Joe Negron Archives - Page 2 of 55 - Florida Politics

Gayle Harrell leads Belinda Keiser 48-26 in fresh SD 25 poll

Despite being massively outspent by Keiser University vice chancellor Belinda Keiser, a new poll shows state Rep. Gayle Harrell with a commanding lead in the Republican primary for Senate District 25.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Aug. 8, found Harrell with 48 percent support among voters who said they had either already cast a ballot or that they planned to vote in the Aug. 28 election.

Keiser, who has juiced her campaign with $925,000 in candidate loans, was the pick for just 26 percent of those polled, with a slightly higher share saying they were still unsure which of the two candidates they would vote for.

Among the 22 percent of Republicans who said they had already voted, Harrell’s lead expanded to 35 points. It contracted to 44-26, however, among the 78 percent whose vote is still outstanding.

Another piece of good news for Harrell: Voters who know about her tend to like her.

About 51 percent of Republicans offered their opinion on the term-limited state representative, handing her a plus-13 in favorability. The margin was only a little tighter among those who haven’t voted, with 35 percent saying they saw her favorably compared to 23 percent with an unfavorable view.

Keiser, the poll found, holds a double-digit lead when it comes to name ID, but there weren’t too many fans of the Broward Republican. Of the 65 percent of Republicans who gave their opinion, she scored a minus-16 in favorability. The measure bottomed out at minus-36 among early voters, while those who haven’t voted saw her unfavorably by a 35-26 percent margin with 39 percent undecided.

Harrell and Keiser are the only Republicans running for SD 25, which is open two years ahead of schedule due to exiting Senate President Joe Negron’s decision to resign the seat rather than serve out the remainder of his term.

The winner of the Harrell versus Keiser contest will move on to face Port St. Lucie Democrat Robert Levy in the Nov. 6 general election.

SD 25 includes the whole of Martin and St. Lucie counties, where Harrell has held elected office for 16 of the past 18 years, as well as part of Palm Beach County. The district is safely Republican — Negron was re-elected with nearly two-thirds of the vote in the 2016 cycle, while Trump carried the district by double digits.

The St. Pete Polls robopoll took responses from 357 registered Republicans who said they planned to vote in the SD 25 primary. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

Tom Lee says he’s looking forward to leadership change in Senate

Tom Lee is psyching himself up for another term in the Florida Senate.

“I was pretty much resolved to step away for a little while, and get on with some business and try to help my son get through high school,” the Thonotosassa Republican (and Senate President in 2004-06) said last week.

After considering runs for Chief Financial Officer and for Congress, and even leaving politics altogether, he decided last month to seek re-election.

He faces John Manners Houman in this month’s Senate District 20 primary. Joy Gibson and Kathy Lewis are vying to be the Democratic nominee.

Lee, who has served a combined 16 years in the chamber, clashed regularly with leadership under President Joe Negron of Stuart, but expects better days when Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano wields the gavel, as expected next year.

“My sense is there are going to be a lot of changes in the Senate, and it’s going to be a more rewarding place in which to serve in the coming years,” Lee said.

Then there’s the good of the party to think about.

“It’s much easier to recruit for the other party if you’re not running against an incumbent — depending on the incumbent, I guess,” he said.

“In this case, I think it would have been much easier for the Democrats to recruit candidates. And there’s no question about it — there would have been a Republican primary, and that would have cost a substantial amount of resources.

“Resources are finite. If those resources could be saved and utilized in other races where we have thin margins for error, it can help people sleep a little better at night.”

Belinda Keiser pours another $225K into SD 25 campaign

Keiser University vice chancellor Belinda Keiser inked another six-figure check for her campaign to succeed Senate President Joe Negron in Senate District 25.

During the reporting period covering July 7 through July 20, Keiser brought in just $10,600 in outside cash while boosted her campaign fund with another $225,000 in candidate loans. To date, the Broward County Republican has put up $925,000 of her own money and raised about $98,000 for a total campaign fund of more than $1 million.

The majority of that cash has been spent on consulting contracts a torrent of direct mail campaigns. Of the $215,000 in spending shown in the new report, nearly $104,000 paid for mailers from Clearwater-based Direct Mail Services, while another $70,000 was paid to Kingston Public Affairs, founded by Donald Trump-connected Karen Giorno, for consulting work.

