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Duval School Board member says district ‘gaming the system’ with test scores

Duval County School Board member Scott Shine has been so frustrated with the governing body that he decided not to run for re-election.

On his way off the board this year, Shine issued a stunning charge: namely, that the district is cooking the books when it comes to student test scores.

“A-F grades are designed to give parents clear, transparent measures of school performance,” said Shine. “If schools game the system, they are essentially lying to parents about the performance of their children’s schools.”

The gaming of the system, per Shine and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, comes from alleged testing irregularities and grade inflation.

Per a media release from that coalition: “Duval County middle schools had a 66 percent civics pass-rate last year, which ranked 34 out of Florida’s 50 largest school districts. The district vaulted to no. 2 this year with an 84 percent passing rate. But while 8,649 students were tested in civics in 2017, only 5,739 were tested in 2018. That participation drop is likely the major source of the district’s gains. Similar patterns appear in Polk and Manatee Counties.”

The coalition focuses on gains at one particular perpetual D school — Matthew Gilbert Middle in the Durkeeville neighborhood, where all of the students are economically disadvantaged and 19 of 20 attendees are students of color.

The “pass rate increased 48 percentage points, to 95 percent. That passing rate is in the top 10 percent of schools in the state, and higher than any in St. Johns, Nassau and Clay Counties. But only 44 students took the test this year, compared to 144 the previous year.”

The bump in scores could, per the coalition, increase Matthew Gilbert to a C school, boosting funding and potential “political acclaim” for unnamed board members (perhaps including an intra-board foe of Shine’s, House District 14 candidate Paula Wright).

“We passed Schools of Hope to eliminate failure factories in the state of Florida and ensure every child in this state has access to a world-class education,” said Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “We want to see schools make genuine improvements in teaching and learning. I am concerned some districts are inflating their results.”

Concern or not, this is at least for now a symbolic gesture, per a spox for the Department of Education.

“The Florida Department of Education takes very seriously the importance of valid measure and assessment of Florida schools. School grades will be released as soon as they are ready. There is an existing process for residents to raise concerns for the department’s review. At this time, we have no requests for an investigation from the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.”

Duval County Schools offered a lengthy defense of its methodology.

“The district is extremely excited about our student performance on the 2018 Civics End of Course Exam. The students’ incredible scores are a direct result of the tireless efforts of our teachers, students, and parents.  The 18-percentage point increase in performance on the Civics exam is consistent with increases students have demonstrated in other courses that end with a state end of course exam. In 2016, the district increased 12-percentage points in Biology. Last year, Algebra 1 and Geometry increased by 23 and 32 percentage points respectively.”

“Other districts have had major increases in scores as well. Hillsborough increased 14-percentage points in US History between 2013 and 2014, and Palm Beach increased 17-percentage points on the Civics exam from 2014 to 2015.”

“The number of students assessed in Civics in 2018 did decline. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines. Through those reviews, multiple data points are reviewed and changes are made to better prepare students by adding prerequisites and course progression pathways. The Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines meet all requirements in state statute, state board rules, and Duval County Public School’s Board Policy Manual. Specifically for Civics, Law Studies was included as a recommended prerequisite for students based on their most recent FSA ELA score and Lexile Level.”

“This change is also consistent with Algebra I, Geometry, and Biology in the year of those major percentage point increases. Moving forward, there will be an increase in the number of students assessed each year. This is also consistent with Algebra 1, Geometry, and Biology. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines.”

“The fact that any organization would call for an investigation into improprieties on assessments due to performance increases is an affront to all of the teachers and students who worked so diligently to prepare for the exam, and their families who supported them. We are very proud of their efforts, and our results on recent state and national assessments are a product of their continued pursuit of academic excellence.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — At the old ballgame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 5

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

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

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

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

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

Scott targets algae blooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bondi touts scam-targeting operation

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

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

Pam Bondi is targeting small business scams.

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

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

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

Instagram of the Week

#WeShouldAllCare 🇺🇸 #KeepFamiliesTogether @nymag @justinteodoro

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

The Week in Appointments

Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court

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

Lake County Clerk of the Circuit Court

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

Education Dept. lauds family involvement initiatives

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

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

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

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

FWC staff recognized for conservation efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parks surpass prescribed-fire record

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

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

Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper.

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

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

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

Preliminary citrus budget gets approval

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

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

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

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

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

No SunPass fines during update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers ranked on progressive positions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chip LaMarca recognized for local commitment

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

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

Chip LaMarca earns kudos for his local work.

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

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

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

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

Utility leaders honored for service

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

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

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

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

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

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

FSU research: Church does little for opioid addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon County balances budget without increasing millage rate

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

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

Leon County Commission Chair Nick Maddox.

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

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

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

Making way for new Publix near downtown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artopia: Big Bend Cares

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

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

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

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

Capitol Directions

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Closer look at November

Who cares? And what do they care about?

Those were two very telling — but perhaps overlooked — questions recently surveyed by the Florida Chamber. By determining how voters feel about the state’s direction and what tops their list of priorities before they head to the ballots, the Chamber’s latest poll helps to inform guesswork ahead of the midterm election, when Florida will elect a U.S. Senator, Governor, Cabinet and a slew of other positions.

Gun issues, the chamber found, have taken a back seat compared to results of an April poll in which gun-related concerns topped the list of statewide voter priorities. Currently, “jobs and the economy” rank first, topping the list for 14 percent of voters, followed by “education” at 13 percent and “gun issues” at 10 percent.

Another telling survey item gauged whether voters believe Florida is on the right or wrong track. The question is a strong predictor of voter turnout.

At the state level, Republicans are in control. This meshed well with how Republican voters feel about the state’s direction. An overwhelming majority (roughly 76 percent) answered “right track,” while just 10 percent felt the Sunshine State is heading in the wrong direction and 11 percent were unsure.

On the other hand, 50 percent of Democratic voters answered “wrong track,” while 29 percent felt the state is headed in the right direction; 17 percent were unsure.

Meanwhile, independent voters overall had a more positive interpretation of the state’s direction than Democrats. More than half answered “right direction,” 27 percent answered “wrong direction,” and 18 percent were unsure.

In total, around 52 percent of respondents felt the state was headed in the right direction. Just 30 percent believe the state is on the wrong track; 17 percent are unsure.

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

Scott rebuts report on debris removal — Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has refuted suggestions that it steered contracts to companies to remove debris in areas especially hard-hit by Hurricane Irma. A CBS4 investigative report this week showed two companies, which submitted emergency debris removal bids at the request of the state, invoiced more than $43 million for their post-Irma services. The report claims that similar companies already under contract could’ve done the same work for $13 million. Scott responded to the report, saying the emergency services were needed: “It’s easy for these vendors to look back and say they would have shown up and completed the work for cheaper, but in the days following the storm, they were clearly overleveraged and did not have the people or equipment to fulfill their commitments. I will never let special interests get in the way of storm recovery. We sent additional resources to get the job done for a community that needed help and given a choice; I would do the same thing again.”

