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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Forgotten no more

The Forgotten Coast, coined for the swath of shore stretching Mexico Beach to St. Marks, suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Michael.

But thanks in part to the efforts of two Tallahassee creatives, the region won’t be left behind.

In the days following destruction, Jesse Taylor, a local graphic designer with Marketing for Change, teamed up with Alex Workman, of We Are The Workmans and Aerial Tallahassee, to design a memento for the devastating storm.

The final product: a campaign titled “Never Forgotten Coast,” brandishing an outline of the Sunshine State with a heart intersecting the Big Bend and Panhandle regions affected by the hurricane. The campaign name is complemented by an infinity symbol seen from where the heart intersects the coastline.

‘Never Forgotten Coast’ is a reminder of the urgency in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

Taylor told us the message isn’t Florida-specific. Instead, it’s something that anyone watching the news around the nation can recognize — the regional slice of life hit hardest by Hurricane Michael.

On their own time, Taylor and Workman crafted the campaign with a sense of urgency. “It was important to get the message out there as soon as possible,” Taylor told us.

While a long road of recovery awaits some of the areas of the Forgotten Coast, the campaign’s reception has been stellar.

Workman and Taylor already have received more than 600 orders for their premier product, a T-shirt (available here) displaying the impactful design. All of the proceeds will go to Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe nonprofits aiding in relief efforts.

In the capital city, the image has galvanized the community. Taylor and street artist group BAET Collective have finished a mural on a building on Adams Street south of Monroe at Catalina Cafe’s new headquarters.

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

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

Take 5

Scott issues hurricane update — As of Friday morning, the climbing death toll attributed to Hurricane Michael had risen to 24 in Florida, 34 nationwide. A sweeping update issued from Gov. Rick Scott’s desk Friday highlighted the state’s ongoing efforts across the regions hit hardest by the storm’s path, which made landfall more than a week ago in Mexico Beach. Approximately 7 million meals, 2 million gallons of water and 3 million pounds of ice are being distributed, according to Scott. As of Friday morning, 105,648 residences were still without power. Thirteen shelters currently operating under the state’s direction are inhabited by 2,393 Floridians. Currently, there are no fuel shortages in the affected areas. “Governor Rick Scott is in constant communication with federal, state and local emergency management officials and state agency leaders to ensure that communities impacted by Hurricane Michael are receiving the resources they need,” reads a media release accompanying the update. Peruse the extent of the state’s full recovery and relief efforts here.

State extends early voting — Supervisors of elections in eight Florida counties Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Washington can now extend early voting, beginning next Monday, under an executive order issued by Gov. Rick Scott this week. The order extends the registration date for poll watchers to noon, Oct. 26, 2018. In the named counties, which were hit particularly hard by the Hurricane Michael, vote-by-mail ballots can be forwarded to different addresses. Fax and email ballots were not permitted, as they remain “an unreliable method for returning ballots,” according to the Department of State. “The Department shares the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that all registered voters from counties devastated by Hurricane Michael are able to exercise their right to vote safely and securely in the upcoming General Election,” Secretary of State Ken Detzner said.

Next Governor will name new justices — A long-disputed legal battle over who has the authority to name three new Supreme Court justices came to a close this week when the high court ruled that outgoing Gov. Scott cannot appoint replacements for the court’s three upcoming vacancies. “The governor who is elected in the November 2018 general election (most likely Democrat Andrew Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis) has the sole authority to fill the vacancies that will be created by the mandatory retirement of Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince,” the court’s one-page unsigned order said. Scott has publicly said he’d replace the departing jurists. The successful challenge to his remarks was brought forth by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

Senate seeks halt to harassment probe — The state Senate request to end an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into a top aide’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims will be heard Tuesday. The Senate’s legal complaint, filed earlier this month, counters that “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.” Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, says former Sen. Jack Latvala repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a four-year period. The Senate is seeking a “temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction” to suspend that inquiry. The Tuesday hearing will be procedural in nature rather than focused on substance, according to U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle.

Session shaped by hurricane remains uncertain — Incoming legislative leaders Sen. Bill Galvano and state Rep. Jose Oliva told The News Service of Florida this week that they’re prepared to convene lawmakers to address needs prompted by Hurricane Michael. Gov. Scott and state agencies have the authority to request legislative relief, despite the 2019 Legislative Session’s March start date. “If the governor identifies an unmet need that requires swift legislative action, we will certainly work with him to address it,” incoming Senate President Galvano told The News Service. “In the here and now, if the governor or any agency needs resources or assistance for issues created by Hurricane Michael, the Florida House stands ready to help,” Oliva said.

State leaders criticize telecommunications post-Michael

After Hurricane Michael left crippled communications infrastructures throughout the state, some state leaders are voicing their frustration.

“Families understand that the telecommunications industry, like the power companies and other services, experienced catastrophic damage to vital infrastructure — but that does not change our expectation that each telecommunications company will be open and communicate a clear plan on how they intend to quickly restore service while treating families fairly,” Gov. Scott said in a strongly worded media release this week.

CFO Jimmy Patronis meets with Donald Trump during a tour of damage from Hurricane Michael. Patronis asked the FCC this week to help harden wireless communication networks in case of disaster.

Scott also outlined expectations he has for telecoms companies. Among his demands: the ability to switch providers without penalty, bills waived for October for families affected by the storm, and an open and transparent plan to restore power.

In a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis expressed the need to better prepare telecommunications infrastructure for catastrophes.

“After more than a week of wireless service failures in Hurricane Michael’s hardest hit areas, I urge you to recommend industry-wide measures that would help prevent downed telecommunications for extended periods of time,” wrote Patronis. “FCC recommendations on best practices to preposition equipment so companies are prepared to come in and make repairs quickly after a hurricane passes, for example, could ultimately save lives by getting communications back up to aid first responder search and rescue operations.”

Florida timber suffers billion-dollar damage

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is pegging Hurricane Michael’s toll on Florida’s timber industry at $1.3 billion.

“This is a catastrophic loss to the forest industry in the Florida Panhandle,” said Commissioner Putnam said. “We are committed to helping Florida recover from this devastating storm and will continue to work closely with the agriculture industry on hurricane-related damage assessments.”

Florida’s timber industry could take a multibillion-dollar hit from Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane Michael, which made landfall more than a week ago as a Category 4 storm, swept through nearly three-million acres of forestland, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees the Florida Forest Service.

The Big Bend and Panhandle counties in the storm’s path: Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Wakulla and Washington — all among some the top timber-producing counties in the state.

“As the downed forest debris dries, the potential for wildfire conditions increase,” said Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “It is critical for the Florida Forest Service to continue clearing trees and hurricane debris from roadways to re-establish fire lines and accessibility to timberlands.”

Long-term caregivers, heroes of the storm

Among those most affected by Hurricane Michael’s devastation were long-term caregivers in Florida’s Panhandle.

During the Category 4 storm, the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) set up shop at the state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), working in partnership with the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health to keep member centers informed and ensure each facility followed established emergency preparedness plans.

