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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.