Pam bondi Archives - Florida Politics

Cabinet approves latest conservation easement

The Florida Cabinet is moving forward with the purchase of a large parcel of land in Highlands County to ensure its preservation.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam authorized the $5,528,250 buy of the specified 2,457 acres of ranchland, known as the Sandy Gully property. 

Funding from the state Rural and Family Lands Protection program will be used to cover the cost of the purchase. Known as a conservation easement, the buy allows agricultural operations to continue on the Sandy Gully property but restricts future development. A potential federal grant totaling $3,312,500 could help offset that cost.

Sandy Gully is a cow/calf operation. Hay and timber production are secondary operations. A former dairy farm, it shifted focus to cattle in 2002, and now run anywhere from 650 to 700 heads of cattle, according to documents from the Department of Environmental Protection.

Species of black bear and gopher tortoise — both considered rare — have been present on the property. In the past, the owners of the land also have identified sightings of sandhill cranes, bald eagles, Sherman’s fox squirrels, eastern indigo snakes, gopher tortoises and Florida panthers.

Justifying the purchase, the state believes the property could serve as a pathway for animals in between two nearby parks.

“What’s really key about [Sandy Gully] is it’s sandwiched between the Highlands County Sun N Lake Preserve and the Highlands Hammock State Park,” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein noted to the Cabinet. “[The land] will be a pretty good corridor for the wildlife that moves along the ranch.”

As well, the Sandy Gully property is integral to some of the area’s wetland systems, according to DEP documents.

Valenstein noted to the Cabinet that the state has purchased 46 conservation easements with the addition of Sandy Gully. In total, 53,121 acres have now been preserved under the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program since its creation in 2001. 

White TV ad

Frank White ad sees sheriffs tout him as a ‘conservative we can trust’

Attorney General candidate Frank White is rolling out a new TV ad Monday saying he, not fellow Republican Ashley Moody, has a record county sheriffs can trust.

The 30-second ad, titled “Florida Sheriffs Support Frank White,” apes a recent TV ad by Moody by bringing in some backup from county sheriffs who are backing his campaign. Moody, a former circuit court judge and prosecutor, touted her law endorsement endorsements and another from Attorney General Pam Bondi, in an ad released last week.

White’s handful of sheriff backers were used to the same effect in the new spot.

“Florida Sheriffs agree that for Attorney General, Frank White has the conservative record we can trust,” a narrator says before three county sheriffs — Escambia Sheriff David Morgan, Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley and Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson — split the next three lines of the script.

“That’s why Frank White stood with President [Donald] Trump against illegal immigration and voted to outlaw sanctuary cities in Florida. And why Frank has the highest NRA A+ rating for defending the Second Amendment. Frank White has worked with us in law enforcement to increase penalties on child predators and strengthen the death penalty,” the sheriffs say.

“Frank White. Tough. Effective. Conservative. For Attorney General,” the narrator says in closing.

The ad is the latest in a string of ads the White campaign has released since early June, when he kicked off an 80-day advertising plan with a $1 million ad buy well before the “lowest unit rate” rule kicked in 45 days out from Aug. 28 primary election.

If polls are any indication, White’s strategy is paying off. A recent measure from St. Pete Polls shows him with a double-digit lead over Moody among likely Republican primary voters, and his lead is similarly high among each slice of the GOP electorate barring Hispanic Republicans and those living in South Florida.

Still, two weeks are left, and Moody’s campaign has shown no signs of slowing down.

For the week of July 28 through Aug. 3, she added another $233,630 between her campaign and political committee, Friends of Ashley Moody, while White tacked on $106,000 between his campaign accounts and United Conservatives political committee.

As it stands, Moody has brought in more than $3.86 million between the two accounts and had $1.43 million in the bank on Aug. 3. White, who has put $2.77 million of his own money behind his bid and has received at least $400,000 from his family, has a to-date total of 4.64 million with $1.18 million at the ready.

The winner of the Aug. 28 primary election will likely face Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw in November.  A pair of polls, now somewhat stale, showed Shaw with an edge no matter which Republican he faces on Election Day.

For his part, Shaw showed $115,885 received in his new report. He has now raised more than $1.15 million since entering the race early this year and had $676,795 in the bank on Aug. 3.

White’s ad is below.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Charter chalks a win

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Charter chalks a win

The Leon County School District suffered a bruising defeat this week when an appeal panel unanimously recommended the state overturn the county’s decision to block a new charter school from setting up shop in the county.

The Charter School Appeal Commission, composed evenly of traditional public and charter school representatives, recommended the State Board of Education reject the county board’s previous denial of Tallahassee Classical School. The proposed charter now has the green light to operate.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna faced a ‘bruising defeat’ over a new charter school. (Image via Tallahassee Democrat)

The School Board blocked the proposed charter earlier this year, fearing the school would further exacerbate the issue of segregated student populations in the county.

But the appellate panel found that the district did not provide enough substantial evidence to turn down Tallahassee Classical.

The county initially argued the proposed charter’s plans for student recruitment — particularly for enrolling students with disabilities and getting a student body representative of the district’s demographics — along with its tentative transportation plan were not suitable.

But the panel unanimously agreed that each concern raised by the county was not well-founded, essentially determining the school board’s concerns were baseless. Tallahassee Classical has contended that the board blocked the school for political reasons.

In a brief interview after the hearing, Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna told Florida Politics the district’s initial rejection of Tallahassee Classical likely raised awareness of the issue of segregation, if nothing else.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t fighting for traditional public schools, and I always will,” Hanna said. Adding that if — or when — the school begins operating in the county, he said the district will “welcome (it) into our community.”

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

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

Take 5

State seeks to substantiate ‘hacking’ claim — After Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told reporters this week that Russian operatives have “penetrated” election systems in Florida, Secretary of State Ken Detzner penned a letter to Sen. Richard Burr, chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, requesting knowledge of the alleged hackings. Nelson, when speaking with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, said his knowledge of the hacks stemmed from the committee. In the letter, Detzner wrote that the state has no current information supporting Nelson’s claim. Counties this week finalized submissions requesting federal election security grants to beef up election systems. The awards were approved by the state Joint Legislative Budget Commission and Gov. Rick Scott in July.