Working tirelessly to keep residents safe, long-term caregivers were among the true heroes of Hurricane Michael.

Before, during and after Michael, FHCA continued to work with federal, state, and local government officials as well as transportation and utility partners to coordinate evacuations and power restoration.

In a natural disaster of this magnitude, where everyone faced extreme challenges, those in the long-term care profession worked tirelessly to meet the unique needs of each resident who was affected by this historic storm.

As a result, FHCA caregivers brought every resident safely through the hurricane, even as their own homes were without power, damaged and belongings swept away. In response to Michael, the FHCA is continuing to gather and deliver essential supplies to facilities in affected areas from Marianna to Panama City to Blountstown.

FHCA is committing to supporting them and their families while they continue to ensure Florida’s long-term care residents are safe and secure during this demanding time.

Instagram of the Week

State-backed program offers hurricane housing solution

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation is helping families displaced by Hurricane Michael find affordable rental housing through online tool Socialserve.

Together, the two entities will conduct “extensive and frequent surveys with rental property owners in the impacted counties regarding available and suitable housing for households that cannot return to their homes,” according to the state.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation is ready to help families impacted by hurricane Michael find affordable housing. (Image via Naples Daily News)

“Florida Panhandle families have had their lives turned upside down by this monstrous storm,” said Florida Housing Director Trey Price. “Florida Housing stands at the front lines efficiently providing long-term housing assistance and resources to those in need.”

Gov. Scott added that the service “will help many Floridians get back to a sense of normal life sooner.”

Florida residents displaced by Hurricane Michael can visit the affordable rental housing locator service here to find available units in Florida.

Health department: ‘Drain and cover’ after Michael

The Florida Department of Health is reminding Floridians to take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses as counties impacted by Hurricane Michael continue to clean up.

“Drain” any standing water, the health department advises. “It only takes a bottle cap of water for some mosquitoes to breed and multiply,” reads an alert from the agency.

Health department officials are reminding Floridians to drain any standing water to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses.

“Cover” skin with clothes or repellent, and doors and windows with screens, the agency advisory continues.

“Although there are currently no areas of active, ongoing transmission of Zika in Florida, it is important to remain vigilant to protect ourselves and neighbors from mosquito bites in and around our homes,” adds the health department.

Old tires, playgrounds, gutters and troughs are among many household items that can harbor mosquito breeding sites. The department has created a public service announcement on the Drain and Cover method, available here.

Florida Lottery: ‘Win big this weekend’

Two state-run lotteries are offering a combined $1.47 billion jackpot this weekend.

The Mega Millions lottery recently rose to an estimated $1.0 billion, and the Powerball jackpot rose to $470 million, according to the Florida Lottery.

This week’s Mega Millions is reaching the one-billion-dollar mark.

Both lotteries start at $40 million and roll until someone wins. Floridians can win the Mega Millions by matching five white ball numbers (1-70) and the golden Mega Ball number (1-25). Powerball players can win by matching the five white ball numbers (1-69) and the red Powerball (1-26).

There are more than 13,000 Florida Lottery retailers peppered across the state. The Mega Millions jackpot number was pulled Friday night. The Powerball jackpot drawing will be Saturday evening.

Police chiefs make mark in post-Michael relief

A group representing some of Florida’s first responders deployed members from locations across the state after Hurricane Michael came through Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend areas.

“Hurricane Michael was the first Category 4 storm on record to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle and it devastated several communities in its path,” Florida Police Chiefs Association President David Perry said in prepared remarks.

FSU Police Chief David Perry praises the influx of law enforcement officers to help the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael.

“Just as they did before and during the storm, men and women in law enforcement and public safety continue to answer the call to protect and serve during the recovery efforts.”

Perry, who serves as the Florida State University Police Chief, said hundreds of sworn personnel from the FPCA traveled to impacted areas following the storm.

“These officers are working with local law enforcement and state agencies to distribute supplies, keep people safe on our roadways, answer calls for service, perform welfare checks, and maintain a public safety presence in areas with infrastructure damage and limited communication,” he added.

Analysis: High school students lack access to necessary coursework

Nationwide, millions of students lack access to courses that would help them transition into college or a career, according to a new report from ExcelinEd.

“For example, not a single state offers Algebra I or Biology in all high schools,” said ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque. “Additionally, the data reveal a disturbing pattern of inequity: as the percentage of minority or low-income populations in schools increases, access to core courses decreases.”

A new report finds high schools lacking in the coursework needed to successfully transition to college or the workforce.

After analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, ExcelinEd also found that access to education is inequitable. “It is worse for schools with high populations of minority students and schools with high populations of low-income students,” reads the report.

The solution? The group recommends states individually audit course offerings and levels of access; inform families of courses necessary for students to achieve beyond high school; and identify policy solutions to help reduce access problems.

The full report can be viewed online here.

Walmart mobile pharmacy sets up shop in Marianna

Walmart is offering a unique service for those who are unable to get needed medicine in Marianna, which suffered extensive damage after Hurricane Michael hit the community last week.

Located at 2255 Highway 71, the Walmart mobile pharmacy seeks to help offset patient demand while the Marianna Walmart Supercenter gets back on its feet.

It will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., providing prescriptions, immunizations and general resources for those affected by the storm. According to the retailer, it is capable of issuing up to 3,000 prescriptions per week. It is 53 feet in length and 17 feet wide, boasting a waiting area and space for immunizations.

A temporary solution: Walmart deploys its mobile pharmacy trailer to Marianna.

The makeshift solution, announced Tuesday, prompted a commending response from Gov. Scott.

“Thank you to [Walmart] for opening your mobile pharmacy in Marianna to support FL families impacted by Hurricane Michael that are in need of prescriptions, immunizations and resources,” Scott tweeted.

Uber, Lyft chip in hurricane relief

Two private-sector ride-sharing companies did what they could to help those displaced or stranded after Hurricane Michael.

Shortly after the storm, Uber began offering free rides up to $25 each to and from state-approved evacuation shelters in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. The service is ongoing, under the promotion code “MICHAELSHELTER.”

Uber, Lyft offer free rides to state-approved evacuation shelters for Hurricane Michael.

Similarly, Lyft offered rides up to $15 each across Panama City, Tallahassee and Albany, Georgia. That promotion ended Friday, Oct. 12.

According to Uber, teams had coordinated “with local officials to understand where these services can be most helpful.”

Before the storm made landfall, Lyft says it “donated to a Relief Rides program and partnered with United Way’s 2-1-1 program to help those in need evacuate.”

Study ranks Florida 23rd in ‘political engagement’

The Sunshine State isn’t the best but is far from the worst in terms of how politically engaged its electorate is.

A new study out this week from personal-finance website WalletHub put Florida at the 23 spot in “2018’s Most & Least Politically Engaged States.

That’s better than some of the state’s larger counterparts like Texas, New York and California, which ranked 41, 44 and 24, respectively. But Florida lags well behind Washington, D.C., Maine and Utah — the top three finishers.

