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Cabinet meeting reset for end of November

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet will meet by phone on Nov. 30 to consider issues such as Florida Power & Light power-plant projects in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to an agenda posted online.

Scott and the Cabinet initially scheduled the meeting for Tuesday but canceled that meeting.

The agenda for the Nov. 30 meeting was posted on the Cabinet website Thursday.

No explanation was given for the change of dates.

Among other things, Scott and the Cabinet could sign off on a plan by FPL to build a power plant in Broward County and revisit a dispute about a nuclear project in Miami-Dade.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Old he-coon reunion

December 12 will mark twenty years since the passing of Florida’s former Democratic U.S. Senator and Governor Lawton Chiles.

Yet, still to this day, the mark left on Sunshine State politics is very visible.

Most Democrats will tell you he’s the best governor in modern Florida history. And Republicans aren’t quick to dispute.

Then-state Sen. Lawton Mainor Chiles, Jr. walks along a Florida highway. Remembered by Democrats as the best Governor in Florida history, Chiles died twenty years ago Dec. 12.

Supporters, staffers, successors and opponents are celebrating Chiles’ legacy this weekend at the Chiles Jubilee — the first-ever reunion of his close friends, family and colleagues.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is delivering welcome remarks this morning at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. Former Florida U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham is the featured keynote luncheon speaker.

A series of other events are scheduled, including a panel discussion on the state’s crusade against Big Tobacco, featuring former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Those in attendance will have a chance to share their favorite memory of Chiles following an evening reception.

Chiles is known notably for his unique campaign strategies and his flashy, southern command of language.

To boost his name recognition during his 1970 bid for the Senate, Chiles embarked on a 1,003-mile, 91-day walk across Florida from Pensacola to Key West.

During a 1994 debate with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who will deliver remarks at today’s reunion via video, Chiles — in response to being branded an “old liberal” — notably quipped: “The old he-coon walks just before the light of day.”

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

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

Take 5

Recount confirms DeSantis victory — With little change in overall margins following Florida’s state-ordered machine recount, Republican Ron DeSantis again declared victory in Florida’s race for Governor. The win was just 0.4 percent, a spread of 33,652 votes. DeSantis described the results as “clear and unambiguous” in a statement following the recount. DeSantis invited his opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, to a summit to discuss bipartisan observations made on the campaign trail. “We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life,” DeSantis said. “Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Agriculture Commissioner race in limbo — Following the completion of the machine recount of the Agriculture Commissioner race on Thursday, Democrat Nikki Fried led Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,307 votes, a slightly narrower lead than the 5,326-vote gap reported in the initial tabulation of the race. A manual recount of the race is underway. It’s the only race for Cabinet that will require further consideration. Republican Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge, will replace term-limited Pam Bondi in January. Moody defeated her Democratic opponent, Sean Shaw, by six points. Republican Jimmy Patronis will continue to serve as the state’s Chief Financial Officer. He was appointed to the post last year when former CFO Jeff Atwater resigned to take a job as CFO of Florida Atlantic University. Patronis defeated his Democratic opponent Jeremy Ring by three points.

Judge reschedules Senate discrimination hearing — U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle has rescheduled oral arguments for Nov. 30 in a case filed by the Florida Senate after allegations by a legislative aide that she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation. The arguments had originally been scheduled for Nov. 8 but were canceled, reports the News Service of Florida. The Senate is seeking to halt the EEOC investigation. Earlier this month, lawyers for the Senate wrote “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.” Rachel Perrin Rogers, a chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, filed the complaint with the EEOC alleging in part that she faced retaliation for sexual harassment claims.

Incoming Speaker names top aide Carol Gormley, a health care policy expert and veteran legislative staffer, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva. Gormley has worked as a legislative staffer for former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Before being elected to the Senate, Rubio had served a stint as Speaker of the Florida House. In 2012, Gormley worked in the state Senate as a senior policy adviser to then-Senate President Don Gaetz. More recently, she was a senior policy staffer to immediate past House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Senate starts filling out leadership — State Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of Sen. David Simmons as Senate President Pro Tempore, the upper chamber’s second-in-command post. Simmons, a Longwood Republican, is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. “We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session. Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

Putnam criticizes new trade proposal

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is criticizing some of the new trade terms proposed between the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

The term-limited Republican Cabinet member delivered remarks to members of the U.S. International Trade Commission on the USMCA this week, declaring it “anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers.”

Adam Putnam criticizes the USMCA, President Donald Trump’s replacement to NAFTA.

The USMCA is expected to serve as President Donald Trump’s replacement to NAFTA.

Putnam told commissioners that specialty agricultural products are “unfairly subsidized and are pouring into the U.S. market in high volumes at prices significantly below the cost of production, resulting in negative repercussions on U.S. producers and causing disproportionate economic injury to Florida’s specialty crop industry.”

