Knocking off St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes was always a long shot, and the first measure of the race since Lindsay Cross subbed in for Carrie Pilon shows those slim chances dwindling further.
According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Brandes has the support of nearly 39 percent of Senate District 24 voters, giving him a better than 2-to-1 lead over Cross, who was the pick for an even 19 percent of those polled. With 42 percent of voters undecided, there’s room for growth for both candidates.
During her brief tenure in the race, Pilon worked up from a 9-point deficit in late May to within striking distance by early July. Cross will certainly see major gains in her poll numbers as Election Day approaches, though her poor showing in this inaugural measure is a bitter reminder that just because one candidate made headway by putting in some elbow grease, doesn’t mean another can swoop in and reap the benefits.
When it comes to name ID, she’s got a lot of work to do.
Brandes is a known quantity to 59 percent of SD 24 voters, and they find him favorable by a margin of 39-20. Cross, meanwhile, is known by just 27 percent of the district and those who offered their opinion gave her a somewhat lukewarm 21-16 favorability rating.
In addition to playing catchup on the name ID front, Cross needs to bring in some cold hard cash, pronto. Brandes, through Aug. 3, had nearly $863,000 in the bank between his campaign and political committee, Liberty Florida, and that’s after more than $807,000 in spending since the 2018 campaign cycle began.
As it stands, it’s unclear whether Cross is hunkering down to put in the work needed to put SD 24 in play.
According to her first campaign finance report, which to be fair only covered a partial week, she’s brought in just $3,000 in monetary contributions. One would expect Cross and her family, close friends, longtime co-workers and acquaintances to pitch in and jumpstart the campaign to build some buzz.
The problem may be a bit deeper, however, as sources familiar with the Cross campaign say she is fresh off a European vacation and hasn’t quite returned to the day-to-day grind — If true, she better return from the clouds tout suite, or the conversation will quickly shift to the degree of electoral embarrassment she can expect come Election Day.
Of the cash she did bring in, two-thirds came from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, stretched-thin pot of money overseen by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson. The other $1,000 came from self-employed property manager Sidney Smith Wilson.
Gibson’s fund also threw in another $25,000 to kickstart research efforts, as well as buy a campaign computer and cell phone. While fronting that cash would be a no-brainer for the ever-flush Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, it is a much more significant investment for the FDLCC, which had $400,000 in the bank at last check in.
SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.
The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11-12 and received responses from 757 likely general election voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
It has been more than three weeks since Carrie Pilon announced she was ending her bid to unseat St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes in state Senate District 24.
Now, Florida Democrats have settled on her replacement.
Lindsay Cross, an environmental scientist who works as executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, will pick up where Pilon left off. It gives her just over three months to cobble together a campaign to take on the incumbent Republican.
“I’m running for State Senate because all residents in Senate District 24 need an advocate who works for them, not for special interests,” Cross said in announcing her candidacy Monday afternoon. “As a member of the State Senate, I’ll invest in the people of our district by ensuring a quality education, affordable healthcare, protecting our drinking water and environment, and buffering our local and tourist based-businesses from the effects of pollution and climate change.”
Pilon announced her withdrawal from the SD 24 race on July 6, and Florida Democrats faced a Monday deadline to pick her replacement. As of midmorning, the party had not issued a formal news release announcing Cross as their nominee in the Pinellas County district.
According to her Florida Wildlife Corridor bio, Cross has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 2001 and spent 14 years with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program “working to protect and restore water quality and coastal and upland habitats.”
“Having led an environmental non-profit, I fully appreciate the importance of Florida’s natural resources on every aspect of our lives,” Cross said. “Moreover, I understand how to balance a budget and keep spending focused on priorities that will make a difference.”
Polling consistently shows SD 24 as winnable for a Democratic candidate. A survey conducted by St. Pete Polls days ahead of Pilon’s exit showed her within five points of Brandes with 13 percent of voters undecided.
Despite the hopeful measures for Democrats, the truncated campaign cycle gives Cross little time to build name recognition or raise the kind of money needed to take on Brandes, who had $464,000 in hard money and another $369,000 in his political committee, Liberty Florida, as of July 20.
The past three weeks have also seen Brandes ramp up his ground operation in the district, giving him a massive head start in voter outreach.
The good news for Cross: She faces no opposition in the primary, nor are there any third-party candidates running to siphon away Democratic-leaning residents already inclined to vote blue rather than send Brandes back to Tallahassee.
She and Brandes will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.
The first inkling of Cross’ fundraising ability will come Aug. 10, in a campaign finance report covering the first few days of her candidacy. Her first full-week report is due Aug. 17.
SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.
Fort Myers police officer Adam Jobbers-Miller died Saturday, one week after Wisner Desmaret allegedly shot him while Jobbers-Miller was answering a call at Marathon gas station.
The shooting, now killing, has turned into a flashpoint that cuts across many political issues, namely immigration, mental health and pretrial release.
Desmaret, 29, is a Haitian immigrant who came to the United States legally when he was 9 years old but remained illegally after his visa expired. He has in the past been held on an ICE detainer, and another has been issued in the wake of the shooting.
