Takeaways from Tallahassee — The rise of Jose Oliva
A view of the Capitol and Dept. of Education buildings Wednesday morning, Oct. 11, 2017 in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Florida Legislature

From the “In Case You Missed It Department”: While you were focused on legislative committees this week, the House Republican Caucus quietly installed the next Speaker in a hotel basement.

Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, will lead the GOP-controlled chamber in 2018-20, following Richard Corcoran, assuming the Republicans hold a majority after the next election cycle. Republicans now hold 78 of the 120 seats.

In his day job, Oliva remains co-CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. after selling the company in 2016 to a European concern.

Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes with House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero “nominated Oliva Tuesday at a meeting of the House Republican caucus in the basement of the Hotel Duval,” the Miami Herald reported.

Oliva held his designation ceremony “away from the House chambers in the state Capitol — for the first time in decades,” at the boutique hotel “where Republicans frequently conduct caucus meetings.”

How come? “In my six years in the Legislature, I never thought what we need more of is ceremonies,” he told the paper.

Indeed, he hopes to reduce “some of the pomp” of the Legislature, Oliva added.

Given the difference in hair between the current and future speakers, we expect more pompadour, less pomp.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jim Rosica, Peter Schorsch, Michael Moline, Scott Powers and Andrew Wilson.

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

Irma hits state budget — Florida’s tax structure will produce only $52 million in gains on existing state spending during the coming fiscal year, and will leave lawmakers more than $1 billion in the hole during each of the two budget years after that. That doesn’t count what the state needs to spend to recover from Hurricane Irma. The news came as the Senate Appropriations Committee began sorting through the many demands on the government’s pocketbook. “It’s grim,” Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said.

Generator rule causes angst — Florida’s 683 licensed nursing homes and 3,109 assisted living facilities have just a few weeks to meet Gov. Rick Scott‘s new edict to install generators. But there are few generators available and most won’t make it, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services was told. Its first hearing dealt with nursing homes’ emergency plan safety in the wake of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills tragedy, in which 14 elderly residents appeared to have baked to death because the Hurricane Irma power outage pushed up indoor temperatures. Industry representatives said they support the concept, but argued nursing homes and assisted living facilities will struggle with costs and availability to meet the 60-day deadline for installation.

New fund raises concerns — Lawmakers asked lots of questions but didn’t get the answers they wanted as a Senate panel tried to get a handle on the state’s new $85 million jobs fund. The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) head Cissy Proctor on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, created this year. Proctor said her department already has received 179 proposals, which include 96 infrastructure projects from local governments and 83 workforce projects, worth a combined $642 million in requested funding. But Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, added that because demand exceeds supply, “it sets the stage for so many projects to get left behind.”

Baez goes on trial — The House’s ethics panel set a Dec. 4 hearing on a charge that Democratic Miami-Dade Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t live in the district she was elected to represent. The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee will conduct an evidentiary hearing “somewhat like a court trial,” said chair Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican, who will preside. The hearing will be the first time in modern memory that the House tried a member on a conduct violation related to residency. A scheduling order for the proceeding was released this week. The committee’s verdict will go to the full House of Representatives, two-thirds of which would have to vote to expel her.

Tourism agency gears up — VISIT FLORIDA said it’s redoubling efforts to show visitors across the world that Florida is open for business. The state’s tourism marketing agency will start the second phase of its post-Irma marketing campaign to ensure visitors see for themselves that the state’s destinations are ready to welcome back visitors. The second phase will consist of TV broadcast, print, transit and digital billboard ads that will be seen in Florida’s top markets of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Jimmy Patronis honors fallen firefighters

CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis honored Florida firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty during the annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial Ceremony at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala this week.

Patronis was joined by family members of the fallen and fire service personnel from across Florida to memorialize Joseph T. DeMarinis with the Clermont Fire Department and James F. Dorminy with the Reedy Creek Fire Department. Seven historical line of duty deaths were also recognized as part of the ceremony.

CFO Jimmy Patronis speaks at the annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial Ceremony at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. (Photo: CFO’s Office)

“Firefighters are deserving of our unending gratitude for laying their lives on the line each time they report to work,” Patronis said. “We honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to others and lost their lives far too soon. By adding their names to Florida’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial, they will forever be remembered as the heroes that they are.” 

In total, 193 names are represented on Florida’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial.

Florida officials on the ground in PR

Florida Department of Financial Services personnel including Major Karl Morgan with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations landed in San Juan this week to help out in the Puerto Rican recovery effort.

Employees from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement were on the plane as well, to pitch in following Hurricane Maria.

DFS Personnel head to Puerto Rico to help out coordinating law enforcement on the island.

