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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

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

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Remembering Anthony Bourdain at FSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rico PD gets some backup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veterans honor Putnam for outdoor initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Patronis recognized for PTSD legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram of the week

Light lunch. #Alsace

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

RIP Anthony Bourdain.

CFO commends SEC for enlisting crypto chief

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

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

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

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

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

The week in appointments

Martin County Court

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

Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees

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

Pasco-Hernando State College District Board of Trustees

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

New College of Florida Board of Trustees

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

Florida seniors earn National Merit Scholarship

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

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

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

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

Mel Ponder recognized as Legislator of the Year

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

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

Mel Ponder: Florida Legislator of the Year.

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

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

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

Benacquisto launches local photo contest

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

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

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

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

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

Take a hunter safety class this summer

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

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

In Florida, safe hunting is no accident.

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

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

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

Florida Forest Service announces Longleaf Pine program

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

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

Florida Longleaf Pines.

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

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

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

DHSMV: Drive slower, stay cooler this summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VISIT FLORIDA unveils cooperative marketing effort

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

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

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

VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson.

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

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

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

Florida Bar to hold convention in Orlando — with yoga

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights include:

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

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

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

Harvard faculty to lead Executive Leadership course at Florida Poly

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

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

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

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

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

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

AARP Florida tracks lawmakers’ votes

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

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

AARP wants to know how Florida seniors are voting.

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

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

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

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

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

Ports group highlights promising data

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

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

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

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler.

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

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

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

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

Florida Wildlife Federation praises ‘extraordinary generosity’

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

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

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

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

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

Capital craft brewery gearing up for move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

‘Flower’ fight: Citrus preference sparks medical marijuana rule challenge

A Tampa orchid nursery seeking to break into the medical marijuana market is challenging the Department of Health‘s plan to give a preference in how it awards new licenses to grow the plant.

Louis Del Favero Orchids filed a challenge Friday to a proposed rule from the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug.

At issue is a provision in state law that gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. It’s part of legislation that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

For up to two licenses, according to state law, “the department shall give preference to applicants that … own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

Del Favero says in its filing it bought “facilities that were used in citrus processing specifically for the purpose of converting those facilities for use in processing medical marijuana.”

Now, the company suggests it could have a white elephant on its hands.

The state’s proposed rule, the challenge says, “would provide no additional points to most applicants that qualify for the citrus preference” and “provides no assurance that the preference will actually result in any licenses being issued to applicants” that qualify.

Del Favero also argues that the department goes too far in using the word “property,” rather than “facility” as in law, saying it’s “granting the citrus preference to a broader group of applicants than the statute permits.”

But it’s not clear lawmakers intended on applicants simply buying an old packing plant to take advantage of the preference.

Sen. Rob Bradley—the Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the legislation during a 2017 Special Session—has said the preference was born to benefit longtime citrus producers who took a hit in recent years from the citrus greening malady.

“If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost,” he said then. “Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

He also told the News Service of Florida last year that “some of those old-line facilities and businesses are deteriorating much like the city of Detroit. This would allow them to have an opportunity to redesign or repurpose their facilities.”

Bradley declined immediate comment when reached Monday, saying he wanted to review the filing.

Added Devin Galetta, interim communications director for the Florida Department of Health: “The department received the petition this afternoon and is in the process of reviewing.”

Del Favero is no stranger to marijuana litigation.

In one instance, it filed to intervene in a lawsuit last year by Sarasota’s Tropiflora, which argued the citrus preference was an “unconstitutional special advantage” that puts the company at a “disadvantage” in competing for licenses to be what the state calls a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

That suit had been set for trial later this month, but Tropiflora withdrew it without explanation in May.

Sail away! Rob Bradley and Co. to embark on Disney Cruise fundraiser in July

Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley is doing his part to stem the impending “blue wave” in Florida politics, via a fundraiser on the open waters.

Specifically, a July 20-23 Disney Cruise, booked in May via the Fleming Island Republican’s Working for Florida Families political committee.

Those dates indicate the cruise will be aboard the Disney Dream, christened by Jennifer Hudson in 2011. The itinerary shows the vessel plans to anchor in Nassau on the second day of the journey, followed by a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay on Day 3.

The second night of the three-night fundraiser will give attendees the opportunity to “party like a pirate” — not the scary kind, of course.

Per Disney’s description, the celebration of all things swashbuckler encourages guests to dress up like a buccaneer and “eat like a scalawag” — options include “Jolly Rogers Barbecue Rib Salad” and “Pirates Gold-en Pot Stickers” — before hitting the deck with their mateys for a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed party and fireworks show.

The booking, including event venue, lodging, food, and beverage, came in at $65,260.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman told us Thursday that the expenditure covered “costs associated with an upcoming fundraiser” for the committee, with “all proceeds [going] toward 2018 Senate races.”

This will be a group sail, not a charter, Bradley added.

There is recent precedent for a Disney cruise fundraiser.

Per the Miami Herald, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli organized a similar event in 2013. The buy-in then was a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

Disney and subsidiaries have donated over $45,000 to Bradley’s committee since its inception, illustrating a shared political vision.

Contributions to Bradley’s committee swelled after he was named the Senate budget chair in November. Working for Florida’s Families pulled in back-to-back-to-back six-figure hauls heading into the 2018 Legislative Session, and since Bradley’s District 5 seat isn’t up this cycle, much of that cash is indeed likely to go toward boosting the re-election campaigns of his fellow Republican Senators.

Republican lawmakers earn high grades on Associated Industries’ report card

The Associated Industries of Florida on Tuesday released a report measuring how closely Florida lawmakers’ votes aligned with its interests.

The conservative business group’s 2018 Voting Records report found a slight uptick in lawmaker support for AIF-backed legislation, with 78 percent of the Senate and 91 percent of the House voting in favor of its priorities.

AIF also recognized five lawmakers – three in the Senate and two in the House – with “non-voting” awards for going above and beyond during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Our team goes to great lengths to ensure legislators are aware of AIF’s positions on issues of great importance to Florida’s business community. And, after every session, AIF compiles a record of success with our Voting Records” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF.

“We are proud to honor elected officials as Champions for Business – those lawmakers who take risks for his or her beliefs in the free-enterprise system, who defy the status quo when it’s harmful to our state’s competitive climate and who face down opponents to grow prosperity for Floridians.”

Though lawmakers scored higher marks in 2018 than years prior, the scorecard results don’t paint a complete picture of the session according to Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF.

He explained that the focus shift brought about by the February mass shooting in Parkland “resulted in a slowed legislative process and fewer bills making it through to the end – the lowest number of bills passed since 2001.

“So while AIF’s Voting Records show more favorable outcomes for the business community compared to last year, it is important to note the political environment and the impact it had on the legislative process this year.”

The AIF report, now in its 43rd year, is a compilation of voting records based on committee, amendment and floor votes cast.

“Votes provide tangible evidence of whether a legislator supports the ability of Florida companies to prosper and operate free of overly burdensome state regulation and taxation,” Feeney said.

He went on to name AIF’s five 2018 Champions for Business: Republican Sens. Rob Bradley, Kathleen Passidomo and Dana Young, and Republican Reps. Joe Gruters and Mike Miller.

“Whether they proposed an important bill, authored a key amendment or toiled behind the scenes, these legislators are the ones who made a difference during the 2018 Legislative Session,” Feeney said.

Only Dana Young, who represents Tampa-based Senate District 18, has received the Champion designation in the past. AIF will present the Champions for Business awards to the lawmakers at its annual conference, to be held Sept. 12 through 14 in Orlando.

AIF also recognized another 33 members of the Florida House for achieving a 100 percent voting record for the 2018 Legislative Session.

“These lawmakers showed a commitment to sound policy that supports Florida’s employers and job creators. Not only does this score encompass votes to pass legislation beneficial to businesses, it includes votes to defeat policies that would have a detrimental impact on businesses and their employees.  We applaud all 38 lawmakers highlighted in our Voting Records for helping make Florida the best place to do business,” Feeney said.