Keiser finished the reporting period with just over $208,000 in the bank.

Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell, who is running against Keiser in the primary, showed $9,875 raised in her new report and only spent $251. Harrell has now raised $84,000 in outside money and kicked in another $100,000 in loans since entering the race last year. She had $168,000 at the ready on July 20.

While Harrell hasn’t been able to go toe-to-toe with Keiser’s checkbook, she has had more success landing endorsements. Her most recent nod came from the Florida Realtors, with prior backers including Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, former Senate President Ken Pruitt and the Florida Medical Association.

Senate District 25 wasn’t scheduled to open up until 2020, but will be open this year due to Negron’s decision to leave the chamber two years early. Following Negron’s announcement, Gov. Rick Scott called a special election for the district that will be held concurrently with regularly scheduled 2018 election.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary contest will move on to face Port St. Lucie Democrat Robert Levy in the Nov. 6 general election.

Levy showed $3,825 in fundraising in his new report, making for $19,825 in outside fundraising thus far. He’s taken a page from his rivals across the aisle, however, and brought another $150,000 in candidate loans to the table.

After spending $10,600 during the reporting period, including nearly $8,400 for communications work, he had about $75,000 left in his campaign account.

SD 25 includes the whole of Martin and St. Lucie counties, where Harrell has held elected office for 16 of the past 18 years, as well as part of Palm Beach County. The district is safely Republican — Negron was re-elected with nearly two-thirds of the vote in the 2016 cycle, while Trump carried the district by double digits.

State appeals conservation funding case

Legislative leaders are appealing a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that the state has not properly carried out a 2014 constitutional amendment that required spending on land and water conservation.

Attorneys for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, filed a notice this week of taking the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

As is common, the notice does not detail the arguments that the Legislature will make at the appeals court. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson last month ruled that lawmakers had failed to properly comply with the voter-approved constitutional amendment, which required using money from a real estate tax to bolster land and water conservation.

Environmental groups filed legal challenges against the state, contending that lawmakers had diverted portions of the money to other expenses.

The notice of appeal was filed after Dodson refused to grant a rehearing in the case.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Direct mail roundup: ‘Blue wave’ Belinda Keiser donated to Debbie Wasserman Schultz

A new mailer is heading out to Senate District 25 voters blasting Republican candidate Belinda Keiser for her past campaign contributions to Democratic politicians.

“’Blue wave’ Belinda Keiser gave money to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the loud-mouthed, ultra-liberal party-boss that ran the DNC under Barack Hussein Obama,” the mailer reads. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz ran her party so shady that she had to resign after the famous email leak because she knew her behavior was immoral and shameful.”

Further down on the full-page mailer, paid for by the Venice-based political committee Make American Great Again, is a clipping from a 2016 New York Times article from when the Democratic congresswoman stepped down as DNC chair, saying it came about “after a trove of leaked emails showed party officials conspiring to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.”

Also included are pictures of spreadsheets highlighting the contributions Keiser made to Schultz, dating as far back as 1996 to as recently as 2014.

“’Blue wave’ Belinda Keiser wants us to believe she’s a conservative,” the reverse side of the mailer reads. “What kind of conservative gives money to Obama-era Democrat party boss Debbie Wasserman Shultz???”

The attacks on Keiser’s past contributions are nothing new.

Last month, a political committee tied to the Florida Medical Association released a “Brady Bunch” inspired ad hammering her for donations to Wasserman Schultz as well as Hillary ClintonCharlie Crist, Bob Graham, Al Gore, Alcee HastingsBuddy MacKay and Bill Nelson.

All told, Keiser has given nearly $200,000 to Democratic candidates running at the state and federal level over the years, and many were made well after the former Democrat claimed to have joined the Republican party in 2007. She now claims to have switched her party affiliation in 2001.

This election cycle alone, she’s sent checks to Plantation state Sen. Lauren Book and Crist’s re-election campaign in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Keiser, who lives 80 miles south of SD 25, entered the race shortly after Senate President Joe Negron announced he would leave his seat early. The special primary and general elections to replace Negron will be held concurrently with the regularly scheduled midterm elections.

