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Lawmakers want judge tossed off environmental funding suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full filing, with exhibits, is below:

Richard Corcoran committee reports more than $1.4M in bank

A political committee tied to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, spent nearly $200,000 in June — but still had more than $1.4 million in the bank, according to a newly filed finance report.

Corcoran raised $6.9 million for the committee, known as Watchdog PAC, in 2017 and early 2018 as he considered a possible run for governor. But Corcoran announced this spring that he would not run for governor and stopped raising money for the committee.

From June 1 through June 29, the committee spent $196,540, according to the report, with the largest single expenditure a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida. The committee also paid tens of thousands of dollars to consultants.

As of June 29, the committee had about $1.44 million on hand.

Rick Scott awards final batch of ‘job growth’ dollars

As the state’s budget year came to an end, Gov. Rick Scott doled out the last of an initial $85 million pot of “job growth” dollars that lawmakers approved in an economic-development compromise.

In a news release late Friday, Scott’s office announced more than $16 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund would be set aside for six applicants, with the largest amount, $5.5 million, going for water, sewer and roadway improvements to assist the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park in Marion County.

The state’s 2017-2018 budget year ended Saturday. And with the new fiscal year starting Sunday, a second pool of $85 million immediately became available to Scott and — depending on how much he uses — his successor after Scott leaves office in January.

“I look forward to even more Florida communities benefiting from this accountable program, so every Floridian can find a great job right here in our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement announcing the latest grants.

The other new awards Friday were $4 million for the construction of a highway for an industrial warehouse and logistics facility in Hialeah; $3.02 million for a manufacturing training center at Immokalee Technical College in Collier County; $2.07 million for improvements to Atlantis Drive to support commercial development in Clay County; $1.9 million to develop a manufacturing training institute at Gulf Coast State College; and $135,000 to create a construction industry training program for high school and postsecondary students at Withlacoochee Technical College.

The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was created in 2017 after a legislative battle about economic-development funding. Scott had sought $85 million for incentives that would be available through the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida. But led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, lawmakers objected to money going directly to specific companies.

Under the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, money is required to go to regional projects, rather than individual businesses. The money is handled by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which received more than 250 applications, collectively seeking $877 million in assistance, during the past fiscal year.

The creation of the fund drew concerns from some Democrats, who said it could become a “slush fund” for the governor.

Scott has made a series of announcements about awarding the initial $85 million. The announcement Friday from his office said the 33 proposals that have received grants are expected to provide a return on investment of “more than $321 million to taxpayers.”

Yet the number of jobs on the table is somewhat difficult to quantify, even though a question on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund application seeks “a description of the number of jobs that will be retained or created.”

Based on the 33 applications that received funding, the money could be tied to nearly 100,000 jobs over the next decade.

But several factors play into the estimates from the applicants.

For example, often the numbers in applications involving college vocational training are based on estimates from business groups, which envision boosts in people landing jobs within a set number of years. Meanwhile, the impact of proposed new roads and infrastructure is often based on projections of commercial centers or businesses attracting new companies and employees.

Also, not every award from the fund matched the amounts of money requested.

In Marion County’s application, which sought $22 million, the state’s contribution is anticipated to help quickly get the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park underway.

The commerce park is envisioned as doubling the “success” of the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park that “has seen the creation of nearly 1,500 jobs, 1.4 million square feet of new construction, and $270 million in capital investment.”

The amount eventually awarded was slightly more than the $4.97 million being put up by the county through sales and gas-tax revenues.

Other job projections also appear to raise questions.

Marianna, which received $1.99 million in March to extend a runway at Marianna Airport Commerce Park, estimated “hundreds, if not thousands” of new jobs, as the lengthened runway would help it compete against similar facilities in Georgia and Alabama.

St. Johns River State College, which on May 30 received nearly $1.4 million to expand an advanced manufacturing and robotics training program, noted in its application that employers in Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties anticipate the program will directly support more than 100 new jobs. The application also said “the manufacturing sector provides thousands of good jobs and is anticipated to grow significantly over the next 10 years, with retirements and new growth due to the completion of the First Coast Expressway.”

Nearby, Florida State College at Jacksonville, which received $710,352 to enhance the Northeast Florida Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics Job Growth program, said it anticipates enrolling 75 participants, with 63 completing the program within one year, from which 80 percent — about 50 — will be placed in jobs.

The school also pointed out in its application that the First Coast Manufacturers Association said that “without this program, manufacturers will continue to struggle to find qualified workers, limiting the economic growth of our region and its people.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Patriotism in the Sunshine State

Patriotism in the Sunshine State 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 5

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

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

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

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

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

Scott highlights affordable housing options

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott’s net worth soars

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

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

Rick Scott has a reason to smile.

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

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

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

Patronis aids wildfire victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State targets cryptocurrency

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Framers’ allowed to enter education case

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Hendry County Property Appraiser

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

Franklin County School Board

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

Children’s Services Council of Martin County

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

Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council

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

Northwest Florida State College District Board of Trustees

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

Geller, aide recognized for ‘home rule’ efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida think tank supportive of Supreme Court decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New laws taking effect

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

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

Among laws taking effect:

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

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

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

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

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

National parks recognize Florida city for historic merit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressives to protest at Capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

New grants aim to attract skills-based volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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

New association represents local government communicators

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

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

FMCA President Todd DeAngelis (center).

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

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

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

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

FSU leads schools in graduation rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tallahassee gets free electric-car charging

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

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

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

Leon County closures, changes for July 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s scallopin’ time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Directions

Rick Scott, Cabinet delay decision on hiring new OFR head

Despite interviewing five “quality candidates” on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet held off on appointing a new head of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Instead, they decided to keep the application period open through mid-July. Thirty-four people already had applied.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a conference call and interviewed their top five applicants to replace outgoing OFR Commissioner Drew Breakspear.

Meantime, Pam Epting will become interim commissioner at the post’s $135,000 salary. Breakspear’s official last day is June 30.

He recently announced he was stepping down after Patronis pressured him to leave the position. Patronis’ office had said he received numerous calls for a new top regulator from mortgage and security industry leaders who had clashed with the agency.

Any permanent replacement will face a new governor and Cabinet in 2019, as all four positions are up for election in November.

After interviewing the five – including state GOP state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville – Scott balked, saying he wanted more time to make a decision. Scott and the others also agreed to accept more applications and decide at the next Cabinet meeting on Aug. 14.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner.

Fant had been on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

But during his interview Patronis raised the issue of the failure of Fant’s family-run bank amid the recession.

Fant said “community banks” like his family’s were hurt by the federal government’s bailout, which he said benefited only the big banks and left smaller banks in the dust: “Capital wasn’t available to the small companies.”

They were “terrible times for us as Floridians, as Americans,” Fant said, but added he would apply lessons from that experience “to the future.”

Two additional applicants with years of regulatory experience, William Jannace and Kevin Rosen, had been advanced for consideration by Bondi.

Also applying were banking lobbyist Scott Jenkins and Linda Charity, a former OFR official who served as interim commissioner twice.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet. State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

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Ed. Note — A live-reporting Twitter thread with details from the interviews during Wednesday’s meeting is here.

Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski, Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson, and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

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.

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