The full list of 100 percenters: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Indialantic Rep. Thad Altman, Hialeah Rep. Bryan Avila, Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd, Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, Jonesville Rep. Chuck Clemons, Altamonte Springs Rep. Bob Cortes, Orange Park Rep. Travis Cummings, Naples Rep. Bryon Donalds, DeFuniak Springs Rep. Brad Drake, Palm Bay  Rep. Randy Fine, Jacksonville Rep. Jason Fischer, Venice Rep. Julio Gonzalez, Stuart Rep. Gayle Harrell, Spring Hill Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, Winter Haven Rep. Sam Killebrew, St. Cloud Rep. Mike La Rosa, Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala, Daytona Beach Rep. Tom Leek, Port Richey Rep. Amber Mariano, Beverly Hills Rep. Ralph Massullo, Plant City Rep. Lawrence McClure, St. Petersburg Rep. Kathleen Peters, Sebring Rep. Cary Pigman, Ft. Walton Beach Rep. Mel Ponder, Lake City Rep. Elizabeth Porter, Valrico Rep. Jake Raburn, Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner, Palm Beach Gardens Rep. Rick Roth, Riverview Rep. Ross Spano, Ocala Rep. Charlie Stone, Royal Palm Beach Rep. Matt Willhite and Pace Rep. Jayer Williamson.

All recognized were Republicans except for Willhite, a Democrat.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Weather affects ‘Springtime’

Predictions of bad weather are befouling plans for the annual Springtime Tallahassee festivities in the capital.

Organizers on Friday canceled the Jubilee in the Park, which usually features arts and crafts booths from hundreds of vendors, and rescheduled the parade for 10 a.m., the Tallahassee Democrat reported late Friday.

The National Weather Service was forecasting “showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 2 p.m.,” adding that “some of the storms could be severe.”

Before the bad weather reports, city officials had been expecting a crowd of more than 150,000 to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary.

It’s Springtime Tallahassee again.

The celebration will affect traffic, a news release said. Below are the planned road closures for Saturday:

6:30 a.m.-12 p.m. for Parade Staging Area

— First Avenue eastbound at Duval Street.

— Thomasville Road between Monroe Street and Seventh Avenue.

— Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues between Adams Street and Thomasville Road.

6:30-10:30 a.m. for Springtime Tallahassee 10K (if it still goes on as planned)

— Monroe Street between Apalachee Parkway and Seventh Avenue.

— Call Street, Franklin Boulevard, Lafayette Street and various roads surrounding the Capital City Country Club and within the Myers Park and Woodland Drive neighborhoods will have staggered closures during the race.

9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. for Parade Route

— Monroe Street between Gaines Street and Seventh Avenue.

— Jefferson Street, College Avenue, Park Avenue, Call Street, Virginia Street, Carolina Street, Georgia Street, Brevard Street and Tennessee Street between Adams Street and Calhoun Street.

— Madison Street between Macomb Street and Monroe Street.

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

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

State appeals ex-felon order — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are appealing U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling that the state must devise a new system for restoring voting rights to ex-felons. Attorney General Pam Bondi has promised to continue to appeal Walker’s order to the highest court. Walker permanently blocked the state’s clemency system in March calling it “fatally flawed.” He then gave Scott and the Cabinet a monthlong deadline to revamp the system. Scott’s office contends that felon voting rights restoration should be determined by elected officials. Florida is one of few states that disenfranchise felons after they’ve completed their sentences and is home to roughly 1.5 million ex-cons whose voting rights are pending.

CRC ‘style’ committee wraps — The influential Style & Drafting Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission has drafted and approved 12 ballot items for consideration of the full commission. To appear on the ballot in November, each proposed amendment must win the approval of 22 members of the 37-person panel. The 12 items are a consolidation of 24 proposals that met the initial approval of the CRC. Six proposals were not combined with others, including four that did not meet the 22-vote threshold in the preliminary approval phase. Five other amendments already have reached the ballot, meaning Floridians could potentially consider 17 amendments in the general election. Sixty-percent voter approval is required for each to pass.

Leaders pressure feds for farm aid — Gov. Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have recently ramped up efforts to get much-needed funding distributed to Florida farmers affected by Hurricane Irma. Tailing off Scott’s and Putnam’s talks with the federal government, Rubio and Nelson joined other senators in penning a letter this week to encourage timely distribution of a $2.3 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump in February. The letter was addressed to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Perdue’s office announced this week that sign-up and eligibility information should be available to affected farmers in the coming weeks. In total, it’s estimated that Hurricane Irma caused a $2.5 billion loss to Florida agriculture.

Gaming special session uncertain — Legislative leaders this week began zeroing in on a possible date for a special session to iron out gambling issues left unresolved during the 2018 Legislative Session — but the overtime might not be necessary. House Speaker Richard Corcoran alerted the possible need to reconvene legislators because of the potential loss of gambling revenue from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. However, the Tribe this week said it will continue paying its share to the state, which totaled a little more than $290 million last year. No Casinos, an anti-gambling organization, is asserting that the Tribe’s commitment should end further talks of a special session.

Scott ramps up exposure — Ahead of his widely expected entrance into the U.S. Senate race, Gov. Scott is appearing across the state for public bill signings. Scott this week visited Ponce Inlet to ceremoniously sign Ponce’s Law. The bill was crafted following the death of a nine-month-old Labrador, Ponce, in Ponce Inlet last year. The dog’s owner, Travis Archer, allegedly beat the animal to death, but under Florida’s current animal cruelty laws, Archer does not face a mandatory prison sentence if convicted. Ponce’s Law bumps animal cruelty to a level 5 offense up from level 3, meaning convicted offenders are more likely to serve prison time. The Governor also signed a bill in Orlando that prohibits the state from doing business with Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro’s regime and a bill at Fort Walton-based software company Bit-Wizards that is expected to benefit military, veterans, and their families.

Scott touts Florida building codes

Florida took the top spot in a recent report ranking the residential building codes of hurricane-prone states, much to the delight of Gov. Scott.

“In Florida, we know how important it is to be prepared for hurricanes while doing everything possible to keep families safe. Florida’s building codes have consistently ranked among the strongest in the nation and I’m proud that we have now been ranked first for building code strength by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety,” Scott said.

DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Jonathan Zachem also praised the ranking, adding that “the importance of effective, well-enforced building codes was demonstrated in our state during the 2017 hurricane season. I’m extremely pleased that the state of Florida was ranked first in this landmark report.”

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety report gave Florida’s codes a score of 95 out of 100, an improvement of one point over its score in the last iteration of the report, released in 2015. The bump was enough to move Florida past Virginia, which topped the rankings three years ago.

Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’

Clearing the final batch of bills off his desk this week, Gov. Scott vetoed a measure that would have, in part, encouraged the use of purified reclaimed water to replenish the aquifer — a provision that has led environmental groups to dub the measure the “toilet-to-tap” bill.

Citing potential creation of “confusion in our water quality and aquifer protection regulatory structure,” Scott said the “worthwhile provisions” in the bill do not outweigh his concerns of “protecting Florida’s aquifer.”

Rick Scott flushed Bobby Payne’s ‘toilet-to-tap’ proposal.

“Florida has stringent water quality standards, and we are going to keep it that way,” Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

The bill, HB 1149, was ushered by Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who along with WateReuse argued that critics of the legislation overlooked that there is no such thing as “new water.”

Those against the measure, which included the lobbying force of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists, claimed it was tailored to benefit development interests.

The bill cleared the House with an 86-21 vote and the Senate with a 27-10 vote in the final week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

The week in appointments

Board of Optometry — Dr. David Rouse, of Cooper City, is an optometrist with Rouse Family Eyecare. He succeeds Dr. Tamara Mule and is appointed for a term ending October 31, 2021. Dr. Katie Spear, of Pensacola, is a practicing optometrist. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending October 31, 2018. Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Palm Beach State College District Board of Trustees — Darcy Davis, of Palm Beach Gardens, is the chief executive officer of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County. She received her bachelor’s degree from Mercer University and her master’s degree from Troy State University. Davis succeeds Charles Cross Jr. and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2021. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors — Marc Dunbar, of Tallahassee, is a partner at national law firm Jones Walker. He was appointed by CFO Jimmy Patronis. Gov. Scott also appointed Dunbar to the Northwest Florida Water Management District, where he served from 2015 to 2018. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the Florida State University College of Law. Dunbar succeeds Don Glisson and his term begins immediately, expiring on July 31, 2019.