Putnam downplays missed background checks — Following a Florida Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam responded to questions about a Tampa Bay Times report published last week showing that an employee under his supervision failed to use a background check system (one of a few) required for some Floridians who wish to obtain a concealed-carry license. The Commissioner told reporters that “public safety was not at risk” and that none of the 291 permit holders who have since had their licenses revoked were arrested during the lapse. The initial Times report found that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) went unused for a little more than a year in 2016-17 because an employee could not log in to the system. Putnam’s office has told the public that only 365 applications would’ve required use of the NICS, because two other databases are used for most applicants. When asked how applicants got by without further review, Putnam said, “It was a thing that happens to anybody with a computer: She (referring to the former employee) emailed I.T. and said, ‘my password isn’t working.’ They emailed her back with instructions on how to fix the problem. By her own admission, she dropped the ball.”

Amendments face uphill battle — A poll conducted by the Florida Chamber shows that, as of now, only a few proposed revisions to the state’s Constitution could pass in November. Of the 13 ideas primed for the ballot, just four met the 60 percent voter approval threshold needed to pass an amendment, although many surveyed voters were “unsure” of each proposition. The amendments with enough support currently, per the poll, include: Amendment 1, which would increase the state’s homestead exemption on property taxes; Amendment 3, which would give voters sole discretion on future gambling expansion; Amendment 7, which would extend death benefits to families of military and first responders killed on duty; and Amendment 8, which would impose school board term limits and let the state establish schools without school board approval.

Horrible’ citrus season ends — The United States Department of Agriculture this week forecast Florida citrus production for the 2017-2018 season will be its lowest since World War II. The USDA estimates Florida is on track to wrap its season with 44.95 million boxes of oranges, its premier citrus crop. Before Hurricane Irma, a storm that authorities described as “lethal” to citrus groves, private estimates expected Florida growers to produce 75 million boxes of oranges. Each box weighs 90 pounds. “This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.” The silver lining for Florida farmers awaits federal action. A federally funded $2.36 billion disaster package and a $340 million block grant are expected to dramatically mitigate losses incurred by Hurricane Irma.

Troubled nursing home gets small victory — The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 residents died during a power outage that followed Hurricane Irma, won a small dispute in court this week after a judge ruled the state must provide requested death records to the Broward County nursing home for “a reasonable fee.” The ruling comes after the Rehabilitation Center was asked to pay $5 each for paper records of the nearly 6,000 deaths that occurred across the state at the same time, reports Michael Moline for Florida Politics. The nursing home requested the records in the hopes of establishing that its staff acted reasonably in declining to evacuate residents before Hurricane Irma swept through the state.

Cabinet reaches conservation easement milestone

With the recent approval of more than 8,300 acres purchased through a unique conservation easement program, the Florida Cabinet is touting a more than 1,000-percent increase in acres preserved under three sitting members of the Cabinet who’ve been at their posts since 2011.

Those members include Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Current Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis replaced the former CFO Jeff Atwater, who was elected in 2011 and 2014.

Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet marks an easement record.

The easement program, known as the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, is a cooperative between the state and local ranchers that seeks to preserve active agriculture ops and the environmental benefits they offer. On Wednesday, the Cabinet surpassed 50,000 acres of protected land through 45 easements in total since Scott and most of the Cabinet took office.

“We must continue to prioritize the conservation of our agricultural lands and world-renowned natural spaces,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, we partner with farmers and ranchers to preserve the invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment to help preserve what makes Florida such a special place to live.”

Wednesday’s approved easements include Goolsby Ranch in Highlands County, Howze Ranch in Manatee County, Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County and Rodman Plantation in Putnam County.

Instagram of the week 

Nominate an ‘Agriculture Woman of the Year’

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is accepting nominations for the 2018 “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award, which recognizes women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture.

Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts, 2017 Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture. Nominations for 2018 are now open.

Nominations can be sent by mail to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Plaza Level 10, The Capitol, 400 S Monroe St., Tallahassee FL 32399-0800. By fax, 850-617-7744. Or email to Clay.Hollis@FreshFromFlorida.com.

More information about the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award and past award winners can be found at FreshFromFlorida.com.

The deadline for submitting nominations is July 31.

Patronis highlights AOB abuse arrest

As lawmakers and elected officials target abuse of assignment of benefits, or AOB, Chief Financial Officer Patronis is spreading the word that those that engage in the form of insurance fraud could face severe criminal penalties.

In a news release this week, Patronis drew attention to the case of Timothy Matthew Cox, who arrested earlier this month for an AOB fraud scheme that impacted 19 homeowners in eight counties across Florida and in one Texas County. Cox owns Nationwide Catastrophe Services and Restoration Response Services, which he allegedly used to pocket almost $140,000 for unfinished home repairs needed after natural disasters.

Jimmy Patronis highlights the crackdown on AOB abuse.

“Criminals who prey on Florida families after a hurricane or tropical storm are some of the worst we see,” Patronis said. “This type of fraud has skyrocketed and impacts all Florida consumers.”

Per the news release, the Bureau of Insurance Fraud — overseen by Patronis — found that “Cox pressured homeowners to sign an AOB contract to have damages repaired.” But, “after receiving the insurance payments, Cox’s team never started any of the work they were contracted to perform.”

And according to Patronis, Cox’ case may not be an isolated one: “With more than 100 ongoing investigations statewide, we are coming for anyone who takes advantage of our residents during vulnerable times.”

The Week in Appointments

Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority

Luz Weinberg and Leonard Boord were appointed this week to serve terms ending April 6, 2022. Weinberg, 46, of Miami, is the CEO of GlobComm, LLC, and is a graduate of Florida International University. She succeeds Cliff Waters. Boord, 57, of Miami, founded Slon Capital. He currently serves on the Florida International University Board of Trustees.

Hernando County Board of County Commissioners John Mitten will serve during the suspension of Commissioner Nicholas Nicholson for a term ending Nov. 16, 2020.

Broward College District Board of Trustees

Matthew Caldwell, not to be confused with the state Representative from Lehigh Acres, will serve a term that began June 14 and ends May 31, 2022. He is the president and CEO of Florida Panthers Hockey Club. Caldwell currently serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club.

Women’s Hall of Fame

Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, Janet Petro and Lee Bird Leavengood were inducted Thursday by Gov. Scott. Gonzmart, (1920-2001), helped manage “The Columbia” — the oldest restaurant in Florida — and was a community advocate who helped co-found the Latino Scholarship Fund at the University of South Florida. Petro, 58, has worked as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and was the first female Deputy in the history of John F. Kennedy Space Center. Leavengood, 89, has a long history of contributing work to the University of South Florida. She championed the creation of the University of South Florida’s Division of Senior programs, now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Center.

FDLE upgrades alert system

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it updated its AMBER and Missing Child Alert Public Notification System this week.

Using what’s called an Everbridge platform, people can now receive AMBER and Missing Child Alerts through text messages as well as email. In the coming months, citizens will also be able to sign up to receive alerts through voice calls, TDD/TTY messaging, and through mobile device apps.

Known for its work during Hurricane Irma, the Everbridge platform will soon be handling AMBER Alerts.

To use the new system, however, they must create an Everbridge account (click here). Current subscribers will continue to receive email alerts, but to access the additional functions, an Everbridge account is needed.

Everbridge will use your email and phone numbers to send Florida AMBER and Missing Child Alert notifications only. Information will not be sold or distributed. Everbridge is used by government agencies to issue emergency alerts, like severe weather warnings, nationally and in Florida.

FWC to meet in Sarasota

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet June 19-20 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. Meetings both days are open to the public.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and the public will be provided opportunities to speak on agenda items each day. The Commission will also provide time for public comment on subjects not on the agenda at the end of the first day. Those who wish to offer comments during this period will be asked to make sure their comments are not related to any agenda item.

