Takeaways from Tallahassee — Richard Corcoran’s ‘sea of troubles’

corcoran, richard - ap day

Richard Corcoran says he loves Gov. Rick Scott “to death,” but is getting weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s taken from him over the last couple of months.  

It’s the continuing battle over VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, which the House speaker still believes needs to be reined in and starved of money.

His proposed spending plan reduces the state portion of its budget to $25 million for next year. Scott wants $100 million.

“I’ve been told I hate beaches, I hate visitors, I hate hotels, I hate tourists, because I’m not adequately funding VISIT FLORIDA,” he told reporters this week, smiling.

“I think the Governor ought to go through (its expenses), like we have, and (you should) ask him, ‘Was Pitbull a good expenditure?’ And if it wasn’t, let’s take it off the ledger,” he said.

Speaker Corcoran told reporters this week he loves the governor to death, but has grown weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s thrown at him over Visit Florida spending this year

Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“OK, so there’s a million off the ledger from last year,” Corcoran said. Next, he questioned whether another promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million was worthy.

“And if it wasn’t, let’s take that $12 million off. And then you get to a number that at least everyone can recognize and say was a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

As to the budget negotiations overall with the Senate, “I still hold out that it’s going to go well.” So keep hope alive for a Cinco de Mayo Sine Die.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

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

Shame, shame, shame — Sen. Frank Artiles found himself in hot water this week and then resigned after he used a racial slur during a private after-hours conversation with Sens. Perry Thurston and Audrey Gibson Monday night. The Miami-area Republican took to the floor to issue a three-minute formal apology at the direction of Senate President Joe Negron, who stripped him of his committee chairmanship. Several groups called on Artiles to resign, and Thurston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, filed a complaint to remove Artiles from the Senate, now moot. But Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto found the complaint had merit, and appointed Dawn Roberts, the chamber’s top lawyer, to investigate it. What she found we’ll never know; it’s “work product” and not public.

Über victory — It took four years, but a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft is heading to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration. The Senate voted 36-1 (only Jack Latvala opposed it) this week to approve the measure, two weeks after the House voted unanimously to support the bill. The proposal — which was backed by Uber and Lyft — creates minimum insurance standards, requires third-party background checks, and preempts local governments from regulating transportation network companies. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs.

Team Uber celebrates after the vote.

Water love — A plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb discharges gained a big-name backer this week. While Gov. Scott said he supported Senate President Negron’s proposal to build a reservoir on up to 31,000 acres of state land, he stopped short of saying whether he supported the current version of the bill. Scott also he wanted lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget to help the federal government finish strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022. On Wednesday, Scott met with President Donald Trump and said the president committed his administration would help provide the resources to fix the dike. “President Trump is clearly focused on protecting Florida’s environment and investing in our infrastructure,” said Scott in a statement. “I want to thank him for partnering with us to solve the water issues around Lake Okeechobee by fixing the dike.”

Not giving up — Speaking of the governor, the Naples Republican isn’t giving up hope that the Florida Legislature will pour money into Visit Florida. The governor held a press conference this week to call on state lawmakers to bump up spending funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency to $100 million for 2017-18. The governor’s call for more cash for came for a week after the federal government said it would send the state $1.5 billion for hospitals. But Scott’s request may fall on deaf ears, since the House and Senate have already passed their respective budgets that spend significantly less on Visit Florida. The Senate proposal sets aside $76 million, while the House wants to spend just $25 million on tourism marketing.

Show me the money — This late in session, it’s time to ask House and Senate budget subcommittee chairs: Do you know where your allocation is? That’s the pot of money each subcommittee gets to spend in conference committee. And they hadn’t been settled on going into the weekend. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded time was growing short: “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” he said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.” House budget chief Carlos Trujillo agreed. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” he told reporters. The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die (on) May 5.”

The Florida National Guard has been called in to assist with evacuations, emergency management and firefighting in Collier County.