Graham welcomes ‘overdue’ opioid suit

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham offered some tepid praise for Attorney General Bondi’s decision to go after pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“After months of inaction and years of sticking her head in the sand — I am glad that Pam Bondi is finally heeding my call to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable,” the former congresswoman said Friday.

Gwen Graham gives weak praise to Pam Bondi for her opioid lawsuit.

“As governor, I will hold the drug companies accountable and use all the powers of the office to address the opioid epidemic. I will ensure that this case gets the proper support and resources — building a legal dream team like Governor Lawton Chiles and Bob Butterworth did to take down tobacco.”

Bondi announced the decision this week, saying it was important Florida file its own case rather than join another. She did not give a timetable for filing the suit.

League lauds lawmakers

The Florida League of Cities this week gave awards to 20 lawmakers in recognition of their “tireless efforts” to protect home rule.

“On behalf of Florida’s 412 cities and thousands of municipal officials, both elected and appointed, the Florida League of Cities and its advocacy team are proud to recognize these Home Rule advocates for their continued support,” said Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley.

Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley pumps up for legislative wins.

“We believe the government closest to the people should make the decisions that affect the quality of life of the citizens they have been elected to represent. These hardworking legislators continually supported that ideal, and we owe them a great deal of thanks.”

Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose and Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Mel Ponder were named “defenders of home rule,” while the remaining lawmakers received appreciation awards.

The following lawmakers received Legislative Appreciation Awards: Sens. Daphne CampbellGeorge GainerBobby PowellJose Javier RodriguezDarryl RousonWilton SimpsonLinda Stewart, and Perry Thurston as well as Reps. Joe GellerKristin JacobsEvan JenneSam KillebrewLarry LeeRobert “Bobby O” OlszewskiPaul RennerRichard Stark, and Wengay “Newt” Newton.

Shaw highlights failing grade from Florida Chamber

With an ironic spin and almost certainly in jest, Democratic state House Rep. Sean Shaw via Twitter touted an F grade on his Legislative Report Card from the Florida Chamber.

Over an image of his poor mark, Shaw tweeted, “Incredibly excited to be recognized as the top consumer advocate & fighter for workers this year by the Florida Chamber of Commerce!”

Sean Shaw is all smiles over his ‘F’ grade from the Florida Chamber.

The Chamber released its annual rankings on Thursday. Each year the pro-business group arrives at scores for lawmakers after tabulating their votes on measures expected to make Florida a more competitive marketplace.

Shaw, who’s vying for the Attorney General seat this year, interpreted his grade as meaning he’s on the side of consumers and workers, rather than job creators.

Republican state legislators performed well in the eyes of the Chamber. Of the 15 “Distinguished Advocates,” recognized this Session, just one is a Democrat: St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond. He was honored for championing a lawsuit-limiting amendment — but he earned a C overall.

Pharmacy panel suggests unifying legislative efforts

A panel charged with overseeing pharmacy professionals went a bit off script this week when its chair suggested that there should be more of a “concerted effort” for pharmacist-backed legislative initiatives.

“If we’re really interested in moving things through the Legislature, I honestly think that there has to be a better process to achieve a consensus,” said Jeenu Philip, chair of the Florida Board of Pharmacy. He said it seems like legislators hear one thing from a pharmacist or association, and the opposite from a different pharmacist.

Jeenu Philip (left) is chair of the Florida Board of Pharmacy.

In recapping pharmacy-related bills, Philip spoke a bit about legislation that would’ve provided patients more access to flu remedies. Sponsored this year by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, the bills (SB 524 and HB 431) would have let some pharmacies, under the guidance of a physician, test for and treat influenza.

Both pieces of legislation died in committee, something Philip questioned given the severity and uptick of recent influenza cases.

“In light of the past flu season, if there was any year that this bill should’ve passed, this was the year,” Philip said.

Volunteers spotlighted during April

The start of April may bring pranks for some, but for the state, it marks the start of Volunteer Month — and this year, it’s no joke.

Volunteer Florida, the lead service agency in the Sunshine State, is highlighting a Floridian volunteer every day this month as part of its newly launched #VF30in30 initiative.

In announcing the outreach campaign, Gov. Scott pointed to the public’s altruistic efforts to help the state bounce back from Hurricane Irma.

“I’m glad to recognize the service of volunteers across Florida who dedicate their time to make a difference in their communities,” Scott said in a statement. “Floridians dedicated millions of hours during last year’s devastating hurricane season, and we are proud to honor them in April.”

Each day a new volunteer is spotlighted by Volunteer Florida. Kicking off the month was Steve O’Brien, a legendary history teacher in Miami who founded Castaways Against Cancer. The organization raises money each month by kayaking 160 miles from Miami to Key West.

Florida Council of 100 releases educational ‘beacons’

In an ongoing education-focused project tailored to “light the way” for America’s future, the Florida Council of 100 unveiled a research-backed set of values for grades 4-8 over the next 25 years.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group comprised of business, civic, and academic leaders is throwing its weight behind four pivotal topics, or ‘beacons’: nurturing adolescents’ academic growth, personalizing education to meet the unique needs of each adolescent student; minimizing the disruption caused by school transitions; and making the school like a second family.

Miami’s Kingdom Academy is a model for value-based education.

“Adolescent students are unique — physically, intellectually, morally, psychologically, and especially social-emotionally,” said David Dyer, project leader and former chair of the Council’s PreK-12 Education Committee. “It takes a special kind of teacher to successfully reach these kids.”

The value-based approach intended for schools to model is the result of a culmination of studies, which included touring successful schools such as Miami’s inner-city Kingdom Academy, where fourth-grade students are learning how to budget, apply for jobs and maintain a bank account.

John Kirtley, chair of the Council’s PreK-12 Education Committee, noted that student success often declines in middle grades. “To reverse this, it is vital that we tailor instruction to the special needs of each adolescent, providing them with a portfolio of educational options,” Kirtley said.

Desloge tours areas still recovering from Irma, Maria

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge was among a small delegation of National Association of Counties (NACo) leaders who recently toured parts of Florida and Puerto Rico ravaged by some of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history.

The delegation visited communities in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico that experienced loss of life, property and critical infrastructure as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

“It’s important that we learn from one another and strengthen our capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” said Desloge, also Immediate Past President of NACo. “There is no higher priority than keeping our residents safe, especially in the face of devastating natural disasters.”

As communities across the country continue recovering from the historic 2017 hurricane season, NACo continues to work with local governments to ensure critical funding and assistance to help communities rebuild. As immediate past President, Desloge serves on the NACo Executive Committee and represents more than 3,000 countries across the nation.

NSF re-ups MagLab grant

The National Science Foundation is renewing its support for the FSU-based National High Magnetic Field Laboratory — the world’s most powerful magnet lab — with a $184 million grant.

The funding will head to National MagLab facilities over the next five years, bringing NSF’s total investment in the project to $867 million. In addition to the lab HQ at FSU, satellite facilities at the UF and Los Alamos National Laboratory will also get some support.

National Science Foundation Director France Córdova tours the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, just before it re-upped with a new $184M grant.

“This announcement means that the world’s most prestigious magnet lab will remain headquartered right here at FSU in Tallahassee, anchoring our university’s pre-eminent science and research efforts and facilitating discoveries that could change our world,” said Gary Ostrander, FSU VP of research.

Anne Kinney, an NSF assistant director, added that the foundation “is proud to support a facility that has broken — and holds — many world records in magnet technology.”

MagLab’s unique instruments include the world’s strongest continuous high-field magnet, which produces a magnetic field 2 million times stronger than the Earth’s. More than 1,700 researchers a year use MagLab to advance their research.

FSU Great Give sets records

The Great Give, Florida State University’s 36-hour online giving campaign, recorded its most successful campaign to date, raising $413,147 for academic programs, student activities and scholarships, the school said this week.

The 7th annual event, which took place March 22-23, drew support from 3,376 donors, including 1,791 Florida State alumni.

FSU sets records with the 7th annual Great Give.

“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support that was displayed during this year’s Great Give,” said Robyn Bertram, donor engagement officer for the Florida State University Foundation Office of Annual Giving. “This event has grown consistently since its inception, and the incredible response we received demonstrates a shared dedication toward advancing our university.”