For the full June 19-20 agenda and links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.”

Those who can’t attend can follow coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (@MyFWC) and join the conversation by using the #FWC2018 hashtag. Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.

FWC: Don’t forget about dive flags

For some counties along the Gulf Coast, the annual quest for bay scallops begins today.

But before Floridians jump into the water, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants them to hoist their dive flags, which signal to nearby boaters that there are divers down below or at the surface.

“Displaying and understanding what constitutes a proper divers-down symbol are critical,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “These safety devices are meant to alert boaters to the presence of people under the water’s surface and to give them plenty of room.”

The iconic red rectangle with a white diagonal stripe must be displayed via a flag on a vessel or a buoy in the water. Each must be at least a foot in length and width if presented from the water, and at least 20 inches by 24 inches and flown at the highest point of a vessel if used in flag form.

Vessels are instructed to stay at least 100 feet from a flag when maneuvering through rivers, channels and inlets, and at least 300 feet from a flag in open waters. Divers, unsurprisingly, are asked to remain within the same boundaries of their flag.

Scallop season begins in Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County today and lasts through Sept. 10. In Franklin, Levy, Citrus, Hernando and the Northwest portion of Taylor County, the season begins July 1 and continues through Sept. 24. Pasco County’s season starts July 20 and ends July 29, and Gulf County’s season takes place Aug. 17 through Sept. 30.

Lawmakers ask for legislative action amid background check report

Politicians across the state chimed in with criticism following a Tampa Bay Times report that showed the Florida Department of Agriculture failed to use one of a few background check tools for more than a year.

A few Democratic state legislators have taken that criticism a step further and are calling for legislative action in the wake of the report.

Linda Stewart calls for action in the background check snafu.

State Sens. Linda Stewart of Orlando and Kevin Rader of Delray Beach penned a letter to Senate President Joe Negron requesting the creation of “a special select committee under Senate Rule 1.5 ‘to provide the measure of full transparency the public demands from their elected officials.’”

Rader, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the Department of Agriculture, said he was not made aware of the issue during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Was it a cover-up?” Rader posited. “Was it a way to rubber stamp what they knew they had already done?”

Similarly, in the state House, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, whose district encompasses Parkland, wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking him to convene the House Government Accountability Committee and the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to address the report.

Miami Democrats chip in for new Coral Gables fire station

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and state Rep. Nicholas X. Duran this week presented a $1.5 million check to the City of Coral Gables for the purchase of land required to build a much-needed new fire station.

Funding for the land purchase was secured during the 2018 Legislative Session. It will help Coral Gables take the first step toward constructing a fire station in Cartagena Park. Currently, traffic congestion has limited first responders’ access to the area.

Jose Javier Rodriguez and Nicholas X. Duran present $1.5 million to the City of Coral Gables.

“Ensuring and supporting the public’s safety is a top priority for the City of Coral Gables. Senator Rodriguez and I are proud to support added protection measures by continuing to work closely with our municipal partners,” Duran said in a prepared statement. “Efforts to secure increased safety and expand green space is undoubtedly a win for all residents.”

Following the land purchase, the city is expected to build its fourth fire station at the park, which connects to an 11-mile bike trail along Old Cutler Road. Per a news release, “The fire station will provide necessary supervision to the area as well as enhanced safety for all visitors enjoying this regional attraction.”

Dana Young delivers check to Redefining Refuge

A Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth got a visit this week from Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, who arrived with a $500,000 check from the state in tow.

Dana Young awards $500K to a Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth.

“Redefining Refuge fights for women and children who have been victims of sexual abuse and works to end the domestic sex trafficking of minors,” Young said. “Redefining Refuge ensures those they serve receive the specialized care they need and deserve, providing fundamental needs, such as safety, shelter, clothing and food, as well as educational, psychological or emotional support.”

Redefining Refuge founder and director Natasha Nascimento thanked Young and the Legislature for the funds, which will help the nonprofit expand its suite of services for victims.

“This appropriation will truly have a significant impact on the women and children we serve, by allowing us to further our positive contribution to the lives of human trafficking victims by equipping and empowering them to build strong foundations for their futures,” she said.

Rene Garcia wants DACA fix ASAP

Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia used his platform at the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairmen to call on Congress to pass permanent fixes for DACA, an Obama-era policy that protects from deportation young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Rene Garcia wants a DACA fix … now!

Garcia and the BHCC said they were in support of a proposal being pitched in Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” alongside stricter border security laws. Garcia commended CD 26 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo for helping push that permanent fix.

“DACA has been great for the U.S. economy and recipients are estimated to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to economic growth over the next decade. Congress must take a pragmatic approach in ensuring a path for Dreamers, while also strengthening our safety and enhancing border security,” Garcia said. “Through bipartisan compromise, Congress has an opportunity to find middle ground, push politics aside, and protect not just the Dreamers, but also all people who call the United States home.”

The alternative to that proposal, preferred by hard-line House conservatives, would give Dreamers temporary protection in exchange for ending rules that allow legal immigrants to sponsor their family members entry into the U.S., a practice derogatorily referred to as “chain migration.”

FSU Medicine among most selective schools

When prospective medical students apply to Florida State University’s College of Medicine, the odds are stacked against them.

Of the 7,200 FSU med-school applicants in 2018, just 120 were admitted. That’s a 2.6 percent acceptance rate, giving FSU the third spot in U.S. News and World Report’s list of medical schools with the lowest acceptance rates. The Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Stanford University took the top two spots, respectively.

FSU College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty.

“We’re obviously pleased to see so much interest in this medical school and our unique, community-based and patient-centered approach, but we are even more excited about what a quality pool of applicants means in terms of helping us achieve our mission,” College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty said.

Moreover, while the med school may be selective, it boasts a diverse student population. The Class of 2022 includes 69 women and 51 men, as well as 15 black students and 15 Spanish, Hispanic or Latino students.

Those numbers make it among the top 10 for enrollment of both black and Hispanic students — the only school to do so within the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Career fairs for evacuees

Nineteen local workforce boards will host a statewide, construction industry-focused job fair beginning June 12 in cities and towns across Florida. The events bring together construction and related companies seeking to hire Floridians and individuals displaced by Hurricane Maria for a variety of high-paying jobs.

“Puerto Rico evacuees, veterans, Hispanics and other job-seeking Floridians are encouraged to attend,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Julio Fuentes with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Whether an entry-level laborer or a skilled engineer, hiring companies offer paid, on-the-job training, so applicants of all experience levels are welcome to apply. Additionally, Uber is providing discounted rates to all individuals traveling to and from the career fairs using discount code CAREERSOURCEFL.

Locations holding a one-day career fair between June 12 and July 11 include Bradenton, Clearwater, Crestview, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Lake City, Lauderdale Lakes, Madison, Milton, New Port Richey, Ocala, Rockledge, Stuart, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach. For dates and locations, click here.

FSU sports get props from Scott, Cabinet

At a Cabinet meeting this week, Gov. Scott and the Cabinet celebrated the long-term success of Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and the newly cemented legacy of the Florida State softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

The one lauding the 2018 Seminoles softball team, fresh off winning their NCAA tournament, listed off accomplishments including their “do-or-die heroics” against Louisiana State in the Super Regional and their six-game run from the elimination bracket to their sweep of the University of Washington in the championship series.