Gov. Scott announced this week he had deployed the Florida National Guard after a briefing with local fire officials, law enforcement, the Florida Forestry Service, and local emergency management officials. The governor also directed the Florida National Guard to deploy five Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the fires.

Collier officials evacuated more than 2,000 homes, as brush fires consumed more than 3,100 acres of land as of Friday afternoon.

“These wildfires are dangerous and if you’re within the evacuation area, do not stay in your home. Be sure to follow the evacuation orders from local officials,” said Scott in a statement. “If you know of any individuals within the evacuation zone, please reach out to them and make sure they are safe. It is important for everyone in Collier County to remain alert to local news and law enforcement announcements.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, there were 104 total Florida Forest Service active wildfires as of Friday morning. That number included the two new fires in Collier County, and the Cowbell fire, a nearly 22,000-acre fire in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“The State of Florida will devote all necessary and available resources to fight these fires and keep communities in Collier County safe,” said Scott. “We are praying for the safety of all the brave men and women fighting these dangerous fires and will provide further updates as the situation progresses.”

Floor debate on a bill to establish a memory disorder clinic grew deeply personal for House members, including co-sponsor Scott Plakon.

His wife, Susie Plakon, well known inside the Capitol, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014.

“I can tell you, members, I had no idea of the impact that this disease has. It was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped into the middle of our family — affecting not only our immediate family, but extended family and friends,” Plakon told the House.

Treatment involves a bewildering array of specialists. Centers like the one planned offer “one-stop shopping” with a single “quarterback coordinating care,” he said.

The state had better prepare, Plakon warned — 520,000 Floridians suffer from Alzheimer’s, and the number will increase by more than 200,000 by 2025.

“There was a recent news article that referred to this as a tsunami coming to our country. The question is, here in Florida, as policymakers, are we going to be prepared when it hits our shore.”

Debate over a bill reducing registration fees for boats equipped with position-locating devices grew personal, too. A similar device save the lives of Rep. Colleen Burton’s son, Tim, and a friend on a duck-hunting expedition.

She’s mounted the device on a plaque in her office, Burton told House members.

“It’s rare that we see a bill come across our desk that has personal impact,” she said.

“This is something we truly can do that does save lives. Take it from me — it saved the life of someone I hold very dear.”

Burton had some advice:

“I recommend that each and every one of you who owns a boat, who has boaters in your family, who knows a boater, who hikes, who does anything where you might be somewhere where somebody needs to come find you, put an EPIRB” — or emergency position-indicating radio beacon — “on your big boats or buy a personal locator beacon.”

This was the week Speaker Corcoran was determined to end debate during the question-and-answer period — and it involved peanut butter.

With three days on the floor scheduled this week, Corcoran decided to give members a lesson in what was — and wasn’t — a question. But rather than pulling out the dictionary, the Land O’Lakes Republican decided to have some fun from the rostrum, giving a twisty-turny example of what he said should not be considered a question.

“A question is not: There’s two types of peanut better. There’s Jiff and there’s Peter Pan. Peter Pan, as we all know, has molasses in it, so it tastes better,” he began, after informing members Tuesday that they had more than 70 bills on the Special Order calendar.

Speaker Cocoran tried to put an end to debate disguised as questions this week, telling members if a question takes more than 5 seconds to ask then “you’re probably in debate.”

“It doesn’t mean Jiff’s bad, but for me, growing up, I ate a lot of Peter Pan and it helped me, really, with a lot of things in my life,” he continued, chuckling. “I’m not saying Jiff is bad, but I’m concerned that we have Jiff and Peter Pan in the budget. Why is Peter Pan — which has the molasses, which we all know is good for you and which we all know is a value to many societies and has done a lot for kid. My question, I guess, is why is there more money for Peter Pan, not for Jiff?”

Corcoran encouraged members to stick to this rule of thumb: If a question is “more than five seconds, you’re probably in debate.”