Judge strikes parts of pot law — A Tallahassee judge ruled this week that major provisions in a 2017 law implementing medical marijuana are unconstitutional. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson struck the law’s following requirements: Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers grow, process and sell own marijuana; limits on the number of marijuana providers that can be licensed by the state; and special categories of licenses. The challenge, raised by Florigrown, a company that was denied the chance to become a treatment center, sought a request for a temporary injunction, although that was denied. “The denial of the request for a temporary injunction will allow the department to continue to work to implement the law so Floridians can have safe access to this medicine,” said Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton. State Sen. Rob Bradley, the budget chief and chief architect of the law, said, “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

Supreme Court to weigh dog racing ban — The Supreme Court unanimously agreed to consider whether a proposed amendment to end greyhound racing can appear on the ballot in November. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys opposing the ban, argues the proposal, known as Amendment 13, should be kept off the ballot because it would be misleading to voters. In July, a Tallahassee judge sided with the attorneys. The state appealed the lower court ruling last week, and both parties requested an appellate court allow the case to ‘pass through’ to Supreme Court consideration, noting that time was of the essence: Mail-in ballots must, by law, be sent to voters by Sept. 22. An appellate court agreed this week to allow the Supreme Court to take up the case, and the high court accepted it a day later. Justices have scheduled arguments for Aug. 29.

Early voting ballots mount — Just more than half a million Floridians already have voted ahead of the Aug. 28 primary election, and Republicans appear to be leading the pack. Of the 510,155 ballots returned by Friday morning, 238,051 came from registered Republicans, with Democrats returning 198,631, according to data published by the state Division of Elections. Independent voters returned 71,507 as of the same date and voters belonging to other parties sent back 1,966 ballots. In total, 925,192 have been mailed out to Democrats, 836,223 to Republicans, 446,124 to independents and 9,965 to third-party voters.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session fails — A Democratic push to reconvene the Legislature to workshop Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law fell short this week after not gaining enough support between members of the state House and Senate. The call for a special session was sparked by the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County law enforcement did not pursue charges against the shooter, saying he acted within the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. Democratic members called for lawmakers to be polled on whether they should return to Tallahassee to revisit the controversial law. Although lawmakers had until noon Friday to vote on the special session, it became clear that the three-fifths support threshold could not be met Thursday. Republicans overwhelmingly opted not to return to the capital city. Between the state House and Senate, 77 members voted against the idea, with 48 voting in support. Thirty-one members did not respond to the poll, nor confirm receipt, according to data recorded by the Florida Department of State.

Scott tours algae-plagued area; offers more aid

Gov. Scott toured the St. Lucie River Friday, following-up immediately afterward by announcing an additional $700,000 is coming to help Martin County handle an ongoing toxic algae outbreak.

According to the Governor’s office, that money is coming from a $3 million grant approved after he declared a state emergency over the algae crisis in July.

On the water: Senate President Joe Negron (at left) joined Gov. Rick Scott on the St. Lucie River to see the algae outbreak caused by Lake Okeechobee water releases by the feds.

Scott was joined on his tour by retiring state Senate President Joe Negron, of Stuart. Last month, the Governor toured the algae-affected Caloosahatchee River on the west coast of the state.

Earlier this week, Scott announced an additional $400,000 would be heading to Lee County to clean up impacts related to red tide, for $1.1 million in grant funding.

“I am using my executive authority to provide additional funding to allow communities in Lee County to better clean our waterways,” Scott said in announcing the money for Lee. “We will continue to implement real solutions to help our local communities deal with both the algal issues caused by federal water discharges from Lake Okeechobee and this year’s red tide bloom. I encourage more local governments to apply for this important funding.”

New state land honors veterans

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expressing the state’s gratitude toward wounded vets with a large chunk of state land that will bear the name “Purple Heart Tract.”

Putnam made the announcement Tuesday, which was National Purple Heart Day. The tract is a 4,500-acre portion of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest.

“As Americans, the brave men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces have secured our freedom and liberty,” Putnam said.

The Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) hosted its 3rd Annual Purple Heart Day Banquet this week in the historic Fort Harrison.

“More than 1.9 million service members have been wounded or died defending our country, and this Purple Heart Tract is one way we can appreciate our nation’s heroes and honor them in perpetuity.”

The tract is designated as part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s trail program. Established in 1992, the program seeks to honor award recipients with transportation routes and monuments.

The news accompanied Putnam’s hosting of the second-annual Operation Outdoor Freedom Purple Heart Day event at Camp Prairie. The camp provides “guided hunts, fishing trips, canoe tours and other outdoor recreational activities free of charge.”

Scam targets Florida Blue customers

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is warning Floridians of a current telemarketing scam that appears to be disproportionately targeting seniors covered under Florida Blue.

According to a news release, Blue Cross and Blue Shield customers nationally have filed several complaints about scammers peddling “experimental pain relief cream” instead of pain medication.

The callers are allegedly prompting consumers to hand over information about their identity. In some cases, the scammers also are attempting to fraudulently charge Blue Cross and Blue Shield for their “bogus” creams, according to Patronis’ office.

“Florida residents are most likely to report being the target of fraud and identity theft,” Patronis said in a statement. “Anyone that provides prescription medication to you without a medical doctor directly involved in your personal care is committing fraud.

“Preying on seniors and some of our most vulnerable population is shameful, and we must do everything possible to warn Floridians about this scam.”

Instagram of the Week

FAU students who lost the opportunity to walk on stage and collect a diploma when a “credible threat” caused Tuesday’s ceremony to be canceled took part in special commencement ceremony at FAU’s Kenneth R. Williams Administration Building Thursday afternoon, August 9, 2018. They included: 1) 81-year-old Nicoletta Sorice, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Language and Linguistics. “Nicoletta has inspired her fellow Owls with her passion for learning and her enthusiasm for life,” FAU President John Kelly said. 2) Natasha Taimkij, 26, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. “You can tell they really care about their students,” she said of FAU officials. 3) Ripu Kunwar, who is seen posing for a photo making the “owl eyes” sign with FAU President John Kelly. Kunwar earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Geosciences. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post) #bocaraton #palmbeachcounty #fau #graduation #graduate #diploma

A post shared by The Palm Beach Post (@pbpost) on

Amendment 8 heading to court

The state Constitution Revision Commission this spring decided to put a proposal on the November ballot that would impose eight-year term limits on school-board members and would require the Legislature to take steps to better promote civic literacy in schools.

Sounds simple enough.

But next week, Tallahassee Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments about whether he should block the proposal, known as Amendment 8, from going on the ballot because of a dispute about another part of the measure.

The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to block Amendment 8. The group contends ballot language doesn’t adequately inform voters that one part of the proposed constitutional amendment is designed to open the door to more charter schools in the state.

Erika Donalds is defending Amendment 8, which is headed to Circuit Court.

The growth of charter schools, which are public schools typically operated by private groups or companies, has spawned numerous political and legal battles in recent years.

But Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, a Collier County school board member, defended the proposal during a debate in April. She said the revision would allow the Legislature to offer more educational choices, such as charter schools, to students and their families.

“The Legislature should not be encumbered by unfair and antiquated constitutional language that has been used to block parental choice and protect the education monopoly,” she said.