In 2016, Desmaret was deemed incompetent to stand trial and non-restorable by a Lee County judge due to an “intellectual disability.”
Also in 2016, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial but not un-restorable by a Sarasota County judge. After that ruling, he spent 14 months in a Florida state hospital until a doctor signed off that he was competent enough for the court to proceed with his case.
He was arrested this year for violating the terms of his probation, and on July 19 a Sarasota County judge released him from jail under the supervision of the county’s pretrial services program until his scheduled court date for the probation violation on Aug. 16.
His pretrial release stipulated that he must take all of his medications, check in by phone and in-person with Sarasota County’s pretrial services program every two weeks, and inform the program if he intended to leave the county overnight.
He never made the first of those bi-weekly phone calls or visits, as just two days after his release he was two counties away in Fort Myers, where he shot Jobbers-Miller, also 29, as he was attempting to apprehend Desmaret after responding to a 911 call that a man had assaulted a group of people after stealing a cell phone from one of their vehicles.
While immigration issues are largely relegated to the federal government, pretrial release policies are not.
Matt Jones, a Charlotte County bail bondsman who serves as president of the Florida Bail Agents Association, said the shooting “hit close to home” due to a relative of his being a police officer in the area. Given Desmaret’s background, he says “there needs to be a lot better checks and balances” in Florida’s pretrial release programs, which can vary greatly depending on jurisdiction.
“We need to have better transparency — rather than a county by county thing, there needs to be a statewide system,” he said. “There’s a statewide pretrial release [framework], but only a couple rules to follow. You have statewide charges, why not a statewide pretrial release system?”
Jones said he was unsure whether current laws could have prevented this shooting. As a bail bondsmen, he said that if Desmaret “had called our office we probably wouldn’t have bonded him out.” Still, while he and the association he represents are in favor of judges deciding the best course of action in any case, he said he doesn’t “think pre-trial release is the solution to the mental health crisis.”
“Was pre-trial going to be giving him his meds every day?” He asked.
With a bi-weekly check in schedule, and Desmaret’s indigent status, that would seem unlikely.
Most medications that treat severe mental health disorders — Desmaret wrote to a judge that he believed people, specifically police, were out to kill him — must be administered daily. And a large subset of them need time to gradually titrate through a patient’s system.
For certain conditions and the medications that treat them, that could mean a continual ratcheting up of doses — one pill a day the first week, two a day for the next, and so forth, until the optimal dosage is achieved.
Rushing that process is dangerous, or possibly deadly, depending on the medication. And court services programs do not have the medical know how to determine if a drug combination is effective in the first place.
Jeff Clayton, a lobbyist for the American Bail Coalition, says nobody — meaning the 46 states that have a cash bail system — is handling mental health well. In California, for example, someone deemed incompetent to stand trial can only be held in jail for up to three years. In Colorado that same person could be held indefinitely.
But when it comes to pretrial release, he agrees that statewide consistency is important.
He also pointed to data poking holes in pretrial release programs effectively reducing jail populations, saying “supervision isn’t the answer” to that dilemma, but more and better prearrest diversion programs could be.
Clayton added that risk assessment tools — algorithms that take an offender’s data and spit out a risk score — also share some blame in possibly letting the wrong people walk free while they await trial. Those algorithms have seen widespread adoption in recent years to varying success.
“Before 2013, if you were against risk assessments you were a leper,” he said. “When the algorithms are debunked it will be like the lifeboats on the Titanic.”
Right on Crime, a national group that pushes policies on many criminal justice issues, doesn’t ascribe to that line of thinking when it comes to risk assessment tools. The group says such algorithms can help judges “gain a bigger picture of each individual and make decisions on a case-by-case basis if they utilize risk assessment tools that take criminal records into account.”
The group is, however, in favor of prearrest diversion programs that give police the option of sending low-risk offenders with mental health or substance abuse problems to treatment programs rather than jail.
When it comes to the case of Desmaret, Right on Crime’s Florida state director, Chelsea Murphy, said there is a promising new law on the books that could possibly prevent something similar to the Fort Meyers shooting from happening again.
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the Fort Myers Police Department,” she said. “This is an absolute tragedy and further proves that judges need all the tools possible when making decisions. Pretrial services, risk assessment, and mental health services all play a key role in ensuring public safety. Hopefully with the passage of the new 2018 data transparency bill and with future legislation in 2019 we can work to have a more transparent criminal justice system.”
The current measure referenced by Murphy is SB 1392, which was championed by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate and Tarpon Springs Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls (via HB 7071) in the House. The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on March 30.
Among its many provisions, the bill requires the establishment of two prearrest diversion programs in each judicial circuit in the state, one for adults and one for juveniles. It also requires that information about prearrest diversion programs and pretrial release programs be shared with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which in turn makes that information freely available to the public.
The thinking is that the more data made available to the judges who make the decision pretrial release decisions, the better their decisions.
As far as the legislation for 2019, details are expected in the coming months. Whatever its final form, it’s likely that the proposal will be a collaboration supported by both the bail industry and Right on Crime — that would be a “breakthrough” according to one bail industry expert, given that Right on Crime often champions bail reform measures that are harshly opposed by bail bondsmen.