Florida falls somewhere in the middle, in terms of political engagement (or lack thereof).

“In order to determine where Americans are most involved in politics, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 10 key indicators of political engagement,” the company’s Communications Manager Diana Polk wrote in an email. “They range from ‘percentage of registered voters in the 2016 presidential election’ to ‘total political contributions per adult population.’”

On average, ‘blue states’ were more politically engaged than ‘red states,’ according to WalletHub. A little more than 60 percent of the country’s electorate participated in the 2016 election, compared to 36 percent participation in 2014’s midterm.

FSU film student wins Student Academy Award

Shae Demandt is the latest rising star of Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts.

Earlier this month, Demandt secured the Student Academy Award in the Alternative category for her documentary, “Reanimated.” One of just 20 students from around the world to win, Demandt is now also eligible to compete in the Oscars. She is the ninth student in the college’s history to receive the honor.

FSU film student Shae Demandt gives a speech as she accepts her Student Academy Award in Beverly Hills. (Image via FSU)

“Reanimated” zeros in “on the long-shuttered Miami Marine Stadium, once a prized and popular 6,500-seat venue for boat races, concerts, rallies and sporting events,” according to the university. Abandoned after the 1982 Hurricane Andrew swept through the area, the stadium has since evolved into “a barren cement behemoth gleaming with vivid art.”

In her acceptance speech, Demandt said that during her childhood she would let her imagination run in order to “escape the real world.”

“However, when you get older you’re forced to stay in the real world and you have to leave that part of your childhood behind,” she continued. “But as I got older, I realized that filmmaking could be the part — could be the medium — where I could relive my childhood fantasies.”

Relief fund helps FSU med students

A fund has been established to help medical students, faculty members and staff of the Florida State University College of Medicine who have been left reeling after Hurricane Michael.

John P. Fogarty and Alma Littles, respectively the dean and the assistant dean of the college, sent a memo this week announcing the creation of the fund.

Dean of FSU College of Medicine John Fogarty announced a fund to aid students, faculty and family affected by Hurricane Michael.

“In the past week, some at the College of Medicine have seen trees slice buildings in two. Some have lost family homes to ferocious winds. Some have gone days without air conditioning or news from the outside world. Some have lost a refrigerator full of food and can’t afford to replace it. More than one person experienced a death in the family,” the memo said.

The FSU College of Medicine established a “rural medical education program” in Marianna in 2005. It offers students the opportunity to spend their third year of medical school in a rural community.

Marianna was one of several rural Northwest Florida communities in the path of the deadly storm, which made landfall last week in Mexico Beach with 155 mph sustained winds, making it just shy of a Category 5 storm.

“This somber occasion provides an opportunity to also give thanks that we are part of a College of Medicine centered on a mission of togetherness and service. We thank you for being a part of our family,” the memo about the fund said.

 ‘48 Hours’ to spotlight Tallahassee murder

CBS mystery show “48 Hours” will examine the enigmatic murder of Mike Williams at the 10 p.m. slot this Saturday.

Williams went missing more than 17 years ago, but his body wasn’t discovered until last year, after Tallahassee real estate appraiser Brian Winchester confessed to shooting Williams during a duck hunting trip at Lake Seminole in Jackson County.

After 17 years, Mike Williams’ cold case finally heats up.

Winchester claimed that Williams’ wife, Denise, was a co-conspirator. Denise Williams’ trial is set for December.

Featured prominently in the hourlong special is Jennifer Portman, who covered Mike Williams’ disappearance for the Tallahassee Democrat and currently serves as the paper’s news director.

A preview of the special is here.

Capitol Directions

The News Service of Florida and Tallahassee correspondent Michael Moline also contributed to this week’s edition.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Navigating November

Never mind candidates on the ballot. There are a dozen constitutional amendments voters must worry about on Election Day.

In the interest of saving time and avoiding long lines at polling locations, it’s best Floridians equip themselves early with knowledge of each proposal, rather than making a gameday decision.

As the courts have told us, ballot titles and accompanying language might not be enough to make a well-informed decision. Fortunately, there are useful guides available to help voters do their due diligence.

The latest: Florida TaxWatch’s “2018 Voter Guide to Florida’s Constitutional Amendments.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog is offering an early glimpse of what voters will see Nov. 6, along with the anticipated result of each amendment, pass or fail. Also included are arguments from supporters, and conversely, criticisms from opponents.

One example: under the guide’s analysis of Amendment 13, a controversial proposal that would phase out dog racing in the state, TaxWatch notes, “Animal rights advocates say that the greyhound racing industry’s treatment of the dogs is cruel and inhumane, citing hundreds of greyhound deaths in Florida and the banning of commercial greyhound racing in 40 states.”

Florida TaxWatch Chair David Mann introduces the 2018 Florida Amendments Voter Guide.

Opponents, on the other hand, “say the greyhounds are treated well, and that greyhound racing fully complies with American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines governing the housing, feeding and treatment of the dogs.”

“As a Florida taxpayer, I know how overwhelming 12 constitutional amendments seems when there’s already so much included on our ballot,” said TaxWatch Chairman David Mann. “It is an honor to lead an organization that is focused on the best interest of the state and dedicated to keeping taxpayers informed.”

To officially amend the state’s governing document, each amendment must obtain 60 percent approval on Election Day.

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

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

Take 5

Red tide reaches Atlantic Coast — Algae causing toxic red tide was confirmed this week on four beaches on Florida’s eastern shore. Following closures in Palm Beach and Miami Dade counties, Gov. Rick Scott directed the Department of Environmental Protection to offer $3 million in grants to help affected areas curb the outbreak. The money is currently available to St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Florida’s Gulf Coast has been hit particularly hard this season by the near-annually occurring Karenia brevis algae, although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission recently announced the outbreak in southwest Florida was weakening.

State launches priest investigation — Following a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found decades of sexual abuse by priests was covered up by church leaders, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced an investigation into Florida’s seven Catholic dioceses. “Any priest that would exploit a position of power and trust to abuse a child is a disgrace to the church and a threat to society,” Bondi said in a statement. “I am calling on victims and anyone with information about potential abuse to please report it to my office. Victim information will be kept confidential in accordance with state law.” Assisting statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox in the investigation is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Bondi encourages anyone with information about past child abuse by priests to report here.

Committee weeks set — Meetings leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session will begin in early December, according to memos released this week by leaders in the state Legislature. Organization Session will take place during the week of Thanksgiving, Nov. 20. That’s when Senate President Joe Negron will pass the gavel to Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran to House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva. Legislative committees will meet the weeks of Dec. 11, Jan. 7 and 22, and Feb. 4, 11 and 18. The 2019 Legislative Session begins on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. The annual 60-day session is scheduled to end May 3.

