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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Getting 2018 ballot in ‘order’

Citizen groups, the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) are all able to change the state’s governing document, but constitutional amendments still have to pass the final test — the people.

That means placement on the statewide ballot and getting at least 60 percent approval.

But what governs the order of amendments on the ballot? Why, a state regulation, of course.

Simply put, amendments get numbered in the order they’re certified, a Department of State spokesperson explained.

To amend Florida’s Constitution, voters must have their say. But first, amendments must be put in order.

So, Amendment 1 is “Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption,” and Amendment 2 is “Limitations on Property Tax Assessments,” both from the Legislature.

The recently approved “Voter Control of Gambling” measure, the first citizen initiative OK’d for the 2018 ballot, is Amendment 3.

Another initiative could be close to becoming Amendment 4: The Voting Restoration Amendment, which would restore nonviolent ex-cons’ right to cast a ballot, has 750,723 valid signatures toward the 766,200 needed for ballot placement.

Still to come are amendments put forth by the still-working Constitution Revision Commission. Or not, if by remote chance the CRC approves no amendments.

(Hey, its constitutional charge does say it can “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”)

“Initiative amendments filed on the same date shall be assigned the number received in a random drawing of lots containing the remaining available designating numbers,” the state’s rule says.

And “in the event a proposed revision or amendment is removed or stricken from the ballot … all other proposals shall retain the number assigned.” That just means there could be a gap in numbering.

It adds: “The designating number of the stricken proposal shall not be reused unless that proposal is reinstated.” That doesn’t sound like the best way to get a number retired.

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

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

Accusers and sex policies — The Florida Senate sexual harassment saga continues. Days after former Sen. Jack Latvala was publicly accused by the former lobbyist at the center of a sex-for-votes allegations that launched a criminal investigation, the Florida Senate rolled out new employee guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. The new guidelines prohibit sexual harassment for employees and lobbyists, who will receive a copy of the policy. The changes take effect immediately. Next week, the Senate full floor will vote on incorporating annual one-hour training for senators as part of its formal rules.

Gamble on the ballot — Florida voters could have the “exclusive right” to decide whether casino-style gambling should be allowed in the state, under a proposed constitutional amendment. Backers of the amendment this week topped the 766,200 petition signatures required to go before voters in November. For it to pass, the proposal needs 60 percent approval from voters. Permission for any form of casino gambling is controlled mainly by the state Legislature.

Dead on arrival — Since South Florida’s high-speed commuter line began carrying passengers, four people have been killed on the railroad trains’ paths. The deadly Brightline train launch has raised concerns about pedestrian safety and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio both called for a federal transportation investigation. State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who has pushed for Florida to regulate safety for the state’s new rail service, has also decried the events, asking lawmakers “how many more people have to die in order for us to really take a look at safety measure?” Brightline officials insist they are building their system with the highest safety standards offered by the Federal Railroad Administration.

ICE, ICE baby — As tension grows among the immigrant community in Florida with the demeaning rhetoric coming out of the White House, federal immigration authorities are cracking down on undocumented inmates. Seventeen counties in the state have entered agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold deportable inmates in local jails for 48 hours. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who made it a priority this year to pass a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” has also asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to investigate Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for standing in support of what Corcoran calls “illegal sanctuary city” policies.

Corcoran, House gets sued — A records battle pitting the Florida House against Pat Roberts, the producer of a cooking show. Roberts and his company MAT Media sued the House contending that the records sought by the House include trade secrets and confidential information. Corcoran signed a subpoena on the first week of Session that requested documents detailing how the show spent millions of dollars paid out by VISIT FLORIDA. Corcoran also wants to know how much the state’s tourism agency paid directly to the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who stars in the cooking show.

Gasparilla pirate fun at the Attorney General’s office

Tampa’s annual Gasparilla weekend celebration kicked off at Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Tallahassee office.

Ahoy, Mateys!

The Gasparilla Parade starts this weekend, and it is expected to attract thousands of carousers for myriad pirate-themed events in honor of the iconic pirate invasion of Tampa. A dozen pirates briefly invaded the office of the state’s top attorney Thursday and took photos with her.

Bondi wants more money to combat opioid crisis

Attorney General Bondi said this week that $53 million is insufficient to combat the growing opioid epidemic in Florida, going against Gov. Scott’s budget proposal.

“In an $80 billion budget that is nothing,” Bondi told reporters this week. And the House Democratic Caucus agree with her.

“Opioids have already cost our state over $1 billion each year in the form of hospital care, treatment centers, foster care, court costs, strains on law enforcement and first responders, and heavier loads on our corrections system,” House Democrats said in a joint statement.

In 2016, 5,725 people died from an opioid overdose in the state. Democrats say the epidemic has progressed in recent years and is responsible for pushing thousands of children into foster care.

As Bondi becomes more vocal on funding to address the opioid crisis, House Democrats say they remain “hopeful that House and Senate leadership” and the governor will propose more funding.