When President Donald Trump takes the stage at the Florida State Fairgrounds next week, Gov. Rick Scott will be a county away raising cash for his U.S. Senate bid.
The Scott campaign sent out an invite this week for a fundraiser Tuesday evening in Clearwater. The private reception starts at 7:00 p.m., the same time as a Tampa campaign rally where Trump is expected to make the case for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis to succeed Scott as Governor.
The president is friendly with Scott and is expected to speak in support of his Senate campaign as well as U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’ re-election bid in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.
While Scott will not attend the rally, he will get some facetime with the president earlier in the day. Scott campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said earlier this week that the two politicians will attend an afternoon event at Tampa Bay Technical High School.
Scott’s Clearwater fundraiser will be hosted by Jay and Linda Beyrouti, Jane and Leo Govoni, Jim Holton as well as Joe and Jo Ann White. Scott recently appointed Jay Beyrouti to the Pinellas County Commission to fill the empty seat created by longtime Commissioner John Morroni‘s passing on May 20.
Listed as co-hosts are Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes, Pinellas Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Pinellas Tax Collector Charles Thomas. The invite, attached below, says it’ll take a minimum contribution of $1,000 to attend.
Scott, who is term-limited as Governor, is looking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the fall, and recent polls show him with a slight edge over the incumbent. The election is Nov. 6.
When lawmakers relaxed Florida’s laws on ridesharing, a lot of people benefitted.
That’s according to a new study from the Economic Development Research Group, which found that the top ridesharing app, Uber, supports $1 billion of Florida’s gross domestic product and has provided a positive net impact of $134 million on the Sunshine State’s economy.
“Since Florida lawmakers voted in 2017 to remove road blocks and allow residents and visitors alike to have choices when it comes to transportation, the economic impact of ridesharing, particularly Uber, proved what Florida businesses have said all along: when government gets out of the way, and the market is allowed to flourish, the economy will prosper,” said Tom Feeney, the president CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.
The 2017 legislation that created the statewide framework for ridesharing companies, shepherded through the Legislature by Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. James Grant and Chris Sprowls, was considered a “landmark” achievement when it was signed into law.
While economists parse the data in the EDR Group’s report, there’s one group that doesn’t need to read a white paper to buy into the positive impact of ridesharing: Drivers.
Take-home payouts for Uber partners hit a whopping $870 million in Florida last year. Of course, most of those drivers are part-time workers who spend less than 20 hours a week behind the wheel in order to earn some supplemental scratch — but a subset of those workers said they’ve also seen their paychecks grow at their day jobs since signing on with Uber.
While the pay boost is nice, the ability to make your own schedule is nicer. According to the report, more than three-quarters of drivers said they benefitted from the flexibility Uber offers while another third said that benefit was what got them in the door in the first place.
“No matter where you live, work, or play in Florida, Uber is at the forefront of the mobility conversation: upward mobility for driver partners with flexible hours and a reliable income, and transportation mobility for people to make trips and visit destinations they would not have otherwise have accomplished,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
But the benefits described in the report don’t just show a boost for driver’s checking accounts, they show a positive trend for businesses and tourism.
A quarter of Uber riders in Florida said they use the service for their daily commute. Another 6 percent of respondents said their most recent ride delivered them to a bus or rail line while 11 percent said they last opened the app to get to or from an airport.
When people get where they need to be when they need to be there, local governments benefit.
“When local governments and business work together, they have the ability to greater impact the community that they serve. It is through partnerships like these that communities are able to evolve more rapidly,” said Ginger Delegal, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties.
The new report comes hot off the heels of another announcement from Uber that is of particular interest to county and municipal governments — the success of a Central Florida pilot program to augment transit between neighboring cities so that residents who work in the next town over or prefer the nightlife a few exits down can more easily get where they need to go.
Florida’s biggest industry, tourism, also accounts for a lot of riders. The benefits of having a reliable method of transportation for visitors in unfamiliar territory hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, either.
“Florida’s tourism industry relies heavily upon the ability for our 116.5 million visitors to travel safely and seamlessly to our hotels, restaurants, airports and attractions,” said FRLA president and CEO Carol Dover. “The millions of dollars injected into our state’s economy bodes well for our number one industry, and we look forward to Uber’s continued impact on Florida’s economy.”
“Are they running for office for the first time or up for re-election? This is your opportunity to personally hear the view point and strategy of those seeking public office in Pinellas County,” the event listing says.
So far, 10 candidates have signed on to participate in the event.
School Board District 2 incumbent Terry Krassner and challenger Jeff Larsen will both attend, while Lisa Cane has not yet signed up. For School Board District 3, only challenger Nicole Carr has signed up. She faces incumbent Peggy O’Shea and former Democratic state Rep. Carl Zimmerman.
For Pinellas County Commission District 6, Republican state Rep. Kathleen Petershas confirmed. She faces fellow Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern, Republican businesswoman Barb Haselden and Democrat Amy Kedron in the race to succeed longtime Commissioner John Morroni, who died earlier this year at the age of 63.
Doneene Loar, who is running for 6th Circuit Judge, will also attend. She faces Donald McBath in the nonpartisan judicial election.
Candidates from two of the county’s seven state House districts will also be in attendance.