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill passes Hukill died Tuesday, less than a week after announcing on Facebook that she “recently experienced an aggressive recurrence” of her cancer and decided to enter hospice. She was 72. A private, invitation-only memorial service will be held for the Port Orange Republican and longtime public servant. In lieu of flowers, her family asks for donations to the Halifax Health Hospice facility in Port Orange, where “dedicated and caring staff took such wonderful care of her in these last days.” Senators and staff members are invited to pay respects from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Volusia Memorial Funeral Home in Port Orange. “Dorothy was a strong and passionate advocate for her community, serving in several positions in local government and also for eight years in the Florida House before her election to the Senate in 2012,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a statement.

Judge blocks pot license process — Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson this week ordered the Florida Department of Health to halt its application process for those seeking licenses to distribute medical marijuana. The order comes after Dodson in August declared significant provisions of the state’s controversial medical marijuana law unconstitutional, including limits on the number of licenses the state can issue and carve-outs for special licenses, such as for owners of former citrus processing facilities. The recent order had been sought by Florigrown, which had been denied a permit by the state. “Another two months have passed, and I do believe now we’re at the point where Florigrown will suffer irreparable harm absent the entry of a temporary injunction and that, given the public interest that can’t be more clearly stated than the public stated in the medical marijuana amendment, that allowing this process and procedures going through by the department is not in the public interest,” Dodson said Wednesday, according to the News Service of Florida.

Scott highlights new Deepwater Horizon aftermath spending

More than $291 million is on its way to protect Florida’s Gulf Coast, Gov. Scott announced this week.

The money will be for projects approved by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. In 2013, Scott reached an agreement with the Council to develop a plan for the portion of federal funding allocated to Florida following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Read the full plan here.

Rick Scott reached an agreement for nearly $300 million to protect the environment after the BP oil spill. (Image via Reuters)

“The communities impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill have come so far since that tragic disaster, and we will never stop fighting to protect our environment and make sure families and businesses along the Gulf Coast continue to grow,” Scott said. “The approval of this funding is great news, and I look forward to continuing our good work with all of our partners to take care of Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

The RESTORE Act, passed by Congress on June 29, 2012, created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

“This is a culmination of five years of work and cooperation with and between federal, state and local governments,” said Council Chairman Grover Robinson. “This ambitious plan implements environmental restoration projects across 23 counties from the Perdido River in my county of Escambia to Key West in Monroe County.”

Scott, Bondi attend human trafficking summit

Gov. Scott and Attorney General Bondi delivered remarks Monday to an Orlando audience deeply concerned with accomplishing one goal: eradicating human trafficking.

The 2018 Human Trafficking Summit brought together law enforcement, the legal community, educators, health care professionals, service providers and other first responders from around the state for breakout sessions focused on combating the ongoing problem.

Rick Scott, Pam Bondi spoke in Orlando this week at the 2018 Human Trafficking Summit.

“The Human Trafficking Summit is, and will continue to be, a valuable opportunity to bring law enforcement, activists and experts together to share ideas and build on the model we have built,” Bondi said.

During his remarks, Scott highlighted seven pieces of legislation he signed since 2012, including $6.2 million in new funding authorized in this year’s budget to provide services for victims of human trafficking.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the state is the third-highest trafficking destination in the country, with half of all victims under the age of 18.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

Technology Advisory Council

Susan Amat, 43, of Coral Gables, is the founder and chief executive officer of Venture Hive. She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctoral degree from the University of Miami. Amat is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2022. Allen Ginder, 51, of Jacksonville, is the Florida public sector director for Avaya. Ginder received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2022.

Lake-Sumter State College District Board of Trustees

Jennifer Hooten, 42, of Bushnell, is a teacher for Sumter School District. She received her bachelor’s degree from St. Leo University. Hooten succeeds Kelly Rice for a term ending May 31, 2022. Emily Lee, 72, of Eustis, is a retired integration specialist from Community Coalition Alliance. She received her bachelor’s degree from Southern University, and her master’s degree from Mankato State University. Lee is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Department of Elderly Affairs Advisory Council

Stacy Robello, 42, of Gulf Breeze, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care of Pensacola. She succeeds Dorothy Peoples for a term ending Sept. 30, 2020.

Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee

Dr. Ronald Lucchino, 77, of Longboat Key, is an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. He is reappointed for a term ending Feb. 13, 2022. Aileen Ruess, 60, of Fort Walton Beach, is the owner of Ace Senior Care Management. She succeeds Christine Powers for a term ending Feb. 13, 2021. Dr. Robert Glueckauf, 68, of Tallahassee, is a professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine. He succeeds Todd Golde for a term ending Feb. 13, 2022. Dr. Maria Ordóñez, 51, of Boca Raton, is the director of the Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing Memory and Wellness Center. She fills a vacant seat for a term ending Feb. 13, 2021.

Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind Board of Trustees

Christine Chapman, 49, of St. Augustine, is a former staffing specialist for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. She is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 13, 2021. Ralph “Terry” Hadley III, 76, of Winter Park, is an attorney and managing partner with Swann, Hadley, Stump, Dietrich & Spears PA. He is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 20, 2021. Christopher Wagner, 50, of Palm Harbor, is the chief operating officer for ZVRS and Purple Communications. He is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 19, 2020. These are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Worth a thousand words: State remembers history through pictures

October is American Archives Month, and in the Sunshine State, it will be celebrated in still shots.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the campaign this week, kicking off by highlighting one of the earliest known photographs of Florida. It features an 1849 Key West daguerreotype.

The campaign, titled “Focus on Florida: Photography in the Sunshine State,” will also share the State Archives’ collection of stills, along with the history of the artmaking process.

Celebrating the history of Florida in black and white for American Archives Month.

“American Archives Month is a great time to visit Florida’s state and local archives facilities, find ourselves and our communities in historical records, and see how archives preserve and tell our stories as Floridians,” said Detzner.

The Archives will hold two open house events this month: Saturday, Oct. 13, and Tuesday, Oct. 23. Both events kick off at 9 a.m. and aim at giving “more people an opportunity to explore the Archives’ extensive publicly accessible resources for researching and preserving local and family history,” according to Detzner.

“The State Archives of Florida is hosting open house events throughout the month to give more people an opportunity to explore the Archives’ extensive publicly accessible resources for researching and preserving local and family history.”

FWC highlights red tide partnerships

Following a particularly strong outbreak of red tide this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission emphasized its continued focus on research efforts to help understand and combat the toxic, near-annually occurring algae.

By partnering with scientists at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science and the Mote Marine Laboratory, a nonprofit marine research and science education institution, FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton hopes to make a dent in the red tide and help affected areas recover.

FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton says partnerships will be critical to Florida’s recovery from red tide.

“We all know we will recover, but it is going to take our continued partnership,” Sutton said.

The public-private partnerships that have been formed include the Department of Environmental Protection.

“With the talented team we have working together, I know the next big breakthrough in how we manage red tide will come from right here in Florida,” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said.

At USF, “a combination of buoys, underwater drones and satellites to predict the conditions conducive to development of red tide, measure where it is now, and use sophisticated computer models to predict where it’s going to go,” according to Jackie Dixon, dean of the College of Marine Science.