The week in appointments

Dan Casper to the Florida Citrus Commission

Casper was reappointed to the Commission. The 60-year-old is the president of Southern Garden Citrus.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and is reappointed for a term that began Jan. 18 and will end on May 21, 2020. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Robert Spottswood to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The 60-year-old is currently the vice chairman at the Commission. He was reappointed for a term that began Jan. 12 and will end Jan. 6, 2023.

Spottswood is the chief executive officer of Spottswood Companies, Inc. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law.

Kathryn Ballard to the Florida State University board of trustees

Ballard was reappointed to the FSU board of trustees. The 53-year-old term will end in Jan. 6, 2023.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. Ballard has previously served on the Board of the Florida Center for Performing Arts and as a board member of the FSU College of Human Sciences.

Instagram of the week

OFR warns investors about ‘initial coin offerings’

Those upset they missed the bitcoin boom, take heed: There’s plenty of scams out there being pitched as the next big thing.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation this week echoed a warning from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) that identified initial coin offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrency contracts for difference (CFD) as two of the top emerging threats that investors should watch for in 2018.

The bitcoin craze has investors searching for the next big thing.

OFR said it “encourages Floridians to be very cautious of investments involving cryptocurrency,” and reiterated that even legitimate cryptocurrencies carry plenty of risk outside of their high volatility.

Most investors know currencies such as bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin aren’t backed by any government — meaning no Federal deposit insurance — but their unregulated nature can also bring out some shady companies that may be more susceptible to fraud and theft than regulated financial institutions.

OFR said would be cryptocurrency investors should check out NASAA’s video on initial coin offerings and, as always, give them a call if there are suspicions of investment fraud.

‘Fast Facts’ on the state’s insurance regulation office

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation this week released a booklet of its accomplishments for the 2016-17 fiscal year, touting some of the highlights from the fifth annual “Fast Facts” in an email.

The agency said licenses under regulation increased by nearly 3 percent last year and have gone up by 15 percent over the previous five years. The office said it also answered more than 40,000 consumer calls with an average time to pick up of 19 seconds and approved more than 79,000 applications in an average of five days per application.

Drew Breakspear, commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, offers some ‘Fast Facts’ on its accomplishments.

“The Florida Office of Financial Regulation is committed to protecting consumers while promoting growth of the financial services industry,” Commissioner Drew Breakspear said. “I encourage all interested Floridians to learn more about our agency and how we can help them verify the license of a financial services business and protect them from financial scams.”

The agency also pointed consumers to its “Consumer Knowledge Center,” which includes alerts issued by the department on potential investment scams.

Florida Sheriffs Association applaud ICE agreement

A day after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced a “housing agreement” with 17 Florida sheriffs, the Florida Sheriffs Association came out in full support of it.

“The process clarifies that aliens held by these jurisdictions are held under the color of federal authority, thereby affording local law enforcement liability protection from potential litigation as a result of faithfully executing their public service duties,” said Mike Adkinson, the president of the Association.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.

The deal would give federal immigration authorities more time to pick up deportable inmates from local jails in Florida. Local authorities have agreed gold hold undocumented immigrants eligible for deportation beyond the time they usually would have by booking individuals under federal auspices.

Adkinson said that if the launch continues to “go smoothly” there is hope to expand it to other counties in the “very near future.” He said other sheriffs have expressed interest in entering the agreement.

Volunteer Florida gets $27M grant for Irma victims

Volunteer Florida announced this week that it had secured more than $27 million in grant funding from FEMA for a program to help those affected by Hurricane Irma.

“Volunteer Florida is proud to administer this grant on behalf of the State of Florida. This funding will allow us to provide Floridians with a single point of contact who will advocate for them and help them through the recovery process. We are thankful for our partnership with FEMA and the Division of Emergency Management,” Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus said.

Volunteer Florida receives $27 million in grants for those affected by Hurricane Irma.

The money will help set up a Disaster Case Management Program to advocate for families and individuals and help them access resources ranging from food, shelter, and clothing through home repairs and financial planning.

Volunteer Florida will hand out the grant funding to qualified outside organizations that apply through a competitive RFP process. The RFP and application instructions are available online.

Public employee group backs education bills

Public employee group AFSCME Florida this week announced its “strong support” for education reform bills by Sen. Rene Garcia and Reps. Barry Russell and Sam Killebrew.

“We commend Senator Garcia and Representatives Russell and Killebrew because we believe that services should be shared through centralized locations to give the district the best return on investment,” said AFSCME Local 1184 President Vicki Hall, representing more than 7,300 Miami-Dade County Public School employees. “We look forward to working with school districts to ensure its implementation so we can to reinstating important programs, like Summer Services, and ensure funding works for our communities.”

Rene Garcia gets public employee union support for a series of education reform bills.

SB 1152 and HB 1431 would allow school districts to use Title 1 funds, which are granted to schools with high poverty rates, for things such as summer school, enrichment, and before- and after-school programs.

“While some districts have been able to mitigate the short-term effects of HB7069, if this law is not corrected before the next fiscal year many vital food-service and transportation employees could lose their jobs and schools would lose the staff needed to achieve success for their students,” said AFSCME Florida Political Director Jacqui Carmona.

