Hurricane Irma Archives - Page 7 of 44 - Florida Politics

Darren Soto: State lawmakers need to unite on policy

After contentious weeks at the U.S. Capitol, Congressman Darren Soto has turned his attention toward Tallahassee, where he believes legislators face “big challenges” and should seize the opportunity to unite on major issues facing the state.

The Orlando-area Democrat gave his take on the state’s Session on Monday during a press conference with several Hispanic Democratic state lawmakers.

Soto told Florida Politics that his time in Tallahassee will be spent advocating on “issues that are critical for not only the Hispanic community, but all Floridians.” He said he hopes his experience as both a state senator and representative will lend him credibility as he attempts to guide legislators through “key issues that may get caught in the noise right now.”

According to Soto, there are a number of hurdles ahead in the wakes of hurricanes Irma and Maria. He suggested state legislators should model the Session with Congress in mind.

“With these major challenges, [Congress] saw a historic budget, where Democrats and Republicans came together in Washington to pass real solutions,” Soto said. “Tallahassee needs to take a page from that book and work together on issues that unite us, rather than divide us.”

Soto ran through line items on the newly approved federal spending bill that are expected to aid institutions and individuals affected by the hurricanes.

Some of those remedial allocations include $2.7 billion for schools and $2.3 billion for Florida citrus. Both spends are being praised by Florida politicians.

Soto, who has been a consistent voice on addressing the disaster in Puerto Rico, also indicated he was happy with the $2 billion secured for rebuilding power systems on the island and the $4.9 billion in Medicaid funding heading to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

But with the midway point of Session behind lawmakers, Soto’s main message on Monday was that there needs to be bipartisan support at the state level in order to follow through on aid from Washington. 

Soto gave the example of the Sadowski Trust Fund, which sets aside funding for affordable housing but has historically had dollars swept out of it. Several state lawmakers claim Florida faces a housing crisis as a result of years of sweeps to the fund. Many also expect the crisis to be exacerbated by the influx of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Budget proposals from the House and Governor this year suggest sweeping dollars from the Sadowski Trust — though much less than in previous years — and a proposal from the Senate suggests fully funding the trust.

Soto said the intake of Puerto Rican migrants has led to a “tipping point” in the state’s affordable housing crisis and that it will be “one of the biggest issues” facing the state. He implored the House to take the Senate’s position.

Soto also brought up the issue of sanctuary cities, which has grabbed attention after the House ushered a bill that would penalize local officials who engage in sanctuary city practices. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will debate the issue Tuesday night.

But no local ordinances in the state have formally adopted sanctuary city policies, and Soto said talk of the issue only leads to divisiveness.

“Nothing characterizes the senseless division that we face here than this non-debate over non-issue sanctuary cities,” Soto said. He said the House bill was a “solution in search of a problem.”

“We are a state of diversity, of immigrants. This is our strongest attribute,” Soto said. “And this debate only poisons the well.”

Lawmakers get revenue boost ahead of budget talks

A surge in hurricane-recovery building and a change in the way the state collects gambling payments from the Seminole Tribe will give lawmakers a little fiscal wiggle room as they negotiate a new $87 billion state budget.

State analysts on Friday adjusted estimates for revenue collections upward by about $462 million, including $181 million this year and $280.5 million for the fiscal year that will start July 1.

The bulk of the increase is one-time, non-recurring money, which will limit its use in the state budget. But it can be a positive factor as Senate and House members work out differences in their budget bills, which were passed Thursday.

“It was money they weren’t expecting,” said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. “It’s going to be nonrecurring, which comes with all the issues associated with that. It’s good news.”

But she also said, “it doesn’t really alter the shape” of the longer-term fiscal challenges facing the state.

A major factor in the increase is explained by the economic cycle Florida goes through when it is hit by a major hurricane like Irma, a powerful storm that impacted the majority of the state in September.

In the immediate aftermath of such a storm, state spending increases and sales-tax collections drop. But then recovery begins and residents, aided by insurance payments, rebuild and repair their property. That increases sales taxes, the state’s single-largest revenue source.

“Hurricane Irma suppressed collections during the initial emergency in September while boosting collections in the recovery months as rebuilding began in earnest,” according to the new estimate.

The adjusted forecast shows an increase in sales tax collections this year of $189 million, with about two-thirds of that related to recovery activities. The sales tax estimate increased by $171 million in 2018-19, with 69 percent attributed to recovery.

The recovery activity is projected to end next year, and an analysis done by Baker and other state economists in 2017 showed the long-term financial effects of a major hurricane or a hurricane season are likely to be negative for the state budget.

The report showed after the 2005 hurricane season, the state spent $626 million while reaping only $422 million in increased revenue.

Baker said she anticipates a similar result from Irma where “the state ends up spending more money than it brings in, by a good bit.”

Another positive in the new forecast is an adjustment in the way the Seminole Tribe of Florida makes payments from its casino operations.

Starting next year, the tribe will make monthly payments based on its annual estimate of gambling activity. That replaces a system where the tribe paid a fixed monthly amount and then made a one-time adjustment in the subsequent year.

The net effect will be an increase of more than $100 million in state revenue from the casinos next year, most of which will be a one-time increase.

The new forecast noted a major negative factor in that corporate income tax collections were $113 million below the estimate this year through December. It was likely caused by the state decision to let businesses impacted by Irma hold off on tax payments until Feb. 15.

The report predicts the shortfall will be negated once the delayed collections begin coming in next month.

After passing their proposed 2018-2019 budgets on Thursday, the House and Senate will begin negotiating their differences in the next few weeks. The legislative session is scheduled to end March 9, with a new budget taking effect July 1.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — ‘Terrible ten’

A list of 10 amendment proposals, dubbed “the terrible ten,” is making the rounds as the Constitution Revision Commission nears a May deadline to submit its final report.

The left-leaning advocacy group, League of Women Voters of Florida, has come up with its “worst of the worst” list compiled of what they say are proposed changes to the state constitution driven by a “clear agenda that mirrors the agenda of the Legislature” and not an independent body.

Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, offers a list of ‘terrible ten’ proposed constitutional amendments.

Thirty-seven proposals remain under consideration by the CRC. If they go on the November ballot, 60-percent voter approval would be needed for the constitution to be changed.