After explaining the difference, Corcoran handed the gavel over to Rep. Jeanette Nunez to conduct the day’s business. Nunez quickly dispensed of the first bill, which did elicit one question.

“Jiff or Peter Pan,” asked Rep. Jared Moskowitz.

The question didn’t get a response — and members didn’t get get through the Special Order calendar Tuesday, having to take up many items on Wednesday before voting on them later in the week.

A proposal to change the way nursing homes are paid could be bad news, according to some nursing home officials.

Nursing home officials said this week that 39 of the 69 nursing homes in Pinellas County could lose money under a prospective payment system outlined in the proposed Senate budget. Officials estimate Pinellas homes could lose more than $13 million under the plan.

“I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System, in a statement.

Corriveau said his facility would lose $1.7 million under the current Senate proposal. Menorah Manor officials said it would lose nearly $1 million; while Mease Manor officials said the facility could lose $250,000 a year.

The state currently operates on a cost-based system to pay nursing homes. Under the proposed prospective payment system, a formula-based daily-rate is established, which is then used by all providers.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, said while it doesn’t oppose the prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out details of a plan that works for everyone.

Welcome to the board, Steven Wellins!

Gov. Scott announced this week that he had appointed Wellins to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Wellins, a 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, is the senior vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors. He received his bachelors’ of business administration from the University of Miami and a masters’ degree in economics from Florida State University. He fills a vacant seat and serves a term ending June 29, 2017.

Call it a big win for the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill setting aside $20 million a year for projects dedicated to the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, authorizes the money be used for land management and acquisition, and increasing recreational opportunities associated with and improving access to the river and the region.

A lifelong Clay County resident, Sen. Bradley said he was proud the Senate recognized the value of the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes.

“The St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes define the character of the northeast region of our state,” said Bradley, a lifelong resident of Clay County. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, these natural resources attract visitors from across the state and nation. I am proud that the Florida Senate recognizes the value of these resources to those of us who reside in northeast Florida and the state.”

The bill now heads to the House.

The black bear has a friend in Sen. Linda Stewart.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted 4-1 this week to approve a bill (SB 1304) that forbids people from hunting lactating mother bears.

“This is a great success for everybody who has been championing the preservation of Florida’s only native bear species,” said Stewart, the bill’s sponsor. “I am committed to continuing the progress we’ve made on this issue.”

The proposal also outlaws the harvest of saw-palmetto berries on public lands identified by wildlife officials as a Florida black bear habitat. It also prevents controlled burns from happening on lands identified as habitats during February, when denning occurs.

“At a time when Florida’s native black bears are facing increased pressure on their habitat (and) food sources, it is our obligation to ensure the preservation of this iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods,” she said.

A similar bill (HB 491) in the House, sponsored by Rep. Amy Mercado, has not yet received a hearing.

It was a good week to be a Florida black bear.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week they won’t hold another bear hunt until at least 2019. The commission voted 7-0 to direct staff to revamp the bear management plan and report back in two years. A motion to hold a bear hunt this year was voted down 4-3.

“We have a long-standing, proactive approach to bear management and will continue to build on that existing foundation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski, in a statement.We will continue implementing our comprehensive approach to bear management.”

In 2015, hunters killed 304 bears in the state’s first hunt in more than 20 years. The hunt was supposed to take place over a week but ended after two days when. Wildlife officials said there are about 4,050 black bears across the state, a 53 percent increase over 15 years.

“We are thankful that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did the right thing today by voting against a 2017 trophy hunt of Florida’s unique and rare black bears,” said Kate MacFall, the Florida State director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “Floridians are strongly opposed to hunting our bears, and want to see them protected – not gunned down for trophies.”

The state is continuing its efforts to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits, processing nearly 3,000 kits in nine months.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week the state has processed 2,963 kits in nine months, producing 681 matches in the combined DNA index system. The state is on pace to meet its goal of testing all 8,600 unprocessed kits by June 2019.