Throughout the campaign, 12 incentive challenges totaling more than $23,000 fostered a friendly competition among FSU’s donors to give back and boost their chosen project’s chances to receive cash prizes. Departments and units could win incentives for meeting specific criteria such as most donors during a certain time period.

The FSU Marching Chiefs took the $7,500 grand prize with the most alumni donors (299) during the 36-hour campaign. The Student Veterans Center, Home Stretch Microgrants and the colleges of Music, Education and Communication & Information also claimed incentive wins.

Donors may still make a gift to Florida State by visiting give.fsu.edu or calling (850) 644-6000.

Tallahassee dubbed ‘Solar Star’

A new national report shows that the Sunshine State’s capital city is making good use of one its most prevalent resources.

Environment Florida released this week a new report, “Shining Cities 2018: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America,” that highlights Tallahassee as a leading “Solar Star” for its commitment to harnessing the sun’s energy.

Tallahassee is becoming a ‘solar star.’

In terms of megawatts of solar energy per capita, the capital city edged ahead of Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando.

“Tallahassee stands out as an example for other cities to follow in Florida and throughout the South. The city is listening to local customers like me who want solar energy in their homes and their communities, and it’s giving different types of solar room to grow,” said Scott Thomasson, the southeast director with Vote Solar.

The ranking stems in large part from the 28-megawatt solar farm contracted by the city. The Tallahassee Solar program provided 20,000 slots for businesses and residents to purchase solar electricity at a fixed rate for the next 20 years.

“Cities like Tallahassee are leading the way to a future powered by clean, renewable energy,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida Research & Policy Center.

Tallahassee Earth Day plans

Tallahassee announced a list of planned activities this week to celebrate “Earth Month,” most of which will be held when Earth Day hits on April 22.

“As we observe Earth Month in the City of Tallahassee, I encourage everyone in our community to make the commitment to reduce our negative impacts on the environment,” Mayor Andrew Gillum said. “If we are all more environmentally-conscious, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a clean, healthy community to grow up in.”

Tallahassee Earth Day celebrations include the ‘In-Home Longest Table,’ a series of simultaneous events hosting 6 to 8 people each.

Planned events include “Cash for Trash,” where those with bulky items, electronic waste, paint, or batteries can drop it off at the Solid Waste Services facility, located at 2727 Municipal Way for a $5 credit on their utility bill.

The docket also includes the city’s Earth Day celebration to be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Thomas P. Smith Water Reclamation Facility, and the “In-Home Edition of Longest Table,” where at 6 p.m. over 100 dinners, each including six to eight guests, will take place simultaneously in homes, restaurants and public spaces throughout the community.

RSVP to the Longest Table by calling 891-8728 or visiting www.longesttable.com.

Old Capitol to go purple for Victims’ Rights Week

In recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 8-14, Marsy’s Law for Florida will light Florida’s Historic Capitol in purple lights all week “as a reminder that victims should be entitled to equal rights and protections under the law.”

Florida’s old Capitol building goes purple for victims rights.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is “an effort to place clear, enforceable rights and protections for victims in Florida’s constitution,” the group said.

The old Capitol is at 400 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 4.3.18

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

Here’s a surprise the Easter bunny left in our basket: the latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, now available in digital format and coming soon in print.

We had planned for this issue to highlight the INFLUENCE 100, but so much is going on in the influence world (or, as the AP’s Gary Fineout likes to call it, the influence media), that we needed to get an issue out that captured what happened during the 2018 Legislative Session, as well as to many of the players who are part of The Process.

If one thing is clear post-Parkland, it’s that Florida Democrats — three decades removed from power — are gearing up for a monumental political and policy fight. The outcome of this fight will shape the influence industry for years to come. Several Democrats are on our list of Winners and Losers emerging from the Session, including our “Rookie of the Year” Lauren Book, a first-term state senator featured inside.

If Book is the newcomer to watch, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is the veteran lawmaker to listen to. If you read one thing in the magazine, make sure it’s her first-person thoughts on the state of The Process.

The rest of the magazine is filled with a barrage of news and notes about dozens of other players, including Sen. Rob Bradley, Rep. Kristin Jacobs, former Rep. Chris DorworthRandy EnwrightJim Rimes, and many others.

Some of those may well be in the INFLUENCE 100. Until then, ponder the contours of the new political landscape, coming to places — and pages — near you.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Reporting deadline for Q1 fundraising — 12; NFL Draft begins — 23; Avengers: Infinity War opens — 24; Close of candidate qualifying for federal office — 30; Mother’s Day — 40; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 52; Memorial Day — 55; Father’s Day — 75; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 80; Deadline for filing claim bills — 120; Start of the U.S. Open — 146; Primary Election Day — 147; College Football opening weekend — 151; General Election Day — 217; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 317; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 336.

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— TOP STORY —

The Constitution Revision Commission’s Style & Drafting committee meets Tuesday to finish up its work on packaging 25 active proposals for the November ballot.

Committee chair Brecht Heuchan says he plans to finish work this week, beginning with ironing out legal technicalities, “then any needed amendments to individual proposals, then preliminary discussion on ballot summary language, then grouping (and) ordering.”

The full commission had cleared the proposals after a three-day Session last month.

They include measures to ban offshore drilling, greyhound racing and indoor ‘vaping,’ put term limits on local school board members, and create a ‘bill of rights’ for crime victims.

The finished proposals will go back to the full commission, where they must receive no less than 22 votes to be placed on the ballot.

Then they face a minimum approval of 60 percent of statewide voters to be added to the state constitution.

The commission’s final report is due to Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.

The body is constitutionally charged with forming every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

State GOP’s revenues dip; firm owned by committee member has consulting contract” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Facing increased competition from outside political committees, the Republican Party of Florida brought in the lowest amount of revenue last year in at least a decade, according to a party audit filed with state election officials. For the year ended Dec. 31, the RPOF collected $7.2 million in revenue, with $5.5 million coming from “campaign and political operations,” which includes fundraising. In 2015, the last year without an election, the party brought in $13 million in revenue. State parties typically bring in much more cash during an election year. The biggest hit to centralized state parties has been the increased use of political committees, which are controlled by specific candidates and can receive unlimited contributions. “The role of the formal party is not shrinking at all, but it has become more challenging with the role of PCs,” said RPOF spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre. “The party, however, is still the primary vehicle to ‘get out the vote,’ ‘chase absentees,’ register voters and sign up volunteers.”

Gwen Graham calls Donald Trump an ’embarrassment’ in digital ad” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Not only is the former congresswoman’s digital ad focused on Trump, but it is also first running in the Palm Beach market, an intentional move to target Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club where he frequently stays. It will later run on digital platforms across the state. “Donald Trump is an embarrassment,” Graham says in the ad. The ad is an attack on Trump but is done with a light touch, using soft music and does not feature a deep-voiced narrator that’s become common in attack ads.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Personnel note: Bettina Weiss in as Graham press sec’y” via Florida Politics — Weiss is an alumna of Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s in American studies, and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s in political communications. She moved over to campaign last month, relocating to Orlando from Washington, D.C. where she spent nearly two years working for Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that supports stricter gun laws, such as background checks for private sales and a ban on assault-style weapons. Weiss’ resume also includes work as a crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line, as a prevention coordinator for sexual violence resource center healingSPACE, and as a gun violence prevention reporter for Generation Progress, the youth-centered offshoot of progressive think tank Center for American Progress. Weiss’ addition signals the Graham campaign’s continued focus on gun violence in the four-way Democratic Primary for governor.

Ron DeSantis targeted in new radio, TV ads — The National Liberty Federation, a dark money group with ties to political consultant Roger Stone, is battering DeSantis in a pair of attack ads released this week. The group has plunked down more than $350,000 in ad buys on radio and TV, including more than $250,000 for a commercial airing on Fox News through Thursday. “It was supposed to be a revolution to take back Washington, but when Ron DeSantis got elected, it was like he couldn’t wait to be part of the in-crowd. Cozying up to two defense contractors, taking thousands of dollars in campaign donations, and even moving into a beachfront condo — you guessed it — owned by the same defense contractors,” the ad narrator says. “DeSantis didn’t throw the bums out of Washington; He moved right in with them. Is this the swamp creature we want to lead Florida?” The ad points to a website, RonDeSantisFacts.com, with a long list of gripes the group has with the Northeast Florida congressman, including “ties to the Republican establishment,” his net worth and his supposedly tepid support of Trump, an early backer in his bid for governor.