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet honors Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and legacy of the FSU softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

Individuals getting enshrined in the doc include WCWS Most Outstanding Player Jessie Warren, ACC Pitcher of the Year Kylee Hanson and the ACC Freshman of the Year Sydney Sherrill.

The resolution celebrating Martin recounted his first win for the ‘Noles, which came against rival Miami in 1980, before rattling off some of the most impressive stats among active NCAA baseball coaches — in his 39 seasons at the helm, FSU baseball has “won 1,987 games; scored 21,606 runs; recorded 21,623 strikeouts; hit 2,956 home runs and placed 49 former players in Major League Baseball,” the resolution said.

He also got a clap on the back for being the all-time winningest coach in NCAA baseball and having the second-best winning percentage in the record books.

Correction

Ed. Note — We misspelled the name of Collier County School Board and Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds in last week’s Capitol Directions. We regret the error.

Capitol Directions

Aakash Patel

Richard Corcoran backs Aakash Patel for Hillsborough Commission

Tampa Republican Aakash Patel snagged an endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran in his bid for the countywide District 7 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.

“I’ve gotten to know Aakash through his work with the Early Learning Coalition and have seen him put conservative initiatives to work to bring early education to more children in the State of Florida,” Corcoran said. “I appreciate all he has done and I fully support his efforts to become the next Republican County Commissioner from District 7 in Hillsborough County.”

Corcoran is the latest in a long line of big-name backers for Patel, who runs his business consulting firm Elevate Inc. Prior endorsements include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Northwest Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess.

“I am so very honored to have the support of such a true conservative leader as Speaker Corcoran. We have worked on education initiatives in Florida and I respect and share his strong conservative values. I am honored by his endorsement,” Patel said.

Patel recently entered the race for District 7, held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He had previously been a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected resign the seat to make her own run in District 7.

Since he first announced his 2018 campaign, Patel has raised more than $450,000 for his campaign. He is one of eight candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Marks, who also recently moved his campaign over from the District 1 race, has raised nearly $85,000 for his campaign. Overman has raised nearly $35,000 and has about $13,000 in the bank.

Richard Corcoran

Richard Corcoran’s political committee continues spending spree in May

House Speaker Richard Corcoran won’t be on the ballot this year, but that hasn’t stopped his political committee from spending beaucoup bucks.

Corcoran started Watchdog PAC in April 2017, and shortly after wrapping his first Legislative Session with the Speaker’s gavel, he started piling on cash — more than $6.9 million between May 2017 and April 2018, the last time it recorded a contribution.

For nearly its entire run, the committee was seen as Corcoran’s primary fundraising vehicle for a gubernatorial bid or, later on, a run for Attorney General. The Pasco Republican, who had repeatedly said he would run for Guv or “go home,” ended that speculation a month ago when he chose the latter option and threw his support behind Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid.

In the weeks since, Corcoran’s committee has spent more than $340,000 on payroll, office rent, contributions to other Republican pols, research and every flavor of consulting contract.

Topping the expenditure list was more than $50,000 in payments to public opinion research firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, which has worked with many Republican politicians including Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Watchdog PAC paid the firm $44,750 for a survey, $7,500 for research consulting and another $2,000 for research services.

Tallahassee shop Rapid Loop Consulting received $46,275 for travel expenses, web design, office supplies and meeting expenses; Jacksonville-based Political Capital received $40,000 for fundraising and political consulting; and $25,000 apiece to Capital City Friends of NRA and political committee Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy.

Further down the list were $1,000 campaign contributions to Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez’ 2020 bid for Senate District 39, Jeremiah Hawkes’ campaign for Pasco County Judge and Ronald Kitchen’s campaign for Citrus County Commission.

Watchdog PAC spent $341,361 in all last month, leaving it with $1.63 million banked heading into June.

#7 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Richard Corcoran

Although he had a good run in his two years as House Speaker — and managed to make a splash as a prospective candidate for governor, the Land O’ Lakes Republican falls five spots this year.

He claimed the No. 2 slot last year after his raucous showdown with Gov. Rick Scott over VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida funding.

Richard Corcoran might have ranked higher than he did this year had the political winds not shifted as they did over the course of the last several months — and if he wasn’t about to term out and face an uncertain future in politics.

Earlier this year, he seemed to be sowing momentum. His Watchdog PAC released a TV ad demonizing immigrants via an inaccurate depiction of the shooting death of Kate Steinle, followed by Corcoran’s plea to Floridians to support a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities. That ad was red meat to potential GOP primary voters, but critics said it was racist.

Barely two weeks after it first aired, in the middle of the 2018 Legislative Session, gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 19 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. As students across the state rallied for stricter gun laws, Corcoran’s PAC released yet another ad targeting illegal immigration, which some critics considered tone-deaf, given how the gun debate still raged.

Corcoran demonstrated his muscle in shepherding through a compromised gun law that raised the gun-buying age from 18 to 21 and mandated that schools train certain personnel to carry guns on campus. The NRA panned the bill for what it saw as limitations to the Second Amendment, though Corcoran seemed to make amends with the group in a letter to the Constitution Revision Commission calling on the panel to turn down a proposed amendment that could have banned assault-style rifles (which the commission did).

Another legislative win for Corcoran was an education package that shifts state dollars away from public schools and toward scholarship programs that favor charter schools, which school choice advocates heralded earlier this year. It also set new membership requirements that could potentially diminish teachers’ unions.

“The Speaker’s left a mark on the region,” said Seth McKeel of Southern Strategy Group. “He’s been a powerful and constant voice of conservatism in Florida.”

By the end of Session, many observers were ready for Corcoran to announce a run for governor, but a couple of forces were working against him. First, his potential primary opponents were way ahead of him in their fundraising. Second, the two major Republican candidates — Trump favorite Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — would have made it difficult for him to craft a message that stood out to primary voters. In May, he announced he would not run and endorsed Putnam.

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had some $2 million when he dropped his bid for governor.

Corcoran ranked second in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#12 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Cruz

First elected to her Tampa state House seat in 2010, Janet Cruz served as House Minority Leader over the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. She’s the first Latina to serve in that capacity.

While Democratic leaders in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature often have little influence, Cruz has managed to have some sway.

She has been effective at getting her party’s message across in the critical months leading up to the 2018 midterms.

When Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel was accused of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers in November 2017, Cruz was the first to issue a statement condemning his actions. Following a report dealing with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the Capitol, namely against former Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Cruz said she was “horrified.”

At the start of the 2018 Session, Cruz also called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran on a bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

She’s terming out at the end of this year, but she’s far from finished.

In 2017, she announced a run for Hillsborough County Commission. But Cruz dropped that bid in April and then jumped into the race for state Senate District 18 against Sen. Dana Young, the incumbent Republican elected to the newly-drawn seat in 2016.

Cruz cited a desire to pass laws that may prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred in Parkland as a key reason for jumping in and criticized Young for missing three votes on amendments to the gun bill the legislature was debating earlier this year.

“I love our community and I am fed up with lawmakers who put the interests of the NRA, the for-profit school industry, and insurance companies before the people they represent,” Cruz said in a news release heralding her candidacy.

SD 18 went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but winning wouldn’t exactly be easy. For one, Young is a well-funded Republican incumbent with moderate sensibilities not too far off from those of the district, which runs from South Tampa up through northwestern Hillsborough County. Plus, some Democrats aren’t happy that her entrance into the race prompted Bob Buesing (who had also been Young’s Dem opponent in 2016) to exit.