Cooper is scheduled to hear arguments on Friday.

School lunch guidelines announced

Income eligibility standards for free and discounted school lunches for the upcoming school year have been released.

Announced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this week, the federal income guidelines apply to the entire country and are valid until June 30, 2019.

The matrix is ordered by income and household size. For example, to be eligible for reduced-price school meals, a household of four could not have a yearly income of more than $46,435. For free meals, the same size household’s income cannot exceed $32,630.

According to FDACS, each school should have a copy available to go over with interested parties. The guidelines also can be found here.

State encourages Floridians to review coverage — before it’s too late

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and CFO Patronis are reminding citizens to double-check their insurance policies as the peak of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season approaches.

Jimmy Patronis wants your family to be secure; check your hurricane insurance policy, now.

“We are almost 30 days from the one-year mark since Irma, and this should serve as a reminder that flood policies typically take 30 days to take effect,” Patronis said. “Now is the time to review your current insurance policy and get flood insurance if you don’t have it.

“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern but a statewide issue.”

Patronis has been working with OIR to expand private flood insurance. Between June 2017 and March, eligible private flood insurance providers in Florida increased from 20 to 26, a 30 percent jump from the previous reporting period, according to OIR.

Saying “complacency is not an option,” Altmaier advised: “Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered.”

State recognizes Main Street Bartow

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced this week that Main Street Bartow in Polk County is the August 2018 Florida Main Street Community of the Month.

The Florida Main Street Program, administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, encourages economic development via historic preservation initiatives that facilitate the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns.

Communities that participate in the program are eligible to receive the designation, which recognizes development achievements.

“Main Street Bartow is an exemplary program,” said Secretary Detzner. “With one of the longest standing Main Street programs in Florida, downtown Bartow continues to thrive with constant growth, investment and additional businesses moving to the area.”

“There is a lot happening in our downtown,” said Bartow Main Street Executive Director Linda Holcomb. “More new businesses have moved in recently, and several are in the process. We have also seen an increase in attendance at our downtown events.”

Old Polk County Courthouse, Bartow. (Photo via the Florida Department of State.

Teacher rally set for next Sunday

As K-12 educators across the state gear up for incoming students, two South Florida lawmakers will host them and interested parties at the Red for Education Teacher Rally Aug. 19, the Sunday before the first day of the 2018-2019 school year in Miami-Dade County.

Announced in June by Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, and Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran, the rally is set to take place at the Betty T. Ferguson Community Center in Miami Gardens.

Guest speaker: Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie.

A number of politicians are expected to attend, including all five Democratic candidates for governor: Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Andrew Gillum, Chris King and Philip Levine.

In announcing the event in June, Rep. Duran said: “In our fight to improve Florida’s education system, it is essential that we provide a venue where teachers, students, parents, and the rest of the community can gather together to request better efforts to ensure our public schools are equipped with the adequate resources to provide high-quality education for all our children.” \

“Our schools are being starved out by these poorly thought out mandates and dangerous funding levels,” said Rep. Jones. “We will not continue to tolerate this blatant disregard for the growing needs of Florida’s schools.”

Howard to lead FMA

The Florida Medical Association has installed Dr. Corey L. Howard as its 142nd president.

Howard, the founder of Howard Health & Wellness in Naples, has been active in leadership at FMA since 2007. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology.

New FMA President Dr. Corey Howard.

“We congratulate Dr. Howard as he takes the helm as President of the Florida Medical Association,” said FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton. “His strong leadership and demonstrated advocacy for our physicians, patients and issues will further strengthen the FMA as Florida’s premier voice of medicine.”

FMA, which acts as the advocacy arm for physicians and medical professionals in the Sunshine State, boasts “more than 22,000 members on issues of legislation and regulatory affairs, medical economics and education, public health, and ethical and legal issues,” according to its website.

Howard officially assumed the presidential post last week during FMA’s annual meeting at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. Dr. Ronald F. Giffler is president-elect and will assume Howard’s position next year.

Reminder: Crab trap closures underway

The first of two scheduled 10-day blue crab trap closures in August began Friday.

That means recreational and commercial blue crab traps should be removed from specified state waters along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, those waters include “Brevard through Palm Beach counties from Aug. 10-19, and from all state waters from the Georgia-Florida line through Volusia County Aug. 20-29.”

Closed: The first 10-day Florida crab trap closure begins this week.

The St. Johns River system waters are excluded in both of these closures.

FWC conducts these closures to “identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water,” according to the agency. Closure lengths are subject to change.

Lost or abandoned crab traps are dangerous to underwater ecosystems because they can continue to trap — and kill — fish and crabs when gone unchecked. They can also damage habitats and interfere with boating traffic. While the closures are ongoing, fisherman can still collect crabs “with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps,” according to FWC.

FSU Student Bar wins top award

For the seventh time since 2008 and the second consecutive year, the Florida State University College of Law Student Bar Association (SBA) received the National Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Law Student Division.

The award, honoring the best SBA in the nation, is also known as the SBA of the Year Award and was presented at the ABA annual meeting in Chicago.

From left: incoming SBA President Cecilia Orozco, 3L Representative Brandon Sapala, Vice President Hillary Thornton.

“It recognizes the efforts of an SBA organization to create a better environment for law students and a more positive image of the legal profession,” a news release said. “Top law schools from around the nation competed for the award.”

During the 2017-2018 academic year, SBA’s programming included a Mental Health Week, a Diversity Week and a panel discussion on alcohol awareness to provide information on resources available to law students and lawyers.

Students were also able to network with attorneys and judges and to give back to the community through SBA events, such as the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, raising more than $1,600 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

“We are thrilled that the work of our Student Bar Association has again been recognized at the national level,” said Dean Erin O’Connor.

Social media campaign honors lineworkers

To celebrate Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day (Aug. 26), the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) and Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) will recognize lineworkers from around the state this month in a new social media campaign called “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes.”

Photos and biographical information about lineworkers from Florida’s 34 public power communities will be featured on both organizations’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day goes social.

Members of the public are encouraged to participate in the campaign by sharing the “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes” graphics, creating their own social media posts about their experiences with lineworkers and using the hashtags #ThankALineman, #LineLife and #LineworkerAppreciationDay.

“Lineworkers are the front lines of reliability,” said Jacob Williams, FMPA General Manager and CEO. “The work they do requires incredible skill, focus and commitment to safety. We created this campaign to show how much we appreciate the work they do.”

Public power lineworkers not only serve their own communities but have volunteered to serve others across the state and country.

“Hurricane Maria was incredibly destructive, leaving Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands almost completely without power for months,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director.