Keiser faces Stuart state Rep. Gayle Harrell in the Aug. 28 Republican primary. The winner of that contest will face Democratic nominee Robert Levy in the Nov. 6 general election.

As of July 6, Keiser led the money race with $87,000 raised and $700,000 in candidate loans. She has $187,000 in the bank. Harrell has raised $74,000 and kicked in $100,000 in loans and has $159,000 on hand. Levy has brought in $16,000 and anteed up $150,000 in loans and has an on-hand total of $82,000.

SD 25 covers all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, along with a small portion of Palm Beach County. The safe Republican seat voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.

The mailer is below.

Lawmakers want judge tossed off environmental funding suit

Saying he violated their constitutional rights “in multiple ways, and over repeated objections,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron asked a Tallahassee judge to remove himself from future proceedings in an environmental funding case.

The legislative leaders filed their disqualification request with Circuit Judge Charles Dodson earlier this week.

On June 28, Dodson had granted a “final (summary) judgment for (the) plaintiffs” in a lawsuit over how lawmakers fund environmental conservation. Summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

A notice of appeal has not yet been filed, according to court dockets. But attorneys sometimes move for disqualification to avoid having the same judge if a suit on appeal gets kicked back down to the lower-court judge for further action.

The case, first filed in 2015, was over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The 2014 constitutional change, mandating state spending for land and water conservation, garnered a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club — sued, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

Dodson agreed, declaring a laundry list of 2015 and 2016 appropriations unconstitutional.

“The clear intent was to create a trust fund to purchase new conservation lands and take care of them,” he wrote. “The conservation lands the state already owned were to be taken care of, certainly, but from non-trust money.”

But Andy Bardos, the GrayRobinson lawyer representing Corcoran and Negron, said in his filing the plaintiffs never asked for a final judgment, “but only for partial summary judgment as to nine of 114 appropriations challenged in (the) complaint—or eight percent of its case.”

That violated lawmakers’ right to due process, Bardos said, which has now “eliminated the Legislative Parties’ confidence in the fairness and impartiality of this proceeding.”

In response, David Guest – one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers – said “the alleged bias is based entirely on Judge Dodson’s rejection of their legal arguments, all of which were squarely presented at various points in the proceedings.

“That a judge finds a party’s legal argument unpersuasive cannot be the basis of a motion to recuse the judge – only the basis for an appeal,” he added.

This sets a very low bar for what counsel for the Legislature considers to be acceptable conduct. Expect more of this kind of play before this case is over.”

As of June 21, the Senate spent $229,172 in total “litigation expenses” defending the suit, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Similar information was not immediately available from the House.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, also a defendant named in his official capacity, said his department “did not obtain outside counsel on this case.”

The full filing, with exhibits, is below:

White House backs Everglades reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belinda Keiser dumps another $200K in to SD 25 bid

After stocking her campaign account with a $500,000 loan in May, Belinda Keiser put another $200,000 down for her bid to succeed exiting Senate President Joe Negron in Senate District 25.

Keiser, a Democrat-turned-Republican who lives 80 miles away from the Treasure Coast district, brought in just $21,775 in outside money.

Her donors included the Florida Police Benevolent Association and lobby firm Colodny Fass as well as various individuals and businesses, many of them from out of state and only one of them from within SD 25. That lone contribution was a $250 check from J & P Macarthur Inc. of Hobe Sound.

Keiser also spent more than $300,000 last month, including $196,000 on media placement through Southern Campaign Resources and $64,000 on mailers through Clearwater-based Direct Mail Systems. She finished the June 1 through June 22 reporting period with $432,890 in the bank, including the $700,000 in loans.

Stuart Rep. Gayle Harrell is Keiser’s main competition in the Republican primary, though Dr. Joe Smith of West Palm Beach also qualified for the ballot.

Harrell showed $44,855 in fundraising and $12,326 in spending in her new report. Her donors included lobby firm Becker & Poliakoff and numerous political committees, including ones tied Republican Sen. Aaron Bean and Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues.