Pamela Goodman, the Florida LWV president, says the proposals in the list “restrict citizen rights rather than expand them” and considers them an attack on public education, home rule, privacy rights, immigration and tax reform.

“Some are outdated concepts brought back again after already being voted down by the public,” Goodman says, “I call them ‘zombie proposals.’”

Goodman sent the list in an effort to fundraise money to lobby and keep CRC members from putting those measures on the ballot. Here is their “terrible ten” list. (Note: Proposal 22 and Proposal 95 are no longer under consideration.)

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

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

Gambling in the Senate — The Senate made some big moves Friday in the annual legislative dance that is the negotiation for an omnibus gambling bill. The biggest move: The chamber now includes a renewed 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack and slot machines outside of South Florida. That was in the House bill, but not the Senate’s first bill filed for this year. Moreover, the Senate would OK adding roulette and craps to the Seminoles’ offerings at its casinos in the state. The Senate bill will next be heard Monday. For all the changes read the full story here.

Omnibus education bill passes — A priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran that would create a voucher program for students who are bullied in school passed the Florida House Friday. The bill is attached to the chamber’s budget, which could bring problems for it as the Senate has said it will not be part of final budget negotiations and would have to go through the scrutiny of Senate committee hearings. The bill includes a requirement for teacher unions to disband if membership is not half of the people they represent, a provision critics describe as “union-busting.”

Budgets ready for final talks  — The Florida House and Senate have both passed their spending plans of about $87 billion, marking the starting point of final budget negotiations. The difference between the budgets is about $100 million, something Senate President Joe Negron told reporters makes “life a lot easier.” But the chambers still have to find common ground on health, the environment and education. Negron said the budget negotiation process is more than a week ahead of schedule.

Corcoran on child marriage While a strict ban on all child marriages has passed in the Senate, House Speaker Corcoran says he is in support of his chamber’s version of the bill that would allow “high school sweethearts” to marry if they are at least 16 years old and pregnant. The Associated Press reports that Corcoran is defending controversial exceptions in a bill that would let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they are pregnant and the father of the baby isn’t more than two years older. Minors would need parental consent and paternity tests to have a marriage license issued.

State-funded pro-life clinics — A bill that would permanently set aside $4 million in taxpayer money for pro-life clinics to operate across the state has passed both chambers, and now it is up to Gov. Rick Scott to turn it into law. Scott has not yet said whether he will sign the legislation, but the bill would codify into the statute a state-funded program that has been in place since 2006. Democrats oppose the measure, arguing the state should not fund clinics that can contract with faith-based organizations.

Scott-backed deal will fast-track Monroe County cleanup

Gov. Scott announced a deal with this week that’ll fast-track marine debris cleanup in Monroe County with the state temporarily picking up the tab.

“Since Hurricane Irma impacted our state, communities across Florida have been working tirelessly to clean up and recover from this destructive storm. The Florida Keys undoubtedly experienced significant damage when the storm made landfall at Cudjoe Key,” Scott said.

Rick Scott is fast-tracking Monroe County hurricane cleanup.

“We’re doing everything we can to help Monroe County and the Florida Keys as they continue to recover from Irma and I am proud to direct DEP to enter this agreement and immediately get to work removing debris. In Florida, we know that our pristine environment is a big part of what drives our booming tourism industry and this is especially true for the Florida Keys.”

The agreement will see the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, with assistance from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, shell out $6 million and oversee cleanup efforts in Monroe.

The state money will be reimbursed by the county once they receive their disaster cleanup reimbursements paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The week in appointments

Gov. Scott announced the following appointment and reappointments:

Florida Historical Commission

J. Michael Francis, 50, of St. Petersburg, is the chair of the department of history and politics at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge.

Francis will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending Dec. 31, 2018.

Judy Bense, 72, of Pensacola, is a professor and President Emeritus at the University of West Florida. She received her doctorate from Washington State University.

Bense succeeds Kathy Fleming and is appointed for a term ending Dec. 31, 2019.

Lawson’s full court press for VISIT FLORIDA funding

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is facing a major cut in the 2018-19 budget, but President and CEO Ken Lawson hasn’t given up the fight for a $100 million appropriation.

Lawson met with leaders and residents from Monroe County during Florida Keys Day at the Capitol this week to discuss the importance of fully funding VISIT FLORIDA, especially after disasters such as Hurricane Irma.

Ken Lawson is going all-out for VISIT FLORIDA.

“The Florida Keys is one of our state’s most iconic destinations for visitors all across the world. Tourism impacts Monroe County like no other place in our state, supporting nearly 40,000 jobs,” Lawson said.

Lawson said VISIT FLORIDA’s help over the weeks following the storm, from public relations campaigns to Facebook live videos, “helped get the message out that the Keys were open for business and ready to welcome visitors back,” but without getting a full $100 million from the Legislature, the tourism marketing arm won’t be able to pitch in at that level anymore.

Monroe County Rep. Holly Raschein agreed.

“Tourism is our No. 1 industry in the Florida Keys and VISIT FLORIDA gives my constituents a marketing reach they may not be able to achieve on their own,” she said. “… It is my hope both chambers will come together and understand funding VISIT FLORIDA is an investment that is beneficial to our state.”

CRC’s Ft. Lauderdale stop draws in 700 people

The Constitution Revision Commission held kicked off its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week with a stop at Nova Southeastern University’s Rick Case Arena in Ft. Lauderdale.

Approximately 700 Floridians showed up and 330 of them picked up the mic during the eight-hour meeting to let commissioners know their feelings on more than three dozen proposals the CRC are considering for the 2018 ballot.

More than 700 people came to Ft. Lauderdale to speak their minds to the Constitution Revision Commission.

The full public hearing was filmed and is available to stream through the Florida Channel’s CRC page. The next stop for commissioners is a Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne.

The full slate of CRC meetings, as well as appearance forms and a list of proposals under consideration, can be found FLCRC.gov.

Pritchett honored with humanitarian award

The Democratic Women’s Club of Florida awarded state Rep. Sharon Pritchett with the 2017 Humanitarian Award.

“I remain committed to being a voice that works to help improve quality of life issues on the road toward progress,” Pritchett said in a statement.