Ed officials recognize employers for hiring practices

Seven Tampa Bay companies were recently honored for hiring Floridians with disabilities.

The announcement coincides with Disability Employment Awareness Month and stems from an outreach initiative sponsored by the Florida Department of Education Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, or VR.

Director Allison Flanagan’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation helps thousands of Floridians live independent lives through employment.

“Individuals with disabilities contribute greatly to our communities and are integral to our state’s workforce,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “Through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, we are proud to connect job seekers with disabilities to career opportunities that enable them to lead more independent lives.

Among the honorees: AMC 20 Movie Theatre, BayCare Health System, Culver’s of Zephyrhills, The Hamptons at Clearwater, K & K Glass, NASCO Aerospace and Electronics and Wawa.

VR Director Allison Flanagan noted that her division — and thanks to employers helping spearhead evolved hiring practices — nearly 5,000 individuals obtained or maintained employment last year.

“Individuals with disabilities offer a broad pool of talents and tend to stay on the job longer than employees without disabilities,” Flanagan said. “Given the opportunity, individuals with disabilities are able to show their skills, loyalty, and determination and become successful members of the community.”

Election registration deadline nears

Prospective voters take note: Oct. 9 is the last day Floridians can register to vote in the upcoming election.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the 67 county ballot offices, is reminding citizens to take action now if they intend to cast a ballot on or before Nov. 6.

Ken Detzner says the end is near — for voter registration in 2018, that is.

“I encourage all eligible Floridians who still need to submit a voter registration application to do so by the Oct. 9 deadline,” said Detzner.

Anticipating increased demand, Detzner announced that the State Department is extending Voter Assistance Hotline hours. The hotline — 1-866-308-6739 — will be operational from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Monday. On Tuesday, the registration deadline, the service will be open until midnight.

To register, users will need a driver’s license or official identification card, along with the last four digits of their Social Security number. To register online, voters can visit here.

Florida accepts maternal mental health grant

The Human Resources and Services Administration is funding the development of a model for screening and treating mental health concerns of pregnant and postpartum women, the state Health Department announced.

Florida is one of just seven states to receive the federal funding. The Florida Department of Health will partner with the FSU College of Medicine and the Florida Maternal Mental Health Collaborative for the project.

Good mental health during pregnancy is best for all involved, says Dr. Celeste Philip.

“Good mental health before, during and after pregnancy can positively impact the health of both mother and child,” said State Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip.

A risk assessment program managed by the state found that more than half of mothers in Florida experience depression after childbirth, but less than 10 percent sought or had access to professional help.

The five-year grant seeks to, among other things, “build statewide capacity in Florida to fully and competently deliver all aspects of screening, referral, engagement, and mental health consultation training to all major obstetrics practices and birth hospitals across North Florida,” according to state health officials.

Florida hospitals reach C-section milestone

Many Florida hospitals are ahead of schedule in accomplishing a nationwide goal of reducing the number of cesarean section, or C-section, operations performed on first-time mothers with low-risk pregnancies.

State health officials announced this week that 20 hospitals already have reached the federal “Healthy People 2020 Maternal and Child Health” goal.

AHCA Secretary Justin Senior is helping the state reduce the number of cesarean sections.

“As part of managed care our Agency has worked with health plans and hospitals to improve birth outcomes and lower risks to both mother and baby,” said Justin Senior, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration. “We have seen many hospitals take on this challenge and are excited to recognize the hospitals that have met the Healthy People 2020 goal.”

A complete list of recognized hospitals can be found here.

Currently, Florida C-section rates for first-time low-risk pregnancies range from 17 percent to 61 percent, according to the state.

Book lauds investigation into sexual abuse

State Sen. Lauren Book is supporting the state’s decision to probe Florida’s seven Catholic dioceses for information regarding past and current sexual abuse by priests.

Spearheaded by Attorney General Pam Bondi, the state announced the investigation Thursday in light of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found decades of sexual abuse by priests was covered up by church leaders.

Lauren Book is applauding the state’s investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

“Sadly, we know these instances are not isolated,” Book said, referencing the more than 1,000 children found to have been abused in Pennsylvania. “Attorney General Bondi has sent a clear message to any person using their position of power to exploit and manipulate children: your actions are not tolerated, and you will not get away with harming children.”

Book, herself a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and vocal advocate against abuse, encouraged individuals to come forward.

“As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I know how scary it is to come forward, but I want all survivors to know that your voice matters, the guilt is not yours to carry, and you will be believed. If you or someone you love is a victim of sexual abuse, I promise it is OK to tell,” Book said.

Victim shield law tested

The state struck out on its bid to force the mother of a man accused of sexual assault — who died before he could stand trial — to take down a social media post naming the victim.

At least for now.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said officials improperly pursued the order within the framework of its criminal case against Nathaniel Green — which legally ended upon his death.

Still, the court said officials could proceed against Rebecca Green under a state law forbidding publication of sexual assault victims’ names — as long as they target her in a separate proceeding.

“The statute provides an independent basis of jurisdiction (and a supplemental grant of authority) for the circuit court to enter an order protecting a crime victim from harassment, whether the harassment occurs during the pendency of the criminal case or thereafter,” the court said. The case originated in Leon County.

Florida cancer advocate honored with national award

Heather Youmans, the lead government relations professional for the Florida chapter of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, recently received the group’s top lobbying honor.

ACS CAN, an advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, presents the award each year to a government relations professional who has worked tirelessly to promote cancer-related public policy.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is recognizing Heather Youmans with its top lobbying honor.

During the 2017 Session, Youmans’ work was particularly successful. She helped secure more than $1.8 million in recurring appropriations for Florida’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection program.

Youmans also led efforts to secure $23 million for the state’s peer-reviewed, competitive biomedical research programs, which focus on cancer and tobacco-related illnesses.

FSU ‘Policy Pub’ to focus on consolidation

What are the pros and cons of merging city and county governments?

That’s the question of the day — or evening — for those planning to attend the latest Policy Pub installment: “The pros and cons of consolidation.”

The free public forum presented by the Florida State University College of Social Sciences will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Backwoods Bistro in Tallahassee.

FSU’s Sam Staley will moderate a debate on local government consolidation.

The discussion will be led by Sam Staley, director of FSU’s DeVoe L. Moore Center. Staley also teaches undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation and urban economics.

Specifically, Staley is expected to discuss when consolidation makes sense, and when it doesn’t.

An invite teasing the event notes, “Consolidating public services seems like a no-brainer — reduce duplication of services and labor, cut costs, increase efficiency and get better public services. But does it work in practice?”

GreenWise Market sets up shop in capital city

Good news for organically inclined Tallahasseeans: GreenWise Market, the natural and organic affiliate of Publix Supermarkets, opened up a location this week at the southwest corner of Gaines Street and Railroad Avenue.

The store boasts a variety of ooff-the-beaten-path options for the environmentally conscious consumer, including antibiotic-free meats, organic cheeses and vegan items.