He added: “Our department, Florida’s Congressional delegation and industry groups have fought hard to protect our specialty crop industry since the inception of NAFTA, and we will continue to do so as this new agreement moves forward.”

DEO highlights apprenticeships

Both job seekers and employers stand to reap enormous benefits from apprenticeships, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Apprenticeships help Florida’s employers recruit and keep the talent they need to remain competitive,” DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor said this week in news release noting National Apprenticeship Week.

Apprenticeships keep Florida employers in the game, says, DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor.

Getting an early jump on skills training helps novice job seekers gain hands-on experience in prospective fields. It can also help with finances, as apprenticeships are typically accompanied by wages and can reduce or replace student debt.

The DEO in partnership with the Department of Education and CareerSource Florida recently secured the national Apprenticeship USA grant to help build out early skills-based training programs in the Sunshine State.

“We are proud that Florida’s public education system offers students of all ages and backgrounds pathways to reach their academic and career goals,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Instagram of the Week

 

The week in appointments

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group

Alyssa Beck, 23, of Jacksonville, is an advocacy specialist with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Kevin Higgins II, of Riviera Beach, is a former security specialist with PSC Security Services.

Both are appointed for terms that end at the pleasure of the Governor.

Children’s Trust Governing Board of Miami-Dade County

Marissa Leichter, 41, of North Bay Village, is a program manager with the Florida Foster Care Review. Her term is through March 17, 2020.

Tiombe Bisa Dunn, 44, of Miami, is a psychologist with the School Board of Miami-Dade County. She is reappointed for a term through March 17, 2022.

Sanford Bohrer, 70, of Pinecrest, is a partner with Holland and Knight, LLP. He succeeds Miguel Balsera and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2019.

Nicole Gomez, 34, of Miami Beach, is an associate with LSN Partners, LLC. She is appointed for a term through March 17, 2021.

Richard Dunn Jr., 57, of Miami, is a senior pastor with the Faith Community Baptist Church. He succeeds Maria Alonso and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2019.

Lourdes Gimenez, 63, of Miami, is a former administrative director with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She succeeds Lileana De Moya and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2022.

Constance Collins, 60, of Surfside, is the President and Founder of Lotus House Women’s Shelter. She is appointed for a term through March 17, 2021.

 

OIR’s Murphy wins top honor

One of the insurance field’s highest honors has gone to Susanne Murphy, deputy commissioner for property and casualty in the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

That’s the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Robert Dineen Award for outstanding service and contributions to the state regulation of insurance. She shared the honor with Mel Anderson, a deputy commissioner in Arkansas.

NAIC President Julie Mix McPeak, Deputy Commissioner Susanne Murphy, Commissioner David Altmaier.

Murphy was cited for her advocacy for expansion of the private flood insurance market in Florida and elsewhere, and for helping to lead the state’s recovery from the hurricanes that have hit in recent years. She’s also known as an authority on insurer solvency.

“I cannot be more proud of Susanne and her recent recognition as being acknowledged at the national level for such a prestigious award is quite an achievement.,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said. “Susanne Murphy is a prominent player in our nation’s insurance arena, and we are extremely fortunate to have her expertise here in the Sunshine State.”

Irma claims still stack up

Insurance claims arising from Hurricane Irma have surpassed the 1 million threshold, and they’re worth more than $11 billion.

The actual numbers as of Wednesday were 1,002,821 claims, valued at $11,082,199,367. Some 92.4 percent had been resolved.

By far, the largest number of claims came from Miami-Dade County, at 128,661, followed by Collier at 95,273, Broward at 84,042, and Lee at 84,032.

Hurricane Irma is still giving Florida headaches one year later.

The Office of Insurance Regulation had no records identifying the origins of 11,049 claims. The storm made landfall on Sept. 10, 2017, and proceeded to ravage the length of Peninsular Florida. Homeowners have three years to file claims.

“Following Hurricane Irma, and the recent landfall of Michael, we have continued urging residents to contact their insurance company as soon as possible,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said. “This is done to limit AOB abuse, the occurrence of additional non-covered damage from interfering and prolonging the claims process, and expediting consumers’ path back to normalcy.

As always, consumers who have insurance-related questions or concerns are urged to contact CFO Jimmy Patronis’ Insurance Consumer Helpline by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

State regulators provide for hurricane victims

Helping hands have come from across the state and country to the aid of those affected by Hurricane Michael.

This week, even the state Office of Financial Regulation chipped in, providing more than 385 lbs., of non-perishable food and other items to support ongoing relief efforts.

Left to right: Chief of Investigations Steve Horn, Interim Commissioner Pam Epting, Director of Securities Lee Kell, Director of Financial Institutions Jeremy Smith, Director of Consumer Finance Greg Oaks.

