Takeaways from Tallahassee — Carlos Beruff’s ‘constitutional’ angst

Aerial photo Florida State Capitol Building

The head of the panel now eyeing the state’s constitution for changes says “more than 50 percent of the 103 proposed constitutional revisions filed by (its) commissioners represent public ideas.”

Carlos Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), this week recounted how his board “traveled the state listening to Floridians and reviewed thousands of public proposals and comments.”

“Much like the previous CRC in 1997-98 advanced ‘general concepts’ based on public input, we identified general themes and ideas that were submitted by Floridians and then crafted proposals in the appropriate legal language,” he said in a statement.

“More than 50 percent of the 103 proposed constitutional revisions filed by (its) commissioners represent public ideas,” says CRC chair Carlos Beruff.

Sounds like Beruff still is smarting from a Miami Herald story last month that dinged the commission for accepting only “a few” ideas from the public to improve Florida’s governing document.

“In a swift, 20-minute meeting, the panel … rejected all but a few of the 2,012 public proposals submitted …, advancing only six of them, after months of encouraging the public to submit ideas,” that story began.

Beruff isn’t having it.

“Altogether, more than 740 public proposal submissions are represented by commissioner proposals,” he said. “If you also consider the Commissioner proposals inspired by ideas presented by Floridians at CRC public hearings, this representation is even higher.

“Proposals are now being referred to CRC committees for further review and consideration. We encourage Floridians to stay engaged in the CRC process as we move forward.”

The commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.

A spreadsheet organizing the topics can be viewed at flcrc.gov/Reference.

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

But first, a program note: Takeaways will not appear next week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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

Bittel out at FDP — Less than a year after taking office, Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel resigned following mounting pressure for him to step down. This was after reports he would belittle and make suggestive remarks to women in the workplace. Allison Tant, the state party’s immediate past chair, told Florida Politics that at least seven women complained to her about the inappropriate and demeaning behavior they endured while he was at the helm. Tant said several women left their jobs because of his behavior. Bittel said in a statement, “When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside.” The millionaire South Florida developer apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of six unnamed women who called him “creepy” and “demeaning” in a POLITICO Florida report.

Job numbers looking good — After an uncharacteristically subdued release of September job numbers after Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott was able to thump his chest with October numbers. The top-line takeaway: Unemployment down to 3.6 percent, the lowest number in a decade. Florida added more than 127,000 private sector jobs in October; all told, 1.4 million jobs have been added under Scott’s administration. “I am proud to announce today that Florida’s unemployment rate has reached a more than 10-year low of 3.6 percent and that more than 127,000 private-sector jobs were created in October. While Hurricane Irma was a devastating storm,” Scott said in a statement, “we have worked day after day to help communities recover and send a message across the world that Florida is open for business.”

Senate hires outside lawyers — As Sen. Jack Latvala faces sexual harassment allegations under a Senate investigation, Senate President Joe Negron hired a legal team to represent the chamber through the proceedings. Weeks after Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts recused herself, Negron hired three attorneys from the politically connected GrayRobinson law firm. Among those is George Meros, who has worked on several high-profile state government cases in recent years. He also represented then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount. The Senate agreed to pay the attorneys — at taxpayers’ expense — on an hourly rate. Attorney Brian Bieber will earn $600 an hour; Meros will make $550 an hour; and Allison Mawhinney will charge $345 an hour, according to the contract.

Hurricane committee hunkers down — It’s turkey time for some lawmakers, but crunchtime for those charged with addressing hurricane readiness. The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met for the fifth time this week. Now equipped with info on the statewide woes of the 2017 hurricane season, the committee transitions to its final job: Policy recommendations. “This is it for our fact-finding mission and our education phase of our work,” Chair Jeanette Nuñez said. She expects there will be two committee meetings in December, where “the rubber hopefully will meet the road.”

Confederate statue’s time dwindling? — A likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune is one step closer to replacing a statue of a Confederate general as one of Florida’s two representatives in the U.S. Capitol. The Senate Appropriations Committee cleared a bill to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with Bethune, who lived 1875-1955. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, will remain. The move to replace Smith’s statue came after a renewed debate in recent years about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

Volunteer firefighters weekend back on

The 12th annual Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend, postponed from September because of Hurricane Irma, will take place this weekend, Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis announced.

More than 200 volunteer firefighters registered for the rescheduled event, which offers free classroom and field training courses to volunteer firefighters.

Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend offers free classroom and field training courses to volunteer firefighters.

Hosted at the Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, the event is open to all volunteer firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and military in Florida and all southeast states.

“Volunteer fire departments offer lifesaving services to our communities, oftentimes operating on very low budgets,” Patronis said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our firefighters have every bit of the training and expertise they need to safely perform their jobs.”