Given her track record in the House — and her tendency to gravitate toward leadership roles, should she and a handful of fellow Democrats manage to flip the Senate in November, good things would likely be in store.

Cruz Rifkin climbed to No. 12 from the No. 19 spot last year.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “Probably could have easily won Hillsborough County Commission race, but Parkland massacre set her eye on Young’s Senate seat.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd endorses Adam Putnam in new illegal immigration ad

Floridians won’t hear Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speak in his latest television ad.

Instead, they’ll hear testimony and a de-facto endorsement from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who delivers a 30-second spiel on the need to deport “illegal immigrants” to keep communities safe and promises Putnam, who’s running for Governor, will help law enforcement do so, if elected.

The ad, which will begin airing across the state Tuesday, opens with Judd saying, “I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to keeping Florida families safe and I know Adam Putnam has our back.”

The focus of the ad then turns to illegal immigration — particularly in cases when immigrants who are not citizens are convicted of a crime.

“Adam believes we have the responsibility to keep our borders, cities and neighborhoods safe and secure,” Judd continues. “He’ll make sure that illegal immigrants who commit crimes will be held accountable and deported — not released back into our communities.”

Judd closes with: “Adam Putnam will stand with law enforcement and enforce the rule of law.”

It evokes memories of Republican state House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s January ad cut by his Watchdog PAC, which focused on the issue of sanctuary cities, or the concept that local authorities could, in theory, refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials, effectively creating a ‘sanctuary’ for immigrants who are not citizens.

But there are stark differences between the Speaker’s television venture and Putnam’s latest. Corcoran’s ad depicted the killing of a woman in California by an undocumented immigrant, whereas Putnam’s features only him and Judd, and avoids the term ‘sanctuary city’ altogether.

Corcoran, then widely expected to enter the Governor’s race after the 2018 Legislative Session, aired the ad after the House quickly passed a bill banning sanctuary cities in the state. He decided in May to stay out of the race and subsequently endorse Putnam.

For Putnam, messaging on immigration through television marks an investment in a strategy that tracks to the right as he competes against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination. DeSantis has the backing of Donald Trump, and is frequently on Fox News defending the President.

The ad also is a working endorsement of Putnam from Sheriff Judd, who is influential in Republican circles and known well beyond the borders of Polk County (where Putnam is originally from). Judd helped lead a series of workshops called by Gov. Rick Scott immediately after the Parkland shooting. He is a staunch advocate for arming teachers and championed what eventually became the Guardian Program. He is one of Corcoran’s appointees to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

The ad also could act as quick damage control for a story published last week that undoubtedly called Putnam’s leadership into question. Although, a poll that coincided with that story still reflected strong support for the Agriculture Commissioner.

Time for Florida GOP to draft Pam Bondi?

Richard Corcoran must be kicking himself right now.

If the House Speaker knew a month ago what the rest of the state does now — that a former employee of Adam Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services failed for more than a year to conduct national background checks on applications for concealed weapons licenses — would he have scrubbed his gubernatorial bid and endorsed the Bartow Republican?

Probably not. And with Putnam’s campaign imploding and calls for his outright resignation from Democrats reaching a fever pitch, a nervous Florida GOP establishment may have turned its desperate eyes to the Pasco lawmaker.

It’s not clear how much damage this scandal will do to Putnam. Will it drive him from the race? Will it keep him from winning the primary? If he wins the primary, does it hobble him in a general election? We probably need another 72 to 96 hours to see where Putnam stands. But one thing is certain. He is no longer the front-runner for the GOP nomination. He probably hasn’t been for a few weeks.

As Putnam stumbles, it’s increasingly probable that twenty years of Republican control of the Governor’s Mansion will come to an end this November.

Yes, Ron DeSantis can win the general election. The people who say he can’t just because he’s backed by Donald Trump are many of the same geniuses who had Hillary Clinton winning the Sunshine State on her way to The White House.

DeSantis can win, I just don’t think he will. I think the PredictIt Market that pegs it at about a three-to-two possibility that a Democrat will win in November feels right. Conversely, the Republicans — either DeSantis or Putnam — being given about a 40 percent chance also seems about right.

If Putnam does lose to DeSantis, the Florida GOP establishment will embrace the “outsider” DeSantis even quicker than it did Rick Scott after he defeated Bill McCollum in 2010.

DeSantis’ campaign manager is Brad Herold, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. DeSantis’ finance director’s last job was for Senate President Joe Negron. DeSantis’ big donors are major donors to Trump, the party, etc. In other words, there are many more overlaps between DeSantis World and the Florida GOP than there were between Scott and the then-establishment.

BUT …

Don’t for a second believe that The Establishment wants to see DeSantis beat Putnam. The heaviest of heavyweights — The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Florida Power & Light, the sugar industry, the mega-networked lobbying firms — have been investing in Putnam for more than a decade. For there to be zero return on this investment will be difficult to stomach.

The Establishment also hasn’t really liked the last eight years under Scott, at least not the way they liked it under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Those were the salad days. Under Scott, the governing strategy has been to stay off his administration’s radar, stay out of the news, and cut $50,000 checks to his political committee whenever one of his fundraisers made an ask.

The Establishment hoped to strike back under Putnam. However, for the third time in eight years — McCollum losing in 2010, Bush flailing in 2016, and Putnam faltering now — its plans are being thwarted.

It can’t be overstated just how shocked many establishment figures and lobbyists were during DeSantis’ recent tour of Tallahassee, where he met with dozens of top lobbyists. It wasn’t just that these insiders were alarmed by the Ponte Vedra Republican’s lack of knowledge about issues facing the state, it was the indifference and disdain he displayed while meeting with them. Almost every one of the lobbyists I spoke with who met with DeSantis mentioned how often he checked his phone, as if they were on a bad first date. He asked few, if any, questions about what concerns or suggestions they had. Instead it was just Trump, Trump, and more Trump.

The Establishment has been licking its Scott-inflicted wounds for nearly eight years and in DeSantis it sees another four years of living under an absentee landlord who, if we’re honest about it, would rather be in D.C. than Tallahassee.

So the Florida GOP, which has held hegemonic control over the state since 1998, faces limited choices.

— It can grin and bear DeSantis. That’s what most will do. There are top-tier lobbying firms already positioned to thrive under a DeSantis administration.

— It can back-door its support for Gwen Graham or Philip Levine. This is what some — not many but some — will do. And they’ll keep their Republican bona fides by doubling-down on their donations to incoming legislative leaders Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva.

OR … and with thirteen days until candidate qualifying closes, this is crazy … The Establishment could Draft Pam Bondi.

The Attorney General chose not to run for higher office this cycle. And she didn’t get/take a position in the Trump White House, despite her ties to the president. She’s coy about what her plans are for when she leaves office, although many expect her to pursue a track in television, specifically with Fox News.

She’s also never expressed any real interest in being Governor.

But … if she wanted it … it’s there.

There hasn’t been recent polling, at least none that I’ve seen, but a survey last year from Associated Industries of Florida showed Republican voters giving Bondi high marks. Fifty-four percent approve of the job she was doing, while just 12 percent had an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion. She stood heads-and-shoulders above any Republican not named Scott, including Putnam.

Bondi would have some issues in the general election, especially because of a scandal linking a donation from Trump to a decision not to pursue a legal case against his “university,” but she also has a strong record she can run on, including her fight against pill mills.