Assignment editors — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine will hold conversations with college students by kicking off a tour at the Florida State University beginning 12:30 p.m., Oglesby Union Room 314, 75 N. Woodward Ave., Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Assignment editors — Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam will host an “Up & Adam” breakfast in Miami beginning 8:30 a.m. at the La Carreta Restaurant, 8650 Bird Road in Miami. He will be the keynote speaker at the DeSoto County Republican Executive Committee’s Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner in Arcadia. That’s at 7 p.m., Turner Agri-Civic Center, 2250 NE Roan St., Arcadia. For news media: This is a ticketed event. If you plan to attend, please email amanda@adamputnam.com by noon Tuesday.

Assignment editors — Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association will discuss plans for the General Election Debates for U.S. Senator and Governor in a media conference call beginning 10 a.m. at 1-888-392-4560; access code: 9979718. Hosts include Wendy Spencer, president and CEO, Leadership Florida; Beth Kigel, board chair of Leadership Florida; Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association; J. David Armstrong, president of Broward College and Caroline Taplett, president and general manager of WPBF TV.

Ashley Moody named a “Women to Watch” at Republican Women event — The Florida Women’s Political Network hosted its annual Celebration of Republican Women luncheon where it awarded Moody a “Women to Watch” award. This award goes to women who are “making strides in Republican politics and public service.” Moody said: “It was a privilege to stand alongside such strong women leaders from across our state who have spent their life fighting for Republican values. I look forward to continuing to fight for these values as Florida’s next Attorney General.” Following the lunch, Moody won the Attorney General straw poll with 74 percent of the vote.

Mike Miller’s first ad in GOP congressional primary features Rick Scott” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The ad for State Rep. Miller, running in the GOP primary for Congressional District 7 in Seminole and parts of Orange counties, entitled, “The Conservative,” touts Scott’s praise of Miller and includes audio of Scott saying, “I want to thank Representative Mike Miller for all that he’s done … He’s focused on making sure our taxes are low, everybody can get a job, that we have a great education system, and that people are safe,” Scott says over video of his meeting with Miller. Or, as the ad paraphrases Scott, “I like Mike.” In a statement, Miller said, “I appreciate his kind words about me recently, and I’m proud to call him my friend and my Governor. I’m fully supportive of whatever Governor Scott’s next step will be and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Tim Canova drops Democratic bid to unseat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will run as independent” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — “Even as independents, we are the real Democrats in this race,” Canova said at a news conference outside Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ office. “Even as we run as independents, I will run as a better Democrat. I did not leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left us.” Canova, whose 2016 bid received national attention after Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him over Wasserman Schultz, eventually lost the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points. Canova’s decision to run as an independent gives Wasserman Schultz a clear path to the Democratic nomination in 2018. Republicans Joe Kaufman and Carlos Reyes have also filed to run in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Broward County and northeastern Miami-Dade County.

David Richardson raises $410k in Q1  Richardson, one of many Democrats running for CD 27, said Monday he raised about $411,000 for his campaign during the first three months of the year. “My race in District 27 is not just about electing a Democrat — it’s about electing the right Democrat, one who is driven by and committed to progressive ideals. That’s who I am, and our fundraising numbers demonstrate that’s what this district wants. I thank my supporters for believing in this campaign,” Richardson said. The announcement did not mention how much of the Q1 haul came in through loans, though it said when the final report is in it’ll show more than $1.4 million in total fundraising and $1.1 million in cash on hand since Richardson filed in July. By the end of 2017, he’d lent his campaign $500,000.

Carrie Pilon files for SD 24” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Pilon announced Monday that she’s filed to run as a Democrat for the Senate District 24 seat currently held by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. “I’m running for the State Senate because the legislature in Tallahassee is not working for Florida’s families. As a member of the State Senate, I’ll hold special interests accountable, and stand up to the Legislature’s Trump-style agenda,” said Pilon, a former prosecutor who now runs an injury law firm. … “As a small-business owner, I know firsthand the challenges of meeting payroll and providing health insurance for our staff and families. We deserve a state legislature focused on helping our small businesses grow, not handing out corporate welfare checks to their friends.” … So far, Pilon is the only challenger to file for SD 24. Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012 when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22 … Republicans hold an advantage in voter registrations in the district, though the seat is far from a Republican stronghold. SD 24 would have gone for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008. In 2016, the district flipped and went plus-7 for Trump.

Family feud: Ray Pilon endorses daughter-in-law’s political opponent” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — They might be family, but that isn’t stopping former Sarasota state Rep. Pilon from siding against his daughter-in-law in her bid for the state Senate. Ray Pilon is a Republican and his daughter-in-law, Carrie Pilon, is a Democrat … Shortly after Carrie Pilon made her announcement, Brandes sent out an email with the subject line: “Ray Pilon endorses Jeff Brandes.” … “Senator Brandes and I served in the Florida House and were both elected in 2010,” Pilon said in the news release. “We worked closely on many issues, and that continued when he was elected to the Senate. He is a person of high moral values, of integrity, honesty and fairness.” Carrie Pilon is the wife of Ray Pilon’s son, Chad Pilon. Ray Pilon also is running for office this year.

Tweet, tweet:

Save the date:

— “Frank White endorses Alex Andrade as HD 2 successor” via Florida Politics

— “Challenger emerges for Bobby Payne over Black Creek ‘boondoggle’” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

Geraldine Thompson is back, filing to run in HD 44” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Thompson served four years in the Florida Senate, representing Senate District 12, and six in the Florida House, representing House District 39 before redistricting. She left the Legislature to run for Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to now-U. S. Rep. Val Demings. “This [HD 44] was a district that previously had been so gerrymandered that a Democrat could not compete. After redistricting, people now will have a choice,” Thompson said. She hopes to take on incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski. “I think I have solid name recognition in the district. I’ve served the district. I’ve worked with the mayors in the cities of the district, so I think that gives me an advantage,” Thompson said. “With regard to House District 44, I think this is a race where there is an opportunity break down years of history of exclusion. I’m interested in being a part of that.”

Randy Cooper exits HD 71 race, will support Tracy Pratt” via Florida Politics — “I started running for this seat a year ago and have put my heart, soul, and a lot of sweat equity in this campaign but have to admit that it just was not enough,” Cooper, a Bradenton civil engineer and West Manatee Fire and Rescue District commissioner, said in a statement. Instead, Cooper is throwing his support behind Pratt, a Bradenton attorney who entered the HD 71 race Thursday. “Tracy Pratt is smart, young, and a wife and mother, who will put the interests of the citizens and business in the area first, not special interest groups,” he said.

Assignment editors — People in state House District 39 and House District 114 face a deadline to register to vote in May 1 special elections. Republican Josie Tomkow and Democrat Ricky Shirah face off in the special election in District 39, which includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties. Republican Andrew Vargas, Democrat Javier Fernandez and NPA candidate Liz de las Cuevas are running in Miami-Dade County’s District 114.

— STATEWIDE —

As U.S. Senate race looms, a slew of personnel moves in Gov. Scott’s office” via Florida Politics — There are staff changes galore in Gov. Rick Scott‘s office as he positions talent in advance of an expected April 9 announcement of his U.S. Senate campaign. Director of Appointments Collin Lomagistro is leaving effective today (Friday) to join the soon-to-be-announced campaign. ‎Environmental Policy Coordinator Julia Espy is becoming a Deputy Chief of Staff over transportation, housing and environment. Mary Beth Vickers, Policy Chief for Health and Human Services, will oversee all health and human services related areas. Chief Deputy General Counsel Jack Heekin is becoming another Deputy Chief of Staff over emergency management and law enforcement. Deputy Chief of Staff Megan Fay is leaving ScottWorld altogether to join Capital City Consulting. All this comes after an announcement earlier this week that Brad Piepenbrink was replacing Jackie Schutz Zeckman as Chief of Staff. She was said to be”pursuing other opportunities,” meaning also joining the campaign staff.

Scott signs bills designed to keep Florida ‘military friendly’” via Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times — Scott signed bills designed to reduce fees for Florida military, veterans and their families. The Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Family Opportunity Act reduces professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans, and their spouses. Scott also signed HB 75, authorizing state colleges to waive student fees for active duty military service members. This bill will also help make higher education more affordable for our military men and women.