Sharon Pritchett was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida.

Pritchett was nominated by the Democratic Women’s Club of Miami Gardens, which is her district.

The organization said Pritchett’s “excellence in advocating on behalf of thousands of Floridians has set her apart as an effective leader.”

Flores celebrates FIU day at the Capitol

Florida International University had its day in the spotlight this week and the university’s delegation got to spend part of it with Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — an alumna whose district includes the University Park campus.

“[Thursday], I proudly welcomed leaders from my alma mater, Florida International University, to our state’s Capitol. Together, we celebrated FIU’s continuing excellence in higher education and the many success stories the university is testament to,” Flores said.

Anitere Flores celebrates her alma mater at Florida International University Day.

“We discussed the growth and progress of the campus’ expansion, the institution’s research agenda, as well as the advancing resources for the high-skilled graduates entering the workforce.

“As an FIU Alumna, I am honored to advocate in Tallahassee for such an exemplary higher education establishment and serve the university that opens countless doors for its students and faculty.”

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “running count” of bills heard in committee or on the House floor to include the fifth week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

To the surprise of few, the caucus found Republican bills in the House are still getting substantially more attention that Democrat-sponsored one.

The breakdown on the “What’s the agenda?” site shows that during Week 5, nine Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 73 Republican-sponsored bills. Another eight bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also recorded 9 Republican bills making the House floor during the week, while zero Democrat-sponsored bills made the grade.

Legislative Progressive Caucus spotlighted by national group

Ultra-liberal reform bills typically don’t get far in the state Legislature, but that doesn’t stop Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith from at least making some noise.

Smith, the founding chair of the newly minted state House Legislative Progressive Caucus, appeared this week in a social media video explaining the caucus’ role in #FightingForFamilies, an initiative put forth by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), a progressive resource and strategy network.

View the video by clicking the image below:

“Our agenda is squarely focused on helping working families,” Smith said in the video. He said the caucus has thrown its support behind bills that would universalize health care and increase the minimum wage.

Smith also said the caucus is fighting against bills he described as “anti-working families.” He gave the example of HB 25, which seeks to decertify teachers unions if dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent. He said it was a “union-busting” bill.

At the conclusion of the video, Smith said, “We are fighting for you every single day, working families.” The bit aired on the SiX Facebook page and was included in a news release sent to media around the country. According to its website, SiX seeks to “equip state legislators with the tools needed to shape effective policy” and bridge them with “the progressive movement’s unmatched grassroots organizing power.”

Instagram of the week

Florida Communities come to Tallahassee to oppose offshore drilling

Dueling meetings to discuss the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management five-year plan to open federal waters to offshore drilling were held in Tallahassee this week.

BOEM’s meeting was part of the 60-day public comment period on the Trump administration’s plan to rev up oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. the seafloor claimed by the U.S. that doesn’t fall under state jurisdiction, while Environment Florida held what it called the “People’s Hearing on the Federal Offshore Drilling Plan.”

Environment Florida didn’t mince words on the BOEM meeting.

Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch is one of the speakers in Tallahassee to oppose offshore drilling in Florida. 

“Not only is it far from the coastal communities it will affect but it does not provide any opportunity for the public to provide meaningful input on the plan in a public setting,” the group said in an email.

The group then pitched their meeting, “which seeks to give voice to Floridians who vehemently oppose this dangerous drilling plan” and promised “public testimony to a brick wall, a 15-foot blow up whale, signs, posters and more” with a speaker list including

Speakers included Escambia Commissioner Grover Robinson, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, FSU Oceanography professor Ian MacDonald, Tampa Tile president Jerry Difabrizio and Captain Adam Morley of Genung’s Fish Camp and Marina.

FSU gets record number of applications for 2018 class

Florida State University said it received more than 48,000 applications from prospective 2018 freshmen before it made its first round of decisions at the end of January, 7,000 more than last year’s record high.

“The tremendous interest in Florida State University reflects our growing national prominence,” FSU President John Thrasher said. “Word is out that FSU offers the education of a top research institution in a warm, welcoming and diverse academic environment.”

John Thrasher is boasting record freshman enrollment at FSU.

The university said it’s not just getting more applications, but better ones as well – FSU said the middle 50 percent of students accepted so far this year had a grade-point average in the range of 4.1 – 4.5 with a 1290 – 1400 total SAT score and 28-32 ACT composite score.

FSU pointed to its 10-spot jump to No. 33 in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” rankings over the past couple of years as one reason interest in the school has spiked.

New radio segment to focus on aging-related trends

Want to hear more about the challenges of aging? WFSU-FM has you covered.

Starting Feb. 6, a weekly “Aging Today” segment will be played on 88.9, WFSU-FM, highlighting critical aging-related trends, issues and policies, with an emphasis on social science research.

FSU-FM will take on aging issues in a new segment.

The one-minute segments are sponsored by the Florida State University’s Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and the Claude Pepper Center, along with support from the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at FSU.

“We’re hoping this initiative will spark more discussion not only about the challenges but also the possibilities of an aging society,” said Anne Barrett, director of the Pepper Institute.

The segments are scheduled to air on Tuesdays at 3:04 p.m. Recordings will be archived at wfsu.org/agingtoday.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

Farm aid on the way after Irma’s devastation

State lawmakers continue to craft tax relief for Florida’s storm-battered citrus industry, as President Donald Trump signed off Friday on billions of dollars in much-anticipated federal disaster relief.

A spending bill approved by Congress and Trump includes nearly $90 billion for disaster relief, with $2.36 billion aimed at assisting the agriculture industry for losses from Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

“The passage of this spending bill is a critical first step to finally getting Florida’s farmers, ranchers and growers long-awaited and desperately needed relief,” state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement. “Without this emergency assistance, Florida agriculture cannot fully recover from the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Irma.”

The federal funding — a state breakdown wasn’t immediately available — comes as Florida Senate President Joe Negron, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, and incoming President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, work on tax-relief measures for the citrus industry. The package could also help other parts of the agriculture industry impacted by Irma.

“I think it’s appropriate for the state to help mitigate some of those losses,” Negron said Thursday.

The state House Ways & Means Committee, which is putting together its own tax package, has reviewed a proposal that would offer one-time tax refunds on fencing and building materials for non-residential farm buildings. Also, a proposal would offer refunds on state and local taxes applied to fuel used to transport agriculture products from farms to processing and packaging facilities.