“The trauma of sexual assault can haunt a victim their entire life, especially if the predator is never caught,” said Bondi. “Testing these kits has produced hundreds of matches in DNA databases that can be used by law enforcement to track down suspects and hopefully solve crimes.”

Bondi’s announcement coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Shoes were on display at the Capitol this week, urging Floridians to “Walk In My Shoes.”

Hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the display featured about 1,000 shoes worn, decorated and submitted by sexual assault survivors from across the state. The shoes, which were accompanied by survivors’ stories, commemorated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We’ve got shoes and stories from young children, grandparents, and people from all walks of life in between,” said Sen. Lauren Book, one of the display’s supporters and the founder of Lauren’s Kids. ““We’ve even got shoes submitted by family members of survivors who ended their lives due to drugs, eating disorders or suicide, unable to overcome the trauma of their assault. It doesn’t have to be that way. With education and awareness, we can prevent 95 percent of sexual abuse – and with guidance and support, we can help survivors heal.”

Sen. Book looks at the display in the Capitol Rotunda this week. (Photo via Lauren’s Kids)

Last year more than 10,000 victims reported sexual assault to service providers in Florida, with most choosing not to report their abuse to law enforcement. Experts have said the decision not to report stems from shame, guilt, embarrassment and the fact 90 percent of victims know their assailant.

If left unresolved, survivors of sexual abuse face lifelong consequences, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I wanted to open people’s eyes to the fact that sexual violence happens much more frequently than any of us care to recognize – and that it happens to men, women and children in all kinds of communities, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, who said she was inspired by the sexual assault program at the Nancy J. Cotterman Center in her district. “We need to educate, and to help shatter the stigma surrounding sexual assault so that victims can be connected with services and help become thriving survivors.”

Speaker Corcoran caused some head-scratching during a floor session this week when he gave a caution to members.

He reminded them of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

Huh?

At a media availability later in the day, Corcoran was asked: Why the warning?

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said, “but over the last five of six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it).

“…Some of them, it was positive; someone was doing a video or pictures during the reading of the Dozier memorial,” Corcoran said, referring to the state’s apology to survivors of abuse at the now-defunct boys’ reform school in Marianna.

“But until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate,” he added.

“It wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats, but that can spiral out of hand quickly and then you can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Proceedings of the House, however, are broadcast by The Florida Channel and other outlets, and news photographers are regularly permitted on the floor to take pictures of members during debate.

To be sure, the House has been mindful of propriety lately.

Last month, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the T-shirts off or turn them inside out. The reason: They violated House decorum.

Florida is tweaking its rules when it comes to the bald eagle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week it is updating its bald eagle management efforts and conservation actions. Staff recommended eliminating the redundancy of obtaining both state and federal permits for activities with the potential to disturb bald eagles or their nests. Under those recommendations, a state permit will not be needed as conservation will be ensured by the recently established federal permitting process.

The state’s bald eagle plan got a facelift this week. (Photo via FWC)

“The FWC remains committed to the conservation of this magnificent bird,” said Brad Gruver, leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section. “We will continue our efforts to educate the public about bald eagles, provide law enforcement protections and monitor the status of the eagle population to ensure it remains stable or increasing.”

The bald eagle was removed from the state listing in 2008, and since then the number of nests has increased. Gruver said Florida has more “nesting eagles than any other state except Alaska and Minnesota.”

Give Sen. Anitere Flores a round of applause next time you see her.

The Florida Credit Union Association presented the Miami Republican with its 2016 Lawmaker of the Year Award during a reception last month in Tallahassee. Flores was honored for her longtime support of credit union initiatives.

“Senator Flores has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, the president and CEO of the LSCU. “She is supportive of current efforts to pass public deposits legislation and is always accessible and helpful to credit unions and the LSCU. Sen. Flores understands the critical role that credit unions play in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

In 2016, Flores backed legislation aimed at protecting consumer data at gas pumps.