The powerful Category 4 storm that swept through the Panhandle and Big Bend on Oct. 10.

“I am proud of our team, and their generous efforts to help friends and neighbors in the Panhandle region who were impacted by this devastating storm,” said Interim Commissioner Pamela Epting. “As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, these donations will benefit families who need them most.”

Donations were delivered to Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a regional food bank serving 11 counties in the Big Bend area.

State reopens hurricane-battered park

Falling Waters State Park in Chipley is again open for day use after briefly closing its gates following Hurricane Michael.

Falling waters state park
Falling Waters is home to the highest cascade in the state.

“Thanks to the hard work of park staff and volunteers, Falling Waters State Park is open for day use,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “We hope to reopen all of the state parks impacted by Hurricane Michael as soon as possible.”

As its name suggests, Falling Waters is home a quiet cascade, in fact, the largest one in the state.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Falling Waters suffered significant damage from the powerful Category 4 storm, sustaining downed trees, debris, and structural damage.

Just seven of the 31 state parks closed because of the storm remain unopened.

Utility association recognized for Irma outreach

For its outstanding communication efforts exercised before, during and after Hurricane Irma in 2017, the Florida Municipal Electric Association recently took home an award from the American Public Power Association.

The ‘Award of Merit,’ presented during the American Public Power Association’s Customer Connections Conference in Orlando, honored the “use of social media to communicate information about hurricane preparation, mutual aid coordination, power outages and power restoration efforts in advance,” of the powerful storm, according to FMEA.

Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director, pictured with Coleman Smoak, chair-elect, American Public Power Association and general manager, Piedmont Municipal.

“Not only were we able to get timely information out about outages and power restoration numbers, we were also able to increase the general public’s understanding of the power restoration process and priorities,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director. “We proudly accept this award and thank the American Public Power Association for bestowing this honor upon us.”

According to FMEA, other members of the group received similar distinctions. Among them: Orlando Utilities Commission, Lakeland Electric, Kissimmee Utility Authority, Beaches Energy Services and Keys Energy in their respective categories and classes. The Florida Municipal Power Agency also was recognized.

University system launches campaign

Those tasked with overseeing the state’s 12 public universities want others to know more about the good work that comes out of each institution.

The State University System announced this week the Our Success is Your Success campaign, an effort to promote universities’ impacts on “social mobility, scientific research, and economic growth.”

A new campaign from the Florida State University system is helping to promote cooperation for “social mobility and economic growth.”

“Our message is simple: When our State University System prospers, so does the rest of the state,” Board of Governors Chair Ned Lautenbach said of the campaign.

To market the good news, the campaign will use social media and other communications. It is being carried out in coordination with the Florida Student Association.

The effort will be carried out by the Florida Student Association, which will host the first-ever State University System day at the capital on February 6.

Florida College System awards Best Practices

Four Sunshine State colleges were recently awarded the Florida College System Chancellor’s Best Practice recognition.

“The Chancellor’s Best Practice Awards is an opportunity for our colleges to showcase innovative program strategies that have proved successful at their colleges and in their communities,” said Chancellor Madeline Pumariega. “The best practice awards recognize colleges for creating successful programs and then sharing the high impact practices with all institutions in the Florida College System.”

The higher education panel distinguished Florida Gateway College for its Second-Chance Pell Pilot Program, which offers education access to inmates upon release.

Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega recognized four state colleges for their ‘Best Practices.’

North Florida Community College took home the award for its
“Dual Enrollment Video Conferencing Model,” which caters to rural high school students seeking college credit.

Pensacola State College received the recognition for its Bellwether Virtual Tutoring Program, which helps an estimated 1,000 students each year find individualized help for their studies.

At Polk State College, the award honored the Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education (ELITE Program), which “provides a seamless pathway from high school to college to employment for aspiring teachers, helping students meet local workforce demands through an affordable fast-track pipeline,” according to the Florida College System.

State featured at medical trade show

Enterprise Florida, the state’s principal economic development organization, this week set up shop at MEDICA, the world’s largest medical trade show.

Joining Enterprise Florida at MEDICA’s Düsseldorf, Germany, were nearly 50 other Florida companies. The annual trade show this year spanned Monday through Thursday.

Florida is represented by a record number of Florida-based companies, and this year also marks the 30th consecutive year Florida has attended the show.

The state’s strong representation at the international event is a good sign for Florida’s medical services industry. Last year, Florida companies reported more than $122 million in sales following the show.

“We are so appreciative of the companies that are joining EFI at MEDICA this year,” said Joe York, Vice-Chairman of Enterprise Florida’s Board of Directors. “Events like MEDICA help Florida’s small and medium-sized businesses expand internationally and showcase their products and services to the life science industry.”