Could she beat DeSantis in the primary? She probably has a better chance of doing so than Putnam does at this point. It would be a tall order to raise the kind of money she would need to win, but at least she wouldn’t be out-Trumped by DeSantis the way Putnam has been.

Meanwhile, the GOP Establishment would quickly transfer its support from Putnam to her because the devil you know (Bondi) is always better than the devil you don’t (DeSantis).

I don’t even know what a general election match-up would look like between Bondi and Graham or Levine, but Bondi probably has a better shot at keeping the moderate Republican women voters turned off by Trump in this so-called “Year of the Woman.”

Bondi is both incredibly telegenic and personable on a retail level, so she would give the Republicans their best chance at holding on to power. If she is the nominee, those PredictIt odds instantly move from three-to-two against to better than even money.

Only there’s just two weeks to convince Bondi that she’s the best candidate to help the party maintain control of the Governor’s Mansion through the next presidential election and redistricting process. She’d have to put on hold whatever those apolitical ambitions are that so many believe she has. She’d have to raise money 24 hours a day for the next four months. She’d have to convince Donald Trump not to weigh in too heavily in the Republican primary. And that only gets her to the general election, where a blue wave is supposedly building.

But it’s all there if Pam Bondi wants it.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Remembering Anthony Bourdain at FSU

First known for cuisine and later his storytelling, chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain had a knack for traveling the world and telling the world about it.

After news broke Friday that Bourdain tragically ended his own life in France, the world mourned and celebrated his work — which, we’ve learned, brought him to all the nooks and crannies of the planet, even Tallahassee.

Highlighted on Twitter by Gus Corbella of Greenberg Traurig, a clip shows Bourdain speaking with a group of prospective writers at Florida State University in 2011. It’s worth watching:

“I started writing at age 44 after 28 years spent standing in kitchens,” Bourdain tells the students. “Who would want to read about the squalid life of a not-particularly-good cook? This subculture of chefs and cooks and dishwashers …”

He offered tips to the students as well: “I never read what I’ve just written if I can avoid it.” And at least one student interviewed in the clip said she was inspired by how late he began to document his experiences through prose.

Even Bourdain, who at the time had reached stardom and notoriety, walked away from the lecture with something to gain. He said the writing students at FSU were likely more serious about writing than he is, and that speaking with them was flattering.

“It just feels good,” Bourdain said. “I’m walking around thinking like, ‘Damn, I’m a writer.’ ”

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

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

State gets election security money — The Florida Department of State received $19.2 million in federal election security money this week following pressure from county and state leaders to apply for the funding. The money is part of a $380 million package approved earlier this year by Congress to enhance election security in all 50 states. In May, supervisors of elections in Florida first raised concerns that the state had not applied for the $19.2 million set aside for it, as reported by Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson applied further pressure on the Department to apply for the funding before the midterm elections. The Legislature will need to unlock the funds before the Department of State can distribute money to each county’s election office.

Tourism on record track — The first three months of 2018 saw a record number of visitors come to the Sunshine State, according to Florida’s tourism-marketing agency VISIT Florida. An estimated 33.2 million visitors traveled to Florida from January through March. The previous three-month high was 30.9 million visitors. In 2017, the Legislature appropriated $76 million to VISIT Florida for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The same amount was appropriated during the 2018 Legislative Session. The public-private agency has recently led efforts to advertise Florida tourism in Canada, and the number of visitors from that country was up 2.5 percent during the last quarter.

Judge lifts stay on marijuana smoking ban — Following her ruling last month that Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers lifted the stay, or hold, on the ruling following the state’s immediate appeal of Gievers’ initial ruling. Gievers’ order now will come into effect Monday. But while smoking the plant for medicinal purposes will be considered legal, patients still can’t get smokable marijuana until the Department of Health finalizes new rules for Gievers’ decision. An attorney representing the state said the rule-making process could take months to complete.

Parkland panel meets again — A group charged with unearthing facts and recommending improvements to prevent another mass school shooting met again this week to review the Feb. 14 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The fact-finding commission, which includes lawmakers, local authorities and citizens, was included in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed in the 2018 Legislative Session. Andrew Pollack, a former member of the commission, Thursday announced his resignation from the panel, citing the need to focus his efforts on electing members to the Broward County School Board. He is the father of one of the slain Parkland students. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who heads the commission, directed the conversation Thursday toward risk-assessment protocols that must be implemented ahead of the next school year, reports the News Service of Florida. Among them: Evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance curriculum, the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool, and a student crime-watch program.

Scott’s disclosure set for appeal hearing — A lawsuit challenging whether Gov. Rick Scott properly disclosed his wealth will now be heard by the 1st District Court of Appeal. Scott’s office argues that the issue brought forward, which claims the Governor did not fully disclose the details of his personal wealth through the use of a blind trust, should be heard by the Florida Commission on Ethics. A circuit judge ruled otherwise earlier this year, and now the appeals court will have its say on what authority will consider whether Scott properly disclosed his finances. Filed in 2017, Scott listed a net worth at $149.3 million, including a blind trust worth $130.5 million.

Puerto Rico PD gets some backup

The Puerto Rico Police Department is now home to 25 Florida Highway Patrol vehicles.

“Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, I have visited the island six times to offer guidance, assistance and support. We’ve made it a priority in Florida to aid Puerto Rico in their recovery from this devastating storm,” Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday.

Florida is giving some mobile help to the Puerto Rico Police Department.

“I’m glad that the Florida Highway Patrol, on behalf of Floridians, has stepped up and honored a request to provide additional surplus police cruisers to the island. These 25 vehicles will assist law enforcement efforts as they work to rebuild. We will continue to do all we can to support Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

The cache of cruisers each had more than 80,000 miles of service in the Sunshine State, and had been out of circulation and awaiting surplus auction before they were donated to PRPD.

“The Florida Highway Patrol is proud to continue assisting the Puerto Rico Police Department following Hurricane Maria,” said FHP Director Gene Spaulding. “These donated vehicles are another way Florida is supporting the people of Puerto Rico in their recovery.”

Though, as the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas tweeted this week, “Oh so many questions this election year … @FLGovScott says he’s sending 25 used FHP vehicles to Puerto Rico. But his prison system struggles to have working vehicles to transport inmates. It’s received half of what it’s asked for in vehicle replacement.”

Veterans honor Putnam for outdoor initiatives

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was recently recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

Putnam, who also is vying for the Republican nod in the Governor’s race, was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Award.

Adam Putnam was recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

During remarks at the convention, the commissioner cited his work in Operation Outdoor Freedom, which gives certain veterans the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at no cost.

Putnam said that camps across the state have served over 3,600 veterans so far, making it the only program of its “kind, size and scope,” at least to his knowledge.

“The therapy that’s taking place in those woods and around those campfires is extraordinary. We would not be able to continue to identify and promote this program without your help,” Putnam said. “We need to be able to let every veteran know that this is an opportunity for them and a small way for the State of Florida to say thank you for your service to our great country.”

Two camps currently operate: Camp Prairie and Peace River Camp. Both are overseen by the Florida Forest Service, which Putnam oversees. Putnam also has dedicated a Purple Heart Trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Jimmy Patronis recognized for PTSD legislation

The Florida Professional Firefighters group this week honored Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for helping champion a new law that gives first responders access to mental health care through the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Jimmy Patronis is being honored for PTSD legislation giving access to mental health care.