 Military pride: Gov. Rick Scott, a Navy man himself, visited Tampa to highlight funding for military members, veterans, and their families. He also signed a bill to “increase opportunities and reduce fees” for armed forces men and women.

Assignment editors — Gov. Scott holds a bill signing ceremony for legislation to strictly prohibit all state agencies from conducting business with any entity that benefits the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Event begins 9 a.m. at El Perdigon, 5748 International Drive in Orlando.

Adam Putnam gives wildfire update — Putnam said Monday that there are currently 41 wildfires raging across the state. Of the 34,539 acres on fire, more than half are in Collier County where a 17,957-acre fire is 90 percent contained. Other significant fires include a Gulf County blaze that spans 8,080 acres and is 80 percent contained; a 1,037-acre fire in Miami-Dade in a fire that is 90 percent contained; and a Polk County fire that covers 450 acres and is 60 percent contained. The Florida Forest Service urges residents to take the following steps to prevent the spread of wildfires: obey outdoor burning laws, avoid burning on windy days, keep water and other firefighting resources on hand, never leave a fire or grill unattended, and avoid parking vehicles on dry grass. In the event of a wildfire call 911 or a local Florida Forest Service field unit office immediately.

 CFO Jimmy Patronis was joined by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Rep. Dane Eagle, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, Fort Myers Fire Department Chief John Caufield and members of the fire service and law enforcement communities to highlight the signing of a measure expanding mental health benefits for first responders.

Audit questions state anti-fraud efforts in Medicaid” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Florida’s Medicaid program has been rapped by auditors who questioned what the state got for millions of dollars spent with a company whose lobbyists included two former Republican House speakers and a former top health care regulator. State auditors additionally raised questions about how aggressive the Agency for Health Care Administration has been in trying to clamp down on fraud. The newly released audit said the agency’s Office of Medicaid Program Integrity never forwarded leads regarding potential fraudulent activity to 11 HMOs under contract with the state. The audit … questioned why Florida spent more than $5.5 million on an advanced data analytics system and renewed the vendor’s contract five times despite the company’s inability to include data on the majority of people enrolled in the Medicaid program. Between 2014 and 2017, when SAS Institute was working for the state, the company listed a cadre of well-connected Tallahassee lobbyists, including former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary and Medicaid director Tom Arnold and former House speakers Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul.

No Casinos on Special Session for gambling: Don’t do it” via Florida Politics — The head of a group that opposes casino gambling in Florida is telling lawmakers to take a pass on a Special Session for unresolved gambling issues. “If ever there was an issue that the Legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling,” No Casinos president John Sowinski wrote in a letter, released Monday, to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. “Whenever this issue comes up in Tallahassee, negotiations between the chambers seem to be more focused on coming up with a ‘deal’ that satisfies competing gambling interests than enacting solutions that are in the best interests of the people of Florida,” Sowinski added. Legislative leadership late last week said it was considering a Special Session on gambling because of the end of a settlement agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

Pharmacy panel weighs implementation of new opioid laws” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The Florida Board of Pharmacy, which is charged with updating administrative code to include the new opioid provisions reviewed statute changes passed and signed into law this year. The main concern: A package tailored to curb the state’s drug epidemic by targeting the practice of overprescribing opioids. Gov. Scott signed the legislation (HB 21) into law in March. The new laws provided in HB 21, which take effect in July, will limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply, and, when deemed medically necessary, a seven-day supply. Certain patients, such as those suffering cancer and other forms of chronic pain, will not be affected by the new prescription limits. The bill also mandates the use of a statewide database, or prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which requires action from both pharmacists and doctors.

Medical marijuana provider Trulieve sues state over store limits” via Florida Politics — Trulieve, a medical marijuana provider, on Monday filed a “constitutional challenge” against the state’s Department of Health over how many retail stores it can open, and where, under current law. An attorney for the company, which is seeking “non-monetary declaratory or injunctive relief,” provided a copy of the complaint by George Hackney Inc., the Gadsden County nursery that does business as Trulieve. The lawsuit follows a similar administrative action last year that sought to lock down its “dispensary rights” … Trulieve now is asking a court to declare its rights under law to open new stores. The case, for now, has been assigned to Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper.

Mears investors to compete nationally with ride-share cabs” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — A South Florida company has purchased majority ownership of the firm with ambitious plans to merge Mears’ traditional service with ride-share business tactics. “In the near future we will be the first and only full-service transportation company in the country that can meet all the ground transportation needs of a customer, including demand response ride-share services,” said Charles Carns, chief executive officer, in a memo to its more than 1,000 employees. The investment deal closed late Thursday, days after Mears had revised its concession contract with Orlando International Airport to acknowledge the change in ownership.

NRA takes aim at county gun law proposal” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The NRA’s top lobbyist in Florida is blasting a proposed Leon County ordinance designed to close the gun show loophole and require a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. Marion Hammer … issued a written alert calling on members to oppose the measure. She was especially critical of County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, who proposed the move in February. County commissioners voted unanimously last week to set the ordinance for a public hearing April 10. “Mary Ann Lindley is so rabidly anti-gun she is determined to impose these restrictions on law-abiding gun owners and force the financial burden on the Sheriff’s Office and the taxpayers of Leon County,” Hammer said in a post on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Lindley doesn’t even pretend that she cares about crime, criminals or have any legitimate reason for passing it, she just wants to pass some gun control before she leaves office.”

Scott Maddox spends campaign cash on lawyers” via Florida Politics — Maddox’s 2020 state Senate campaign showed its first signs of life in months: It helped him pay for lawyers. Maddox is one of the central figures in an FBI investigation into City Hall that’s been going on since 2015, and recent movement points toward the bureau laying out the case for mail fraud and bribery. With the investigation still ongoing, Maddox’s campaign account for the 2020 Senate District 3 race nearly zeroed itself out with a $125,000 payment to law firm Baker Donelson on March 23. Maddox’s attorney Stephen Dobson joined the firm’s Government Enforcement and Investigations Group in February.

Speaking of Tallahassee — “U.S. grant ensures record-setting magnet lab stays in Florida” via The Associated Press — The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is getting a large federal grant that will ensure it remains in the Florida state capital. The National Science Foundation is awarding $184 million to the lab, whose main location is at Florida State University. The foundation said that the grant would cover five years and is a 9 percent increase over the last round of funding. The lab has over the years set and broken various records for magnet technology.

Duke seeks rate hikes for new power plant” via the News Service of Florida — With a new Citrus County power plant poised to start generating electricity in September, Duke Energy Florida on Monday asked state regulators to approve rate increases to pay for the project. Duke plans to begin operating the first unit of the natural-gas fired plant in September and the second unit in November. Duke said … that residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see a $3.61 bill increase in October and a $2.27 bill increase in December. Increases would vary for commercial and industrial customers. The state Public Service Commission will decide whether to approve the increases. Duke said the project, in part, would help reduce carbon emissions.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Joe Biden to visit St. Petersburg in June” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Biden announced that he is adding St. Petersburg to his extended list of book tour dates this summer. He’ll visit the Mahaffey Theater June 4. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue this tour and hear from so many more people,” said Biden in the release. Biden has already made two Florida stops on the national book tour for his memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.” He visited Miami in November and Orlando in January.

Marco Rubio offers hope for Irma-affected farmers” via the News Service of Florida — Federal disaster relief for farmers impacted by Hurricane Irma may be available “as early as next week,” according to U.S. Sen. Rubio. Florida citrus farmers have expressed increasing frustration as they await distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster aid … Citrus growers suffered at least $761 million in losses from the September storm, which caused an estimated $2.5 billion in losses to Florida’s agricultural industry. Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson have urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to release the agriculture aid, which was part of the $90 billion disaster relief package signed by President Trump on Feb. 9. Rubio’s office did not say how the funds, once available, would be distributed. The federal legislation provides Perdue with wide flexibility in disbursing the disaster assistance, with the goal of helping farmers rebound from crop losses as quickly as possible.