Expenditures included more than $5,600 in payments to Jupiter-based Public Concepts for printing and advertising expenses. Since filing for the seat in October 2017 — well before Negron’s announcement he would leave two years early — Harrell has raised $69,285 and kicked in another $100,000 in loans. She finished the reporting period with $156,421 on hand.

The only income listed in Smith’s report, his first since filing, was a $5,000 loan. Meanwhile, the lone Democrat in the race, Robert Levy, raised $4,125 and spent nearly $14,000.

His contributions included a $1,000 checks from Stuart artist John Longmaid and Winter Park animal care worker Nicole Taylor. His spending included $6,500 for campaign staff and $5,000 for consulting from Washington-based Jones & Associates.

Since filing in February, he has raised $13,650 and loaned his campaign another $150,000. He had $93,500 on hand on June 22.

SD 25 includes the whole of Martin and St. Lucie counties, as well as part of Palm Beach County. The special election to replace Negron will be held concurrently with the 2018 midterm elections. The primary is Aug. 28 and the general election is Nov. 6.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Patriotism in the Sunshine State

Patriotism in the Sunshine State 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 5

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

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

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

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

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

Scott highlights affordable housing options

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott’s net worth soars

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

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

Rick Scott has a reason to smile.

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

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

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

Patronis aids wildfire victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State targets cryptocurrency

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Framers’ allowed to enter education case

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Hendry County Property Appraiser

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

Franklin County School Board

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

Children’s Services Council of Martin County

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

Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council

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

Northwest Florida State College District Board of Trustees

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

Geller, aide recognized for ‘home rule’ efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida think tank supportive of Supreme Court decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New laws taking effect

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

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

Among laws taking effect:

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

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

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

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

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

National parks recognize Florida city for historic merit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressives to protest at Capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

New grants aim to attract skills-based volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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

New association represents local government communicators

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

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

FMCA President Todd DeAngelis (center).

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

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

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

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

FSU leads schools in graduation rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tallahassee gets free electric-car charging

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

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

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

Leon County closures, changes for July 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s scallopin’ time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Directions

Takeaways from Tallahassee — At the old ballgame

In her lifelong fight against child abuse, state Senator Lauren Book has found a friend in America’s favorite pastime.

The Plantation Democrat brought together 1,000 middle and elementary school children from seven schools in the Bronx for a walk to advocate for child safety and protection Thursday.

Lauren Book brings her crusade for child safety to the Bronx.

Led by Book, the large group of children approached Yankee Stadium — the heart of the Big Apple borough — as they chanted “Whose streets? OUR streets!”

Once inside, the children were joined by Yankee’s staff and players as they paced the warning track. As most stars should be, the activists were recognized over the stadium’s PA system.

It’s the fourth time the Senator has linked the surrounding neighborhood with one of the most popular teams in baseball, proving that her influence and advocacy knows no geographical limits.

The walk followed recent fatal shootings killing two young people outside local schools. Book paralleled the spirit of Bronx youth with that of Parkland.

“These students remind me that advocacy has no age limit,” Book said. “I wish I could shield these children from violence, abuse and poverty they experience daily, but the reality is, something more powerful is going on here: a new generation is being raised up that will combat these things themselves. It’s not about me, it’s about them.”

In the Bronx, Book also teaches lessons from her “Safer, Smarter Kids” curriculum. The first of its kind program is also taught in Manhattan. As part of the walk, Book donated to a local children’s advocacy center 200 copies of her book “Lauren’s Kingdom,” which encourages children suffering abuse to speak up.

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:

Take 5

Governor disavows immigration practice — Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for an end to the practice of separating migrant children from their parents when they are detained for being in the country illegally. The letter preceded President Donald Trump’s announcement later this week that he plans to end the immigration policy via an executive order. “I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families,” Scott wrote. “This practice needs to stop now.” In the letter, Scott requested HHS to notify him of unaccompanied migrant children in the state and made several inquiries regarding health care, education and social services being provided to the children. He also offered a helping hand from the state to reunite children with their parents.