“I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our firefighters and other first responders. As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I will keep fighting for those that serve and protect all of Florida. My goal is to also ensure cancer is a covered treatment, providing greater health care access to all first responders. I’m grateful that I was able to join the Florida Professional Firefighters this evening and receive this great honor,” Patronis said of the award.

Notably, the new law allows first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to receive care and treatment under workers’ comp provided by the state. First responders in Florida have suffered from PTSD as a result of their line of work. The disease has led many to take their own lives.

The CFO this week also presented more than $1 million in grant funding for firefighting equipment and facility updates across the state. The grants were awarded to Florida’s Firefighter Grant Assistance Program to Felda Volunteer Fire Department, Montura Volunteer Fire Department and Pioneer Plantation Volunteer Fire Department in the amounts of $55,414.60, and were accompanied by an additional $843,000 given to the City of LaBelle Fire Station.

“These grants will support our firefighters, improve their emergency response, and help them do their jobs safely and efficiently,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “No matter the size of the community, fire service needs for families remain the same. Florida’s firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our friends and family, and we must do everything to support their heroic efforts.”

Instagram of the week

Light lunch. #Alsace

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

RIP Anthony Bourdain.

CFO commends SEC for enlisting crypto chief

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said he was a fan of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to bring on its first-ever cryptocurrency adviser.

“The SEC’s appointment of a cryptocurrency chief is a forward-thinking and bold move. My office has been closely following cryptocurrency, and as with all emerging technology, there comes a new risk for consumers to be defrauded,” Patronis said in a news release. “With the Seminole County Tax Collector now accepting bitcoin as a form of payment and Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale ranking seventh and eighth in the top 10 bitcoin-friendly cities, it’s important we stay ahead of the game when it comes to consumer protection.”

The SEC named Valerie Szczepanik to oversee how securities laws apply to emerging cryptocurrencies.

The SEC announced the appointment of Valerie Szczepanik Tuesday. She’s tasked with overseeing how securities laws apply to emerging digital asset technologies, including cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum.

Citing the recent consumer alert his office put out on cryptocurrency scams, Patronis said he’s already directed his staff to set up a call with Szczepanik “to discuss how we can continue to protect consumers in our state.”

The week in appointments

Martin County Court

Jennifer Alexandra Alcorta Waters will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Curtis L. Disque. The 41-year-old from Palm City is a partner at Fox, Wackeen, Dungey, Beard, Bush, Goldman, Waters, Robison, van Vonno & McCluskey, LLC. She received an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and received a J.D. at the University of Florida.

Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees

Dr. Lee Mandel fills a vacant seat for a term that began this week and ends Sept. 10, 2020. Mandel, 53, of Fort Lauderdale is a physician with the South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and Pursued medicine at the University of South Florida.

Pasco-Hernando State College District Board of Trustees

Robin Schneider, 55, of Springhill and Al Hernandez, 46, of Odessa were reappointed for terms ending March 31, 2022. Lee Maggard, 31, of Zephyrhills, was reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

New College of Florida Board of Trustees

Garin Hoover, 55, of Sarasota, fills a vacant seat for a term ending Jan. 6, 2023. He is the owner of Hoover Realty and a retired attorney.

Florida seniors earn National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced this week that 4,000 students nationwide had earned a college-sponsored scholarship, including 300 Florida high school seniors.

“These students’ scholarship earnings clearly demonstrate that hard work pays off, and I am immensely proud of them for representing the State of Florida so well,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “I also want to commend their educators and parents whose support and encouragement over the years have contributed to their success.”

The scholarships provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at the institution that awarded them.

It takes some work to earn a National Merit Scholarship — to make the grade, students must apply for the scholarship in their junior year, write an essay, score well on the SAT and lock down a recommendation from a high school official.

Mel Ponder recognized as Legislator of the Year

The Florida College System Council of Presidents (COP) and the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) named Rep. Mel Ponder, a Destin Republican, as its 2018 Legislator of the Year.

The groups said they “recognize an exemplary legislator annually when his or her contributions during the Legislative Session significantly enhance and support the Florida College System.”

Mel Ponder: Florida Legislator of the Year.

Ponder sponsored HB 75, which now allows Florida colleges to waive certain postsecondary fees, not covered by the Department of Defense, for active duty members of U.S. Armed Forces using military tuition assistance.

“This new law will further open access to college for the men and women of the military to attend Florida’s top-rated colleges in the nation,” the groups said in a statement.

Ponder will be formally presented the award at the Council of Presidents annual meeting in Tampa June 11.

Benacquisto launches local photo contest

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is encouraging photography enthusiasts in her area to submit local pictures to be displayed to the public.

An email distributed this week from the Fort Myers Republican asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots and submit them by Aug. 31.

Lizbeth Benacquisto asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery.

Submissions will have a chance to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery, as well as other areas around Lee County. The pictures also have a chance to get sent out in Benacquisto’s monthly newsletter.

Text from an email advertising the event reads, “There are beautiful places and unforgettable moments that take place across Lee County each day: Show us the ones that mean the most to you!”

Take a hunter safety class this summer

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds Floridians if they haven’t completed the state’s hunter safety course requirement, now’s a good time to sign up.

Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast. And people born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC’s hunter safety class before they can buy the type of hunting license that allows them to legally hunt alone.

In Florida, safe hunting is no accident.

If one is new to our state, these classes will make new residents aware of Florida’s hunting laws.

For those who just relocated from inside the state, the FWC says the classes are “a great way to meet other hunters. You can make some new hunting buddies or maybe even get a line on a great hunt club that’s looking for new members.”

Register for a hunter safety class by going to MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by contacting your nearest FWC regional office.

Florida Forest Service announces Longleaf Pine program

The Florida Forest Service announced this week that the Longleaf Pine Landowner Incentive Program is now accepting applications from eligible, nonindustrial private forest landowners. Applications will be accepted through Friday, July 13.

The goal of the program is to increase the acreage of healthy Longleaf Pine ecosystems in Florida by helping nonindustrial private forest landowners make the long-term investment required to establish and maintain this valuable ecosystem.

Florida Longleaf Pines.

The program offers incentive payments for completion of timber stand improvement, invasive species control, prescribed burning, planting Longleaf Pine, native plant understory establishment and mechanical underbrush treatments.

The program is offered for private lands in Florida counties located west of the Aucilla River and several counties near the Ocala National Forest.

Application forms and more information on program requirements and procedures can be found by visiting FreshFromFlorida.com or by contacting your local county forester.

DHSMV: Drive slower, stay cooler this summer

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) has launched its Safe Summer Travel Campaign.

Partnering with the Florida Highway Patrol, Department of Children and Families, Department of Transportation, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA, the team offers a wide variety of advice, but all agree safety begins with easing up on the gas pedal.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants all motorists to drive safe and always ‘Arrive Alive.’

“There are more travelers on Florida’s roads than ever before, so it’s critical to remember to slow down, stay cool and be safe,” DHSMV Director Terry Rhodes said.

Besides slowing down, the groups encourage prevention methods, like making sure proper child restraints are in place.

However, the first line of defense should be checking your tires, according to the DHSMV. Data recorded by the agency showed there were more than 3,306 tire-related crashes last year, resulting in 285 serious injuries.

And with the hot summer sun upon the state, the groups warn to never leave children or pets in vehicles unattended. Moreover, suspicious or aggressive behavior on the roadways can be reported by dialing *FHP (*347).