Tallahassee’s Gaines Street Publix is part of a return to the company’s Greenwise brand.

“With our new-format GreenWise Market, we will offer today’s natural and specialty customer the new and interesting products they are looking for while setting the stage to provide a uniquely different shopping experience,” said Kevin Murphy, Publix senior vice president of Retail Operations. “The customers in this growing market are looking for a brand they trust, and we are confident GreenWise Market will be their specialty, natural and organic store of choice.”

In-house eats differ from those offered by traditional Publix locations. At GreenWise, patrons have the option of “fresh, handcrafted sandwiches, acai bowls, gourmet pizzas, burritos, bowls, sushi and sausage” made on location by employees, according to the grocery giant.

The store will also cater to those looking to catch a quick buzz or caffeinated jump, offering kombucha, local craft beer, wine, smoothies and locally-roasted coffee.

Capitol Directions

Rick Scott says health care a ‘right,’ but questions remain

In trying to distance himself from a multistate lawsuit that could eliminate insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this week he believes health care should be a “right.”

Scott’s statement, which came during a debate against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, is at odds with other Republican politicians and followed years of Scott fighting against heavy government involvement in providing health care. Even before he launched his first campaign for governor, Scott ran television ads decrying the idea of having a “public option” as part of the federal health care overhaul pushed by then-President Barack Obama.

In the middle of this week’s heated debate in their U.S. Senate race, Nelson sharply criticized Scott for his health-care stances, which have included flipping back and forth on Medicaid expansion, and for Florida joining a lawsuit to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act. If the lawsuit is successful, it could end a part of the law that protects people with pre-existing conditions who seek insurance coverage.

Scott said little at the time the suit was filed but is trying to distance himself from it, saying that Attorney General Pam Bondi initiated Florida’s involvement without his input. He further chided Nelson by reminding him that Bondi was a statewide elected official and added, “So I completely believe, just based on my own family’s background, that you should have a right, whether you have a pre-existing conditions or not, to be able to get health care.”

Scott’s Senate campaign reiterated the statement in press releases sent the night of the debate, saying health care was a right.

But the talking point of health care as a right has been embraced by Democrats this year, not Republicans. And Scott’s comments came just weeks after a GOP gubernatorial primary debate between Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam where they both denounced the idea that it was a right.

What, exactly, having a right to health care means, though, is different to different people, said Tallahassee attorney Anne Swerlick, who has long worked on health-care policy issues affecting low-income residents.

“People need to get beyond the political rhetoric, they need to get behind those words to know exactly what they mean,” Swerlick said.

Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida, said some people contend universal access to health care already exists because hospitals are required under federal law to treat people with emergency conditions and stabilize them.

But, she said, without health insurance, it would be difficult for people to follow up with orthopedic care. For Ray, a key is that health care must be accessible and affordable. Moreover, it has to be high-quality.

“Health care as an entitlement has to take all those things into account,” said Ray, whose group is the lead “navigator” for Florida and works to ensure that residents have access to health care, whether it’s through the Medicaid program or through access to an Affordable Care Act plan on the federal insurance exchange.

The James Madison Institute is a conservative think tank in Tallahassee that promotes free-market health care solutions. Sal Nuzzo, the institute’s vice president for policy, said for health care to be a right, it means the government either is providing the care or is enforcing that it be provided.

“When a politician says that, any politician comes out and says that, it’s a dog whistle for government involvement,” Nuzzo told The News Service of Florida.

When pressed for what Scott will do to ensure that Floridians have access to health care, campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone touted, among other things, Scott’s legislative push for a claims database.

The goal of the database was to lower health-care costs by enabling consumers to “shop” in advance to see what payments hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers accepted for certain health care services, such as having babies.

Scott, a former hospital-company executive championed cost “transparency” and the establishment of the database after hospitals in 2015 supported a proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. Scott, a fierce critic of the federal law better known as Obamacare, opposed the Medicaid expansion proposal, which died in the Legislature.

But nearly two years after the Legislature authorized such a database, facility-specific information still isn’t available, and some of the state’s largest insurance companies aren’t submitting data as required.

Ensuring access to health care is far different than political theater of proclaiming that health care is a right, said Matt Childers, co-founder of Florida Health Justice Project, a South Florida think tank.

Voters on both side of the political spectrum think Medicaid expansion when they hear right to health care, said Childers, who has doctorate degree in political science.

“It’s ironic he believes it’s a right now that he’s running,” Childers said.

State investigates sexual abuse by priests

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has launched a statewide probe into sexual abuse by Catholic priests, following a Pennsylvania grand jury report this summer that found more than 1,000 children were molested over decades by hundreds of priests whose wrongdoing was covered up by church leaders.

Bondi, whose office is investigating all seven Catholic dioceses in Florida, said Thursday she launched a tip site “to allow victims and anyone with information about priest abuse to report what they know.”

“Any priest that would exploit a position of power and trust to abuse a child is a disgrace to the church and a threat to society,” she said during a Tampa press conference.

Victims or people with information about past abuse can contact Bondi’s office through a special hotline or submit information on the internet.

“If you call in, please know, we want to help you. We want to counsel you, and we want to get to the bottom of anything that could have happened in our state,” said Bondi, who has made combating human trafficking and protecting victims among her top priorities during eight years in office. “Please share your story with us. Even if you’ve previously reported it to the church, to anyone, report it to us now.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is assisting Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox with the probe, Bondi told reporters.

Bondi said she ordered the Florida statewide inquiry after the August release of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s chilling report of decades of child sexual abuse by priests whose crimes were protected by church leaders.

“When the case about Pennsylvania aired, I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning I talked to my statewide prosecutor and said, ‘We have to look into this,’ and he wholeheartedly agreed,” said Bondi, adding that she has five lawyers working on the investigation.

The grand jury report revealed that 300 Catholic priests abused more than 1,000 identified child victims, but thousands more may have been affected. Senior church officials, bishops and monsignors “helped cover up priest abuse,” Bondi said.

“The citizens of Pennsylvania played a major role in reporting this by providing investigators vital stories about past abuse and potential coverups. We have reason to believe there are similar stories in Florida. I know it’s painful for you as a survivor to discuss past abuses. But your story will help bring justice to prevent future abuse,” she said.

Bondi, who is leaving office in January due to term limits, said it is too early to know how many Floridians, former residents or visitors may have been molested.

“As far as how widespread this is, frankly we have no idea right now,” she said. “We love the Catholic religion, the Catholic church. We love youth organizations and we love schools. But abuse is abuse.”

The seven Catholic dioceses in Florida “have been in dialogue with the statewide prosecutor and are cooperating with the investigation,” Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops spokeswoman Michele Taylor said in an email.

Several bishops issued statements expressing support for Bondi’s inquiry.

“This has been a very painful period for all Catholics. I hope the outcome of this investigation and other acts of transparency by the dioceses in Florida will bring about greater trust in the Church. Our goals are similar — to ensure the safety of all children and vulnerable adults and to prevent perpetrators of abuse from serving in active ministry,” Bishop Felipe Estévez, who heads the Diocese of St. Augustine, said.