Plans advance to close Broward nursing home — The state won a key victory this week in a series of legal battles with a troubled nursing home in Broward County. An appellate court upheld a state agency’s decision to suspend the operating license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the nursing home where authorities linked several patient deaths to negligence following a power outage caused by Hurricane Irma. Also upheld by the court were moves to suspend the facility’s participation in the Medicaid program and block Medicaid admissions. Meanwhile, the state still is battling the nursing home over whether it should be required to turn over death records of thousands of nursing home patients across the state. A circuit court judge ruled last week that the state Department of Health should provide the records for a reasonable fee. State attorneys this week filed an appeal to that ruling, reports the News Service of Florida.

Feds could join FIU bridge lawsuit — The federal government is “actively considering whether to file a statement of interest” in a Miami Herald lawsuit seeking records held by the state Department of Transportation, reported Jim Rosica for Florida Politics. The records requested pertain to the FIU footbridge that collapsed in March killing 6 people. The Herald and two named reporters are seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction” from DOT. The U.S. attorney who filed the document this week cited the involvement of a federal entity, the National Transportation Safety Board, as a rationale for potentially justifying involvement in the lawsuit. The state Department of Transportation has cited an ongoing NTSB investigation as just cause for not releasing the records sought by the Herald, as they cannot release the information without NTSB approval.

Groups push halt to early voting ban — University students who are suing over the state’s ban on early voting at college campuses filed a motion this week to halt the ban ahead of this year’s election. The motion seeks a “preliminary injunction to prevent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner from enforcing” the ban, according to a news release. Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida notes that the students who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are supported by the Democratic-aligned Andrew Goodman Foundation, along with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups. Writes Dixon, “the groups argue the push is not political, but rather to ensure that younger voters are not treated differently.” Sponsoring the plaintiffs — made up of nine students from the University of Florida and FSU — is Priorities USA Foundation. The group’s Chairman Guy Cecil said, “We’re confident that we will prevail in court when this case goes to full trial, and in the meantime urge the court to stop Secretary Detzner from suppressing the vote any further.”

Florida relevant in landmark sales tax ruling — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that’s being acclaimed by some as a move toward “leveling the playing field” between physical retails stores and online sellers could significantly affect the dollar amount of taxes remitted in the Sunshine State. Reports Jim Rosica for Florida Politics, “Estimates have varied on how much Florida would get if it captured taxes on its residents’ online purchases, from $200 million to more than $750 million.” The recent court ruling walks back an earlier precedent that online retailers could only be required to collect sales taxes on purchases if they had a physical presence in the state. The ruling supported a South Dakota law that required online retailers to collect sales taxes on orders from customers within the state. Currently, Floridians are required to pay sales taxes for online orders, and while large online retailers like Amazon already collect sales taxes, other smaller outlets do not, reports Axios. Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Retail Federation lauded the ruling. TaxWatch said the decision signals an opportunity for Florida to modernize its tax system, and the FRF pointed to the ruling as a chance for legislators to create equity between brick-and-mortar stores and online sellers.

Scott targets algae blooms

Amid reports of algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River and east to the St. Lucie River estuaries and the Indian River Lagoon, Gov. Scott directed the state Department of Environmental Protection to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “redirect the flow of water out of Lake Okeechobee to the south.”

Rick Scott is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to redirect water being released from Lake Okeechobee

“Two years ago, we saw the devastating impact of releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries which caused widespread algal blooms and led to the declaration of a state of emergency in four counties,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking immediate action to do everything in our power to solve this problem.”

In response to the order, reports TCPalm.com, USACE began reducing overall discharges Friday. “Some have noted that there is no storage nor not enough conveyance for the water to go to the south, and that is going to be a problem,” reports TCPalm.

In his request, Scott noted that the state has a tentative agreement with the Donald Trump administration to expedite repairs to the federal Dike from where water needs to be discharged.

Added Scott: “Also, working with the Florida Legislature, I signed a law that accelerated the EAA reservoir to move more water south of the Lake, to help ease these discharges. But, while we continue to wait on the federal government’s action on the Dike and EAA reservoir, we are going to do all we can to protect our waterways as we enter the hot summer months in Florida.”