Active shooter response and animal first aid courses, as well as live burn classes, will be available.

Pam Bondi urges action on ‘opioid oversupply’

Attorney General Bondi joined 43 other attorneys general last week to send a National Association of Attorneys General policy letter to congressional leaders, according to a news release.

They urged the repeal of a 2016 federal law to restore the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to hold drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids accountable.

“The opioid crisis is affecting families across our country, and we need every tool available to combat this epidemic and save lives. To ensure the Drug Enforcement Administration is able to stop the oversupply of dangerous prescription opioids, Congress must repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016,” Bondi said.

Pam Bondi signed on to a letter urging the DEA to take more action on ‘opioid oversupply.’

The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 severely limit the DEA’s response to the opioid crisis. In 2016, more than 2 million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids.

According to the NAAG letter, the Act effectively strips the DEA’s ability to issue an immediate suspension order against a drug manufacturer or distributor whose unlawful conduct poses an immediate danger to public health or safety.

Florida is one of the states leading an extensive multistate investigation into major manufacturers and distributors of opioids. As part of this effort, the bipartisan coalition of 41 state attorneys general recently sent subpoenas and demanded additional information about potentially unlawful practices in the distribution, marketing and sale of opioids.

Leaders talk about improving workforce educational attainment

A nationwide campaign to bolster the state’s workforce with adults that have a degree, industry certification or an education certificate by 2025 is in motion.

The campaign, called RISE to 55 and led by Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council, is partly in response to a study saying that by 2025, the state will have more jobs requiring postsecondary education but that workers will be ill-equipped to fill those positions.

By 2025, Florida will have more jobs requiring postsecondary education but that workers will be ill-equipped to fill those positions.

To address this issue, leaders in business, government and economic development representing 15 counties from across the Gulf Coast gathered this week to debate the importance of increasing the current 47 percent threshold of working-age adults with postsecondary education to 55 in the next seven years.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Patronis, Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega, who is spearheading the campaign, and local leaders in higher education led the discussion at Florida State University, Panama City.

“For Florida to reach 55 percent attainment, we need buy-in from every community to make postsecondary education part of our culture,” said Pumariega. “Championing higher education is championing a sustainable Florida economy.”

Instagram of the week

Governor. Senator. Dad.

A post shared by Gwen Graham (@gwengrahamfl) on

The week in appointments

Metz returning to vets’ panel — Gov. Scott reappointed state Rep. Larry Metz to the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council.

Metz, a Yalaha Republican, has served in the Florida House of Representatives since 2010 and has practiced with the Metz Law Firm P.A. since 2007.

He also was in the U.S. Marine Corps 1976-82, including active duty until 1980.

Metz received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Florida State University.

He is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 15 and ending June 30, 2020.

Top cop named to trafficking board — Scott appointed of Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Bevan, 52, of Bradenton, is a 31-year veteran law enforcement officer who most previously served as Assistant Chief at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University, her master’s degree from Troy State University, and her doctor of education degree from Argosy University.

Bevan fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 15, and ending June 30, 2018.

Rick Scott appoints two to Medical Examiners Commission — Scott announced the appointment of Sheriff James Reid and State Attorney Jeffrey Siegmeister to the Medical Examiners Commission.

Reid, 70, will fill a vacant seat due to the resignation of Sheriff Paul Beseler. His term began Nov. 14 and will end Aug. 21, 2021.

Siegmeister, a 45-year-old State Attorney from Live Oak, will replace Angela Corey following her resignation. His term also began Nov. 14 and will last until July 1, 2019.

Republicans lead bills placed on House committees

From the total 60 measures that have been put on committee agendas in the Florida House, as of Nov. 6, the vast majority has been sponsored by Republicans.

According to a weekly roundup by the House Democratic Caucus, 66 percent of the bills were sponsored by Republicans; nine of those were introduced by Democrats and 11 proposals have bipartisan cosponsorship.

The report is released every week in “commitment to openness and transparency,” the report says.

Heavy duty

Did Jay Trumbull miss the meeting when the House leadership doled out responsibility for carrying this year’s assignment of benefits package?

That’s often how one “volunteers” for a thankless job. (Or as Tampa Republican Jamie Grant put it this week in another committee, getting “voluntold.”)

Jay Trumbull pulls some heavy duty.

“I got a call from the chair a couple of Fridays ago that said we’re going to run assignment of benefits out of Judiciary and he’d like me to run it,” said Trumbull, a Panama City Republican.

He spoke right after the bill (PCB JDC 18-01) cleared the full committee.

Trumbull is well acquainted with the issue, having sat through lengthy hearings before the Commerce Committee during the spring Legislative Session.