Morgan joined up with an eight-member multiagency incident management team that is helping coordinate law enforcement personnel on the island.

The trip is part of CFO Jimmy Patronis’ pledge to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery efforts. More Florida resources remain on standby if the island needs them, his office said.

Exceptions to post-Irma insurance rate hike moratorium

As Hurricane Irma loomed, the Office of Insurance Regulation issued an emergency order blocking insurance companies from hiking premiums. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your rates won’t rise.

The order prevents carriers from applying the state’s “use and file” process to raise rates. In other words, boosting premiums subject to subsequent regulatory approval.

Any rate increases approved before the 90-day Irma moratorium would still take effect if the policy comes up for renewal, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told the Senate Committee on Banking & Insurance.

“For rate filings that we had previously approved, anywhere from a year to 15 months ago, they could potentially come online during that 90-day period of time,” Altmaier said.

Insurance adjusters wanted

Hurricane Irma had produced 703,601 insurance claims as of Oct. 6, worth nearly 4.6 trillion dollars. Finding enough warm bodies to adjust them might be a strain.

Florida is competing for qualified adjusters with Texas, where Hurricane Harvey produced catastrophic flooding, the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee learned.

Insurance adjusters are needed for Hurricane Irma relief.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., with 70 percent of its exposure in the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, contracted ahead of time with 770 adjusters, supplementing 250 in-house employees, according to President and CEO Barry Gilway.

But not all the contract adjusters showed up. “The long-term, professional adjusters were not in the state of Florida. They were in Texas,” Gilway said.

Consider, too, the competition from other Florida insurers.

The company responded by offering bonuses and putting 250 people through a three-day training program. “It became very much a supply and demand issue,” he said.

Direct primary care clears Senate committee

Legislation approving “direct primary care” agreements cleared the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on a unanimous vote.

SB 80 would allow patients to contract directly with doctors to receive basic medical care for a set monthly fee. The bill stresses that these arrangements would not constitute insurance, and therefore would not be subject to state regulation.

“The value proposition for the patient is that they have more immediate, predictable access to their physician for the primary care needs that they might have. For the physicians, the value proposition is that they don’t have to spend as much as 30 percent of their time and their staff’s time dealing with insurance companies,” sponsor Tom Lee said.

House Insurance & Banking committee chairman Danny Burgess has introduced similar legislation in the House, which has approved the concept for three years running.

Sen. Bill Galvano and Sen. Rob Bradley confer in the back of a Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Photo credit:Phil Sears.

Debbie Mayfield files “Good Samaritan” bill

People who take video and post it online of someone in “imminent danger” of grave physical harm, but do nothing to help, would face a third-degree felony under legislation filed this week.

The bill (SB 516), sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, is in response to a group of teens in Cocoa who on July 9 stood on the side of a pond, commenting and mocking while filming as a 31-year-old disabled man drowned.

Debbie Mayfield files a “good Samaritan” bill, punishing those who record videos of people needing help without offering aid.

Mayfield’s proposed “Good Samaritan” law would make it a first-degree misdemeanor for failing to provide assistance. The penalty would rise to a third-degree felony if a person who fails to offer assistance electronically records the incident and uploads the recording.

Mayfield said other states, such as Vermont and Minnesota, have similar laws.

Historically, there has been no common law “duty to rescue” another person in peril. Aside from “Good Samaritan” statutes, the law has, however, recognized situations where someone has a legal duty to help, such as in school-student or employer-employee relationships.

A pile-on for Aaron Bean

Sen. Bean and his family dutifully followed local government instructions to pile post-Irma debris in the front yard, against the curb but clear of the right of way. Sounds like a considerable pile — Bean said they’d lost “several large trees.”

Imagine his joy when his wife called to report that two guys had parked a big truck in front of the house. “They’re finally picking up our debris,” she told him.

“I said that’s great, honey,” Bean recounted during a committee hearing.

“She calls me back two minutes later and says, ‘They’re not picking up our debris. They’re dumping their trash,’ “ he said.

“A little lightheartedness at the Bean household,” he said.

Sen. Doug Broxson of Pensacola piped up. “We had Nate at my house, and it took two lawn chairs and several of the boards off my pier. In the spirit of equal time, I want you to know that we were impacted, too.”

Toward a gridless future

The Legislature has been looking into whether Florida’s utilities repaired the electric power grid quickly enough. What if the state could do without the grid entirely?

“This is long-term, but I think we’re eventually headed toward a gridless society,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth said recently.

“So continuing focusing on the grid is the right short-term thing to so. But long term, we’ve got to figure out as a state how we’re going to deal with sea-level rise, with storm surge, and with all of our infrastructure,” he added.