Bishop Gregory Parkes of St. Petersburg said he welcomes the investigation “and want to assure the public that the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been and continues to be proactive in its efforts to keep children safe, which should be a priority for everyone.”

“We denounce all forms of sexual abuse by any person or any institution as a reprehensible crime and believe that perpetrators should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Parkes said in a statement.

Bondi said her office is issuing subpoenas and conducting interviews.

“We’re moving very fast, because, again, if this is going on in our state, we want to know and we want to know now,” Bondi said, while assuring victims that information will be kept confidential. “Getting the word out there is what it’s going to take.”

Bondi’s office said tips about past abuse can be reported at

Sean Shaw ad goes after Ashley Moody on pre-existing conditions stance

Democratic Attorney General nominee Sean Shaw is launching a television commercial Wednesday that challenges his Republican opponent Ashley Moody on her position on pre-existing conditions health insurance coverage.

He also pledges he’ll battle “big insurance” and take other strong stands, including against sexual harassers.

The 30-second spot, “Your Side,” particularly goes after Moody for supporting current Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s federal lawsuit trying to strike down the national mandate that states require insurance companies to provide non-discriminatory coverage to people who have pre-existing medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

Bondi, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and Moody all have said they favor keeping the coverage in Florida, they just don’t want states to be required to do so.

Shaw’s ad attacks Moody over the assumption that those pledges are meaningless if the lawsuit opens the door for Florida or other states to drop the coverage requirement.

“If you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or cancer, Ashley Moody is trying to take away your health care. Why? Because she’s on the side of big insurance and pharmaceutical companies, not yours,” a narrator begins.

Then the commercial pivots to Shaw.

“But Sean Shaw is a fighter, and he’s not afraid to stand up to them or anyone to keep you safe. Not afraid of the gun lobby. Not afraid to go after sexual harassers and predators, or scammers trying to steal your money,” the narrator continues.

The sexual harassers line gets dropped in, tying it to the current hot topic among many voters.

“Floridians deserve an Attorney General who will fight for them. Someone who isn’t afraid of the gun lobby or big insurance and pharmaceutical companies. That’s what they’ll get with Sean Shaw. Ashley Moody will continue the failed policies that we deserve a change from — we deserve better,” Shaw’s campaign spokesman Michael Hopkins said in a news release announcing the new commercial.

Pam Bondi slams Andrew Gillum for celebrating Aramis Ayala

Attorney General Pam Bondi called out Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum for appearing at an event Saturday honoring controversial State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

“Andrew Gillum is demonstrating that he will not stand up for our brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives each day to keep us safe,” Bondi said in a statement. “I know [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Ron DeSantis will stand shoulder to shoulder with all our brave first responders.”

Gillum tonight attended the Miami Dade Blue Gala in Coral Gables, where the Miami-Dade Democratic Party honored four individuals including Ayala, the State Attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit in Central Florida.

But Ayala, Florida’s first black state attorney, proved herself controversial since her surprise election, particularly following her decision last year not to pursue the death penalty in any cases. She announced the decision as the office prepared its case against accused cop-killer Markeith Lloyd.

“It is unfathomable to me that Andrew Gillum would participate in honoring State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who refused to even consider the death penalty for the man who brutally murdered a true hero — Lieutenant Debra Clayton,” Bondi said.

Lloyd also faces charges for killing girlfriend Sade Dixon and her unborn child.

Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the Lloyd case to State Attorney Brad King in the neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit.

Ayala fought that move, but the Florida Supreme Court ultimately ruled Scott had the right to reassign the case. Ayala afterward lifted her blanket ban on pursuing the death penalty and set up a panel in her office to consider the appropriateness of capital punishment case by case.

Ayala in July endorsed Gillum, who joined her for a press event in Orlando. Gillum praised Ayala then. “She is a deeply dedicated public servant and a strong advocate for justice and fairness, and the personification of leadership in her community and across the state,” he said then.

Forget Brett Kavanaugh; Florida facing its own ‘Supreme’ drama — in triplicate

While the nation was fixated on the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Floridians were reminded this week that they have their own Supreme Court controversy in triplicate.

Gov. Rick Scott reasserted his claim in court that he has the power, before he leaves office in January, to appoint replacements for three Florida Supreme Court justices who have reached a mandatory retirement age. Opponents contend the next governor, who takes office on Jan. 8, has that right.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, told the Florida Chamber of Commerce this week that he intends to appoint the new justices.

“It’s important that we have a governor who understands that we have to appoint solid constitutionalists to our state courts, including our state Supreme Court,” he told the chamber members, who were meeting in Orlando.

“The next governor probably, and I know there’s a little bit of controversy about when these appointments happen, but I’m presuming that I get elected governor and get sworn in, that I will have three appointments to the state Supreme Court,” DeSantis said.

It’s not the first time DeSantis has asserted his right to make the court appointments. It became an issue in his final debate with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“They’re not your appointments. They’re Gov. Scott’s appointments,” Putnam told him, saying DeSantis was aligning himself with groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida, who is challenging Scott on the court appointments.

For his part, Scott, who expects to get a list of potential court appointees by Nov. 8, has said he will work on the appointments with the winner of the Nov. 6 election.

Reaching an accommodation with DeSantis, who shares a similar conservative philosophy with Scott, seems possible. But if Democrat Andrew Gillum prevails, Floridians can expect the appointment controversy to intensify.


Scott’s lawyers on Wednesday argued the governor has the authority to appoint the replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are all leaving the court in early January because they have reached the mandatory retirement age.

The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, has asked the Supreme Court to block Scott’s action, through a procedure known as a “writ of quo warranto,” arguing the new governor who takes office on Jan. 8 should have that appointment power.

But in a 33-page res1ponse, Scott’s lawyers said he is following the precedent of beginning the appointment process before the vacancies actually occur, noting numerous justices have been appointed using this procedure in order to avoid prolonged vacancies on the court.

“The petitioners’ interpretation of the applicable constitutional provision is contrary to its plain language, the long-standing historical practice of the judicial nominating commissions for the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal, and the clearly articulated public policy underlying Article V of the Florida Constitution: avoiding extended vacancies in judicial office,” the lawyers wrote.

Earlier this month, Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications for the court appointments. The commission has set an Oct. 8 deadline for the applications, followed by a Nov. 8 deadline — two days after the general election — for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.

Scott, a Republican who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said he has the “expectation” that he and the incoming governor could reach an agreement on the appointments.

Underscoring the legal challenge is the fact that the new appointments are likely to reshape the seven-member Supreme Court for years, if not decades. Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.