In terms of industry size, Florida is the second-ranked state for medical device and pharmaceuticals manufacturing. Nearly 30,000 Floridians work in biotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and medical device manufacturing industries, according to Enterprise Florida.

‘Course change’ for license suspensions?

Some free-market think tanks are trying to reform the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for crimes not related to operating an automobile.

The James Madison Institute and Reason Foundation released a joint study this week arguing the practice hurts Florida and its taxpayers because it leads to increased court costs and unemployment.

The state suspends licenses for a series of nondriving offenses, the study points out. Among them: most drug crimes, failure to appear in court and failure to pay child support.

Driver’s license suspensions “cut off a vital lifeline for individuals in the workforce,” says Sal Nuzzo.

“These suspensions cut off a vital lifeline for individuals in the workforce, and can herald an endless cycle of fines, court costs, and liabilities that make escaping the criminal justice system nearly impossible,” write Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s vice president of policy, and James Craven, a senior fellow of criminal justice reform at Reason Foundation.

Nuzzo and Craven recommend the state reconsider using license suspensions as a punitive or compliance measure. Other states like California, they note, ended suspensions for minor offenses. In some cases, they suggest giving judges more discretion over suspending licenses, or opting out of the practice entirely.

FSU snags global distinction

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently recognized Florida State University its strategies to internationalize the institution.

Sally McRorie, FSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, accepted the 2018 Platinum Level Institutional Award for Global Learning, Research & Engagement last Sunday.

McRorie, along with a team of FSU leaders, accepts the prestigious national award from APLU President Peter McPherson.

The association said FSU had an “extraordinary global-engagement” network. The school received the only ‘Platinum’-level award at the ceremony.

“I think we’re contributing to FSU’s reputation as a place where students can really experience engaged learning in multiple areas, including international study,” said assistant provost Stephen McDowell. “But it’s not only about people who travel abroad. Florida State also creates opportunities on campus for people to engage with students, faculty and speakers from other countries.”

The university also advances its international mission through more than 100 international agreements with partners in 32 countries. In total, FSU faculty members have established affiliations with about 200 institutions worldwide.

More than $1 million in scholarships for study-abroad classes and assists talented students in other countries. International students with at least two semesters abroad can enroll for later classes at FSU and pay in-state tuition.

Hometown hero honored

A shooting earlier this month at a Tallahassee hot yoga studio left two dead and five others injured rocked the nearby community.

But without Joshua Quick, who confronted the shooter allowing others to escape, the casualties could’ve been worse.

In his final City Commission meeting, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives the key to the city to Joshua Quick, the man who helped save lives during a shooting at a hot yoga studio last month.

For his actions during the tragedy, Quick was awarded an honorary key to the city by the Tallahassee City Commission, including Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude,” Quick said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I cannot overstate my gratitude to everybody — the first responders and even the people who were in the yoga studio with me who saw firsthand what transpired.”

A law school student at Florida State University, President John Thrasher announced on Friday that the university would begin raising funds to relieve Quick of his tuition and related expenses.

Capitol Directions

Governor appoints 10 to circuit, county courts

Soon to be former Gov. Rick Scott on Friday announced 10 appointments to multiple Circuit and County Courts, according to a news release:

— Alexander Bokor to the 11th Circuit Court.

Bokor, 40, of Miami, is a Miami-Dade County Judge. He received his bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Bokor fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Stephen Millan.

The 11th Circuit Court covers Miami-Dade County.

— Natasha DePrimo to the Broward County Court.

DePrimo, 38, of Davie, is a senior attorney at the Florida Department of Transportation. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from the University of Florida. DePrimo fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Arlene Simon Backman. Backman and her husband, Paul Backman, both served as Broward judges and retired a week apart.

— Christopher Ferebee to the 7th Circuit Court.

Ferebee, 44, of Ponte Vedra Beach, is the Managing Assistant State Attorney, St. Johns County, for the 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and his law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. Ferebee fills the vacancy created by the removal of Judge Scott DuPont, whom an ethics panel said had a “reckless disregard for the truth” ahead of his removal from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court.

— Paige Hardy Gillman to the Palm Beach County Court.

Gillman, 34, of Palm Beach Gardens, is an attorney with the Law Office of Hugh Behan. She received both her bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Florida. Gillman fills the vacancy created by the removal of Judge Dana Marie Santino over her campaign tactics in a 2016 judicial election.

— Carlos Guzman to the 11th Circuit Court.

Guzman, 48, of Coral Gables, is a Miami-Dade County Judge. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and his law degree from Villanova University. Guzman fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who earlier this year became the first woman U.S. attorney for South Florida.

— Vegina “Gina” Hawkins to the 17th Circuit Court.

Hawkins, 45, of West Park, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 17th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Hawkins fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Michael L. Gates.

Lody Jean to the Miami-Dade County Court.