“Our lineworkers immediately answered the call for help, traveling to the Caribbean to assist, many of whom stayed for months at a time and were away from their families during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s this kind of selflessness and sense of duty that our lineworkers exhibit every day on the job.”

Call before you dig

Happy National 811 Day! On Aug. 11, regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission are reminding everyone to call 8-1-1 before digging any holes in the ground, to avoid damaging buried power or gas lines.

Remember, call before you dig!

More than 20 million miles of utility lines are buried underground nationally, and digs can cause damage practically everywhere, ranging from backyards to major construction sites, PSC Chairman Art Graham warned.

In fact, it happens every six minutes.

“Calling 811 has the potential to reduce frustrating service outages while saving time, money, and, most importantly, lives,” Graham said. “No matter how large or small the project, we urge you to call 8-1-1 first.”

Solar company wins PSC’s OK

A second solar energy company has won Public Service Commission approval to offer equipment leases to customers in Florida.

The commission concluded that Vivint Solar Developer LLC’s 20-year, fixed-payment, residential solar equipment lease does not constitute not a retail sale of electricity.

In other words, the company doesn’t qualify as a public utility, subject to PSC oversight.

Vivint Solar Developer is the second solar energy company to get approval from the PSC.

“As solar becomes more affordable and therefore more attractive to residential customers, the PSC supports ways to continue to ‘prime the pump’ for renewable energy adoption,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “This (decision) helps provide more residential solar options for Florida’s ratepayers.”

Sunrun Inc. secured a similar PSC clearance in April.

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

Capitol Directions

 

Jean Gonzalez Wingo, Lisa Murano: Everyone wants to help greyhounds

At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, there is still an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans: protecting dogs. We are proud to join the many community leaders across the state who support Amendment 13, a humane proposal to phase out greyhound racing.

As a state, we have a proud tradition of leading on animal welfare issues. Our first anti-cruelty law was adopted more than a century ago in 1889, but today we are lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to cruelty inflicted on greyhounds. Commercial dog racing is illegal in 40 states but continues at 11 racetracks across Florida.

At these racetracks, thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in rows of stacked metal cages. They are caged for 20 to 23 hours a day, with only carpet remnants or shredded paper for bedding. When let out of their cages to race, the dogs run the risk of serious injury and death. According to state records, 483 greyhounds have died at Florida tracks since officials began maintaining death data in 2013. These are young dogs that die unnecessarily for a money-losing industry that only exists because of a state mandate that other types of gambling must be coupled with dog racing.

Floridians have already voted with their pocketbooks, and clearly want greyhound racing to end. Gambling on dog races has fallen dramatically in recent years, and racetracks are collectively losing more than $30 million annually on this Depression-era relic. Taxpayers are also getting the short end of the stick. According to a report done for the legislature by Spectrum Gaming, the state is losing as much as $3.3 million annually on dog racing because regulatory costs exceed revenues.

Yet thousands of dogs continue to live in cages in this moribund industry. They die on the track and test positive for serious drugs, including cocaine, all so a handful of greyhound breeders can benefit from a state mandate that puts profits ahead of animal welfare.

This isn’t a complicated issue. Dogs are members of our families, and the racing industry treats greyhounds in a way we should never treat our best friends. Tolerating this cruelty not only causes harm to gentle greyhounds, it also reflects on us. We’re better than that, and it’s time for dog racing to be relegated to the history books.

One ray of hope is the diverse coalition fighting to help greyhounds. Amendment 13 has been endorsed by a vast cross-section of our state’s civic life, including animal welfare groups, animal shelters, animal rescue and adoption groups, veterinarians, dog clubs, current and former elected officials, candidates for office, editorial boards and news organizations, civic organizations, local businesses, environmental groups and churches. Every day, new community leaders join this chorus of support.

No other active issue is supported by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, the Florida Federation of Republican Women, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Let’s celebrate this common ground by coming together to vote yes for the dogs on Amendment 13. With our vote, we can help thousands of greyhounds, and once again take the lead on animal welfare.

___

Jean Gonzalez Wingo is first vice president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women. Lisa Murano is secretary of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

Cabinet decision on top financial regulator postponed

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are moving back a decision on hiring a new top financial regulator.

Scott and the Cabinet had been expected to make a pick during a meeting next week, but Kristin Olson, Scott’s Cabinet aide, said Wednesday that the Governor’s Office continues to review applicants for the job of commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation — and another position as inspector general of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

“Our office needed more time to review those candidates, so they’ll be on the next Cabinet agenda,” Olson said.

The Cabinet meets only two more times this year after next Tuesday’s meeting: Sept. 11 and Dec. 4.

Scott and the Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — in June agreed to name Pam Epting as acting commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation and to reopen the application process after interviewing five applicants.

An additional 20 applications were submitted following the June meeting. Epting, who was deputy commissioner of the office, had her pay raised by $10,000 to $135,000 with the acting title.

She is not among the applicants to replace former Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who resigned under pressure from Patronis. He claimed there was a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness and communication” from the office under Breakspear.

Scott, Bondi and Putnam will leave their current offices in January, while Patronis is running in the November election to remain as CFO.

Putnam is running for governor, while Scott is running for U.S. Senate.  Bondi can’t seek re-election due to term limits and isn’t seeking another office.

__

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida

Lara Trump, Pam Bondi endorse dog racing ban for ballot

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign on Tuesday announced endorsements from Lara Trump, President Donald Trump‘s daughter in law, as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Trump and Bondi also are listed as “special guests” at a fundraiser for the campaign set for Thursday in Connecticut. It’s trying to garner votes for a proposed constitutional amendment ending commercial dog racing in Florida.

Other endorsements announced Tuesday include Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, as well as House candidates, businesses and lawyers. 

“Greyhound racing is nothing more than outdated, legalized animal cruelty,” attorney Mary Stewart of Longwood said. “Floridians will be on the right side of history and vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13 in November to end live dog racing in Florida.”

Though a Tallahassee judge recently ordered the amendment off the ballot, the state appealed, which automatically delays the effect of that ruling.

The measure had been slated for the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), of which Bondi was a member. Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval by voters to be added to the state constitution.

The other endorsements announced are: 

— Candidates Debra Bellanti for Florida House (District 60), Jessica Harrington for Florida House (District 64), Robert Joseph for Florida House (District 84), Rebecca Koelzer for Florida House (District 4), Sally Laufer for Florida House (District 65). Also, the Sarasota-Charlotte Democratic Progressive Caucus. 

— All Dogs Hair Haven; Concrete Analysis And Testing Laboratories; Cynthia Davis, MD, P.A.; Flow Carpets; Heartwired Technical Solutions; Hip Dog Canine Hydrotherapy; I Nails and Spa; Insurance Time; Jupiter Dive Center; Madeira Public Relations; Pasco Signs; Salon Roxy; Six Ten Brewing. 