The Senate proposal, still being drafted, will be part of a broader tax-cut package, Negron said.

Gov. Rick Scott has requested $180 million in tax and fee cuts as lawmakers work on a budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Negron said the overall Senate package could feature a reduction in a business-rent tax and include aspects of Scott’s proposal. Scott is seeking reductions in driver’s license fees and to provide tax “holidays” on back-to-school items and hurricane supplies.

Putnam’s department has estimated that Irma inflicted $2.5 billion in agriculture losses, ranging from $761 million in damages in the citrus industry to $624 million in the nursery industry and $237.5 million in the cattle industry.

Scott, Putnam and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have called for months for federal help for the state’s farmers. Irma hit the state Sept. 10 and caused heavy damage in areas such as citrus-growing regions of Southwest Florida.

Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp said the newly approved federal money will help growers “reinvest in their groves and look forward to new seasons ahead knowing that help is, indeed, on the way.”

The approval of the federal money came shortly after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday lowered its projection for the current season’s Florida orange crop by 2 percent from a January estimate. That would put the harvest 34.5 percent below the last season’s five-decade low yield.

The industry also has battled deadly citrus-greening disease for a decade. But before Irma, Shepp said the industry was counting on growers increasing their orange output by nearly 10 percent.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called the federal relief package “a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating storms.”

Scott, expected to challenge Nelson for the U.S. Senate seat in November, said that in addition to helping with recovery of the citrus industry, the federal funding will “better prepare our communities as they continue to welcome families displaced by Hurricane Maria and aid in Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

Among other things, the federal funding also provides $17.39 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including funding to repair damage caused by natural disasters, construct flood and storm damage-reduction projects and potentially to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Down and down it goes: Florida’s orange crop plummets

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the feds this week announced “yet another decrease in the size of the Florida orange crop this season due to Hurricane Irma.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s latest report pegs orange production for 2017-18 at 45 million boxes—”a 35 percent decrease over last season and the lowest crop size in more than 75 years,” according to a Thursday statement from the Florida Department of Citrus.

The USDA’s initial crop forecast in October guessed 54 million boxes of oranges, and grapefruit production was 4.65 million boxes, a drop of 40 percent over last season.

“While this is certainly lower than initial estimates, it was not unexpected,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director. “We are still hopeful the remainder of the season holds stable.

“Should disaster recovery funding pass today, it would give growers the confidence they need to continue making investments to keep this season’s crop stable and produce more Florida Citrus in the years to come.”

USA Today reported that a “bipartisan spending agreement” was pending, that includes “nearly $90 billion in long-sought disaster relief to help rebuild communities destroyed by wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the Southeast and U.S. territories.”

It also “would set aside more than $2.3 billion for agricultural assistance, much of it expected to help rescue Florida’s battered citrus industry which provides most of the orange juice consumed in the United States,” the paper reported. Last year’s Hurricane Irma devastated the state’s crops, including citrus.

“Florida growers reported 30-70 percent crop loss after Irma’s landfall on Sept. 10, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage,” the department said. “The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems and impacting future seasons’ growth.”

The usual disclosure: The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Capitol reax: AOB, Publix PrEP, campus ‘free speech,’ criminal justice, Rick Scott

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill by Sarasota Sen. Greg Steube, SB 1168, that the Consumer Protection Coalition said would “do little to protect consumers” from Assignment of Benefits abuse.

The group said it prefers HB 7015 by Rep. Jay Trumbull, which includes modifications to one-way attorney fees which proponents say will curb frivolous lawsuits over bogus claims.

Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the CPC put out the following statement after the vote:

“We are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee chose to push forward this bad bill that fails to address the crux of the problem. At the end of the day, this bill doesn’t do what it needs to do, and that’s protect consumers from the onslaught of lawsuits that are burdening property owners and driving up insurance costs.’’

LGBT rights group Equality Florida celebrated Publix Supermarkets today for reversing its stance on providing pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to prevent the transmission of HIV among employees on the company’s health plan.

Publix announced the change in policy via Twitter in a message to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who met with the Publix government relations team Monday to discuss the critical importance of PrEP availability.

Publix’s statement read:

“Publix appreciates the concerns shared by our associates and customers. We offer generous health coverage to our eligible full-time and part-time associates at an affordable premium and are committed to the health and well-being of our associates and their families. We regularly evaluate what is covered by our health plan and have made the decision to expand our health plan’s coverage of Truvada to include Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). We are working with our pharmacy benefits manager to implement this change as quickly as possible.”

Equality Florida’s response:

“This is major step in the right direction to knock down Florida from the #1 spot of new HIV transmissions in the nation. In fact, all 7 states where Publix stores exist will benefit from this decision. Southern states account for 44% of all people living with HIV in the United States, and diagnosis rates for people in the South are higher than for Americans overall. The disparity of transmissions disproportionately affects African American men and women; of all HIV new cases among Blacks, 60% of men and 69% of women come from the South.”

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would set the minimum age for children to be prosecuted as adults at 14.

Southern Poverty Law Center senior policy counsel Scott McCoy put out the following statement after the vote on SB 1552:

“More children are prosecuted as adults in Florida than in any other state. Our lawmakers today took a step toward changing that. The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted favorably on legislation that would reduce the number of eligible offenses and set a minimum age for children to be transferred from juvenile court. Additionally, SB 1552’s requirements include data collection that would bring more accountability and transparency to Florida’s practice of trying children as adults.

“While this bill puts us on the path toward reducing the number of children tried as adults in Florida, our work will not be finished until no child is sent to the adult system. When a child – whose brain is still developing and malleable – is prosecuted as an adult, the risk to public safety and the risk of harming the child are increased. Children tried as adults and housed in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend, be the victims of sexual assault, and die by suicide than their peers in the juvenile system.

“Children are different from adults, and they should not be prosecuted or punished in the same way. We must prioritize rehabilitation for these children so they can grow up to become successful adults. The adult criminal justice system is no place for a child.”

The Senate Education Committee voted 7-4 in favor of a bill, SB 1234, that would make Florida public colleges and universities legally liable for disruptions caused by student protesters, and much to ACLU of Florida’s chagrin.