Clemens says he’d like to see state support for home and commercial solar conversions — perhaps via subsidies for inverters that allow solar arrays to seal themselves off from the grid. That would allow homeowners to power up during outages without feeding juice into the grid, risking electrocution of utility workers.

“The grid (is) going to be one of those things like taxicabs and hotels,” Clemens said. “There’s going to be disruption in the future as more and more people find generating their own power to be as efficient and as cheap.”

Bill would bring back elected Secretary of State

The Secretary of State would again be an elected Cabinet position under legislation for the 2018 Session.

Sen. Bean, the Fernandina Beach Republican, filed a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 506) that would undo a change approved by voters in 1998 that reduced the size of the Cabinet to three members.

As a result of the 1998 ballot measure, the positions of secretary of state and education commissioner became appointed in 2002, and the Cabinet posts of comptroller and treasurer were eliminated.

A new Cabinet position, chief financial officer, was created, while the attorney general and agriculture commissioner remained.

To get on the 2018 ballot, Bean’s proposal would have to be approved by three-fifths of both legislative chambers and would ultimately need approval from 60 percent of voters.

“There’s Mommy”

Lobbyist Ron Book points to the front where his daughter, Sen. Lauren Book was attending a Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Lauren Book’s twins, Kennedy and Hudson, are now 7 1/2 months old. Photo credit: Phil Sears

David Richardson, Cynthia Stafford named to juvenile justice panel

Rep. Kionne McGhee, House Democratic Leader-Designate and Interim Chair of the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation, this week appointed Rep. Richardson and Rep. Stafford to a new panel to investigate abuses in Florida’s juvenile justice program.

The panel was inspired by a Miami Herald series, “Fight Club,” that investigated abuses in Florida’s juvenile justice and detention system.

“Richardson’s own investigative work on abuses in the prison system made headlines earlier this year, while Stafford is an attorney and Democratic Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, where she has fought for and won reforms to Florida’s criminal justice system,” a news release said.

Rep. David Richardson, an advocate of prison reform, was named to a new panel to investigate abuses in Florida’s juvenile justice program.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly said the series “failed to recognize the transformation of the juvenile justice system in recent years,” which she repeated to lawmakers this week.

“I will not deny or discredit or downplay some of the horrible incidents that have happened; we respond appropriately to those,” Daly told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. “If we need to change policies and procedures, we do so. But (the Herald series) is not representative of this system.”

Richardson, of Miami Beach, is a retired forensic auditor; Stafford, of Miami, is an attorney.

Jason Brodeur picks up leadership award

State Rep. Brodeur got some recognition this week from U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster and Healthy Families Florida, which named him the winner of the 2017 Daniel Webster Leadership Award.

“It is a privilege to accept the Daniel Webster Leadership Award from Healthy Families Florida,” the Sanford Republican said. “Through bolstering parenting skills, empowering families and creating avenues for additional education, Healthy Families helps families rise up from crisis to become self-sufficient and productive. It’s imperative we commit to programs that give families the skills, tools and resources they need to succeed.”

The parent coaching and child abuse prevention program was one of Webster’s priorities during his time as Speaker of the Florida House, and the award bearing the now-congressman’s name has been given out since 2009 to lawmakers, policymakers, law enforcement officials and community leaders who have demonstrated a passion for and commitment to effective child abuse prevention.

“It’s a distinct pleasure to welcome Representative Jason Brodeur to the roster of influential Floridians who see the value of Healthy Families and champion the success of the program through words and action. Thanks to his efforts, families can continue to get the resources and education they need to thrive,” Webster said.

Democratic lawmakers: Boost ACA enrollment

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Rep. Nick Duran, both Miami-Dade Democrats, this week said lawmakers need to step in and help their constituents get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The pair cited changes pushed through by the Trump Administration that make signing up for coverage more difficult including a truncated open enrollment period, which this year will run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

“Actions by the Trump Administration to sabotage the Affordable Care Act can only lead to rising costs and instability,” Rodriguez said. “We cannot stand by and let that happen, so we call on our colleagues to join us in helping promote enrollment to make sure Floridians have every opportunity to access health care.”

Duran directed Enroll America’s Florida branch before being elected, and was more pointed in attacking the Trump White House.

“These actions by the Trump administration are needlessly cruel and are aimed at undermining a law that has allowed more than 1.6 million Floridians to gain access to quality, affordable health insurance,” he said.

Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, chair of the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, speaks meeting Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

FRF backs Donald Trump tax plan

The Florida Retail Federation said this week that it supports the recent tax reform plan proposed by President Donald Trump but added that he and lawmakers need to set their sights on internet-only retailers

“FRF supports President Trump’s proposed tax plan which will both simplify the tax filing process and provide needed tax reform for Florida’s 270,000 retailers,” FRF CEO R. Scott Shalley said. “However, we ask the President and members of Congress to also include ‘Mainstreet Fairness’ into the plan by requiring Internet-only retailers to pay the required state and local sales taxes that their brick-and-mortar competitors have been doing for years.