Rubio to move Miami office” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — But unlike when the Republican senator had to relocate his Jacksonville and Tampa offices last year, the move is being attributed to the office space, not to landlords getting frustrated with ongoing political protests outside the building. “We are in the process of relocating that office, but it was our decision, for a couple of reasons. We were not asked to leave by building management,” Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, said. The current Miami office actually is in Doral, just west of the Miami International Airport, and is owned by the American Welding Society, which also has its headquarters in the building. Reid said the Rubio team has identified a new location in Miami but is not ready to move, nor announce the new location. However, he said the new location would continue to provide easy public access.

Nelson tours Jacksonville’s Anheuser-Busch brewery, criticizes Trump over tariffs” via Ryan Benk of WJCT — Citing a study by the business-friendly Tax Foundation, Nelson said the import taxes the Trump administration announced last month would get passed on to employees and consumers. “This extra tariff, or tax, on steel and aluminum is going to cost 9 billion extra dollars for consumers in this country, and in Florida alone, it’s going to be a half-billion dollars,” he said. “That itself is not a good thing, but what it portends also is starting a trade war.” Nelson said the sudden import taxes, and retaliation by China with tariffs on 128 U.S. products, remind him of a dark time in America. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which is part of the reason [for] going into the Depression in the 1930s. So, you always have to worry about that. Remember the Smoot-Hawley Tax,” he said.

Florida lawmaker (Vern Buchanan) who helped craft new tax law stands to gain” via Richard Lardner of The Associated Press — Already one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Vern Buchanan could become even wealthier after he and other Republicans muscled a sweeping rewrite of the U.S. tax code through Congress late last year that includes breaks for the real estate and automobile industries that generate most of his income. The potential windfall for Buchanan — worth at least $80 million and perhaps much more — echoes on a smaller scale how favorable the new tax law is to President Trump, whose fiery populism won him support from struggling American workers and families. While Trump and Republican allies have billed the tax law he signed as a victory for a stressed middle class; the $1.5 trillion package provides the most significant tax cuts for corporations and the most prosperous Americans. Not a single Democrat in the House and Senate voted for the legislation, which they’ve depicted as a payout to the GOP’s largest donors. Seeking to convince voters otherwise, Republicans have trumpeted announcements from companies that credit the overhaul as the reason their workers are getting bonuses and wage increases. But the biggest winners are those who are already doing well.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch will hold a town-hall meeting about preventing gun violence beginning 6:30 p.m. at Coral Springs City Hall, 9500 West Sample Road in Coral Springs.

— SALVADORAN STRUGGLE —

Putting a local face to a large-scale issue makes it feel closer to home.

recent story by the Tallahassee Democrat’s Nada Hassanein goes just outside the capital city to Quincy to illustrate the impact a federal plan to end Temporary Protected Status could have on certain immigrants only miles away from the state’s Capitol.

Quincy resident Gladis de la Cruz fled to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1990 during the Salvadoran Civil War and had been protected under TPS since 2001. Hassanein writes that Cruz may have to return to El Salvador, where “ruthless gangs” that killed her father and uncle remain intact. “They’re the reason she left. They’re the reason she never wants to return. But she may have to.”

Deadline: The Trump administration ended TPS for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans because it alleges the countries have “improved conditions.” Salvadorans, the largest group protected by TPS, have until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave, or risk deportation.

Violence in peacetime: While no formal natural catastrophe or war plagues El Salvador “the chaos caused by nature was replaced by gang-related violence.”

Clearance at the Capitol: Ronal Vasquez, another Salvadoran who has worked on construction projects at the state Capitol, said he will have to return to Mexico or El Salvador, where “you have two options: Either you become a gang member, or you become a person who is against gang members — and then your life is always in danger,” Vasquez said.

— OPINIONS —

Don’t be too quick to call race for governor” via Shevrin Jones for the Orlando Sentinel — Right now, the race for governor is wide-open. Voters are just learning about the candidates — and the more they learn about Andrew Gillum, the more they’re excited by his progressive vision. Florida’s Democrats are hungry for authentic progressives this year. They’re ready to vote for a leader who is fighting for higher wages for working families, expanding quality, affordable health care for all, defending our environment, protecting the rights of every Floridian, and taking meaningful action on gun safety. That’s why Gillum has emerged as the real progressive in the race for governor, and why the media has called him the “Democrat catching fire” who is “speaking from that true progressive playbook.” This year, Democrats know more than ever who’s really in their corner. They know it’s not someone who proudly declared she was a “very conservative Democrat” and they know it isn’t someone who said she was the only Democrat who could win statewide. I’m proud to stand with Andrew Gillum, and I deeply respect the other candidates in this primary. It has been a long time since we saw a field of gubernatorial candidates this diverse in their thinking, their backgrounds and their approaches.

Save rural Florida. Here’s how to do it.” via Rick Dantzler for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — How would we do it? By charging a Cabinet-level elected official — the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture — with preserving as much of what remains of rural Florida as possible. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs would be reorganized to become just the Florida Department of Agriculture, and it would have just one mission: to save what remains of rural Florida. Every single day the Commissioner of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture personnel would wake up with one thing in mind: to keep open land arable and free from development … anything that affects the preservation of agricultural land and undeveloped spaces should go through the Commissioner of Agriculture. Regulating, policing and supporting farmers and ranchers would remain since the health of agriculturalists is key to preserving open spaces. After all, no matter how much land is purchased for conservation, most land will remain in private hands, and the support of these property owners is key to limiting urban sprawl. Someone needs to become the state’s primary advocate for sufficient conservation funding, protection of farm and ranch land, and smart growth. I’ve suggested that it be the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture because most of our undeveloped land is agricultural in nature and landowners trust the Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Ranging from dissecting a fiery Trump tweet about DACA to examining what can be done to help endangered species in Florida, there’s a lot to unpack in the latest episode of The Rotunda.

But for some, the most ear-catching moment of Trimmel Gomes’ wide-ranging podcast this week is a part about a private-sector backed, solar-energy utopia sprouting north of Fort Myers: Babcock Ranch.

Alongside developer Syd Kitson, whose company Kitson & Partners is completing Babcock Ranch with Florida Power & Light, Gomes gives listeners a glimpse of the future.

It’s in the name: “I think the state of Florida really over the past several years realized that it’s the ‘Sunshine State’ and that [solar energy] is a great opportunity for a renewable energy source,” Kitson says in the interview, explaining what led him to build “the most sustainable new town in the country.”

The numbers: According to Kitson, Babcock Ranch will have just under 20,000 homes and 6 million square feet of retail space. FPL has built a solar facility capable of powering the town and what Kitson claims is the world’s largest solar-to-battery storage unit. Ninety-percent of the initial purchase is dedicated to preservation, and 250 families are expected to move into the community this year. Home prices range from the high $100s to $1 million to attract multiple generations.

More context: Gomes brings up Trump-imposed tariffs on solar panels as a possible deterrent to solar in the state, but Kitson says that private utilities should be capable of keeping costs low. In Babcock Ranch, homeowners will pay rates equivalent to FPL customers elsewhere, “the only difference is that … [when Babcock Ranch owners] turn on a light switch in their home, it’s solar energy.”

— MOVEMENTS —

Marc Dunbar to join Citizens Insurance board” via Florida Politics — Dunbar, the Tallahassee-based lawyer and gaming lobbyist, will become the next member of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s board of governors. Dunbar, a partner in the Jones Walker firm’s Government Relations Practice Group, interviewed in February with CFO Jimmy Patronis for a vacancy on the state-run insurance concern’s board of governors. Citizens is the state’s insurer of last resort. Dunbar, who described himself as “an outsider with no insurance ties,” has said he was “honored to be considered.” He replaces Don Glisson Jr., an insurance executive who stepped down last August.

Scott Shalley joins VISIT FLORIDA board” via Florida Politics — Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, has been selected to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors effective immediately, the group announced Monday. “I’m honored to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, and I want to thank Chair Maryann Frenec and the rest of the board members for this opportunity,” Shalley said in a statement. “Retail and tourism go hand-in-hand, and having Florida continue to set records for the number of tourists, almost all of whom leave our state with more than what they came with, is great news for our members and our industry as a whole.”