When it comes to thinking green, Florida is No. 16.

According to WalletHub, Florida is the 16th greenest state in the nation. The rankings — determined based on a 20 metrics that look at everything from the total municipal solid waste per capita to the carbon-dioxide emissions per capita — come as the nation prepares to celebrate Earth Day.

The Sunshine State came in 10th in air quality, 18th for soil quality, and 25th for water quality. Florida, according to the rankings, was ranked 10th in the percentage of recycled municipal solid waste.

Florida has the fifth highest energy consumption per capita, but was ranked 29th in the percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources.

That ranking could be on the rise in the coming years, though. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes that would implement the $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes that were approved by Florida voters through Amendment 4 in August. The House Commerce Committee also unanimously approved its version of the bill this week.

The Sunshine State is looking for ways to add more sun power.

The Florida Alliance for Accelerating Solar and Storage Technology Readiness has been awarded a $1.75 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot initiative to increase the growth of solar energy by developing new way to use it in combination with energy storage and other resources.

The alliance — which is made up of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, Nhu Energy and the Florida Energy Office — will lead a three-year protect that includes detailed solar energy and power system studies and analysis, and development of strategies that will expand solar, energy storage and other distributed energy resources.

“Solar will be an important part of our energy portfolio going forward and we’re excited to be a part of a project that will aid in the successful expansion of solar energy in Florida. And, we’re hopeful that what we learn over the course of the next three years can guide other states and communities in their efforts to harness the power of the sun,” said Amy Zubaly, the interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, in a statement. “Taking part in this project provides FMEA and Florida’s municipal utilities with a unique opportunity to build on an exceptional history of customer service, leadership and innovation that will help shape Florida’s energy future.”

Rep. Loranne Ausley is being hailed as “pro-growth progressive.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was one of 14 leaders selected to join the NewDEAL, a national network of state and local leaders working to enact pro-growth progressive solutions in a diverse array of communities.

“More than ever, we need to support outstanding state and local leaders who have innovative ideas that address the most important issues facing Americans in our new economy,” said Sen. Mark Warner and former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the honorary co-chairs of NewDEAL, in a joint statement. “We are committed to highlighting their work, while giving them the chance to learn from each other and replicate solutions that make government work better.”

Rep. Ausley is one of more than a dozen leaders selected to join the national organization, NewDEAL officials announced this week. (Photo via the Florida House)

The group aims to bring together leaders focused on expanding opportunities by develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly-earned and sustainable. According to the organization, NewDEAL leaders have found broad support for their work, with 98 percent winning their elections last November.

Ausley served on the board of NewDEAL from 2012 through 2016.

“NewDEAL’s impressive national network includes a cross-section of public servants dedicated to expanding opportunity for everyone in the new economy, while making government work more effectively,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to discover policies and share best practices with my colleagues in state and local government from across the country.”

Florida is an economic power house, at least according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to the organization’s annual report, the Sunshine State is ranked 6th in the nation in economic outlook. That’s an improvement from last year, when the group ranked from 8th in the nation.

“State governments are constantly competing for Americans and jobs, and in this fast-moving environment, standing still is enough to get left behind,” said Jonathan Williams, the chief economist and vice president of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. “States that have adopted pro-growth policies have enjoyed robust economic expansion, with greater wage growth and more opportunities for citizens. The facts remain clear that pro-growth policies are working and there is a clear trend in favor of market-oriented reforms.”

According to the report, Utah has the best economic outlook in 2017, followed by Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee. The worst state in the nation is New York.

Give David Melnick a high five next time you see him.

The food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary School in Pinellas County was named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Every single day he goes above and beyond for the students of Lake St. George Elementary School, and he is a great example of the tremendous impact that school support staff have on the entire community,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons and Commissioner Pam Stewart present David Melkin with his 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year award.

Melnick, school officials said, has changed the culture at the Pinellas County school with his leadership and concern for students. He works tirelessly to contribute to the health, well-being and overall education of the students.