— Almost Home Rescue; Canine Castaways; DARE Dachshund Rescue; Diamonds in the Rough Farm; Gulf Shore Animal League; Moonracer Animal Rescue; Leader of the Equine Community; Ingrid Taskin of Red Fences Farm; Michael Dodane

— Maria Kazouris, Esq.; Pamela Polani, Esq.; Mary M. Stewart, Esq.; Andrew Smith, P.A.; Welt & Rheaume, P.A.; Rick Ruhl, Esq.

Frank White

Frank White surges to double-digit lead in Republican primary for Attorney General

A new poll of the Republican primary for Attorney General shows Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White an 11-point lead over former circuit court judge Ashley Moody.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Friday and Saturday, found White with 39 percent support among likely Republican primary voters while Moody scored a 28 percent share. A third of respondents said they were unsure which candidate they would support come Aug. 28.

Compared to the previous measure from the same pollster, released in mid-July, both candidates have seen their level of support grow significantly. That poll, the first since the contest became a two-way race, found White with a 26-19 lead over Moody with more than half of Republicans undecided.

Among white Republicans, White’s lead grows to 12 points. The same was true for Republicans over 70. However, his edge dips into the single digits among young and middle-aged Republicans. His lead also carries across all Florida media markets barring West Palm Beach and Miami, where Moody holds slim leads. The former prosecutor also led among voters self-identifying as Hispanic, a comparatively small subset, by a 28-26 margin.

White’s overall lead is well outside the poll’s margin of error. St. Pete Polls contacted 1,387 registered Republicans who said they planned to cast a vote in the primary race. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

Just as impressive as the top-line results are the favorability scores.

More than half of those polled knew enough about White to offer their opinion, possibly due to his aggressive plan to hit TV early on in the primary race. Among those that answered the question, White scored a plus-31 in favorability.

By contrast, Moody’s score was middling. Though she edged out her opponent by fractions of a point in name ID, she only ended up 4 points above water, 29-25.

The tepid response may be attributable to primary season mudslinging. Though Moody has the support of dozens of county sheriffs and current Attorney General Pam Bondi, she didn’t start hitting the airwaves until mid-July — more than a month after Team White announced their first ad.

White also got some digs in over Moody’s decision to accept public funding for her campaign. That decision is not an uncommon one — both Republicans running for Governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, did the same — and Moody hit back by saying the funding program was made to help candidates compete against self-funders such as White, though her message wasn’t backed up by a direct mail campaign.

Through July 27, White had amassed more than $4.5 million for his campaign and committee accounts, including $2.77 million in self-funding and at least $400,000 in contributions linked to his father-in-law and employer, car dealership magnate Sandy Sansing. He has $1.65 million on hand.

Through the same date, Moody had raised more than $3.6 million across her accounts and had $1.83 million banked.

The winner of the head-to-head between Moody and White will likely face Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw in November. A pair of polls, now somewhat stale, showed Shaw with an edge no matter which Republican he faces on Election Day.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A justice talks civics

Every July Fourth, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston reads a copy of the Declaration of Independence reprinted in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I always sit in the morning with a cup of coffee and read back through that,” Polston told members of the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee this week. “I just enjoy doing that.”

The sharing of his holiday indulgence made sense. Polston, who served as chief justice 2012-14, followed it with a thoughtful explanation of the judiciary, including how the Supreme Court acts almost like a “board of directors.”

Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston enjoys talking civics.

Appointed to the bench in 2008, Polston spoke of the court having to handle cases sparked by the Great Recession. The justices encountered nuanced issues related to foreclosures and delinquent properties that stumped even Polston, a former CPA who keeps his license current.

Legal minds across the state were tasked with confronting problems with “shadow inventory” — delinquent properties that had not yet been foreclosed, and “ghost towns,” abandoned properties that attracted undesired or criminal activity, Polston explained.

“This presented a great problem,” Polston said, but eventually led to the court clearing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of foreclosed property cases between 2013 and 2017.

A father of 10 children, six of whom are adopted, Polston said he was dealing with a grueling and lengthy adoption process when he was appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist.

He recalled a reporter asking him if the issue would weigh on his decision-making at the bench. The answer? Yes.

He remembered telling the reporter, “Justice delayed, to me, is justice denied.”

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

‘Stand your ground’ under fire — Following the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a parking lot dispute in Pinellas County and a decision not to pursue charges because of the state’s “stand your ground” law, elected officials across the state are calling for the Legislature to reconsider the statute immediately. Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg this week called for a Special Session of the Legislature to address the issue. He was later joined by Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and House Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee. Democratic candidates for office also have gone public with criticisms of the controversial law, promising to fix the issue should they be elected.

State agrees to early voting change — Secretary of State Ken Detzner has decided to go along with a federal judge’s decision last week that struck the state’s practice of keeping early voting sites off college and university campuses. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in his ruling had called the practice “facially discriminatory on account of age.” Detzner’s decision to comply, however, doesn’t automatically guarantee early voting sites will be available at college campuses for the 2018 midterms. The News Service of Florida reports that at least three counties’ supervisors of elections say they cannot open early voting sites before the Aug. 28 primary — and are unsure whether they’ll be in place by the Nov. 6 general election.

Proposed greyhound ban struck down — A circuit court judge this week struck down Amendment 13, a ballot proposal seeking to end dog racing, because the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective.” The court decision is a small victory for the Florida Greyhound Association, which had sued to keep the amendment off the November ballot. The state, however, already has appealed the decision, asking the case be heard in the 1st District Court of Appeal. That freezes the status quo, meaning unless a higher court decides otherwise, voters will see and be able to vote for the amendment on the November ballot. Whether those votes count remains to be seen.

Economists predict changes in higher education — Economists with the state Revenue Estimating Conference released estimates for Bright Futures, a state-backed tuition scholarship program, this week that are largely in line with what the Legislature accounted for when expanding the program during the 2018 Session. The total appropriation for the program increased from a December estimate of $340.2 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year to $519.7 million, which matches what the Legislature appropriated for the changes, according to one member of the conference. The most significant changes came with the continuation of the Academic Scholars program funding of the technology fee and tuition differential as part of the 100 percent tuition scholarship and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) program covering 75 percent of tuition and fees, as well FMS’ expansion into coverage of summer courses.