Jean, 40, of Coral Gables, is President of the Law Office of Lody Jean. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. Jean fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Wendell Graham.

— Robert Gregory “Gregg” Jerald to the 5th Circuit Court.

Jerald, 38, of Ocala, is General Counsel and Staff Commander for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Florida and his law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Jerald fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Jonathan Ohlman.

— Frank Ledee to the 17th Circuit Court.

Ledee, 54, of Hollywood, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. He received both his bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from Barry University and his law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Ledee fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge John Contini.

— Dustin Stephenson to the 14th Circuit Court.

Stephenson, 44, of Panama City, is an attorney at Dustin Stephenson, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Florida State University. Stephenson fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James Fensom.

Steve Cona

Prepping for Hillsborough School Board, Steve Cona III resigns HCC board

Steve Cona III has officially resigned from the Board of Trustees for Hillsborough Community College, submitting a letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

“It has been a pleasure and a great honor being a part of Hillsborough Community College. I am so proud of all we have accomplished in the past five years, and I have no doubt the college will continue these successes in the future,” Cona wrote.  

Scott appointed Cona to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2015.  His position will remain vacant until a gubernatorial appointment is made. That’s not likely to happen until after January when Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis assumes office.

Cona resigned to serve on the Hillsborough County School Board. He ran against retired Hillsborough County Schools administrator Bill Person and won with 54 percent of the vote.

Cona is President of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. The first-term candidate raised more money than his challenger, mostly from conservative political action committees.

Cona wants to work to create more sustainable and fiscally responsible business decisions on the school board, a skill that will be put to use as the district begins allocating funds raised by the one half percent sales tax increase voters approved to fund school district infrastructure and education programs.

The majority of that revenue will go toward repairing and replacing air conditioning systems at Hillsborough District schools and properties.

Cona also supports working with private industries to create skills-based learning programs for high school students so they can graduate career ready.

Person was a second time candidate, narrowly losing another race for school board in 2016. He’s a retired school teacher, principal and school administrator.

Cona will replace outgoing Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes who did not seek re-election in order to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, which she won.

Supreme Court signs off on process to pick justices

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declined to order the reopening of an application process for three upcoming vacancies on the court.

In a 4-3 decision, the court held that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission was acting within its authority to conduct a process that resulted in 59 judges and lawyers applying to replace justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The justices are leaving the court in early January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is scheduled to meet Nov. 27 in Orlando to select nominees for the vacancies. The retiring justices’ six-year terms end on Jan. 8, the day the new governor will take office.

The court majority rejected petitions from the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida that had sought to extend the application deadline and halt the current application process.

The petitions were filed after an Oct. 15 court order that said the next governor, now almost certain to be Republican Ron DeSantis, has the authority to appoint the new justices rather than outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

The majority opinion Friday said the state Constitution “requires the JNC to make its nominations no later than 30 days after the occurrence of a vacancy and does not prohibit the JNC from acting before a vacancy occurs.”

“Petitioners have requested that the JNC reopen its application period for the vacancies at issue in this case,” the opinion said. “We recognize that there is no impediment to the JNC reopening its application period.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson supported the majority opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Lawson rejected an argument that the nominating process should not start until the actual vacancies occur — which would be Jan. 8, in this case.

“Since their inception, Florida’s judicial nominating commissions have read this language as creating a deadline by which they must make nominations — and thereby allowing them to make their nominations prior to the date of a vacancy,” Lawson wrote. “That is the most reasonable reading of the language and is consistent with this court’s precedent analyzing similar language.”

In a strongly worded dissent, which was supported by Pariente and Quince, Lewis wrote that the Judicial Nominating Commission should not act until the vacancies occur.

“Instead of faithfully interpreting the language set forth in our Constitution, the majority presents flawed reasoning to support its desired result. Simply put, the Judicial Nominating Commission has no power to act without the occurrence of an actual vacancy, according to the plain language of the Florida Constitution and the JNC’s own rules of procedure,” Lewis wrote.

“I will not sit silently while the majority muddles — or disregards — our Constitution and related rules.”

In another dissenting opinion, which was supported by Pariente and Lewis, Quince said that while “the majority’s solution may be a pragmatic one, it is not a constitutional one.”

Quince said the JNC set an original application deadline of Oct. 8 in response to a request from Scott, who has no authority to make the appointments. As a result, she said she would support requiring the nominating commission to reopen the application process through at least Dec. 8.

One of the arguments made by the petitioners for reopening the process was that the current pool of applicants is “woefully thin” on minority and women candidates. The applicants include 11 women, six African-Americans and six Hispanics.

The Supreme Court appointments are attracting extra attention because they could shift the judicial direction of the state’s highest court for decades to come.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc that sometimes includes Labarga. The four justices have repeatedly thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature since Scott took office in 2011.