“At Lake St. George Elementary, he established a Food Patrol Program which engages students in learning outside of the classroom while reinforcing healthy habits and responsibility,” said Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego. “We are fortunate to have him as a Pinellas County Schools employee and congratulate him on being named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year.”

Come on, get healthy!

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that 50 more Florida schools earned HealthierUS School Challenge designation during March, bringing the total number of HealthierUS School Challenge schools to 280.

The challenge is a joint effort of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The voluntary initiative recognizes schools’ efforts to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education and promote physical activity.

“Nutritious meals are the key to academic success, and I applaud these schools for providing students with the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle,” said Putnam.

Florida is continuing its fight on drugs.

The Florida House unanimously approved a bill (HB 477) this week that puts fentanyl and other synthetic drugs at the same level with heroin in the state’s drug trafficking statute.

“Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than morphine that is being cut with other drugs and sold as heroin,” said Attorney General Bondi in a statement. “Taking Fentanyl just one time can kill–and that is why I want to thank each member of the Florida House for voting to give prosecutors the tools to seek stronger sentences against traffickers selling Fentanyl and other deadly drugs in our state. We must continue to work together, and this legislation will help our continued efforts to combat this deadly crisis.”

Under the House proposal, possession of 10 grams or more of certain synthetic drugs is a felony. The bill also includes first-degree murder charges for drug dealers in cases where the buyer dies from an overdose.

Rep. Jim Boyd, show in this Jan. 2016 photo, said the House wanted to send a “clear message to drug dealers in Florida.” (Photo via the Florida House)

“We want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida, and that is that the Florida House is standing strong and we will not tolerate the way you prey on the weak,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, the bill’s primary sponsor.

The House earlier this session passed a bill to fight opioid addiction by placing new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers. The Legislature is also considering proposals that create a certification program for sober homes.

Looking for some new windows? Gov. Scott might have a suggestion for you.

Scott attended the groundbreaking of NewSouth Window Solutions new manufacturing and distribution facility in Tampa this week. The new 238,000 square-foot will allow the company to add 65 new jobs in Florida.

“It’s great to see that our commitment to economic development, cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations are helping small businesses create job opportunities for families,” said Scott in a statement. “We have worked hard to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation and will continue to fight every day to grow our economy.”

The company is one of the leading providers of factory-direct home windows in Central Florida. CEO Dan Ochstein and President Earl Rahn opened the company’s first location in Tampa in 2010. The company now employs 165 people in Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. It plans to expand into Fort Lauderdale later this year.

“NewSouth Window is proud to call Florida home. I’d like to thank Governor Scott for his work to help businesses like mine grow and succeed in the state,” said Oschstein. “In just six years, we’ve gone from zero to 40 million and we look forward to expanding and creating even more job opportunities for Floridians.”

Steroid use among racing greyhounds is one step closer to being banned in the state of Florida.

The House voted 84-32 to approve a bill by Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Alex Miller that would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

Sponsored by Reps. Smith and Alex Miller, the bill would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” said Smith in a statement. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

Female racing greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to stop the dog from going into heat and prevent the loss of race days. The steroids can push greyhounds beyond their natural limits and can have a negative impact on the dogs heart function.

This was Smith’s first bill to pass the House.

Kudos, Connie Smith.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced this week that Smith will serve as the chairwoman of the Florida Education Foundation, the direct support organization of the Florida Department of Education. Smith succeeds Stacy Carlson, who served as board chair since 2015.

“I am confident Connie will be a valuable leader in the next era of the Foundation’s growth,” said Stewart in a statement. “As the Foundation has brought its direction into focus, the coming years will be vital to the development, as they are a valued partner to the Department of Education. I look forward to the work we can do together to continue Florida’s unparalleled progress in student achievement.”