Responding to the committee vote, ACLU of Florida policy counsel Kara Gross stated:

“Contrary to the bill’s title, this bill will chill freedom of expression on our state’s college campuses.

“SB 1234 holds colleges and universities liable for when students ‘materially disrupt’ a scheduled event, but because ‘materially disrupts’ is broad and not defined, anyone could bring a lawsuit against the college or university alleging they were ‘materially disrupted.’

“Because it would be up our state’s institutions of higher learning to expend significant resources in defending against such frivolous lawsuits, this bill incentivizes those institutions to restrict students’ speech and peaceful assembly out of concern that someone might boo too loudly.

“While we absolutely support the part of the bill eliminating ‘free speech zones,’ we have serious concerns with creating a separate cause of action against universities for students expressing their protected speech rights.”

Also on Tuesday, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the 67 Sheriffs of Florida recognized and thanked Gov. Rick Scott for how he handled two major public safety events last year.

FSA’s statement:

“On October 16, 2017, Governor Scott declared a State of Emergency well prior to the white nationalist Richard Spencer speaking event on the campus of the University of Florida. This executive order gave Sheriff Sadie Darnell of Alachua County, and other key law enforcement partners, the ability to strategically assemble resources to ensure the safety of the public, and a successful outcome. We thank the Governor for supporting Sheriff Darnell and local law enforcement in their preparation for the high-profile, potentially volatile event.

“In addition, Governor Rick Scott assisted with coordination, preparation, response, and recovery before, during and after Hurricane Irma. He traveled the state to meet with local officials to ensure communities had all the resources they needed and encouraged the citizens to be fully prepared. His efforts regarding Hurricane Irma demonstrated that Florida leads the nation in proactive preparations, no matter the nature of the incident.

“We thank Governor Scott for his continued support for law enforcement as well as his care in bettering the lives of the citizens in this great state.”

Tax law savings eyed for utility customers

With tax savings already expected to cover nearly $2 billion in hurricane-related costs, Florida regulators Tuesday began moving forward with a process to determine how utility customers should benefit from the federal tax overhaul.

Electric, gas and private water and wastewater utilities are expected to pass tax savings from the overhaul to customers, and the Florida Public Service Commission will oversee how much — and when — the money will flow through.

Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power Co. and Florida Public Utilities Co. entered into rate settlements last year that address the issue of passing through tax savings to customers, though those agreements were negotiated before Congress and President Donald Trump approved the tax-cut package in December.

In recent weeks, Duke, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light have announced that they will use tax savings to avoid billing customers for Hurricane Irma and other storm restoration costs, a total estimated tab that tops $1.9 billion. The Public Service Commission on Tuesday signed off on Duke’s plan to shield customers from getting hit with $513 million in storm costs.

Also, Jeff Stone, general counsel of Gulf Power, said the Pensacola-based utility is working to move forward with savings for its customers by March 1. Unlike Duke, Tampa Electric and FPL, Gulf was largely spared damage from Hurricane Irma in September.

The federal tax changes include reducing the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. But the law and utility finances are complex. Jon Moyle, a lawyer for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said Tuesday that money should come back to customers “sooner rather than later” and that it be clear how the savings flow.

Moyle, whose group includes large commercial electricity users, said he doesn’t want to see the money “mushed together with a bunch of other stuff, and then somebody wakes up a couple of years from now and says, ‘Hey, where did that tax reform savings ever show up?’”

Moyle’s comments drew a reply from John Butler, an attorney for FPL, which recently said it would use tax savings to cover about $1.3 billion in storm costs that otherwise likely would have been passed on to customers.

“FPL is not mushing,” Butler said. “We are going to use not only all of one year’s tax savings but multiple years’ tax savings to replenish the reserve for the $1.3 billion write-off that we were able to take. And by doing that, we were able to get tax savings to customers in the form of forgoing what otherwise would have been a storm-cost recovery surcharge as close to immediately as I think is possible.”

The Public Service Commission approved moving forward with a process that will start Thursday with staff members meeting with electric utilities. Meetings will follow next week with gas, water and wastewater utilities.

Commission lawyer Suzanne Brownless said each utility has a “unique financial situation.” Ultimately, parties, including representatives of consumers and businesses, will be able to take part in legal “discovery” to delve into information about the implications of the tax changes for each utility.

“These tax law changes are very complex,” Public Service Commission member Julie Brown said. “I envision that we will have a process or proceedings, plural, to ensure the full transparency and accuracy of all the savings that will accrue to the customers.”

Rick Scott directs efforts to ease evacuations

From “dynamic” message signs along Interstate 75 to completing certain turnpike projects on time, Gov. Rick Scott called Friday for a series of improvements to help with disaster evacuations.

The directives, based in part on suggestions from the state Department of Transportation, came as lawmakers continue to review proposals aimed at addressing fallout from the evacuation of 6.5 million people ahead of Hurricane Irma. During the evacuation, motorists spent up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six to seven hours.

Scott directed the department to immediately expand “emergency shoulder use” along key interstates, a strategy employed in September as traffic backed up while motorists fled north on I-75 ahead of Irma.

The governor also called for installing cameras and message signs along I-75 from Ocala north to the Georgia state line and increasing the capacity of the state’s Florida 511 website, which provides real-time traffic information about major roads.

Also, by July the department is expected to identify areas along key evacuation routes where more fuel services are needed and look at ways to expand fuel capacity for first responders.

“It is critically important that we continue to do all we can to make sure our state is fully prepared in the face of any potential disaster,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is expected to face an election challenge from Scott this fall, issued a release saying that he filed legislation in October seeking the U.S. Department of Energy to set up east and west coast gasoline reserves in Florida and had called for the state Department of Transportation to examine options for additional fuel storage.

“Unlike Nelson’s bill, this report today by the governor doesn’t offer any real solutions, it simply asks the state to look at doing something Nelson proposed five months ago,” said Ryan Brown, Nelson’s spokesman.

Scott had directed the Department of Transportation in October to work with other state agencies, ports, law enforcement and fuel retailers to determine how to increase fuel capacity during emergencies.

Scott release Friday continued to advise the department to work with Florida’s ports and the fuel industry on additional fuel storage.

