

Scott had received praise and improved public opinion poll job performance ratings following the state’s response to Irma. But the group behind the report charged that Scott’s high marks were unearned, at least considering how he dealt with helping Floridians access the disaster money.

Tiffany Vause, director of communications for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, responded on behalf of the administration, accusing the group of not getting its facts straight, using fuzzy math, and pushing a false narrative.

“This report is invalid and filled with inaccurate generalizations and conclusions. The NELP report uses statements of opinions as fact, is misleading and does not paint an accurate picture of disaster recovery in Florida,” she said in a written response. “It is also irresponsible for NELP to compare Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey – two very different storms with vastly different impacts.

Specifically, she said the group cites a federal report that summarizes claims filed to February, but that the end date for applications was March 17, so the group “left out critical information regarding the number of DUA claimants and those who received benefits.”

NELP cites a federal report that summarizes claims filed since February but the end date to claim disaster unemployment assistance in Florida was March 17, 2018, therefore NELP left out critical information regarding the number of DUA claimants and those who received benefits.

She also insisted that the Department of Economic Opportunity “went above and beyond to ensure that families impacted by Hurricane Irma were treated fairly and got the assistance that they deserved. This includes extending the deadline for DUA twice while aggressively advertising this assistance and we also worked directly with legal aid offices during the storm.”

While Vause described a Florida that recovered quickly, NELP Action portrayed one where people had a hard time getting aid.

“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action, stated in a news release that went out with the report Wednesday. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”

The fund advocates progressive economic policies, particularly on wages and benefits.

Only 2,434 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma. That’s a mere 35 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott administration, the report states. It is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years.

“I saw firsthand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate, stated in the release. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and backup phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”

According to the report, 7,149 Floridians applied for the disaster unemployment assistance following Hurricane Irma, 6,953 were deemed eligible, and only 2,434 received the aid, or 35 percent. Recipients averaged $138 per week in benefits.

That compares to a far more robust response in Texas following Hurricane Harvey last year, acceding to the NELP Action report. There, 26,326 people applied, 19,650 were deemed eligible, and 8,492 received benefits, 43 percent, averaging $245 apiece per week.

Floridians’ disaster unemployment program benefits for Irma relief also were less robust than what Florida experienced following Hurricanes Andrew in 2002, and Frances, Charley, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004, and Wilma in 2005, according to the report. Following each of those storms, more than half of the Floridians applied received benefits. Of those disasters, only Jeanne resulted in fewer Florida DUA Fund beneficiaries than Irma; while more than 3,000 Floridians received benefits following Ivan, more than 4,000 for Charley and Wilma, and more than 6,000 following Andrew and Frances.

“After Hurricane Irma, most Florida workers and small business owners were unable to access Disaster Unemployment Assistance. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system didn’t list DUA as an option for applying for assistance,” the report states. “And backup phone lines were frequently shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The Scott Administration also failed to deliver on promises to fix the system, and they denied workers’ first weeks of benefits even when they said they wouldn’t.”

Personnel note: Ins and outs at Gov. Rick Scott’s press shop

Gov. Rick Scott is making changes to his Capitol communications team as he ramps up a U.S. Senate bid.

With press secretary Lauren Schenone having gone to work on Scott’s Senate campaign, Mara Gambineri has left the Department of Health and joined the Governor’s communications office.

Also, Ashley Cook has come in from the Department of Corrections to work at “Plaza level.”

Taking Gambineri’s place at Health is Devin Galetta, formerly the department’s media and marketing manager.

We’re told Patrick Manderfield is taking Cook’s position at FDOC.

John Tupps remains communications director, and McKinley P. Lewis is still on board.

Florida’s Three Member Panel has three members at last

A key state workers’ compensation oversight board operated at full strength for the first time since 2014 on Tuesday, as its new employee representative took his seat.

Jason Robbins, a workers’ comp attorney from Melbourne, won the appointment from Gov. Rick Scott in June, but hearings in Tallahassee on reimbursement rates for medical providers under the system gave him his first opportunity to participate publicly.

“It was great,” Robbins said of his first meeting. “Very informative. I think the Division (of Workers’ Compensation) does a great job.”

The panel oversees medical reimbursements under the workers’ compensation system. Any increases of more than $1 million must be ratified by the Legislature. The panel OK’d reimbursement increases worth $144 million during the meeting.

As an attorney, Robbins represents workers under the worker’ comp system. He said he replied to an ad seeking candidates for the position, which Scott had left vacant until the Legislature began applying pressure. The approval process required interviews with the governor and his aides, and ratification by the Legislature.

The panel also includes a representative of business interests, plus Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

The commissioner chaired the meeting and welcomed Robbins to the panel.

“With workers’ compensation, there are two very key parties — you have the employers and you have the employees,” Altmaier said. “I think it’s important generally, for decision-making, to have as many perspectives as you can have.”

Stakeholders in the system have expressed the employee perspective, “so I don’t necessarily think we’ve lost anything by not having the employee representative on the panel,” Altmaier said. “But certainly having that position filled is going to be of benefit to us going forward.”

Did Robbins think the lack of someone to speak for workers harmed their interests?