Smith serves as the program manager for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital. The program distributes $75 million in capital to Community Development Financial Institutions that serve diverse small businesses. A 21-year veteran with Wells Fargo, Smith is active in her community. She’s the past chair of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida and a member of Class XXXIIII of Leadership Florida.

“I am honored that Commissioner Stewart appointed me to serve as chair of the Florida Education Foundation,” said Smith. “Serving on the board since 2013 has been a tremendous experience, and I look forward to our continued work investing in high achievement for every student in our state.”

Millennials now have a voice in the Legislature.

Several members of the Florida Legislature are banding together to create the Florida Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators 40 years old and under.

The group — started by Reps. Holly Raschein and Sean Shaw, and Sens. Book and Flores — join the Millennial Action Project’s national movement of young elected officials “breaking through partisan gridlock to reestablish political cooperation and create meaningful programs through government institutions,” according to a news release this week.

The group will formally launch the Florida Future Caucus at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is cheering a measure that would help combat fraud.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 671) that would give the DEO access to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ photo identification database. The proposal is meant to help the jobs agency fight fraud in the state’s reemployment assistance program.

“DEO is working every day to stop criminals from fraudulently stealing Reemployment Assistance benefits from Florida job seekers who need help getting back to work,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “Thanks to the leadership of Sen. (Kelli) Stargel and Rep. (Mike) LaRosa, and the support of the Florida Senate and House this session, DEO will have access to more tools that are critical to prevent and fight public benefits fraud.”

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his signature.

There’s new rules in Collier County when it comes to manatees.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a new rule this week that would add protections to some Collier County waterways where FWC data indicates the risk manatee and boat interactions are high. But the rule also reduces regulations in other waterways throughout the county where data indicates the risk to the beloved sea cow is low, according to the state wildlife agency.

FWC officials adopted new manatee protection zones in Collier County this week (Photo courtesy of FWC)

“We are committed to continuing strong conservation measures for manatees,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s section leader for Imperiled Species Management, in a statement. “These revisions to the Collier County rule are mostly tweaks that add protection or adjust protection levels consistent with review of newer data.”

The revised rule impacts less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways.

Allez cuisine!

Five student chefs will compete in the final “Fresh from Florida” Student Chef Cook-Off in Orlando this weekend, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The student chefs will compete for a chance to have their original recipes served in school cafeterias. Dishes will be scored on taste, appearance, creativity, school food service appropriateness, best and most use of local ingredients, and execution.

So what’s on the menu? According to the Department of Agriculture, Gianna Rivera from Bloomingdale High School will be making citrus chicken tacos with watermelon salad; Katelynn Denny from Franklin County Schools will be making Tex-Mex chicken and vegetable quinoa salad; Sheldon Riley from Fort Pierce Westwood High School will be making Southwestern chicken and orzo salad; and Wesley Hill from Eastside High School is making sautéed chicken with citrus bell pepper salsa.

Judges are Justin Timineri, the executive chef for the Department of Agriculture; Lakeisha Hood, the director of the agency’s Divison of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, and Leslie Bell, the food services director for Santa Rosa County Schools.

The season is set.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week approved the 2017 recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico state waters.

“We are once again able to provide and maintain fishing opportunities for Gulf recreational anglers and provide stakeholders with spring, summer and fall fishing options for this economically important species,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The 78-day season will be open Saturdays and Sundays starting May 6. On May 27, the season will be open continuously through July 9. After that it will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day.

“In contrast to federal fisheries management, which has resulted in limited-to-zero recreational red snapper fishing days in Florida’s federal waters, the FWC has done outstanding work balancing fishing access with sustainability,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing. “We are thankful for the Commission’s dedication to maintaining recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper in state waters.”

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is looking for a few good women.

Putnam announced this week his office is now accepting nominations for the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Since 1985, the award has recognized women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture. The 2016 recipient was Judi Whitson.

The application deadline in June 1. More information can be found on the Woman of the Year in Agriculture webpage.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



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