VISIT FLORIDA unveils cooperative marketing effort

The state’s tourism marketing agency is now allowing industry partners to ‘buy into’ over 200 shared marketing opportunities and small business programs.

Developed with Miles Partnership, the cooperative marketing idea is expected to extend the marketing dollars of the 12,000 industry partners associated with the public-private marketing agency.

“Our new offerings allow all of our small, medium and large partners across the state to buy into unique opportunities that fit their needs and maximize their budgets,” VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson said.

VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson.

New programs include, per the agency, “nontraditional, such as a Google Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) content optimization program; North America, which includes tried and true sanctioned print and digital programs in publications such as AAA, Wall Street Journal and Golf Digest; International, which includes new Brand USA program packages; Regional, which focuses on brand development of regional parts of the state to build successful media plans; and Small Business, such as a video content production program to allow businesses to tell their own unique stories.”

News of the cooperative is timely, as it comes as businesses prep for the next fiscal year.

VISIT Florida and Miles Partnership designed the concept with the help of feedback and collaboration from industry partners at the agency’s Leadership Summit in December.

Florida Bar to hold convention in Orlando — with yoga

The Florida Bar will hold its annual convention June 13-16 in Orlando and will focus this year “on the importance of living and enjoying a balanced lifestyle.”

West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s 70th president. Vero Beach attorney John M. Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect; he will become president in June 2019. The convention is being held at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

West Palm Beach attorney and Florida Bar President-elect Michelle Suskauer.

“Living Well, Working Well: The Balanced Lawyer,” the theme of this year’s convention, emphasizes the positive effects of learning to balance family, work, health and fitness.

This will be the first time the convention offers health and wellness activities including yoga, meditation and more. Mindfulness, stress-management and integrating work-life balance are key themes the discussions and programs will focus on.

Other highlights include:

Judicial Luncheon— Held Thursday, June 14, the luncheon will feature Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga presenting “The State of the Judiciary.” Lawyer, author and mindfulness instructor Jeena Cho will be the keynote speaker. Justice Labarga’s remarks (starting about 12:30 p.m.) and Cho’s presentation (starting about 1:15 p.m.) will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

General Assembly— The centerpiece event June 15 will include installation of incoming Bar officers and Board of Governors members. Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s new president, and Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect. The entire General Assembly from 9:30 a.m.-noon will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

50-year members — The Bar will honor 313 attorneys for 50 years of service at a special luncheon. Also honored will be 14 senior counselors, who have practiced for 50 years or more but have not been members of The Florida Bar for the entire time.

Harvard faculty to lead Executive Leadership course at Florida Poly

Business executives from all over Florida are invited to participate in a one-of-a-kind leadership course developed by Harvard professors and taught at Florida Polytechnic University this Aug. 5-10.

The immersive weeklong Florida Poly Executive Leadership Course is designed for mid-career professionals looking to improve their leadership skills. Attendees will learn how to better understand their market, execute creative change, and grow their organizations through flexible and adaptive leadership.

Florida Polytechnic University welcomes Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Earl Sasser and Paul Marshall.

The course is led by Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Paul Marshall and Earl Sasser to provide participants with the most advanced leadership strategies through hands-on activities, real-world case studies, group breakouts and self-reflection.

“What makes this course unique is that it is led by Harvard faculty and modeled by what people can find at Harvard,” said Florida Poly’s president, Dr. Randy K. Avent. “It’s also a resident program which brings the opportunity to build valuable relationships with leaders from other companies.”

Attendees will spend their evenings in a residence hall. The registration deadline is July 22. For more information, contact executiveeducation@floridapoly.edu or 863-874-8614.

AARP Florida tracks lawmakers’ votes

How state legislators voted in the 2018 Legislature on issues of interest to older Floridians can be seen with the release of AARP Florida’s 7th Annual Legislative Voting Record.

This year’s voting record contains detailed, vote-by-vote information on key legislation important to those age 50 and older.

AARP wants to know how Florida seniors are voting.

AARP said it alerted legislators that it would consider their votes on certain proposals to be key votes for this voting record.

And because key decisions often occur at several stages during the long process of legislative consideration of a bill, the voting record tracks legislative committees’ actions as well as final votes.

The voting record provides information about legislative votes based on broad topics, such as regulated utilities, the state budget, health care and supportive services, prescription drugs, consumer protections and livable communities.

“AARP Florida’s Legislative Voting Record makes it easy to track legislators’ decisions on key issues that matter most,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said.

The complete version of the 2018 voting record can be viewed and downloaded here.

Ports group highlights promising data

A five-year mission plan released by the Florida Ports Council bears good news: Cargo and cruise activity is increasing.

The nonprofit’s strategic plan, “Connecting Commerce: The 2018-2022 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan,” provides a few insightful data points. Among them: a 4.9 percent increase in Florida’s waterborne trade, and a $4.3 billion increase in the value of containerized cargo moved.

Gov. Scott added commentary to the news, citing the state’s $1.4 billion investment in ports since December 2010 — the month before he assumed office.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler.

“Florida’s hardworking businesses have created more than 1.5 million private sector jobs since December 2010. This job growth would not be possible without our incredible seaports,” Scott said.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler said continuing investments in ports will continue to contribute to economic growth.

“Now that Florida ports have the infrastructure to accommodate more cargo, we are seeing steady growth year after year in total cargo tonnage and value of cargo, as well as the number of cruise passengers,” Wheeler said.

“With $3.3 billion in capital improvements at Florida’s seaports identified over the next five years, we expect these numbers to continue to grow creating a stable economy for current Floridians and future generations.”

Florida Wildlife Federation praises ‘extraordinary generosity’

The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) recognized philanthropists Sam and Betty Shine this week, after their donation of “a critical tract of land, over 6,000 acres in size, to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee on the Gulf of Mexico.”

The land donated by the Shines will expand the Refuge northward to U.S. 98, “thereby protecting this environmental jewel from development and pollution,” the FWF said in a statement.

Philanthropist Sam Shine, founder and former CEO of Samtech. (Image via Christopher Fryer/News and Tribune)

As a habitat, it will “provide a perpetual home for a wide variety of plants and animals, including the Florida black bear and the indigo snake.” The tract’s protection also affords increased water quantity and quality to the aquifer, which helps Apalachee Bay.

“This is the latest in a long line of environmental projects involving Sam and Betty, and the Florida Wildlife Federation greatly appreciates their altruism,” said Manley Fuller, FWF president.

Capital craft brewery gearing up for move

Renovations began this week at the new South Monroe Street home of Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co., the city’s first craft brewery.

The move is into a 70-year-old, 34,000 square-foot former Coca-Cola bottling plant a short drive from downtown. Proof outgrew its current location, a 7,500 square-foot former warehouse in the city’s Railroad Square Art Park.

Proof Brewing Co., Tallahassee’s first craft brewery, is making a big move.

“The support and encouragement we’ve received from our community about the news of our expansion has been incredible,” it said in an email. “It’ll be here before we know it.”

The company, owned and operated by Byron and Angela Burroughs, already has begun receiving new equipment, including 60-barrel fermenters, with more tanks slated for the future.

“Every square inch is getting positioned with something,” the email said.

“The new space will allow us to take on several fun new projects — from seasonal and year-round cans, to more barrel-aged beers.” It’s expected to be open no later than January 2019.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

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