In another Florida parallel to the Kavanaugh controversy, where the nominee has been accused of sexually harassing women while in high school or college, a sexual discrimination case involving the Florida Senate advanced this week.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and four high-ranking senators — including President Joe Negron — are among the witnesses being asked to testify in a discrimination case filed by legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accuses the Senate of retaliation after she filed a sexual harassment complaint last year against former Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who held the powerful post of Senate budget chief and was a candidate for governor when Perrin Rogers’ allegations against him first came out, resigned from the Senate shortly before the legislative session began in January. He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Latvala is among the witnesses Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who represents Perrin Rogers, is asking to appear at a Jan. 14 federal administrative-court hearing in Tampa, according to court documents first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

The list of witnesses gives just a glimpse into the allegations made by Perrin Rogers, who filed the discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.

One of the witnesses is Jean Seawright, who was hired by the Senate to conduct an investigation into Perrin Rogers after the aide filed the complaint against Latvala, according to court documents. Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, who investigated Perrin Rogers’ allegations against Latvala, is also on the witness list.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office after the November elections, “has knowledge that complainant suffered retaliation for making a report of sexual harassment,” Cruz wrote in a four-page list of witnesses submitted Tuesday to U.S. Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernández.

The Senate president denied anyone punished Perrin Rogers, a high-ranking aide who works for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, after she complained about Latvala.

“The complaint of sexual harassment, in this case, was immediately and fully investigated. At all times the Senate has acted appropriately and there has been no retaliation,” Negron said in a text message Wednesday.

But Cruz told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday that “there has been constant retaliation” against Perrin Rogers since she first complained about Latvala last fall. And the retaliation got worse after Swanson’s report was completed and the Senate aide filed her discrimination complaint, Cruz said.

“Instead, what we’ve seen happen here is the Senate has taken almost no action as the employer to protect Rachel when the retaliation was happening, and then subsequent to the investigation, they’ve actively taken steps to treat her differently as a result of her complaint,” she said.

The investigation into Latvala came amid a national spotlight on revelations of sexual harassment lodged against powerful men in Hollywood, business and politics that led to the demise of entertainment-industry titans such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Les Moonves.


Gov. Scott reasserted his right to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court before he leaves office in early January.


“The message that women are receiving, to me, is you become a pariah for saying something about any type of misconduct that’s happening to you by a man, especially by a man of power. If you say something too late, you get attacked for that. If you say something right away, you get attacked for that. So essentially the message is, be silent, or these are the consequences.” — Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who is representing legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who is suing the Florida Senate in a discrimination case.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Justices reject quick decision in minimum wage fight

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request by the city of Miami Beach for quick action in a battle about the legality of a local minimum wage.

The city this month asked the Supreme Court to “expedite” consideration of its challenge to a lower-court decision that blocked the minimum wage.

But the Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision Thursday, turned down the request. Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson were in the majority, while justices Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis dissented. The one-page order did not explain the court’s reasoning.

The underlying case stems from an ordinance that Miami Beach passed in 2016 to phase in a higher minimum wage. The ordinance had been planned to set the minimum wage in the city at $10.31 an hour this year, with annual incremental increases to $13.31 an hour in January 2021.

The statewide minimum wage this year is $8.25 an hour. But opponents such as the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association challenged the legality of setting a local minimum wage. The 3rd District Court of Appeal agreed with the opponents, leading Miami Beach to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The city asked the Supreme Court to rule by Jan. 1, which could allow a higher minimum wage to take effect at the start of the new year if the city wins the case. But attorneys for the state and business groups objected to speeding up consideration of the case.

“Petitioner (Miami Beach) fails to demonstrate that this case merits special treatment,” Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office argued in a brief. “Every time this (Supreme) Court reviews a lower court’s decision, a party has lost and is dissatisfied with the status quo. This is no less true of cases involving the validity of a state law or local ordinance, or cases that otherwise are of public interest. Petitioner’s basis for its request boils down to an assertion that whenever a law or ordinance is enjoined by a lower court and this (Supreme) Court grants review, it should rush the briefing and decision-making process and prioritize the timing over the quality of its decision.”

Tallahassee who’s-who on Rachel Perrin Rogers’ witness list in Florida Legislature suit

Rachel Perrin Rogers is seeking court testimony from a who’s-who list of Tallahassee powers and insiders in her lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation against her from the Florida Legislature regarding the sexual harassment claims she raised last fall against former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Perrin Rogers, who is pursuing a lawsuit case through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informed an administrative law judge Tuesday that the witnesses she intends to call include Latvala, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, other lawmakers, as well as Florida Legislature staff, lawyers, lobbyists and others including Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch.

Her witness list was first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

Perrin Rogers, chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, alleged late last fall that the once-powerful Senate Budget Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater, Latvala, had repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a period of four years. A legislative investigation of allegations against Latvala led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the EEOC, against the Florida Legislature, alleging she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward with her accusations against Latvala. Her case was assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.

The witness list Perrin Rogers’ attorney Tiffany Cruz  filed with Fernandez on Tuesday included Bondi; Latvala; Negron; Simpson; Schorsch; Negron’s Chief of Staff Cheri Vancura; Florida Senate Legal Counsel George Meros; Jean Seawright; former Judge Ronald Swanson, who was the Special Master; state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lauren Book; Caitlin Murray; Nancy Black-Stewart; and Florida Senate Sergeant At Arms Tim Hay.

Blocked from ballot? Supreme Court asked to stop amendments

Arguing that the measures would violate First Amendment rights, an attorney urged the Florida Supreme Court on Friday to uphold a lower-court ruling that would block three proposed constitutional amendments from going before voters in November.

Joseph Little, a retired University of Florida law professor and constitutional scholar, filed a 50-page brief after Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Monday requested that the Supreme Court allow the ballot measures to move forward.

The Supreme Court has not said whether it will hold oral arguments in the case, which stems from ballot proposals approved this year by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Little represents retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead and another plaintiff, Robert Barnas, who contend that the Commission improperly “bundled” unrelated issues into single ballot proposals.

They argue the measures would violate the First Amendment rights of voters, who could have conflicting opinions about issues in single ballot proposals.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee issued a ruling that would block the amendments, which include a high-profile measure aimed at banning offshore oil drilling and banning vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

The state appealed Gievers’ ruling, and the 1st District Court of Appeal quickly passed the dispute along to the Supreme Court.

Little (Photo: UF)

Little’s brief said the First Amendment “protects Florida voters from being forced to vote against their choices,” as he urged justices to uphold Gievers’ decision.

“It cannot be disputed that this (Supreme) Court has repeatedly exercised great caution in removing proposed amendments from the ballot,” the brief said. “Nevertheless, it is equally without dispute that this court has often found it necessary to remove propositions from the ballot because the ballot language was deceptive or failed to inform the voter of the content of the measure or denied the voter the right to intelligently cast a ballot.

“The number of these decisions is large, well known to this court, and need not be cited here. This case is simply another in the line that this court should hold denies voters the right to vote without undue infringement.”

Bondi’s office called Little’s First Amendment argument a “novel constitutional theory” and pointed to a history of bundled state and federal constitutional issues.

Along with the proposal on oil drilling and vaping, Gievers struck from the ballot a measure that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

Also, she struck a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.


Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

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