House District 64 Republican candidate Terry Power, who faces incumbent Rep. Jamie Grant in the Aug. 28 primary, will have a table. As will Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie, who is running to succeed Ahern in House District 66. He’ll be joined by Democratic foe Alex Heeren, though Seminole Republican Berny Jacques hasn’t put in an RSVP.
Also attending incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of Senate District 24 and former Rep. Ed Hooper, the likely Republican nominee for Senate District 16.
Brandes had been facing a challenge from Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon, though she announced two weeks ago that she was withdrawing from the race. The Florida Democratic Party is in the process of selecting her replacement.
Hooper is running against former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy, and recent polling shows the race is a dead heat with Hooper holding a slim advantage.
Politics in Pinellas is free and open to the public. Those who attend will be able to vote for their preferred candidates in a straw poll.
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is gearing up for his re-election bid with a “Super Saturday” canvassing event in St. Petersburg-based Senate District 24.
“Come show your support for Jeff Brandes! Join us on July 14 at 9:00 a.m. at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg for coffee and donuts. Help Senator Brandes spread his message by knocking on voters doors in nearby neighborhoods. Then at 12:30 p.m. we’ll meet at Green Bench Brewery for lunch and drinks,” the event listing says.
Crisp Park is located at the intersection of 37th Avenue NE and Poplar Street NE in St. Petersburg; Green Bench Brewery is located at 1133 Baum Ave. North. Those looking to attend can sign up to volunteer on the Facebook event listing.
Brandes, a lifelong resident of St. Pete, is running for his final term in the Florida Senate. He was first elected in 2012 and was a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.
Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon was slated to be his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election, though she recently withdrew from the race, citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.
With Pilon’s exit, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.
SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before being carried by Donald Trump in 2016.
AT&T, Allstate and GEICO also made the donor sheet with smaller contributions.
In all, Liberty Florida cashed 17 checks worth a combined $103,500 during the week and now has more than $350,000 in the bank. Brandes’ campaign account is even more flush with cash — he had $467,250 in hard money three-quarters of the way through June.
The committee cash came a week before one-time challenger Carrie Pilon’s announcement that she would abdicate her spot on the ballot due to serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.
SD 24 has a slight Republican lean. It voted for Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump two years ago, and 2018 polling has consistently shown it was possible for a Democratic candidate to flip it — a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.
With Pilon’s exit, however, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.
The political arm of the Florida Realtors rolled out endorsements Monday for nearly every state legislative election slated for the 2018 ballot.
“As Realtors, we pride ourselves on our long-standing efforts to defend private property rights, promote community prosperity and preserve a professional climate that ensures the economic growth of Florida,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “Our continued success in these efforts requires legislators who share these beliefs and will work with our 180,000+ members to help Floridians and their communities thrive.”
Of the 142 Senate and House seats up for grabs this year — that includes special elections to replace Senate President Joe Negron and Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube — 27 were decided at the close of candidate qualifying deadline.
The Florida Realtors weighed in on 87 of the remaining set to go before voters in some form or fashion.
Four of those picks are virtually assured victory as their only challenge is coming from unaffiliated, third-party or write-in candidates. Those include HD 46 Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, HD 38 Republican Rep. Danny Burgess, HD 17 Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and HD 6 Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.
Many of the other races feature an incumbent who’ll likely cruise toward re-election, such as District 2 Republican Sen. George Gainer and HD 39 Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow, though the trade association also weighed in on nearly every competitive race.
In the upper chamber, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville got the nod in his bid for another term in Senate District 8, where he faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking.
In the Bay area’s premier battleground, Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young earned the Realtor’s support for re-election over House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes also earned an endorsement, though he’s looking set for re-election after his Democratic challenger, Carrie Pilon,bowed out of the race for family reasons.
Brandes will still face a challenger of the Florida Democratic Party’s choosing, but whoever picks up the baton isn’t likely to have the same local clout as Pilon.
In Senate District 22, a stretch goal for Democrats, the Florida Realtors endorsed Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel over Democratic challengers Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel. It was the same deal for Senate District 36, where Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. faces a pair of Democrats in his bid to ascend to the Senate.
In the Democratic contest for Senate District 38, Florida Realtors picked incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell who is facing a tough challenge from Miami attorney Jason Pizzo, the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic primary.
Curiously, the Florida Realtors didn’t weigh in on Senate District 16, the Pinellas and Pasco-based battleground where former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and former New Port Richey Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are in a tight race for a return trip to Tallahassee.
There was also no endorsement issued for the Treasure Coast’s Senate District 25, where Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell is facing a primary challenge from Belinda Keiser, who has already put down $700,000 of her own money in her quest to succeed Negron.
In the House, another 69 candidates received an endorsement.
Notable among those was an endorsement for Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison, who faces a challenge from Democratic attorney Fentrice Driskell in HD 63, a perennial swing seat. Also making the announcement was a long list of non-incumbents who face primary or Election Day challenges.