Scott’s directive also calls for completing interchange improvements at Florida’s Turnpike and I-75 in 2019. The work is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2019, according to the Department of Transportation report.

Scott also said he wants to widen to six lanes a portion of the turnpike between the Lake-Sumter County line to the County Road 468 interchange in Sumter County in 2023, and to widen the highway from the Country Road 468 interchange to I-75 starting in 2025. The work is currently outlined to begin in those years by the state department.

The department review also suggested emergency shoulder plans for I-75 northbound from Alligator Alley in Fort Lauderdale; on the turnpike northbound from Orlando; on Interstate 95 northbound from Jupiter to south of Jacksonville; and on Interstate 10 westbound from I-75 to just east of Tallahassee.

The Florida House and Senate are reviewing a number of evacuation-related proposals, including an extension of the Suncoast Parkway north from the Tampa Bay region to the Georgia state line. Other proposals include using passenger rail to evacuate citizen; and testing the impact of converting portions of highways during emergencies into all one-way traffic, a process known as “contraflow.”

Department of Transportation Secretary Michael Dew told lawmakers in October that contraflow would require increased law enforcement at each interchange, limit the ability of relief operations and fuel trucks to travel into impacted areas and cause backups where lanes merge as the contraflow comes to an end.

The Senate on Thursday started to move forward with a proposal (SB 700) to set up a Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Division of Emergency Management. The task force would recommend by April 30, 2019, a strategic fuel reserve plan to meet needs during emergencies and disasters.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Legislative misses

Hey, we get it. There’s a lot going on in the 2018 Legislative Session — and it’s only Week Five.

With budget negotiations, the passage of 27 bills this week and it being an election year, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. So, here’s a brief — very brief — update on some contentious legislation that is facing some hurdles in the process.

The controversial “sanctuary city” bill is likely dead in the Senate. After much buildup on whether the Senate would act differently on the measure that has been a hot political issue this year, the bill hit a roadblock. Sen. Aaron Bean said his bill did not have enough votes to pass its first of three committee stops and asked a Senate panel to temporarily postpone it. Potentially indefinitely.

Aaron Bean’s ‘sanctuary city’ bill runs out of steam in the Senate.

Controversial bills to ban the breeding of Orcas and fracking in the state — two big money fights — have yet to be heard in committee. Sea World has been lobbying hard against the Orca bill, which doesn’t even have a companion bill in the Senate. The fate of these bills is not looking promising even as advocates rally at the Capitol.

A pair of gun bills that would allow guns in religious institutions with schools attached are headed to the full floors for consideration. The measures have one big difference: The Senate wants to keep guns out of churches attached with schools if school-sponsored activities are going on, the House does not.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, who is championing the effort in the Senate, said he has talked with House members to see where things will go.

The same scenario took place last session, ending with a dead proposal in the Senate. So, this one is a tossup.

With that out of the way, here’s the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.

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

Unconstitutional system — A federal judge Thursday said the process used in Florida to restore voting rights to felons who have served their time is unconstitutional and guided by “no standards.” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the current system crafted by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is “nonsensical” and violates the constitutional rights of ex-felons, adding that is it often driven by politics. Scott’s Office said in a statement he would continue to fight for the state system in court. “The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities,” Scott’s Office said.

Some child brides OK — Legislation that would prohibit children from getting married in the state headed in two different directions in the House and the Senate this week. In an emotional vote on the full floor, the Senate unanimously passed a strict ban on all marriages if a person is under the age of 18. The next day, however, the House altered its version of the bill to allow 16-year-olds who get pregnant and want to get married to the father of the child, if he is 18 years or younger. House members who were against the all-minor marriage ban said that doing so could lead to someone getting an abortion if they can’t get married or have a child out of wedlock, which would be against some religious beliefs.

Marijuana money — State Rep. Jason Brodeur has told the state’s top health officials to get to work on medical marijuana — or they won’t get paid. The Sanford Republican has offered an amendment to the House’s 2018-19 budget proposal that would freeze more than $1.9 million in salaries and benefits for the Department of Health’s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and other top officials. They’ll get paid, Brodeur said, when the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use starts dealing with the backlog of applications for marijuana growing and dispensing licenses, and for state-issued patient ID cards, among other things.

Florida Forever funding halfway there — Legislators seeking $100 million annually for the Florida Forever land-buying program got a win in the Senate, with the passage of Senate Bill 370. The proposal, by Sen. Rob Bradley, ensures that money will not be spent on general operations, but rather on land and water conservation efforts. The measure would comply with the wishes of voters in 2014 who approved Amendment 1, which sets aside taxpayer money to the conservation of land in the state. The fate of the bill in the House remains uncertain.

Sanctuary cities gubernatorial snafu — The issue of “sanctuary cities” policies blew up in the gubernatorial race this week, even though no such policies currently exists in the state of Florida. The immigration debate snowballed after House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political committee dropped $500,000 on an inflammatory TV ad that portrays undocumented immigrants as a lethal threat to Floridians. Corcoran has not yet announced his candidacy in the governor’s race, but the ad wiped nearly all doubt. The ad has also unleashed a weary back-and-forth between Corcoran and declared Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum on debating the issue. But no time, place or moderator has been determined and based on their tweets, they have different ideas of where the debate should be.

In wake of Irma, Scott directs FDOT to implement fuel, route changes

On Friday, Gov. Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to examine ways to expedite evacuation routes from the I-75/Florida Turnpike Interchange near Wildwood to the Florida-Georgia border.

The improvements would include more cooperation with Florida Ports and the fuel industry to find ways to increase fuel capacity during a storm emergency, which was a big issue when Hurricane Irma barreled through the state.

After Hurricane Irma, Rick Scott has ordered the FDOT to review evacuation route alternatives.

“As Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Irma, the largest storm to impact our state in modern history, it is critically important that we continue to do all we can to make sure our state is fully prepared in the face of any potential disaster,” Scott said.

The short-term evacuation improvement to expand the Emergency Should Use along key interstate routes, install cameras and dynamic signs on I-75 from Ocala to the Georgia state line, and boost the department’s Florida 511 website system to accommodate increased usage are among the plans that are to be implemented no later than June.