He must know all about it, right?

“I wouldn’t say all about it,” he demurred. “I’m still learning a pretty good bit.”

Sean Shaw to host minority transportation forum

State Rep. Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, will host a transportation forum to help citizens connect with transportation leaders Wednesday.

The speakers will include various leaders representing various transportation and transit entities that keep Tampa moving, and they will help clear up questions about transportation issues impacting the area.

Sean Shaw is looking to help citizens connect with transportation leaders.

It will also be an effort to open the door to those who want to get involved with the effort to better transportation in the region.

“Transportation improvement and transit innovations are coming to Tampa, and it is important that all residents are able to express their concerns, questions and ideas,” Shaw said.

The forum will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Children’s Board-Hillsborough, located at 1002 E. Palm Avenue.

Robert Asencio files apprenticeship bill

Rep. Asencio, a Miami Democrat, wants school districts, colleges and universities to encourage the expansion of apprenticeship programs.

Asencio filed legislation (HB 711) this week that would create a ‘Earn to Learn Grant Program” within the Department of Education, which would be tasked with developing an application process for students eligible for grants.

Robert Asencio filed legislation to create a ‘Earn to Learn Grant Program,” for an application process for students eligible for grants.

“By allocating our resources to develop the next generation of Florida workers, we’re giving them a chance to get a high wage, permanent job here at home,” Asencio said.

The bill would also create a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion to study ways to grow these opportunities.

Janet Cruz touts help for small business

Last session, House Democratic Leader Cruz of Tampa offered an amendment to legislation aimed at reforming and increasing transparency at VISIT FLORIDA that would create a Targeted Marketing Assistance Program (TMAP) for minority, rural and agritourism businesses.

That amendment was adopted during the regular session and became a part of the final legislation that was passed during the special session and was signed into law by Gov. Scott.

Janet Cruz is looking to help small businesses in Florida.

Under the new program, small, minority, rural, and agritourism businesses with gross income not exceeding $500,000, or a 501(c)(3) under IRS guidelines, can apply for increased aid from VISIT FLORIDA in helping to get the word out about their organization.

If accepted into the program, all of the assistance is offered free of charge, with a discounted rate to join the Small Business Partnership to receive additional benefits.

“The goal of my amendment last year was to ensure that we’re not just focusing on the needs of our largest corporations, but that we are giving our mom and pop shops the resources they need to succeed,” Cruz said in a statement.

Loranne Ausley named finalist in ‘Ideas Challenge’

State Rep. Ausley is a finalist in the 2017 New Ideas Challenge, a competition among “rising and innovative state and local policymakers to identify effective ways to address the anxieties facing many Americans in the new economy,” according to a news release.

Ausley’s “Whole Child Leon” initiative was a finalist in the “Future of Families” category. “Whole Child Leon has brought together public, private and nonprofit partners, business leaders, elected officials, educators, health care providers, parents and caregivers to work together toward systemic change.

Loranne Ausley is being lauded for a ‘New Idea’ in Tallahassee.

“Key initiatives include the monthly Professional Network Community Conversation, Early Childhood Developmental Screenings, and the Pediatric Behavioral Health Navigator, which provides integration of quality behavioral health services for all children and families through referrals from area pediatricians, the Early Learning Coalition, and community partners,” the release said.

“I am thrilled to be included in this group of talented and innovative leaders from across the country,” Ausley said in a statement. “This is an exciting opportunity to share the work we have done with Whole Child Leon in our community and to learn from other outstanding work being done to help more Americans get ahead. I look forward to bringing these ideas back to Tallahassee to help everyday Floridians and their families.”

Florida Workers’ Advocates responds to workers’ comp vote

As lawmakers try to pass workers’ compensation legislation, some industry groups are not too pleased with what is being pushed so far.

Mark Touby, the president of Florida Workers’ Advocates, said the bill passed by the House Commerce Committee this week would “turn workers’ compensation grand bargain to protect injured workers into a grand illusion.”

“Lawmakers have an opportunity to provide a constitutional approach to workers’ compensation reform that would bring rate stability to the market, increase transparency in ratemaking, spur free-market competition among insurers and enhance benefits for injured workers,” Touby said.

The bill would revise workers’ compensation law to include direct payment of attorneys by or for claimants and increasing the total combined temporary wage replacement benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks.

DEP launches recycling initiative

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants Floridians to know more about recycling.

The department launched a public education campaign, titled “Rethink. Reset. Recycle,” this week with Waste Management, MARPAN, Waste Connections and Single Stream Recyclers, LLC. The website is FloridaRecycles.org.

Floridians will soon be learning more about recycling.