State estimates PECO growth dip — State economists this week predicted the funding source behind the Public Education Capital Outlay trust fund (PECO) would grow more slowly than expected over the next few years. PECO projects, used for constructing new state education facilities and maintaining, restoring and repairing existing facilities, are funded by gross receipts taxes. The Revenue Estimating Conference is reporting that actual gross receipts collections for the fiscal year 2017-2018 were almost $10 million lower than previously forecast. That estimated drop continues in the upcoming years, with FY 18-19 $15 million lower than initially anticipated; $27 million lower in FY 19-20; and $37 million lower in FY 20-21.

CORRECTION — In last week’s edition of ‘Take 5,’ we mischaracterized the results of an investigation into former Sen. Jack Latvala by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. To be clear, the agency’s report said its investigation “did not develop an indication that Latvala exerted his influence as a Florida senator to assist Ms. (Laura) McLeod in any issues she presented as a lobbyist in exchange for a continuing sexual relationship.” We regret the error.

Back-to-school tax break begins

Florida’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Saturday and ends on Monday.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Department of Revenue Executive Director Leon Biegalski issued joint statements encouraging Floridians to take advantage of the chance to save on school supplies.

Getting ready for school: Gov. Rick Scott visited Educational Outfitters in Tampa, where he highlighted the back-to-school sales tax holiday that began Friday through Aug. 5.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for families to save money while purchasing the supplies their students will need for school,” Stewart said. “The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for Florida students, and the back-to-school sales tax holiday makes it easier for parents and students to prepare for a successful year.”

“We are pleased to partner with the Department of Education to promote the Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. This is a great time for families to gather the supplies needed for a successful school year,” added Biegalski.

According to Revenue, “qualifying items will be exempt from tax including certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item, and clothing, footwear, and certain accessories selling for $60 or less per item.” More information is available on the agency’s website.

Anti-cancer kits heading to firefighters

Decontamination kits are on their way to Florida’s fire departments, in hopes they’ll reduce the risk firefighters face from carcinogens — cancer-causing substances — that they encounter on the job.

When many items catch fire, such as tires, the burning can produce cancer-causing compounds.

Chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis wants decontamination kits in Florida fire departments statewide.

The first kits have already reached 48 fire departments. In all, 405 departments will benefit, said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as state fire marshal.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is also contributing to the program.

“In 2016 alone cancer caused 70 percent of career firefighter line of duty deaths across the nation, and firefighters have a nearly 15 percent higher risk of dying from cancer,” Patronis said. “Cancer prevalence in firefighters is not up for debate, and we must make sure these heroes have the tools needed to stay healthy and safe.”

A $1 million grant is financing the program. The kits include 5-gallon buckets and heavy plastic bags, dish soap, duct tape, brushes, hoses, spray bottles, hoses and nozzles, and instruction materials.

Patronis pushes pool safety

Florida leads the nation in the number of children dying in pools and spas, at a rate that increased by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017. Now Chief Financial Officer Patronis has issued guidelines intended to reverse the trend.

“Over the past few months, I’ve met with firefighters across the state, listening to their top issues and concerns,” Patronis said. “One issue that continues to emerge is the concern of pool safety among residents and visitors to our state.

This week, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis spoke to the American Fire Sprinkler Association Florida Chapter and the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association in Daytona Beach.

“As our population grows, and new families move to our state where pools are very common, we must keep raising awareness about the potential dangers.”

More than 90 percent of the pools in the state were built before Florida passed a law mandating safety standards for swimming pools, including barriers and pool covers. Some 80 percent of the deaths in 2017 involved children younger than 5.

The top tip was to closely supervise kids in pools: “In the time it takes to put in a load of laundry, a child can drown,” Patronis said. He also recommended motion alarms; teaching kids how to swim; and learning how to perform CPR, even if you aren’t a parent.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Florida Commission on Ethics

Fellow commissioners unanimously selected Guy W. Norris as chair for the 2018-19 term. Norris was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. He is a resident of Lake City and a partner in Norris & Norris, P.A. Kim Rezanka was unanimously selected vice-chair. She too was appointed by Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. A resident of Cocoa, Rezanka is an attorney with Cantwell & Goldman, P.A.

Holmes County Hospital Corporation

Gov. Scott reappointed Larry Cook, 56, to serve a term ending Aug. 22, 2020. A resident of Bonifay, Cook is the owner of Son’s Tire, Inc.

Southeast Volusia Hospital District

Gov. Scott appointed Dr. Jan McGee to serve a term ending March 31, 2022. Succeeding Harold Smothers, McGee also is the principal of Burns Science & Technology Charter School.

West Florida Regional Planning Council

Gov. Scott appointed KarenKaseyCuchens to fill a vacant seat for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. A former member of the Freeport City Council, Cuchens, 58, is now the vice president of Choctawhatchee Bay Piling and Dock, Inc.

Commercialization of Florida Technology Board of Directors

Gov. Scott appointed Jim O’Connell for a term ending Nov. 3. O’Connell, 54, of Gainesville, is the assistant vice president of technology transfer at the University of Florida. Scott also reappointed Renee Finley for a term ending Nov. 3. Finley, 51, of Jacksonville, is the founder and former president of innovation for GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation.

State celebrates breastfeeding

The Florida Department of Health is joining partners across the state to recognize World Breastfeeding Week, which began Wednesday.

“We know that an infant’s first 1,000 days are a crucial time for ensuring the child grows up healthy and thriving, and breastfeeding can significantly improve health outcomes for both mothers and infants,” said Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “Supporting mom and encouraging breastfeeding in the first days of baby’s life are essential steps.”

Wednesday begins World Breastfeeding Week.

This year’s celebration theme emphasizes how the maternal practice is the “foundation of life,” according to the department. The agency claims that choosing to breastfeed helps to improve an infant’s overall health and can lead to lifelong positive effects for both parties. Mothers who breastfeed their children have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

In addition to health, there are economic benefits associated with breastfeeding. According to the department: “Breastfeeding is a low-cost way of feeding babies and can reduce costs to the health care system and employers by decreasing costs of hospitalizations, medications and reduced absenteeism.”

The health department says it is working actively to promote breastfeeding in the state and is asking Floridians to encourage their employers and communities to support the healthy practice.

State pushes back-to-school immunizations

With Florida students gearing up to return to school in the coming weeks, the Florida Department of Health is reminding parents to double-check their child’s immunization record to ensure they have the required vaccinations.

Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip said “making sure your child is fully immunized not only protects them, but it also protects children who cannot receive immunizations for medical reasons.”

Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip is promoting school immunizations. 

According to the Health department’s website, K-12 students should have at least four shots of Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) and Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

As well, the same students should have two doses of vaccines for Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and Hepatitis B (Hep B), one for Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) and two doses of Varicella vaccine, with some exceptions. Ask your child’s pediatrician.