Personnel note: Megan Fay joins Capital City Consulting” via Florida Politics — Fay, who until recently was Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Scott, is heading to Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting, the firm announced Tuesday. Fay will come on board in mid-April, said Nick Iarossi, a founding partner of the firm. “Megan’s policy knowledge and political instincts impressed us for years,” Iarossi said in a statement. “We are happy she can apply those skills to help our clients in Tallahassee. She will be a valuable addition to our expanding team.” As deputy chief of staff, Fay oversaw key state agencies, such as the departments of Education, Lottery, VISIT FLORIDA, and Business and Professional Regulation, as well as the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and CareerSource Florida.

Cesar Fernandez to join Uber’s Latin America public policy team” via Florida Politics — “It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with public stakeholders all over Florida on embracing ride-sharing,” said Fernandez. “I’m excited to shift my focus to advocating for safe and reliable mobility solutions in Central America and the Caribbean.” Fernandez’ new job will be focused on government relations in several countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Uber currently operates in Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Puerto Rico. The new position will keep him in the Sunshine State at the ride-hailing company’s offices in Miami.

Jonathan L. Williams to Lash & Goldberg — The firm added Williams, a former Deputy Solicitor General, as a “senior counsel” in Tallahassee. His practice includes state and federal administrative and constitutional law, product liability, health law, environmental, tax, gaming, and consumer protection. He helped represent Florida before the U.S. Supreme Court in a long-running dispute with Georgia over a multistate river system. “Jonathan’s addition to the firm highlights Lash & Goldberg’s commitment to expanding the depth and experience of our team to better serve our clients,” said Alan D. Lash, founding partner at Lash & Goldberg. “His exceptional and diverse legal skills will be a tremendous asset to our firm.” Williams got his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Duke University.

Spotted in POLITICO Magazine — “(BrianBallard is a veteran Florida lobbyist who’s been in Washington for barely a year — the blink of an eye in an industry in which many of the top practitioners have spent decades inside the Beltway. But Ballard is closer to the president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town. He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else on K Street … Ballard’s relationship with Trump has helped him solve a lucrative puzzle that has frustrated more established players … He’s a Trump-friendly out-of-towner who can connect with the establishment — he is a close ally of Senator Marco Rubio as well as Charlie Crist, the former centrist Republican governor of Florida who is now a Democratic congressman — and make corporate clients comfortable.”

— ALOE —

Ecologists hopeful after strong year for Everglades wading birds” via Greg Stanley of the Naples Daily News — Many of the birds produced some of their healthiest nests in a decade, fledging tens of thousands of chicks, according to South Florida Water Management District’s annual wading bird report out this month. It remains to be seen how lasting the uptick will be. And while the birds did well in the refuge of Everglades National Park and in a handful of water conservation areas immediately north of it, they still struggled in their ancient breeding grounds, in the disappearing shallow wetlands near the Big Corkscrew Swamp and coasts of southern Florida, according to the report. It’s important not to read too much into one-year population jumps or drops, said Mark Cook, the water district’s lead scientist, who helped put together the report. But last year’s numbers compared to 10- and 20-year averages are a sign for hope, Cook said.

Welcome to the worldJohn Hansen, the fifth addition to Riley and Nick Hansen‘s family. Mom and baby are doing great, says Dad.

Northeast Florida lawmakers look back on ‘productive Legislative Session’

With the Legislative Session in the rear view mirror, Northeast Florida legislators are looking back at the 60 days with a sense of accomplishment, tempered in some cases with a sense that there are more battles to fight and win.

While the $12.5 million of state money for the Talleyrand Connector was the biggest win, every legislator Florida Politics talked to mentioned other wins as well.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who took the helm of the Senate’s budgeting process, notes that his biggest accomplishment was “producing a budget that everyone can be proud of in a session that presented unique challenges.”

As Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean notes, 2018 was especially productive for the region: “One of the most productive sessions I have been involved with for Northeast Florida.”

“First, getting recurring revitalizing money for the St. John’s River watershed has been a priority of the First Coast Legislative Delegation for four years,” Bean asserts. “This year, Senator Bradley made that happen with over $50 million for springs and the St. Johns. With our beaches still tender from Matthew and Irma, $50 million in beach renourishment projects with the bulk going to the First Coast is a huge win for NE Florida.”

But there was more for the region, Bean adds.

“University of North Florida finally got some operating capital in the budget this year to the tune of $4 million. Many others including COPS (continuing to keep 15 officers on the streets in Duval County), Mayport Waterfront revitalization, the Talleyrand Connector, Jacksonville School for Autism, the YMCA, the St. Vincent’s Saving Lives Project were just a few of the feathers in Northeast Florida’s Legislative Caps,” Bean said, adding that “Duval County and the entire First Coast Delegation worked well as a team.”

Bean addressed personal accomplishments as well.

“I was honored to sponsor and help pass 12 bills including the Pregnancy Center Support Network Act, putting into statute a pro-life program that has helped hundreds of thousands of girls, women and families that sometime have nowhere else to turn. Also, the Pro Bono Attorney Act – encouraging lawyers to be a pro bono attorney for children in our welfare system. And the Excess Credit Hours Act – bringing some relief to college students who go over 110% of the required credits for their degree and find the tuition doubled!”

But there’s still work to be done, Sen. Bean contends: “We will be back next year on Telemedicine and the DNA Privacy Bill – keeping private your DNA tests that you thought was private all along,” Bean said, noting that “companies sell your test results.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Democrat poised to lead her caucus next Legislative Session, offered a look at the realities of pushing legislation when the numbers work against your party.

As an observer in this process, I know you realize that for Democrats all accomplishments are big and of course there are disappointments,” Gibson noted, spotlighting the vagaries of the appropriations process.

“I am happy to have been able to give first time students scholarships at Edward Waters College, while disappointed that the budget amendment I did for FSCJ’s STEM building disappeared. Wayman got additional funding bringing their total to $300,000 in two sessions,” Gibson asserted.

“I sat on and voted on a committee that killed gun bills that could hurt people. I was honored to Chair the Military & Veterans Affairs Space and Domestic Security shepherding bills through that helped veterans and families, the Keyes and affordable housing and lobbied successfully for the Veterans Affairs budget priorities,” Gibson noted, adding that “Mary Brogan Cervical & Breast Cancer Center now has a recurring appropriation helping women across the state.”

“A family seeking justice has received it for the bullying death of their son. Five Star Veterans Center received their first state funds even though the House Chair sought to punish one of our delegation members. Less than I wanted but not zero. Constituents got issues addressed in the district. The Lupus disease is now part of the closing the gap grant program. I helped craft sexual harassment policy. I passed the HBCU endowment program-sad the House wouldn’t let it come through,” Gibson added.

“There will be no racial profiling or young people with suspended drivers licenses because they didn’t tell their parents about a txting citation because they really weren’t txting this because the Approps chairman listened to my questions and debate(and you can ask him),” Gibson said, referring to Bradley’s principled — and misunderstood in some quarters — stance against the bill that would have made texting while driving a primary offense.

“I am disappointed my Elder Abuse Task Force and Diabetes Educator bills got stuck again this year since one addresses making recommendations to the Governor & Legislature for departments to when a senior dies as a result of abuse and the other helps save lives and medical costs. But go figure, it’s life in an unbalanced Legislature which I am on a mission to change!  I am so honored to serve and am on the battlefield in and out of Session because Session is not the only measure of success. Look for sidewalks coming soon on New Kings Rd!”

Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, scored an important victory for Jacksonville pedestrians.

“Securing $631,072 in the budget for installation of 1,924 crosswalk countdown heads at 292 intersections in Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.

Jacksonville has the highest rate of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities among the 50 most populous cities in the United States, Yarborough notes, adding that the countdown heads will hopefully decrease fatalities by 25 percent.

Sen. Gibson, who carried the bill on the Senate side, asserted that “countdown crosswalk signalization will help save lives.”

Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, noted that “Edward Waters College is a priority for me and securing requested funding is extremely important. Last session, we secured $1,000,000 dollars for the Criminal Justice Institute. This session, $356,000 were awarded for College Promise, a tuition free program to encourage students to attend and graduate from EWC.”

And Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican, spotlighted his bills also.

As an engineer, my biggest accomplishment this year was using expertise to bring back more money for roads, bridges, and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) projects for our region to help alleviate traffic and get people to work safely. On top of transportation projects like one in the district on San Jose from Julington Creek Rd to Mandarin Rd, I was able to secure funding for the Jacksonville School for Autism and the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school,” Fischer noted.

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