The campaign seeks to teach Floridians the basics when it comes to recycling. Right now, about 30 percent of household materials recycled in Florida are actually not recyclable, which shuts down processing centers for hours at a time.

“With the increased popularity of curbside recycling across Florida’s 67 counties, we’ve seen a big increase in participation — but many items ending up in the bins aren’t actually recyclable at curbside,” Joe Ullo, DEP division director, said in a statement.

According to DEP, eliminating contamination of recycling could lead to about $100 million in savings each year.

FSU professor recognized

Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor Eric Stewart has been named a fellow of the prestigious American Society of Criminology.

Stewart joined just three other highly distinguished criminologists honored during the society’s annual conference Nov. 15 in Philadelphia.

Criminologist Eric Stewart.

The honor distinguishes those who have made significant contributions to the discipline, contributed to the career development of other criminologists or participated in organizational activities within the society.

“I’m definitely humbled and honored,” Stewart said. “The American Society of Criminology is the premier flagship professional organization for criminologists.”

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge tours Japan

After being selected as the representative for the National Association of Counties (NACo), Leon County Commissioner Desloge headed to the Land of the Rising Sun.

He began participating in the Local Government Exchange and Cooperation Seminar 2017 organized by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), which includes a seminar in Tokyo and a study tour of Rikuzentakata City, the local authority in regional Japan, according to a news release.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

The program will last until Nov. 15. Desloge is Immediate Past President of NACo.

“During my time as the president of the National Association of Counties, I had the opportunity to share best practices and learn from the best-of-the-best in county government across the nation,” Desloge said in a statement.

“I am eager to share what I have learned with government representatives here in Japan, and I look forward to the opportunity to exchange ideas, best practices, and so much more with the local government employees of Rikuzentakata City and beyond.”

Rikuzentakata City was one of the areas most affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The disaster claimed 1,700 lives and destroyed more than 3,000 buildings. Desloge will see how local governments can promote town planning, even after a disaster, “to live a comfortable and secure life,” the release said.

Leon County Commission reorganization set

A reorganization ceremony for the Leon County Board of County Commissioners will be held Tuesday, Nov. 28, in the Commission Chambers, fifth floor of the Leon County Courthouse, 301 S. Monroe St.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. and will be presided over by Clerk of Courts Gwen Marshall.

During the ceremony, the commission will elect a chairman and vice chairman for the 2017-18 year and the newly elected chairman will take the oath of office. After the formality, the Board will reconvene for the regularly scheduled board meeting.

Lecture series looks inside CRC

The Leon County Library Lecture Series returns with “The Room Where it Happens: An Insider’s View of the Constitution Revision Commission,” presented by G.C. Murray Jr.

Murray is the Florida Justice Association’s deputy general counsel and works with the legal, political and legislative teams.

The lecture will be held at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library, 200 W. Park Ave. in downtown Tallahassee, 7 p.m. Nov. 27.

Once every 20 years, the Constitution Revision Commission convenes to conduct a thorough review and propose amendments to the Florida Constitution. This lecture will discuss the history and importance of the Constitution Revision Commission, the major players, the background noise, and predictions of what will change in Florida’s Constitution.

All Leon County Library Lecture Series events are free and open to the public.

Tallahassee airport upgrades completed

Thank goodness for small favors: The Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) announced the “completion of upgrades to the airport security checkpoint … in time for the busy holiday travel season.”

“Completion of this work restores two passenger processing lanes and paves the way for future growth and development,” a news release said.

Tallahassee International Airport completed upgrades to the security checkpoint … just in time for the holiday travel season.

“Passengers will notice several upgrades designed to enhance the overall travel experience and increase operational efficiencies.”

The airport is owned and operated by the City of Tallahassee, with daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Washington, D.C. (effective Feb. 15).

Thanksgiving #1 day for home cooking fires

CFO and State Fire Marshal Patronis is advising Floridians to be safe in the kitchen this Thanksgiving.

“Every year, hundreds of avoidable cooking accidents happen,” he said in a statement. “In fact, the National Fire Protection Association reports that Thanksgiving is the No. 1 day of the year for home cooking fires. Anything from turkey frying gone wrong to a pot left on the stove too long can cause a fire, and there’s nothing that will ruin a holiday faster.”

So what is there to do?

“Simple steps like turning in the handles of your pots and pans and keeping your kitchen floors free from toys and pets can help make sure your holiday goes off without a hitch,” Patronis said.

Moreover, “fried turkeys have become a hit, but they can become incredibly dangerous if proper attention is not paid.

“Make sure your bird is completely thawed and take your turkey fryer to the furthest place from your home possible. Never fry at the edge of your garage because any stray spark might light the house in flames.

Now for 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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