Those included Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak, who faces former Rep. Mike Hill in HD 1; Gulf Breeze Republican Alex Andrade, who faces Greg Merk in the HD 2 primary; Lake City Republican Marc Vann in the three-way primary to succeed Rep. Elizabeth Porter in HD 10; Winter Springs Republican David Smith, who faces Democrat Lee Mangold in HD 28; Merritt Island Republican Tyler Sirois in the three-way race for HD 51; Bartow Republican Melony Bell over Jeff Mann in HD 56; Belleair Bluffs Republican Nick DiCeglie over Berny Jacques in HD 66; St. Petersburg Republican Jeremy Bailie over Ray Blacklidge in the primary for HD 69; Bradenton Republican Will Robinson over Bradenton Democrat Tracy Pratt in HD 71; Sarasota Republican Tommy Gregory over Melissa Howard in HD 73; and Doral Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez over Democrats Javier Estevez and Ross Hancock in HD 105.
Every other candidate endorsed by the Florida Realtors was an incumbent, and most of them are safe for re-election. The full list is below.
— SD 2: Sen. George Gainer
— SD 4: Sen. Aaron Bean
— SD 8: Sen. Keith Perry
— SD 10: Sen. Wilton Simpson
— SD 12: Sen. Dennis Baxley
— SD 14: Sen. Dorothy Hukill
— SD 18: Sen. Dana Young
— SD 20: Sen. Tom Lee
— SD 22: Sen. Kelli Stargel
— SD 23: Rep. Joe Gruters
— SD 24: Sen. Jeff Brandes
— SD 26: Rep. Ben Albritton
— SD 28: Sen. Kathleen Passidomo
— SD 30: Sen. Bobby Powell
— SD 34: Sen. Gary Farmer Jr.
— SD 36: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
— SD 38: Sen. Daphne Campbell
— SD 40: Sen. Annette Taddeo
— HD 1: Rebekah Bydlak
— HD 2: Alex Andrade
— HD 3: Rep. Jayer Williamson
— HD 4: Rep. Mel Ponder
— HD 6: Rep. Jay Trumbull
— HD 10: Marc Vann
— HD 11: Rep. Cord Byrd
— HD 12: Rep. Clay Yarborough
— HD 16: Rep. Jason Fischer
— HD 17: Rep. Cyndi Stevenson
— HD 19: Rep. Bobby Payne
— HD 21: Rep. Chuck Clemons
— HD 22: Rep. Charlie Stone
— HD 23: Rep. Stan McClain
— HD 24: Rep. Paul Renner
— HD 25: Rep. Tom Leek
— HD 27: Rep. David Santiago
— HD 28: David Smith
— HD 29: Rep. Scott Plakon
— HD 30: Rep. Bob Cortes
— HD 31: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan
— HD 34: Rep. Ralph Massullo Jr.
— HD 35: Rep. Blaise Ingoglia
— HD 36: Rep. Amber Mariano
— HD 38: Rep. Danny Burgess
— HD 39: Rep. Josie Tomkow
— HD 40: Rep. Colleen Burton
— HD 42: Rep. Mike LaRosa
— HD 44: Rep. Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski
— HD 46: Rep. Bruce H. Antone
— HD 48: Rep. Amy Mercado
— HD 49: Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
— HD 50: Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia
— HD 51: Tyler Sirois
— HD 52: Rep. Thad Altman
— HD 53: Rep. Randy Fine
— HD 54: Rep. Erin Grall
— HD 55: Rep. Cary Pigman
— HD 56: Melony Bell
— HD 58: Rep. Lawrence McClure
— HD 60: Rep. Jackie Toledo
— HD 63: Rep. Shawn Harrison
— HD 64: Rep. James Grant
— HD 65: Rep. Chris Sprowls
— HD 66: Nick DiCeglie
— HD 67: Rep. Chris Latvala
— HD 69: Jeremy Bailie
— HD 70: Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton
— HD 71: Will Robinson
— HD 73: Tommy Gregory
— HD 76: Rep. Ray Rodrigues
— HD 77: Rep. Dane Eagle
— HD 78: Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen
— HD 80: Rep. Byron Donalds
— HD 82: Rep. Mary Lynn Magar
— HD 85: Rep. Rick Roth
— HD 86: Rep. Matt Willhite
— HD 87: Rep. David Silvers
— HD 92: Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams
— HD 96: Rep. Kristin Jacobs
— HD 97: Rep. Jared Moskowitz
— HD 105: Ana Maria Rodriguez
— HD 106: Rep. Bob Rommel
— HD 108: Rep. Roy Hardemon
— HD 111: Rep. Bryan Avila
— HD 112: Rep. Nicholas Duran
— HD 114: Rep. Javier Fernandez
— HD 116: Rep. Danny Perez
— HD 120: Rep. Holly Raschein
A bill seeking to narrow the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses didn’t get very far during the 2018 Legislative Session.
But the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. JeffBrandes, promises it will be back next year, when nuanced support from the courts will accompany it.
This week, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled unconstitutional a state law that suspends driver’s licenses for those who do not pay court costs. The judge claimed the statute is “not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive.”
Brandes’ 2018 bill would’ve prohibited suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving — including failure to pay court costs. However, it did not address suspensions for those who fail to pay child support.
When asked about the ruling, the St. Petersburg Republican told us he was “excited” and said it should “wake up the states to the fact that the feds are recognizing the harm this does to an individual.”