“That might be a strong word,” Robbins said.

“I think it’s important that someone represents their voice. There’s a whole side of the law for the foot soldier that wasn’t discussed in this room. This is about money and efficiency,” he said. “The quicker they get their medical treatment, the quicker they get better, the quicker they get back to work.”

Robbins engaged actively in the hearing, asking a number of questions of division staff and industry representatives who addressed the panel. “As active as he’s been, I feel really good about having that spot filled,” Altmaier said.

Joe Henderson: We’ve heard this all before from Rick Scott

The Rick Scott who opened his campaign to unseat Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate was the Rick Scott we have come to know in his two terms as Florida’s governor.

He is still short on details but long about promising to roll up his sleeves and fix what ails our government. He rails against career politicians, but seems to hope no one will notice that he will become of those if he wins this election.

He will have served eight years as governor, and then at least six more as a senator. Fourteen years sounds like a career to me.

Then, there is this.

As Scott Powers reported for Florida Politics from the scene of Scott’s campaign kickoff in Orlando, the governor said, “I didn’t fit in in Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider game. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”

Well now, hold on just a second there, governor.

Sure, during a campaign every candidate – especially those trying to unseat a three-term incumbent – shouts to the world that they are gonna go up there to that dysfunctional, horrible seat of government and shape it up.

Yeah. Then they get there and learn exactly what they’ve gotten into.

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly knows about that. When he bucked the system in the House, he quickly became an outcast in his Republican Party.

“If successful, Rick Scott will join the Senate as a junior member of a body dominated by more senior senators, and one in which the agenda is determined solely by a Majority Leader who expects and rewards loyalty and conformity,” Jolly told me Tuesday.

“The difference between serving in the Legislature compared to serving as chief executive is that independence rarely proves effective.”

As Sen. Marco Rubio noted at a rally in Iowa during his ill-fated presidential campaign, “… while as a senator I can help shape the agenda, only a president can set the agenda.”

Rubio got so frustrated with the job that he was going to quit before he changed his mind and ran successfully for re-election.

As governor, Scott was in a position of power. He also showed little interest in any part of the job that didn’t bring jobs to Florida.

He basically was a spectator cutting ribbons at the latest WaWa while more skilled pols like House Speaker Richard Corcoran jammed through controversial changes to the way public education is funded.

Scott was a no-show during the squabble over Florida’s health care.

He didn’t seem interested when environmental regulations were being gutted. He didn’t have anything to say about the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting story how the state Department of Environmental Protection prohibited the use of the words “climate change” or “global warming.”

As a senator, his obsession with job creation would be overshadowed by larger events.

Scott also has never experienced the all-out assault he will receive during this campaign – and not just from inside Florida. This is a national race and Democrats will fight like the dickens to keep Nelson in the Senate.

As governor, Scott enjoyed fortunate timing.

The first time he ran, his simple message – “Let’s Get To Work” – resonated with recession-weary Floridians. He didn’t have much of a record to attack either.

In his second campaign he could point to the state’s improving economy and jobs outlook. He also was up against a flawed opponent in Charlie Crist.

Not this time.

Nelson, is a strong incumbent in a year where polls suggest it’s a good time to be a Democrat.

We have learned it’s foolish to under-estimate Rick Scott.

But he is not running for governor now, even though everything he said in his campaign rollout was stuff we’ve heard before.

We’ll know soon enough if that’s the right strategy, or if he needs to get to work on something new.

Joe Henderson: Guns and Trump form backdrop of Rick Scott

Guns and Trump.

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

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

There also could be a false assumption about this election.

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

Maybe so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott is not happy about that.

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

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

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

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

He is friends with Trump.

He hangs out with Trump.

Trump. Trump. Trump.

Guns. Guns. Guns.

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

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

Game on.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Weather affects ‘Springtime’

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

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

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

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

It’s Springtime Tallahassee again.

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

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

— First Avenue eastbound at Duval Street.

— Thomasville Road between Monroe Street and Seventh Avenue.

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

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

— Monroe Street between Apalachee Parkway and Seventh Avenue.

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

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

— Monroe Street between Gaines Street and Seventh Avenue.

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

— Madison Street between Macomb Street and Monroe Street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott touts Florida building codes

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

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

DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem.

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

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

Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The week in appointments

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

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

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

Graham welcomes ‘overdue’ opioid suit

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

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

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

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

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

League lauds lawmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaw highlights failing grade from Florida Chamber

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pharmacy panel suggests unifying legislative efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteers spotlighted during April

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Council of 100 releases educational ‘beacons’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desloge tours areas still recovering from Irma, Maria

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

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

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

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

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

NSF re-ups MagLab grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

FSU Great Give sets records

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

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

FSU sets records with the 7th annual Great Give.

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

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

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

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

Tallahassee dubbed ‘Solar Star’

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

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

Tallahassee is becoming a ‘solar star.’

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

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

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

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

Tallahassee Earth Day plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Capitol to go purple for Victims’ Rights Week

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

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

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

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

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Rick Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’ measure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

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

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

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

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

Bills signed Friday are below:

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