The health department provides a free centralized online registry that records immunization records for children. That database can be accessed here. According to DOH, the registry is endorsed by the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc., Florida Medical Association, Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, and the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

FDLE renews accreditation

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has once again been recognized with an “Accreditation with Excellence Award” from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). It’s the eight consecutive award for FDLE.

“Over the past 50 years since our founding, FDLE has grown into one of the nation’s premier state law enforcement agencies, and our nearly three decades of national accreditation bears that out,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen is celebrating renewed accreditation.

“Florida’s citizens and criminal justice partners can trust that FDLE remains dedicated to providing the highest level of professional service, all while staying at the forefront of new trends and best practices for law enforcement professionals.”

After conducting an internal assessment, CALEA found FDLE to comply with 484 standards, completing what CALEA describes as the ‘Gold Standard Assessment.’

FDLE first received accreditation in 1990. Since then, “the department has undergone rigorous inspections which include on-site visits, employee interviews and an extensive review of policies, procedures and records.”

Florida Family Action ranks lawmakers

Florida Family Action, the legislative arm of the Florida Family Council, released its legislative scorecard this week, ranking state Senators and Representatives on votes recorded during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Led by John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and longtime conservative activist, FFA lobbies the Legislature each year for policies that protect and defend life, marriage, family and religious liberty.

John Stemberger is rolling out the Florida Family Action lawmaker scorecard.

This year’s scorecard gave legislators a letter grade ranking (A-F) based on their votes of 10 issues identified by FFA. In the House, the average Democrat score is 34 percent, and the average Republican rating is 96 percent. In the Senate, the average Democrat score is 23 percent, and the average Republican is 82 percent.

Among some of the more widely known concerns of FFA during Session were bills that would have expanded religious liberty in schools, restricted abortions by banning ‘dismemberment abortions,’ and required the state Department of Health to expand its involvement in crisis pregnancy centers that encourage childbirth.

The FFA and its affiliated organizations have staunchly opposed the Competitive Workforce Act, which would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ individuals. FFA, in an article attached to the scorecard, called the legislation “the worst bill in the world,” saying it would “punish Christians for exercising Free Speech Rights and the Free Exercise of Religion.”

League launches voter prep guide

Less than 100 days out from the 2018 elections, The League of Women Voters of Florida is out with a new website to help voters before they show up at the polls — or seal the envelope on that mail-in ballot.

BeReadyToVote.org is a one-stop where Floridians can get directed to the information they’re looking for, be it registration status or early voting dates, without having to navigate the maze-like structure of their home county’s supervisor of elections website.

The League’s website also includes a link to a nonpartisan voter guide on the candidates running for office. Those a bit cynical about the progressive organization’s ability to give info on Republicans running for office need not fret — the Vote411.org guide includes candidate responses to questions without editorial narrative.

The website also includes bullet points for the 13 amendments slated for the ballot with plain English summaries of what a vote for or against would entail, as well as a list of the political committees working for or against the measures.

While information on registering to vote is available on the site, first-time voters looking to tick a box in the Aug. 28 primary election have missed the boat if they aren’t already on the books. Eligible Floridians face an Oct. 9 registration deadline if they want to cast a ballot in November.

Anti-rail group grades candidates

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) is advising Floridians with similar interests on how to vote for Treasure Coast region candidates up and down the ballot in the upcoming election.

CARE FL is primarily concerned with All Aboard Florida and the Brightline trains. The high-speed rail operations travel through Treasure Coast communities. After sending a survey gauging candidates on their prospective, rail-related policy positions, CARE FL released a report card this week, doling out letter grades to each candidate.

“We are pleased so many incumbents and candidates are finally echoing the public safety concerns that have been expressed by so many members in our communities,” said Brent Hanlon, chairman of the CARE FL Steering Committee.

Bill Posey is being recognized as an anti-rail ‘champion.’

“This is more than a regional issue, and there should be nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s residents, and visitors alike. We applaud the elected officials who have steadfastly stood with us — and for that, they are recognized in this report card as Champions.”

Topping the list as recognized ‘Champions’ are Congressmen Bill Posey and Brian Mast, along with state Reps. Erin Grall, Gayle Harrell and MaryLynn Magar, Indian River County Commissioners Peter O’Bryan and Joseph Flescher, and Stuart City Commissioner Troy McDonald.

Harrell is running for state Senate District 25, and her opponents, Belinda Keiser and Robert Levy both received A grades. The only graded candidate for Governor, Democrat Philip Levine, received an A rating.

“We believe these scores will help inform voters as they cast their ballots in the upcoming election,” said Jane Feinstein, a member of the CARE FL Steering Committee who serves as the chairman of the group’s survey initiative.

“For many residents in our region, a candidate’s position on high-speed rail is a deciding factor. We need to ensure that our elected officials know that keeping our communities safe is a top priority.”

Able Trust chips in

The Able Trust, an organization that helps students with disabilities prepare and enter the workforce, also is assisting organizations who support children who have been abused, neglected or assaulted.

This week, the organization presented the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) with a $35,000 grant to help ECCAC carry out its mission of helping children in need.

This week, the Able Trust presented the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) with a $35,000 grant.

“This grant will help the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center continue to provide its vital services,” said Dr. Susanne Homant, president and CEO of The Able Trust. “Making sure programs are available to help and protect children is of the utmost importance.”

ECCAC, serving children in Okaloosa and Walton counties, “assists children and their families from the investigation process through healing and restoring their childhood,” according to a news release announcing the grant.

In accepting the grant, the head of ECCAC cited the importance of groups like The Able Trust: “It is through acts of generosity and kindness that we are able to continue to care for and protect the children of our community exposed to child abuse,” said Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center board president, Tammy Pierce.

FSU launching Peace Corps prep

Florida State University is rolling out a new program this fall tailor-made to help prepare students to volunteer in the Peace Corps.

Dubbed the Peace Corps Prep program, the university will partner with the federal volunteer agency to “help undergraduate students (with) the skills they need to be a competitive applicant for those positions,” according to the university. Administered by FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, the program is currently accepting applications for fall.

FSU is launching its Peace Corps prep program.

The partnership enlists the College of Education to help students understand and navigate the application process for Corps prospects.

“FSU is delighted to extend its ongoing work with the Peace Corps through this program,” said Helen Boyle, associate professor of education and program coordinator. “It will be invaluable for undergraduates who are thinking about international careers in government, development or teaching abroad.”

Since 1961, FSU has produced 856 volunteers. Thirty-eight currently serve, according to the university. The Corps established the prep program in 2007, and more than 75 other institutions have formed similar partnerships. The university anticipates the effort will help increase its ranking among all other public universities.

Get growing with Leon County

Those looking to harvest their own vegetables this fall can jump-start their garden with a little help from Leon County.