Putnam speeds up thousands of concealed weapon licenses

The agency that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam oversees decided to expedite 100,000 Florida concealed weapon license applications for active military members and veterans this week.

“Florida should the most military and veteran-friendly state in the country,” Putnam said. “I’m proud that we have expedited 100,000 concealed weapon license applications for our active military members and veterans.”

Adam Putnam is expediting thousands of  Florida weapons permits.

Putnam is a declared Republican gubernatorial candidate who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout.” His political foes, however, have called him a “recent convert” on the gun rights issue as he campaigns on it this election year.

Active military personnel who want to apply for a state concealed weapon license are required to have a copy of their Common Access Card or another form of official military identification with their applications.

The applications that will be expedited stretch back to 2015. There are currently 1.8 million Florida concealed weapon license holders.

PIP quibbles

The Legislature is barking up the wrong tree on PIP repeal, according to Florida Justice Reform President William Large. Fixing Florida’s bad-faith laws would do more to lower premiums, he said in a written statement.

“This landmark PCI report on HB 19 proves it — repealing no-fault and mandating bodily injury insurance will cost every driver in Florida more money,” Large said. “And mandating medical payments coverage, as proposed in SB 150, will just cost drivers even more.”

He referred to an analysis released by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“Meanwhile, the legislature has yet to show interest in fixing Florida’s bad faith laws, which the PCI report shows could deliver real savings estimated at 6.7 percent,” Large said.

“The bottom line is, more insurance costs more money. HB 19 and SB 150 won’t deliver for Florida’s drivers. The Legislature should start over and commit to an auto insurance system that delivers only the coverages Florida’s drivers need at the lowest cost.”

The week in appointments

Gov. Scott announced the following appointments and reappointments:

Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees

Stephen Smith, 66, of Naples, is a former partner and board member of Accenture. He received his bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College and his master’s degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Smith will fill a vacant seat for a term ending Jan. 6, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

University of Florida board of trustees

Tom Kuntz, 61, of Winter Park, is the retired President and chief executive officer of SunTrust Bank, Florida. He most recently served as the chairman of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida.

Kuntz received his bachelor’s degree from Rollins College and is a graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Banking.

Kuntz succeeds Steven M. Scott for a term ending Jan. 8, 2023.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Atlantic University board of trustees

Mary Beth McDonald, 66, of Vero Beach, is the former Mayor of the City of Vero Beach. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University. McDonald is reappointed for a term ending Jan. 6, 2021.

Brad Levine, 49, of Deerfield Beach, is the chief executive officer of Tellus, LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his master’s degree from Schiller University. Levine succeeds Daniel Cane for a term ending Jan. 6, 2023.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Commission on Ethics

Daniel Brady, 70, of Miami Shores, is retired. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Kimberly Rezanka, 52, of Merritt Island, is an attorney with Cantwell and Goldman P.A. She is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Guy Norris, 55, of Lake City, is an attorney with Norris and Norris P.A. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Ashley Coone, 35, of Arcadia, is a president at ASC Consulting and Marketing and previously served as the DeSoto County Clerk of the Circuit Court. She fills a vacant seat for a term ending June 30, 2018.

These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Pasco-Hernando State College District board of trustees

Dr. Rao Musunuru, 66, of New Port Richey, is a practicing Pasco County board-certified cardiologist at Bayonet Point Hudson Cardiology Associates. He received his Doctor of Medicine from Gunter Medical College. Musunuru is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Lake Shore Hospital Authority

Lory Chancy, 71, of Lake City, is a radiologic technologist with Raul Zelaya, M.D. She is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2021.

Rehabilitation Council for the Blind

Louise Peyton, 64, of Tampa, is a retired rehabilitation specialist with the Florida Division of Blind Services. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University. Peyton is appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term ending Aug. 31, 2018.

Florida Southwestern State College District board of trustees

Christian Cunningham, 56, of Naples, is the chief human resources officer for Herc Rentals. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Cunningham succeeds Christopher Vernon for a term ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

CRC panels shot down a batch of amendment proposals

The full Constitutional Revision Commission is floating a mid-March session start date and as that near commissioners are working to sift through the proposals that will make it to the November ballot.

Just this week, 10 proposals were either killed by commissioners or withdrawn from considerations. Some of those proposals include one that would have amended the state constitution to expand the prohibited basis of discrimination to broadly include “any disability,” not only physical disabilities.

Darryl Rouson is giving his own CRC proposal the boot.

Other proposals that were killed included the six-year lobbying ban and a proposal restricting home rule powers.

Among the proposals that were withdrawn from consideration this week, was Sen. Darryl Rouson’s proposal that aimed at restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and paid restitution. He withdrew his proposal after a ballot initiative seeking the same thing qualified for the ballot days before.

Anti-fracking advocates to call on Bradley to be their ‘hero’

Anti-fracking activists and supporters of a statewide fracking ban are gathering in Jacksonville Saturday to call on Sen. Rob Bradley to be a “hero” on the Senate bill that would implement the ban.

The Senate fracking ban bill has yet to be heard in its first committee stop, chaired by Bradley.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman is calling on Rob Bradley to champion a fracking ban.

The rally will be held in front of a mock oil spill at Friendship Park in Jacksonville. The rally is to bring attention to the “ongoing confusion about whether or not the state will be part of a federal offshore drilling plan.”

Jacksonville Councilman Jim Love, Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller, and St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman will be among those who plan to rally in support of the cause.

The event will start at 10:30 a.m. at Friendship Fountain, located at 1015 Museum Circle, Jacksonville.

Instagram of the week

Grimsley says Florida Farmers need Irma relief posthaste

Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley said in a letter to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio that if Florida farmers have to wait much longer on a Hurricane Irma relief package, it could “pose a serious disruption long-term recovery.”

“Florida farmers and ranchers continue to hold out hope that relief is on its way from Congress,” she wrote. “The five months that have now passed since Hurricane Irma struck have only served to confirm that the damages were substantial and widespread.”

Denise Grimsley is pushing relief for Florida farmers after Hurricane Irma.

The agriculture commissioner candidate also said she was grateful for Nelson and Rubio’s advocacy for the package in the Senate.

“Thank you for insisting that the measure before the U.S. Senate receive immediate attention. We stand ready to assist in any way you believe would support your work to secure its passage. Please know that your efforts are not without purpose and many Florida farmers are  prayerful that your efforts on our behalf meet with success.”