Federal judge rejects two election lawsuits

With a machine recount in the rearview mirror and a manual recount underway, the legal challenges over Florida’s elections are piled up.

In two rulings late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker shot down an attempt to keep Republican Gov. Rick Scott from interfering in the recount process and nixed another challenge focused on the way county canvassing boards decide which ballots should be tossed.

The rulings, issued hours after Walker held hearings in a mash-up of cases, followed machine recounts in which Scott maintained a narrow lead of fewer than 13,000 votes over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in their race for the U.S. Senate. That lead was well within the 0.25 percent margin requiring a manual recount. Results of the manual recount are due to the state by noon Sunday.

In the days after the Nov. 6 election, Scott and his supporters repeatedly castigated elections chiefs in Broward and Palm Beach counties as ballots in the heavily Democratic regions continued to be tallied and Scott’s advantage over Nelson shrank.

Standing outside the Governor’s Mansion two days after the election, Scott held a news conference accusing Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and her Palm Beach County counterpart, Susan Bucher, of ineptitude and fraud. The Governor also said he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. His campaign Twitter account later urged Florida sheriffs to be on guard for election irregularities.

Scott’s comments prompted the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida to ask the federal court to remove the Republican Governor and U.S. Senate candidate from the elections process.

One of Scott’s attorneys told Walker the Governor intends to recuse himself from the state Elections Canvassing Commission, which is set to certify election results at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

But during a Thursday hearing, Larry Robbins, an attorney for the voting-rights groups, told Walker that Scott should also be stripped of his authority to remove members of county canvassing boards, comprised of elections supervisors, county commissioners, and judges.

By urging “the cops to go out and see what these unethical liberals are doing,” Scott has showed a bias against Palm Beach, Broward and possibly other counties, Robbins argued.

But, in a ruling later Thursday, Walker said there’s a difference between “typical campaign-trail puffery” — which he called “increasingly bombastic, imprudent, and not necessarily rooted in objective facts” — and what a public official says and does in his official capacity.

“Here, Scott has toed the line between imprudent campaign-trail rhetoric and problematic state action. But he has not crossed the line,” Walker wrote.

Scott, as a candidate, has the right to make speeches outside the mansion. But the Governor can’t “undercut the count and mandatory recounts from his perch of public official,” the judge wrote, noting that Scott’s most “questionable conduct” occurred in his capacity as a candidate, not as governor.

In a separate lawsuit, Walker also refused to block state elections rules that outline the way ballots should be counted during manual recounts.

In a manual recount, county canvassing boards examine ballots with “undervotes” and “overvotes” that could not be tallied during a machine recount and determine which ones should be counted.

A rule from Secretary of State Ken Detzner requires a voter to have marked all contests in the same manner for a ballot flagged as an undervote or overvote to be counted. That means that, if a voter circles a candidate in one race but uses an “x” to indicate her preference in another race, her ballot wouldn’t be counted, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Another rule provides that a voter who fills in a selection for a candidate, crosses it out and indicates with “magic words” that he or she made a mistake will have the ballot counted. But ballots in which voters did not give any written instructions indicating how they intended to vote will be rejected, under the rule.

“Without relief from this court, these voters will be deprived of their right to vote, and to have their vote counted, in the November election,” Democrats argued in the case.

But, siding with the Scott administration, Walker found that the “reasonable and neutral rules” are constitutional.

“Indeed, without such rules, it would be impossible to determine the result of an election,” Walker wrote. “If a voter fails to follow reasonable rules — and having to fill in an oval is reasonable — the state has not burdened the right to vote.”

Similarly, a “neutral, reasonable, standard practice,” such as the consistency and “magic words” rule, is not a burden, the judge decided, noting that the manual recount is already underway.

“Canvassing boards have been trained and used these procedures in prior manual recounts. The rules are clear and provide examples. To enjoin the use of the rules at this point would likely create a bigger problem,” Walker wrote.

The two cases that resulted in Walker’s Thursday orders are among at least eight election-related federal lawsuits.

Siding with Nelson’s campaign and national Democrats in one case, Walker early Thursday gave voters until 5 p.m. Saturday to fix ballots that were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

During a lengthy hearing Wednesday, Florida Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews testified that 45 counties tossed a total of 3,668 mail-in ballots and 93 provisional ballots due to mismatched signatures. Two large counties — Duval and Miami-Dade — had not reported their results, and Walker estimated about 5,000 ballots statewide would have been rejected.

Walker’s ruling Thursday requires county supervisors to allow voters who were “belatedly notified that they had a mismatched-signature ballot to cure their ballots” by 5 p.m. Saturday. It is unclear how many of the estimated 5,000 voters whose ballots were rejected would be affected.