Bondi touts scam-targeting operation

Operation Main Street, a nationwide initiative focused on stopping scams that target small businesses, saw success in the Sunshine State.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week that of the 24 actions taken against scammers during the initiative, four were in Florida. The following businesses caught the wrath of the Attorney General: Florida Corporate Filing Services, GNA Housekeeping, LLC, United Business Services, Inc., and US Yellow.

Pam Bondi is targeting small business scams.

According to a news release from Bondi’s office, US Yellow tricked “small businesses into believing US Yellow provided free local listings with local Yellow Pages” and then charged businesses more than $1,000 a year for a listing.

For the other named scammers, Bondi’s office obtained final judgments for deceptive practices.

“Small businesses are vital to Florida’s economy, employing more than 3 million Floridians and contributing to our state’s economic strength,” Bondi said.

Instagram of the Week

#WeShouldAllCare 🇺🇸 #KeepFamiliesTogether @nymag @justinteodoro

A post shared by Congressman Darren Soto (@repdarrensoto) on

The Week in Appointments

Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Crystal Kinzel will fill a vacancy created by the death of Dwight Brock. Her term began June 20 and will last through Nov. 13. She was the Chief Deputy Clerk of the same circuit.

Lake County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Gary Cooney will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Neil Kelly. His term began June 15 and will last through Nov. 13. He was the Chief Deputy Clerk of the same circuit.

Education Dept. lauds family involvement initiatives

The Florida Department of Education this week announced the winners of its 2018 Family and Community Involvement Award, which recognizes schools for their efforts to get families and communities involved in education.

“It is my pleasure to recognize these schools with the Family and Community Involvement Award,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “As a former teacher and principal, I have seen firsthand how family and community involvement can positively impact student achievement. My congratulations to our schools for their innovation in creating meaningful programs that connect students, parents and the community.”

Winning awards for their initiatives were Callahan Intermediate School in Nassau County, Denn John Middle School in Osceola County, Gulf Middle School and Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County, Killearn Lakes Elementary School in Leon County, Minneola Elementary School in Lake County, Poinciana Elementary School in Monroe County, Thomas L. Sims Middle School in Santa Rosa County and Woodlands Community Middle School in Palm Beach County.

The winners will be formally recognized and invited to share their award-winning programs at the Educational Strategies and Student Engagement Institute in November.

FWC staff recognized for conservation efforts

John Hunt, a biologist working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and FWC officer Michael Bibeau were both honored this week by the Florida Guides Association for their conservation efforts.

John Hunt, with Captain Phil Chapman, was honored by the Florida Guides Association.

For his “passionate commitment” to protecting marine fisheries, Hunt received the Capt. Phil Chapman Award. He is known across the globe for scientific contributions that have been instrumental in preserving the Caribbean spiny lobster fishery.

Gil McRae, Director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said Hunt “embodies” the needed application of “sound science and collective problem-solving approach that relies upon strong partnerships among government, stakeholders and environmental groups.”

“Perhaps, most importantly, John is a tireless advocate for his staff within the agency,” added McRae. “He has repeatedly shown admirable dedication and commitment to his staff, serving as a model for all of us with his leadership, compassion and courage.”

For his work patrolling Pinellas County, Bibeau was honored with the Trained Eyes Coastwatchers Officer of the Year award.

“The hard work of my brothers and sisters in conservation law enforcement inspires me to do my job every day to the best of my ability,” Bibeau said.

Parks surpass prescribed-fire record

The Florida Park Service has beaten a previous record for the amount of land managed by prescribed fire in a fiscal year.

More than 80,837 acres of land have been managed via controlled burns this year. The process is extremely beneficial to the environment, and remains a safe and effective way to help woodlands; the fires are planned, set and extinguished by specialized staff.

Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper.

“We are proud of Florida State Parks staff for setting a new record for protecting park habitat with prescribed fire,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “Florida is fortunate to have such dedicated people working in state parks reducing risks of wildfire and restoring natural systems.”

The risk of wildfires is mitigated through prescribed fires because the deliberate blazes can be used to target areas where dry, dead plants have accumulated. It’s an effective tool that allows park workers to clear brush out of the way. Other benefits of controlled burns include increased nutrients in soil and upticks in biodiversity.

There are 175 state parks in Florida, 67 of them have seen more than 390 prescribed fires this year.