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “running count” of bills heard in committee or on the House floor to include the third week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

To the surprise of few, the caucus found Republican bills in the House are still getting substantially more attention than Democrat-sponsored ones.

The breakdown on the “What’s the Agenda?” site shows that during Week 3, 15 Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 116 Republican-sponsored bills. Another 29 bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also recorded 13 Republican bills making the House floor during the week, while a pair of Democrat-sponsored bills made the grade.

Including the five committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, Dem bills make up about 18 percent of those on committee agendas while GOP bills take a nearly 70 percent share.

FWC estimates vast majority of scrub jay habitat is gone

Fire isn’t always destructive — just ask anyone who knows a thing or two about Florida scrub jays.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, scrub jays dwell in “areas of deep, well-drained, infertile sandy soils that are typically white or near white.” A lack of natural and prescribed fires allows vegetation to accumulate, spoiling the rare birds’ natural home.

The species is bold, smart and full of personality. And it’s the only bird not found anywhere outside of the state. Unfortunately, habitat loss has plagued scrub jay population counts for centuries.

The endangered Florida scrub jay; bold, smart and full of personality.

FWC estimates scrub jays have lost 90 percent of their habitat since the 1800s. The federal government currently lists the Florida-exclusive screech bird as a threatened species.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to aid the Sunshine State’s feathered friends.

The Florida Scrub-Jay and Wildlife Festival on Saturday at Lyonia Preserve in Deltona will educate attendees on the ecological significance of the species and how fire assists the scrub jay habitat. The free event offers eco-buggy rides, guided hikes, wildlife exhibits and presentations, and activities for kids. It will continue until 4 p.m.

Scrub jays are populated in pockets across the state, including FWC-managed properties Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area, Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area and Platt Branch WEA. In the wild, the birds often are spotted in Ocala National Forest and Seminole State Forest.

Women in French Conference comes to FSU

The conference exploring how women’s voices have been heard in French language literature is coming to Florida State University next week.

The 2018 International Women in French Conference, hosted by the Winthrop-King Institute at Florida State, will focus on “Le bruit des femmes” or “women and noise” as the #MeToo movement shines a light on women speaking out in the public sphere, particularly in the workplace.

Wesleyan University Professor Elizabeth McAlister.

This year’s edition is ninth in the series and will run Feb. 8 through Feb. 10.

The keynote address featuring Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, will be held 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the Globe Auditorium, 110 S. Woodward Ave.

Florida Capitol Complex debuts new recycling containers

To minimize waste, four groups have launched the Capitol Complex Recycling Program to encourage people to recycle bottles and cans during the 2018 Legislative Session.

New bottle-shaped recycling containers have been placed throughout the Capitol by the Florida Beverage Association, which received a grant from the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America. The containers are wrapped with the FDEP logo “Rethink. Reset. Recycle.”

The Capitol Complex Recycling Program is asking to “Rethink. Reset. Recycle.”

The goal of the project is to increase the recycling rate in the Capitol by 25 percent during the first six months of 2018.

“We are proud to partner with the Florida Recycling Partnership, Keep Florida Beautiful and FDEP on the Capitol Complex Recycling Program,” said Liz DeWitt, the executive director for the Florida Beverage Association.

Stuff the Bus is back

One in five people in Tallahassee and neighboring areas are at risk of not having enough to eat, according to America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

That’s why the City of Tallahassee StarMetro is once again launching the “Stuff the Bus” food drive. The capital city’s transit system last year collected 2,000 pounds of food, which helped provide over 2,000 meals to local families.

Stuff The Bus returns!

The process is simple: throughout the month of February, all StarMetro buses will accept nonperishable food items. Canned vegetables, boxes of pasta, rice, cereal, canned meat and peanut butter are preferred.

The donations will be distributed throughout the 11 counties that make up the region. As a whole, Second Harvest throughout the past year distributed more than 7.2 million pounds of food through its partner agencies, totaling more than 6 million meals.

Donations also will be accepted at some city facilities and more than 30 locations throughout Tallahassee. For a full list of donation drop-off sites, visit Talgov.com/StarMetro.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

Plans sought for hurricane fuel reserve

After runs on gas stations as people tried to flee Hurricane Irma, a Senate committee Thursday approved creation of a task force to develop plans for stockpiling fuel across the state.

The proposal (SB 700) would set up the Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The task force would recommend a strategic fuel reserve plan to meet private and public needs during emergencies and disasters.

Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said the proposal came from people who couldn’t get away from areas that were expected to be hit by Hurricane Irma in September.

“You remember how during Irma drivers were stranded and coming up from the Keys and other areas in the state from where fuel was running out,” Torres said. “I think this bill gives an opportunity now for the state to prepare better in the future so we can have those fuel locations up and ready in case a disaster comes.”

Florida strained to keep up with fuel demand as Hurricane Irma neared the state. As 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes, others scrambled for last-minute hurricane supplies. Motorists reported spending up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six or seven hours.

The situation grew worse as ports, where fuel is delivered to the state, were closed due to storm winds.

Rushing fuel to South Florida before the storm, the Florida Highway Patrol served as escorts for tanker trucks.

A month later, when Hurricane Nate threatened the Gulf Coast, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that Florida was better prepared for Nate than Irma because there weren’t concerns about fuel shortages.

In October, Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to work with other state agencies, ports, law enforcement and fuel retailers to determine how to increase fuel capacity during emergencies.

The agency was supposed to produce recommendations by last month for fuel distribution and availability to consumers. Neither the agency nor Scott’s office responded by 5 p.m. Thursday when asked about the status of the report.

The nine-member task force, appointed by the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker, would be required to make recommendations by April 30, 2019. The proposal has a one-time cost of $569,000 for contractor and staff expenses.

The Senate bill doesn’t have a House version, but it is similar to a recommendation from the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness. That recommendation called for the Department of Transportation to contract for an independent study on the feasibility of establishing strategically located petroleum distribution centers.

Other select-committee recommendations included considering the use of railroads to speed fuel delivery into areas affected by storms.

The Senate bill drew unanimous support Thursday from the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. It would need to get approved by two more committees before it could go to the full Senate.

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