While he’s sure he’ll sponsor the bill again next year, he’s unsure how it will fare against the Legislature because the state government built systems upon revenue from license suspensions and renewals. Still, he said, the ruling “helps our side of the conversation.”
ScottMcCoy, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the ruling should stand as a “cautionary tale” for Florida. SPLC supported Brandes’ bill.
“The evidence is there to show that it isn’t an effective way to get someone to pay that debt,” McCoy said. Policy problems aside, he added: “If that system is unconstitutional in Tennessee, that can be a real problem in Florida as well.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Mammoth ad buy planned for Marsy’s Law— Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment creating a ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’ this week announced a $17 million ad buy to promote its passage. The total statewide ad buy will start mid-September and go into much of October and include Spanish language ads. The measure, also known as Marsy’s Law for Florida, was put on the November ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It must get no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution. The amendment creates constitutional rights for victims or their surviving family members to attend and be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among other provisions. At least six other states have enacted a Marsy’s Law. In Florida, the amendment has been backed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott; Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor; and law enforcement and victims groups across the state.
Feds expedite Herbert Hoover dike repairs— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week it would tap into supplemental funding to fund dozens of projects across the country, including the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the waters of Lake Okeechobee. To fast-track the project, the Corps will take $514 million from a $141 billion supplemental spending package signed into law by the president in February. Upon completion of the improvements, the Dike is expected to be able to contain more water safely, meaning the Corps will have to discharge less to surrounding estuaries. The news follows a report from TCPalm this week that blue-green algae bloom covers 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee.
After glitch, Sunpass resumes collections — TheFlorida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system began posting this week what’s come to be more than 100 million transactions that made up a temporary backlog as the state updated its network through a contracted vendor earlier this month. The system had been down 22 days longer than anticipated, forcing some to question whether Floridians would be hit with an excessive amount of tolls to pay in a short period. After being prompted by the public and at least one member of the Legislature, the Florida Department of Transportation announced last week it would waive all late fees. Noah Pransky of WTSP first reported news of the delay in June.
Report reveals more gun permitting issues— Records released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services detail a 2012 investigation showing that 48 employees made mistakes issuing concealed carry permits or other gun-related licenses. While the investigation began in 2012, some of the employees responsible for the mistakes had worked at the agency before Agriculture Commissioner AdamPutnam took office in 2011, reported The Associated Press’ BrendanFarrington. Putnam, now running for governor, has come under scrutiny after a newspaper last month reported that an employee under his watch failed to conduct a necessary background check on 291 concealed carry permit applicants. Agency inspector general RonRusso said: “These IG reports show that we learned of a problem, evaluated it thoroughly, took action to hold employees accountable and implemented checks and balances.”
New safety requirements as back-to-school dates loom— Students in 19 districts go back to school Aug. 10, according to the Florida Department of Education. But many counties don’t expect to have the necessary amount of school safety officers in all of its elementary schools at that time. Following the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead, the Legislature rapidly passed a school safety package that, among other things, requires all schools to have an armed person on campus. Florida schools, which generally operate on a 180-day school year, are projected to serve nearly 2.85 million students in the new academic year.
Scott spends Fourth in Kuwait
Gov. Scott spent Independence Day abroad this year with members of the Florida National Guard in Kuwait.
And while Scott was thousands of miles away from home, that didn’t stop him from bringing a few Sunshine State tokens of remembrance to present to the soldiers.
According to his office, the Governor brought with him “coffee from Lucky Goat of Tallahassee, Buddy Brew of Tampa and Social Grounds of Jacksonville, as well as fresh orange juice from Sun Harvest Citrus of Fort Myers and Key lime pie cookies from Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies of Naples” to the Middle Eastern country.
“While these brave men and women are serving their country thousands of miles from home, I am sure they are missing the local flavors of Florida,” Scott said. “I am proud to be in Kuwait and to share these products from great Florida businesses with our troops. It is important that we all do what we can to honor our active duty military, veterans and their families.”
While visiting Camp Buehring, Scott also presented the Governor’s Medal of Merit to four stationed soldiers: First Sergeant RaulRodriguez, Staff Sergeant ChristopherCrites, Sergeant DariusWilliams and First Lieutenant JessicaGarey.
Bondi thanks legislators for opioid bill
A sweeping package tailored to curb the state’s opioid epidemic drew praise from Attorney General PamBondi this week.
The legislation (HB 21), among other things, provides for three-day limits on opioid prescriptions for acute pain. The bill’s provisions came into effect in July.
Bondi, who’s made a point of targeting the state’s drug crisis during her tenure as Attorney General, thanked the House bill sponsor Rep. JimBoyd, along with Sen. LizbethBenacquisto, who sponsored the legislation in her chamber. She also lauded Gov. Scott for signing the bill into law.
“We continue to fight the national opioid crisis claiming 175 American lives every day, and these new limits on prescription painkillers will help bolster our efforts,” Bondi said in a prepared statement.
As the state’s top cop she also advised doctors to be “on notice” for the new restrictions that she says “will be strictly enforced.” She asked patients who are prescribed more than the allotted limit to contact her office.