Scott’s campaign, through the National Republican Senatorial Committee, quickly appealed Walker’s ruling, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal, meaning Walker’s ruling continues to be in force.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Nursing homes seek more time on generator requirements

More than 40 percent of Florida nursing homes are asking health-care regulators for more time to meet backup-power requirements pushed by Gov. Rick Scott after Hurricane Irma last year.

But Justin Senior, the state’s top health-care regulator, said his agency won’t approve waiver requests for deadbeat facilities that haven’t worked over the past several months to carry out emergency backup-power plans.

“Any facility that has a delay in implementation will need to submit evidence that shows they are well underway in their project before they are granted a variance,” Senior, secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration, said.

A News Service of Florida review of state documents shows that between Sept.  4 and Nov. 15, 305 nursing homes submitted requests for “variances” with AHCA asking for additional time to make modifications necessary to have backup generators and accommodations to store 72 hours of fuel onsite.

By contrast, 184 nursing homes had reported to the state that they had made the necessary changes. That’s about 27 percent of the licensed nursing homes in the state.

Included in those that have made the changes is Marianna Health & Rehabilitation Center in Jackson County. Administrator Melinda Gay remembers initially thinking the rules were unnecessary, after surviving hurricanes Opal and Ivan.

But she now considers the changes a “blessing.” Three months after modifying its generators to comply with the new rules, the facility was in the path of Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane that ripped through Northwest Florida in October.

Before the backup-power requirements, the facility had three generators: one to provide power to such things as life-safety equipment; a smaller generator to provide air conditioning in the therapy gym; and one that was a backup for the largest generator.

“With the modifications, we were able to power the HVAC (heating and air-conditioning system) in the dining room, a few resident rooms, a conference room and offices that could be used for resident cool zones,” Gay said.

The city-owned facility sits on a large tract of land, so getting necessary permits for fuel storage wasn’t problematic. Moreover, Gay said the facility spent less than $30,000 on plans and construction to comply with the new rules. That’s far less than the $250,000 the state provided veterans nursing homes to purchase generators.

The Legislature estimated industry-wide costs for nursing homes to comply with the rules would be $121.3 million over the first five years, about $66 million of which would be offset by taxpayers through Medicaid. The cost to assisted living facilities was estimated to be $243 million. Because ALFs generally don’t treat Medicaid patients, those cost wouldn’t be offset by taxpayers.

Susan Anderson, vice president of public policy and legal affairs for Florida Senior Living, the trade association that represents some of the state’s largest ALFs, pointed to high costs of compliance.

“It’s a large (financial) burden coming in a very short space of time,” Anderson said.

At least 173 ALFs have filed for variances with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs seeking additional time to comply with the rules, which require providers to be able to maintain cool zones.

According to a state website, nearly 55 percent of assisted living facilities have implemented backup power plans.

The rules are somewhat of an about-face for Scott, who came into office railing against costly regulations on Florida businesses. But he moved aggressively to require generators at nursing homes and ALFs after residents died at a Broward County nursing home that lost its air-conditioning system in Hurricane Irma.

Senior worked with long-term care lobbyists to help create a pair of rules. Facilities were required to amend comprehensive emergency-management plans to include detailed explanations of how they would obtain generators and fuel.

The plans had to be submitted and approved by local officials and fully implemented by June 1 with the start of this year’s hurricane season.

The rules allowed for long-term care providers to seek time extensions and to remain in good standing. To get extensions, they had to show they had the ability to have generators to keep the facilities cool and could access 96 hours of fuel.

The temporary extensions, however, expire Jan. 1, triggering the onslaught of variance requests.

Nursing home and ALF lobbyists worried all along that the timeline in the rules would be difficult for facilities to meet, but the state maintained the Jan. 1 deadline for compliance.

Bob Asztalos, chief lobbyist for the Florida Health Care Association, a statewide nursing home group, said providers aren’t lollygagging but are delayed by permitting and building-code requirements. The mandates also have increased demand for generators, which has contributed to an order backlog.

Senior acknowledged that the timelines were aggressive but also said that “in many cases” the facilities are going beyond what the rules require and installing HVAC systems that will cool entire buildings, not just designated cool zone areas.

“These are lasting improvements, which will allow emergency operations officials to use a more targeted approach in the aftermath of storms and other periods of prolonged power outage,’’ he said.

But Senior said that before the agency grants variances, it will need to see proof that facilities have made “great strides” to comply with the rules and that delays are out of the facilities’ control.

“The rules have been in effect for months now, and a facility that has procrastinated is unlikely to meet the state’s strict variance standards,” he said.

Meanwhile the state has moved ahead with penalizing a handful of ALFs that aren’t in compliance. In November, the state has entered into settlement agreements with more than a dozen ALF providers across the state to settle allegations that they failed to meet the requirements, according to a review of information on a state website.