The 2018 Fall Seed Library Launch is back again this year, and will take place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the Woodville Branch Library, 8000 Old Woodville Road. The location offers lessons in seeding, composting, cooking, pollination and site selection as part of the one-time event.

Leon County is re-launching its Fall Seed Library.

As long as supplies last, library patrons across the county can check out three seed packets per card per month from any of the seven public library locations.

Among the seed varieties: Arugula, Di Cicco Broccoli, Danvers Carrots, Champion Collards, Tronchuda Kale, Flashy Lightning Lettuce, Mizuna Green Mustard Greens, Giant of Italy Parsley, Easter Egg Radishes and Long Standing Bloomsdale Spinach.

The seeds are made available through the Seed Library Program. Now in its third year, the initiative seeks “to promote noninvasive, heirloom vegetable seed planting in Leon County and to encourage residents to grow their own nutritious food,” according to county officials.

Tallahassee Senior Services ‘invigorates’

Tallahassee Senior Services’ Lifelong Learning Extravaganza (L3X) returns during September for its ninth year and “exemplifies lifelong learning at its finest, offering educational fare for everyone’s palette,” a news release said.

The month-long program provides adults (18 and older) with the opportunity to gain knowledge about art, music, culture, science, nature, history, literature, food, drink and more. More than 50 different activities are available, including lectures, tours and field trips from hands-on soap making to viewing stalagmites.

To preview some of the planned L3X activities, Tallahassee Senior Services is hosting launch parties, which are open to the public, on Monday, Aug. 6, 8:30-10 a.m. and Tuesday, Aug. 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Interested participants will be able to pick up a course catalog, meet instructors and sponsors and enjoy refreshments. While these launch parties provide a preview, they are not required for registration.

Members of the Tallahassee Senior Center Foundation will be able to register for L3X classes beginning Wednesday, Aug. 8. The general population can start registering on Monday, Aug. 13. To view the course catalog and register online, visit TallahasseeSeniorFoundation.org.

Registration is open until a class fills up. Early registration is encouraged; many classes fill quickly.

Capitol Directions

Judge strikes down dog-racing ban, calling it ‘outright trickeration’

Saying it “hide(s) the ball” and calling it “outright ‘trickeration,’ ” a Tallahassee judge has ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending dog racing shouldn’t go on the November ballot.

But in a statement, Attorney General Pam Bondi – who supports a dog-racing ban – said her office “will appeal this decision immediately and seek an expedited review by the Florida Supreme Court.” Time is of the essence; Election Day is 97 days away as of Wednesday.

Among other things, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ 27-page order (also posted below) said Amendment 13‘s ballot title and summary would mislead voters into believing a ‘yes’ vote was an outright ban on greyhound racing.

The amendment bans betting on live dog racing in Florida, and doesn’t make clear that trackgoers in Florida could still bet on ‘simulcast‘ dog races outside Florida, she said. Live racing is still conducted at 11 tracks in the state.

It also doesn’t make clear, Gievers added, that a vote for the amendment is a vote for other gambling – such as card games and slot machines – to continue at tracks that have them.

Gievers said the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective,” a legal standard developed by the Supreme Court to justify keeping proposed amendments off the ballot.

Specifically, a ballot summary is defective if it “fails to specify exactly what was being changed, thereby confusing voters” or “gives the appearance of creating new rights or protections, when the actual effect is to reduce or eliminate rights or protections already in existence,” the court has said

Amendment 13 doesn’t provide voters with the “ ’truth in packaging’ to which they are entitled,” she wrote.

The measure was slated for the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners who oppose Amendment 13, had sued to prevent it from appearing on the statewide ballot. A final hearing was held last Thursday.

“Judge Gievers was very thorough in her ruling,” said Jack Cory, lobbyist and spokesman for the association.

She had, for instance, said the ballot title and summary don’t disclose that “humane treatment of animals would become a fundamental value of the people of Florida,” agreeing with arguments made by the association’s lawyer, Major B. Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court justice.

“The state of Florida should not use taxpayer dollars to appeal this case,” Cory added. “The proponents got a donation of $1.5 million last week,” referring to a large donation from the Doris Day Animal League. “If (they) want to appeal the ruling, they should use their own money, not (that of) taxpayers.”

The Protect Dogs–Yes on 13 campaign, which formed to push for the amendment’s passage, said the legal challenge isn’t over.

“This is a process that will end with a decision by the Florida Supreme Court,” the campaign said in a statement, echoing Bondi. “This is the first step on a long road, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the amendment.”

The campaign further called the suit “a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a voice on whether greyhound confinement and deaths should continue. It was filed because greyhound breeders know that when Amendment 13 appears on the ballot, Floridians will vote ‘yes’ for the dogs.”

The ban was one of eight amendments OK’d by the CRC; 13 amendments in all had been set for the ballot. Amendment 13 is the first to be struck down out of the four CRC measures that have been challenged in court.

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ashley moody

Builders back Ashley Moody for Attorney General

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody put another brick in her wall of endorsements Tuesday after earning an official thumbs-up from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida.

There were hints the construction trade group would be backing Moody, a former prosecutor and circuit court judge, after the association met in Marco Island last week to decide which candidates it would back in Florida’s Cabinet and state legislative races.

“Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida is proud to endorse Ashley Moody for Attorney General,” said ABC Florida chair George Cuesta. “Her steadfast support of reducing barriers to increase innovation and promote job creation, will make her an excellent partner to the Commercial Construction industry. These contractors are not just employers but are also the lifeblood of Florida’s growth.”

The new endorsement adds to a long list of backers who have lined up behind the Hillsborough native’s Cabinet bid. She recently got a salute from the Florida Police Chiefs Association, with prior nods coming in from more than 40 county sheriffs, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, more than half of Florida’s state attorneys as well as current Attorney General Pam Bondi, who cannot run for re-election in 2018 due to term limits.

“I appreciate the confidence the Associated Builders and Contractors have in my ability to combat the tough issues facing our state,” Moody said. “As Attorney General, I will use my years of experience as a business attorney, prosecutor, and judge to ensure those that scam vulnerable citizens and frivolously tax our judicial system are held accountable.”

Moody faces Pensacola state Rep. Frank White in the Republican primary.

White has self-funded to the tune of nearly $4 million so far, and received some support from his family as well, which helped him start hitting the airwaves back in early June. Moody has kept pace, however, raising more than $3.25 million without whipping out her own checkbook. Moody has since rolled out TV ads of her own.

The most recent poll of the primary race showed White holding a lead over Moody, though more than half of Republican primary voters were undecided.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary will likely face Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw in the Nov. 6 general election. Though Shaw has not had as much success as his Republican rivals when it comes to fundraising, a couple recent polls show him with an edge among likely general election voters.

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