Gov. RickScott appointed Phoebee R. Francois. Francois, 50, of Sunrise, is a general magistrate/hearing officer for the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County. She received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. Francois fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge ClaudiaRobinson.
Florida Transportation Commission
Scott appointed JuliusDavis. Davis, 49, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer of VoltAir, Inc. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida. He succeeds DonaldEllington for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Florida Rehabilitation Council
Scott announced two reappointments and one appointment to the Council. M. Ann Robinson, 61, of Tallahassee, is the intake manager for Disability Rights Florida. She is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2020. PatrickCannon, 35, of Tallahassee, is a sales associate for Helzberg Diamond Shops, Inc. He is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2022. AllisonFlanagan, 46, of Tallahassee, is the director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She succeeds Aleisa McKinlay and is appointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending at the pleasure of the Governor.
FDACS sends firefighters west
Florida is lending a helping hand to a few states west of the Mississippi as they battle large blazes under the hot summer sun.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced this week it would deploy a team of 20 people to fight the Winter Valley Fire in Oklahoma.
As well, “29 single resources have been assembled from around the state to assist with wildfire suppression in Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Utah and New Mexico.” FDACS oversees the Florida Forest Service.
In announcing the dispatch, Agriculture Commissioner AdamPutnam pointed to the skill of Florida’s wildfire combatants.
“Our wildland firefighters are exceptionally well-trained, and we are ready to support suppression efforts out west in any way we can,” said Putnam. “I applaud their selfless dedication to protecting our fellow Americans.”
Florida Forest Service Director and State Forester JimKarels cited high amounts of rainfall in Florida and an overall low risk of wildfire as justification for sending forest firefighters outside the state. The news, however, follows last week’s blaze in the Franklin County town of Eastpoint, where the fire consumed 36 homes and another four were damaged.
Dog-racing ban garners support
The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign Friday announced endorsements from 22 local animal shelters. The group is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).
The proposal, which needs no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, 12 tracks still conduct live dog racing.
“These organizations serve as animal welfare first responders throughout the state, from the Panhandle to Key West,” the campaign said in a statement. “They rescue homeless animals, save lives, and provide an invaluable service to both animals and people in every community.”
The local animal shelters who announced endorsements include some local Humane Society chapters, Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, and the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.
State could get new area code
State regulators are expected next Tuesday to approve a new telephone area code for Central Florida.
The Public Service Commission will meet in Tallahassee to consider several items, including “implementation of the 689 area code overlay in the existing 407/321 area code,” an agenda shows.
Staff is recommending “that the Commission lift its suspension of the implementation plan for the 689 overlay (and) also recommends that the Commission direct NANPA to notify the Commission of the proposed implementation date for the 689 overlay once it has been determined.”
NANPA is the North American Numbering Plan Administration. John Manning, its senior director, has said 407 numbers will run out within 12 months, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The 407 area code serves Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and parts of Lake and Volusia counties. New numbers in the 321 area code are exclusively in Brevard County.
Nominations sought for Folk Heritage Awards
Secretary of State KenDetzner announced that the department is seeking nominations for the 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to Florida’s traditional culture.
“Each year, the Florida Folk Heritage Awards seek to honor and recognize excellence in folk and traditional arts and the community impact of Florida’s tradition bearers,” Detzner said. “The Florida Heritage Awards reaffirm our state’s unique cultural heritage by acknowledging distinguished Floridians for their skills and accomplishments in the traditional arts.”
Nominees should be individuals whose art or advocacy has embodied the best of traditional culture in their communities.
Folklife includes a wide range of creative forms such as art, crafts, dance, language, music and ritual. These cultural traditions are transmitted by word-of-mouth and demonstration, and are shared within community, ethnic, occupational, religious and regional groups.
For more information, contact State Folklorist AmandaHardeman at (850) 245-6427. For guidelines, award policies and previous winners, visit this website. Nominations must be postmarked no later than Oct. 1, 2018, and mailed to Florida Folklife Program, Bureau of Historic Preservation, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0250. Nominations can also be emailed to email@example.com.
56-acre peninsula to be conserved
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week announced the permanent protection of the 56-acre Coral Creek Peninsula as an addition to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
The Conservation Foundation worked with DEP to acquire the property through the Florida Forever program. The state’s acquisition will enhance management of the natural resources on both the land and the adjoining state park lands.
“The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park has been a land acquisition priority since 1972,” said Callie DeHaven, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “The Coral Creek Peninsula purchase is a great example of Florida Forever dollars being used to ensure the vitality and integrity of our spectacular state parks.”
This parcel is within the boundaries of the northern half of Charlotte Harbor. “Adding this vital land to the park will ensure it is also managed for the health and diversity of its natural communities while benefiting the adjoining public lands and significant waterways,” the DEP said.
The 46,000-acre preserve buffers more than 100 miles of the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor National Estuary and over 80,000 acres of aquatic preserves. The variety of habitat supports more than 100 invertebrate species, 200 fish species, and 150 species of shore and wading birds.
Environmentalists cheer Pruitt resignation
ScottPruitt, the troubled head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, resigned this week following a seemingly endless cascade of reports of extravagant purchases on the taxpayer’s dime and other activities unfit for a public official.