Though AHCA is authorized to collect upward of $500 assessments, the state agreed to levy $250 assessments instead.

Florida unemployment reaches pre-Great Recession low

Florida added 21,000 new private sector jobs in October, and the state’s unemployment rate notched down to 3.4 percent, the lowest it has been since just before the Great Recession ravaged Florida starting in late 2007.

The jobs numbers were announced Friday morning by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The 3.4 percent statewide unemployment rate is a drop from a high of 10.8 at the peak of the Great Recession in December 2010, and the drop of 7.4 percentage points since then is faster than the national decline of 5.6 percentage points in the same eight-year period, an announcement declared.

Florida’s annual job growth rate of 3.2 percent continues to exceed the nation’s rate of 2 percent. In the past year, 107,000 people entered Florida’s labor force, a growth of 1.1 percent.

In a news release, Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity,  said, “Florida’s economy is strong and growing. Governor Scott’s leadership and commitment to job creation in our state has helped millions of Floridians live the American Dream.”

In the 12 months ending in October, Florida added 51,300 new jobs in the education and health services sector, 51,100 in leisure and hospitality, 43,400 in construction, and 30,100 in professional and business services.

 The one sector losing jobs was government, which shed 8,900 jobs in the 12-month period.

Monroe County and Okaloosa County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate in October, 2.4 percent. Hendry County had the highest, at 5.4 percent.

OF 24 metropolitan areas, 23 saw year-over-year job gains, with the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford market leading, adding 55,400 jobs. The Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater markets each added about 29,000 jobs. Panama City was the only metro area to shed jobs, dropping 100 in the one-year run.

Rick Scott’s team wants Broward County recount results to count

Gov. Rick Scott‘s Republican U.S. Senate campaign wants Broward County’s late-transmitted machine recount results to count in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.

Scott’s campaign recount attorney Tim Cerio has fired off a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner asking for confirmation that Detzner will accept the Broward County numbers even though they arrived after Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

That machine recount, which Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and the Broward canvassing board proclaimed before Thursday’s deadline but did not transmit before that deadline, tallied 469,949 votes for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and 210,513 for Scott.

That recount actually resulted in a boost for Scott of 779 votes in the margin between them.

So Scott’s team wants that recount to count, even though Snipes missed the filing deadline by two minutes.

Cerio wrote to Detzner late Thursday arguing that the Broward canvassing board finished its work around 2:45 p.m. and then announced its results, and adjourned at 2:50 p.m. So any trouble the office had transmitting the data to Tallahassee should be irrelevant because the results became official when the board adjourned.

“The law is very clear,” Cerio wrote. “When a canvassing board completes a recount process by the statutory deadline, as it did today in a public meeting in Broward County, those results are valid. Any administrative failure after it finishes is irrelevant to whether or not the canvassing board completed its process.”

The election has moved to the hand recount phase. However, if Broward cannot finish that recount on time, then Broward’s final numbers will be whichever were the last received by the Secretary of State’s Office. Cerio wants to make sure those are Thursday’s numbers, not last Sunday’s numbers.

“I write to confirm that you intend to rely on the second unofficial results for Broward County, which were announced by the Broward County Canvassing Board at approximately 2:50 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018,” Cerio wrote.

Bill Nelson seeking recount of all ballots in Palm Beach County

Arguing that Palm Beach County’s problems with machines breaking down during the machine recount this week, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaign has sued in state court seeking to force a recount of all half-million ballots there.

Palm Beach County is not the main hope for Nelson’s campaign as the state moves to the ordered hand recount in all 67 counties. That recount is just of ballots identified as under votes or over votes in the U.S. Senate election, which Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads by about 12,600 votes.

Rather, Marc Elias, lead recount lawyer for Nelson, told reporters Thursday evening that a myriad of factors, including the campaign’s victory so far to allow for some mail-in ballots rejected due to mismatched signatures and other factors, but also on the under and over votes, particulalry in Broward County, where there were an unprecedented 23,000 of them.

“There will now be a hand recount. This is in fact what we have been seeking all along. Becuase this is where people will lay eyes on ballots and can make the determinations as to voter intent. Machines are wonderful counters for the vast majority of ballots but there are going to be and we know there are significant numbers of ballots in the tens of thousands or higher that machines couldn’t read one way or the other,” Elias said. “We don’t know who the voters were for. They’ve been kicked out as under votes or over votes.”

There also are expected to be thousands of ballots that were rejected because elections officials made determinations that the signatures did not match with what was on file. Nelson won a court ruling Thursday morning to give voters the chance to establish that those were their signatures, and those votes would be counted. Late Thursday the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in a challenge brought by Scott’s campaign, backed the lower court ruling, Elias said.

Elias said there were seven counties that did not meet Thursday’s deadline with complete vote data: Broward, Clay, Hardee, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee and Palm Beach.

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