The trade group, a branch of the National Retail Federation, mainly represents physical stores. When those brick and mortars make a sale online, they have to tack on sales tax if they have a location in the buyer’s state.

Amazon is the largest of those online-only retailers, and does charge sales tax in Florida due to having some warehouses in the state. Other companies without a presence — or “nexus” — can skirt collecting those tax dollars.

Shalley made clear his group isn’t looking for any new taxes, but “equal application of the law.” If that doesn’t happen, he warned brick and mortar stores will become an “endangered species.”

FRLA celebrates hurricane relief, industry stars

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association met in Orlando this week to decide on new board members, add a few names to its hall of fame and recognize top hotel and restaurant workers with awards.

Kevin Speidel, Vice President of Resort Operations for Hilton Grand Vacations was picked to chair FRLA’s board in 2018, which will consist of Alan Palmieri, Sheldon Suga, Jim Shirley, Olivia Hoblit, Cathie Koch and Don Fox.

The event also included a special tribute to the industry’s Hurricane Irma response, as well as a silent auction benefiting the Florida Disaster Fund.

Tallahassee’s Andrew Reiss, the founder of Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar and other restaurants, was named Restaurateur of the Year.

Andrew Reiss, the founder of Tallahassee’s Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar and other restaurants, was named Restaurateur of the Year.

Hotelier of the Year went to Don Seaton of Clearwater Beach; UnitedHealthcare was named Supplier of the Year, and Randy Spicer received the special honoree award for being a “friend to the industry.”

FRLA also recognized employees who had set themselves apart in 2017.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando manager Jonathan Miller was named Restaurant Manager of the Year; DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cocoa Beach Oceanfront line cook Kelita Williams took home the Restaurant Employee of the Year award; Jim McManemon was got the hotel manager award for his work at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island; and Evelyn Wilson, a guest services agent at Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach was named Hotel Employee of the Year.

Leon County opens emergency detour

In coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Leon County opened a new emergency detour route on Highway 20 West to serve the Fort Braden community.

The emergency route ensures that citizens and first responders will have quick and secure area access if severe weather or other disasters close that section of road.

Located between Joe Thomas Road West and Silver Lake Road, the emergency detour provides a more direct alternate route that is 15 miles shorter than the previous detour route.

“This detour ensures the safety of the citizens of Highway 20,” Leon County District 2 Commissioner Jimbo Jackson said. “This project will drastically shorten the distance motorists and emergency services have to travel in the event of a road closure or emergency. And will also serve as an alternate emergency evacuation route during natural disasters.”

Known as the Forest Road 301 project, the improvements include stabilizing the roadway with a mix of sand-clay, pulling ditches to avoid flooding of the roadway, and installing cross-drains where to convey for stormwater.

“Leon County’s partnership with the U.S. Forest Service creates a new detour for area citizens during times of need,” Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long said. “Being regularly maintained allows this roadway to serve our County year round.”

Flags at half-staff for late Tallahassee mayor

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff for the late James Ford, Tallahassee’s first African-American mayor.

Flags will be lowered at the Tallahassee City Hall and at the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Monday. Ford died Wednesday. He was 91.  

Ford became Tallahassee’s first black mayor in 1972, serving three terms, according to a news release. At that time, the mayor’s position rotated among city commissioners; the city now separately elects a “leadership” mayor.

Former Tallahassee Mayor James Ford died this week. He was 91.

Ford was a Tallahassee native, earning an undergraduate and master’s degrees from Florida A&M University. He was a veteran of World War II and Korea, serving in the U.S.  Navy and Army.

Before his election to the Tallahassee City Commission, Ford spent 37 years as a schoolteacher, administrator, and principal in the Leon County Schools. He was later the first black elected to office in Leon County since Reconstruction.

“Ford was instrumental in helping progress Tallahassee’s government,” the release said. “His efforts helped establish the Minority Business Department, the Frenchtown Development Authority, the Affirmative Action Office and the first community center on the south side. Today, that community center bears his name — the Walker-Ford Community Center.

Good News Dep’t: Free school meals extended for counties

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has accepted the state’s request to extend access to free school meals, through Nov. 30, for all students in Monroe, Collier and Lee counties.

Those areas are still recovering from Hurricane Irma and are subject to a FEMA Major Disaster Declaration.

Collier, Lee and Monroe counties have 191 schools and 138,000 students.  

Parents or guardians looking for additional info can call the department at (800) 504-6609 or email [email protected] 

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

The News Service of Florida contributed to this week’s edition, republished with permission.

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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