Preliminary citrus budget gets approval

The Florida Citrus Commission approved a preliminary $17.68 million spending plan for the Florida Department of Citrus in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

That’s a $442,000 increase from last year, which ended up being one of the worst years for Florida citrus in recent history as it reeled from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

The tentative plan figures Florida citrus growers should produce 60 million boxes of oranges and 5 million boxes of grapefruit. The budget is based on a tax projection of $.07 per box of processed oranges, all grapefruit and all specialty fruit. A tax of $.05 is projected for fresh oranges.

Though the overall budget increased, international programs, scientific research, and administration components of the budget saw cuts.

The budget will not be finalized until October, after the USDA releases its initial crop forecast for the upcoming season. Florida growers are on track to produce just 44.95 million boxes of oranges this year, according to the latest USDA forecast, and citrus groves suffered extensive damage that could affect crop production for years to come.

No SunPass fines during update

Good news for drivers: there’ll be no late fees or penalties as the state updates the troubled SunPass electronic toll collection system.

“I share the frustrations with our customers over the rollout of (the updated system) and find it unacceptable,” said Mike Dew, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew promises no SunPass fines during updates.

“We will not be imposing late fees or penalties on SunPass accounts until the system is providing the benefits and ease of access that our customers deserve and expect.”

“The SunPass system has accumulated toll charges for customer accounts since the maintenance period began June 1,” a news release said. “In the best interest of the customer, the posting of toll charges was withheld until the website and call center systems were operating more efficiently.”

SunPass customers will continue to be charged regular tolls, however. Once the system gets a clean bill of health, fees and penalties will resume for delinquent accounts.

Lawmakers ranked on progressive positions

It’s a common practice for activist groups and interests to dole out letter grades for lawmakers based on their voting records during the previous Session.

Typically, the results fall along party lines. And a recent report card from Progress Florida was no outlier to that trend; all of the 17 lawmakers who earned an A grade are Democrats, and very few Republicans received anything but an F grade — although term-limited Republican Sen. Rene Garcia of Miami got a C.

Unsurprisingly, Carlos Guillermo Smith earned the top grade among Florida progressives.

Votes were factored into whether they expressed support for what Progress Florida dubbed “People First” positions. During 2018, votes, like supporting an assault weapons ban, or opposing the House’s education package, met the “People First” criteria.

“Floridians don’t always know where their legislators stand on key issues impacting their lives, from access to health care and environmental protection to gun safety, the economy and supporting public schools,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo. “Our People First Report Card grades state lawmakers based not on what they say in a campaign mailer, but on how they actually voted on issues Floridians care about.”

Unsurprisingly, Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith topped the group’s list. The freshman Democrat helped found and chaired the Legislative Progressive Caucus. He was joined with 100 percent scores by South Florida Democrats Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Rep. David Richardson. Each aligned with Progress Florida on every scored vote.

Chip LaMarca recognized for local commitment

As he vies for the South Florida HD 39 seat in the Legislature, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca was recognized this week for his work at the local level.

The Florida Association of Counties chose LaMarca as the recipient of the 2018 President’s Commitment to Service Award — the honor is bestowed upon those who address local issues and serve alongside the association.

Chip LaMarca earns kudos for his local work.

In accepting the honor, LaMarca emphasized home rule — which has come to be a hot topic of the Legislature as lawmakers have pre-empted powers to the state. The state has been criticized for overreaching into governing decisions usually determined at the local level.

“The Florida Association of Counties works on behalf of Florida’s 67 counties to advocate for home rule and legislation that is vital to the quality of life for all of our residents,” said LaMarca.

Florida Association of Counties President Christopher Constance, also a Charlotte County Commissioner, said LaMarca’s “unwavering commitment to local governments exemplifies the definition of a dedicated and selfless public servant.”

If LaMarca makes it to the House in November, Constance and the counties could have another local-friendly fighter in the state House.

Utility leaders honored for service

Four public powers leaders were honored this week by the American Public Power Association (APPA) for their important work of providing electricity to the state.

Among the honorees: Amy Zubaly, who is the Executive Director of Florida Municipal Electric Association, or FMEA; Fred Bryant, the former general counsel of FMEA and Florida Municipal Power Agency, or FMPA; Chris Gent, who is the vice president of communications for Kissimmee Utility Authority; and Michael Perri, Jr., a board member of Fort Pierce Utilities Authority.

Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) Board of Directors.

Zubaly was awarded for her 18 active years with APPA. The association recognized her important work restoring power in Florida after Hurricane Irma, as well as her efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Bryant was given the James D. Donovan Individual Achievement Award. It’s the second time he’s received the honor. He is credited with unmatched legal expertise in his field.

Perri, the board member, was recognized in his capacity as an elected official. APPA awarded him the honor for assisting in beneficial legislation and opposing potentially harmful bills.

FSU research: Church does little for opioid addiction

A new study conducted by researchers at Florida State University found that religious involvement has no significant effect on mothers who are misusing prescription drugs — like opioids.

Illegal drugs, however, are a different story; the researchers found that practicing religion could have an effect on prohibited substance use.

FSU Associate Professor Amy Burdette (Image via FSU /Bill Lax)

“However, religious communities are just beginning to discuss the dangers of prescription drug abuse,” explained FSU Associate Professor Amy Burdette, who spearheaded the research.

Across the slice of population studied — female mothers who were mostly single — drug abuse was low.

“That’s a bit of good news,” Burdette said. “Whether you’re talking about prescription drug misuse or illegal substance abuse, it’s somewhat rare in our sample — it’s not that most mothers are doing this.”

Still, Burdette believes the study should be taken into consideration by religious leaders.

“Our research suggests that church leaders may want to directly address the issue of prescription drug misuse as churchgoers may not view prescription drugs in the same way that they view illegal drugs,” Burdette said. “Not directly addressing the issue may lead to a high degree of moral ambiguity.”

Leon County balances budget without increasing millage rate

After tentatively coming to an agreement this week, commissioners for Leon County are touting the seventh-consecutive year in which they’ve drafted a budget without raising the millage rate.

The elected leaders of the county that houses the capital city are proposing a $262.5 million spending plan for the year ahead — a 3.46 percent increase from last year.

Leon County Commission Chair Nick Maddox.

But that increase is accompanied by no change in the millage rate, currently set at 8.3144 mills.

A news release announcing the budget plan said it was created during “a slowly improving economy, where growth in property tax revenues and state sales tax revenues are beginning to cover the inflationary costs of government expenses without having to reduce program services.”

“While property values continue to slowly rise in our recovering economy, the County remains committed to serving our citizens while avoiding new expenses,” said Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “This balanced budget demonstrates that commitment.”

Making way for new Publix near downtown

If you travel Gaines Street often, get ready for detours.

Starting next week, there will be what the city calls ‘traffic impacts’ on the strip because of construction on the new Publix Greenwise Supermarket being built near Gaines and Railroad Avenue.

The city promises, however, that “access to area businesses and residences will be maintained at all times.”

Here’s the plan, according to a city news release:

— From next Monday through Sunday, July 1, the eastbound lane of Gaines from Railroad to Woodward Avenue will be closed. The westbound lane will remain open and detour signs will be posted.

— Starting Monday, July 2, until Thursday, July 5, the eastbound lane of Gaines from Railroad to Woodward will be closed daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

— Starting Friday, July 6 and lasting through Sunday, July 8, there will be a full road closure (both eastbound and westbound lanes closed) on Gaines in front of the site.

For more information, email Dwaine Stevens, the Publix Media and Community Relations Manager for the region, at Dwaine.Stevens@publix.com.

Artopia: Big Bend Cares

Artopia is a charity art fundraising event Saturday, June 23, to benefit Big Bend Cares.

Local and regional artists donate artwork for this event, which includes a few signed and numbered limited editions. With art and media including painting, sculpture, photography, arts and crafts, Artopia features both silent and a live auction at the end of the evening.

Last year, Artopia featured more than 300 pieces of original artwork, including oils, pastels, acrylics, photography, scenography, sculpture, pottery, ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, mixed media and much, much more.

In addition to all of the artwork, local businesses and individuals donate gift certificates and other perks to bid on. Tickets are $25.00; event begins 7 p.m. at the Donald L Tucker Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola St.

Capitol Directions

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