The controversial figure’s voluntary step-down drew pointed praise from Environment Florida, a grassroots advocacy organization that fights against issues like climate change and water pollution.
“It took an endless stream of ethical lapses for Scott Pruitt to lose his job, but he should never have had that position in the first place, nor kept it as long as he did, given his actions to undermine core environmental protections for our air and water,” Environment Florida State Director JenniferRubiello said in a prepared statement, citing parent organization Environment America’s initial opposition to Pruitt’s appointment in December 2016.
“Presidents don’t always get a ‘do-over’ so soon after appointing cabinet secretaries who fail to properly serve the American people,” Rubiello continued in the statement.
Then she invoked a history lesson for POTUS to consider.
“We call on the president to remember that conservation is part of being conservative. And we implore him to honor the bipartisan history of environmentalism from Republicans TheodoreRoosevelt and RichardNixon through modern administrations by nominating a true protector of the environment — so that his children and grandchildren, as well as ours, can inherit an Earth worth inheriting.”
Marijuana advocates plan protest
Advocates of medical marijuana have been approved to protest on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee, according to the Department of Management Services.
Marijuana advocate GaryStein will host “CannaFight Tonight” next Wednesday at noon, an online calendar of Capitol events shows.
It will be a “public protest of the state’s appeal” of two cases: Tampa strip club mogul JoeRedner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney JohnMorgan that won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.
Both have been challenged by the state’s Department of Health, which regulates the drug through the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, and reports to Gov. Scott.
Local officials recognized for home rule advocacy
Ensuring their advocates’ work didn’t go unnoticed, the Florida Association of Counties last week awarded county commissioners for their efforts during the 2018 Legislative Session.
The honors were presented at the 2018 FAC Annual Conference and Exposition. The award recipients were recognized for their work to protect and facilitate home rule.
“County officials are uniquely positioned to achieve positive change within their counties,” said GingerDelegal, FAC Executive Director. “During the state legislative session, they can use their position to provide insights on how a policy might impact their communities. We appreciate all of the commissioners who came to Tallahassee to advocate on behalf of home rule.”
Taking home the president’s Commitment to Service Award, reserved for those who go above and beyond in their service to local governments, was Broward County Commissioner ChipLaMarca. Indian County Commissioner BobSolari and Levy County Commissioner Bob Meeks took home the Marlene Young Award, presented to officials who show exemplary leadership and commitment to FAC’s mission.
FAC offered the Presidential Advocate recognition to dozens of other local officials for their work alongside FAC.
In Leon County, commissioners BryanDesloge and NickMaddox were recognized.
Leon County’s public services among the best in nation
What’s Leon County doing right?
A lot of things, according to the National Association of Counties, or NACo. The group awarded the Big Bend county 10 times this year, recognizing the area as a benchmark for public service metrics like personnel management, employment and training, infrastructure, and energy and sustainability.
If NACo’s awards are any indication, then Leon County’s training on topics like sexual harassment and diversity in the workplace is strong; the county took home awards from NACo in those categories. Many other training programs and initiatives spearheaded by the county were awarded. The group also recognized other efforts, such as the county’s sidewalk prioritization.
“We are so proud to see our local County services and programs continue to receive national recognition as benchmarks for effectiveness and innovation,” said Leon County Commission Chairman NickMaddox. “Our citizens can be proud of the many County programs that touch their lives every day.”
Since 2013, Leon has took home NACo hardware 56 times, meaning its systems and practices stand as shining examples for other local governments to follow.
“Our now more than 50 national awards recognize talented and innovative County employees who engage citizens on the challenges and opportunities that face our community,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long. “Earning distinguished national awards like these speak to our organizational culture and our commitment to public service and excellence.”
Tallahassee crews deploying to Eastpoint
City of Tallahassee crews will deploy to Franklin County to assist with recovery needs following the devastating fire that burned more than 950 acres in the neighboring community of Eastpoint June 24.
Crew members from the city’s Underground Utilities and Public Infrastructure will depart Monday (July 9), bringing with them dump trucks, excavators and other equipment and supplies to assist with debris cleanup of the 36 homes that were destroyed during the fire.
“Tallahassee is a community that cares,” Mayor AndrewGillum said in a statement. “Our residents immediately began collecting donations and delivering supplies to our neighbors in Eastpoint and the City of Tallahassee offered a lending hand with recovery efforts.
“I am extremely proud of our crews for dedicating their time and energy to helping those in need, and of our entire city for lending a hand when it was needed most.”
Also, crews will bring with them food, clothing and other items that have been donated by city employees.
Eastpoint fundraiser successful, Proof says
In its latest email newsletter, Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co. said its July 2 fundraiser for victims of the Eastpoint fire took in $2,200.
“Many residents lost their homes in the fire that happened June 24,” the brewery said.
The event was made possible with the help of Tallahassee Beer Society, Eastpoint Brewing Company, Oyster City Brewing Company, The FRLA, Willie Jewells BBQ, Shell Oyster Bar and Barber’s Seafood.
All money collected goes to the Franklin Promise Coalition.
“Thank you to all that participated, and to those who helped made it happen!” Proof said.