Moffitt Cancer Center advocates ask for legislative support

Lawmakers this week heard from a familiar organization with a compelling mission: to work toward the prevention and cure of cancer.

More than 60 advocates from Moffitt Cancer Center arrived at the Capitol this week to ask for continued legislative support for cancer research. Moffitt is considered one of the best cancer hospitals in the U.S.

“Patients seek Moffitt because we are a leader in cancer care and research,” said Dr. Alan List, Moffitt CEO and president. “Some of the biggest advances in cancer research and treatment over the last three decades have come from Moffitt faculty and researchers.”

Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the best health care facilities of its type in the nation, is asking for legislative support.

Recent Food and Drug Administration approval of two cellular immunotherapies, known as CAR T therapy, was attributed to Moffitt research. The cancer center pioneered the treatment, treating the first adult patients in both the clinical and post-approval phases.

Moffitt’s simple request is that lawmakers continue supporting its work.

Spawned with the help of the Legislature in 1981, Moffitt takes its namesake from former lawmaker and cancer survivor H. Lee Moffitt, who championed a $3.5 million appropriation for startup funds for the Tampa cancer center.

Florida Legal Services looking to help disabled Irma survivors

Florida Legal Services is looking for help finding Hurricane Irma survivors who were unable to pre-register for Disaster Food Assistance, or D-SNAP, a version of the SNAP program that helps low-income households with food loss or damage caused by a natural disaster.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller helped get the message out for FLS this week in an email to his constituents.

Joe Geller is pushing for victims of Hurricane Irma to get greater access to Disaster Food Assistance. 

“After Irma, many affected persons with disabilities who needed D-SNAP were unable to travel to a D-SNAP site or stand in line to be interviewed, a requirement to qualifying for D-SNAP. Although DCF provided phone interviews for some survivors with disabilities, only persons who completed pre-registration were able to get phone interviews. We would appreciate your spreading the word that FLS wants to hear from survivors who were unable to pre-register,” he wrote.

Geller said those who know someone who couldn’t preregister should point them toward an online form FLS set up for D-SNAP assistance.

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “running count” of bills heard in committee or on the House floor to include the first week of the 2018 Legislative Session and found that Republican-controlled House is still giving more attention to GOP-sponsored bills than Democrat-sponsored ones.

The breakdown on the “What’s the Agenda?” site shows that during the first week of session, 13 Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 50 Republican-sponsored bills. Another 9 bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also found that 9 Republican bills were heard on the floor during week 1, while just a single Democrat-sponsored bill made the grade.

Including the five committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, Dem bills make up 16 percent of those on committee agendas while GOP bills take a 70 percent share.

Jewish American Week to be observed next week

Sen. Daphne Campbell and state Rep. Emily Slosberg have filed a resolution declaring the week of Feb. 12 as Jewish American Heritage week in Florida.

“I am proud to sponsor the first-ever resolution in the Florida Senate declaring Jewish Heritage Week in the State of Florida from Feb. 12-16,” Campbell said.

Slosberg said the resolution “pays tribute to the unique cultures, customs, and dynamic heritage that derived from Jewish Americans.” There are approximately 650,000 Jewish Americans in the state.

Andrew Gillum proposing to raise state corporate taxes

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum, a Democrat running to be the next governor, wants an increase of the state corporate tax to invest more on the middle class.

Gillum unveiled his “Fair Share for Florida’s Future” plan Friday and said President Donald Trump’s “tax scam” will make the rich richer and the middle class poorer.

“I’m proposing that the tiny fraction of Florida’s richest corporations pay their fair share so we can invest in working families through world-class public schools, a pay raise for teachers, early childhood education and SHOP 2.0 vocational training,” Gillum said.

Andrew Gillum wants to raise corporate taxes to help Florida families.

Gillum wants to adjust the state corporate income tax rate on large corporations to 7.75 percent, which he says would generate $1 billion more to invest in the public school system and vocational training.

Gillum wants to put in at least $100 million in public schools, $400 million in pay raises for public school teachers and at least $250 million in early childhood education programs.

The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy has already jumped in support of the measure, saying the plan will be a “job creator for Florida’s working families.”

FSU gets $25K grant to fight human trafficking

Florida State University’s Institute for Family Violence Studies has received a $25,000 grant from Attorney General Bondi’s Office that will be used to improve training for recognizing the signs of human trafficking.

The funds will help create online training for Emergency Medical Services personnel so they can better identify signs of the crime and report it so victims can get the help they need.

Jim Clark, the dean of the College of Social Work at FSU (shown with Young Alumni Award winner Robyn Metcalf), says a new $25K grant will help EMS first responders better identify signs of human trafficking.

“We recognize that for many victims of human trafficking, EMS first responders are an important link to freedom from this enslaving crime,” said Jim Clark, dean of the College of Social Work at FSU.

Data from the Department of Children and Families indicate that cases of human trafficking increased more than 50 percent from 2015 to 2016, a surge mainly attributed to more reporting resulting from increased awareness.

“This new project provides information EMS professionals need to provide the most effective assistance,” Clark said.

Cold weather yields utility bill payment options

If you are suffering through the frigid temperatures in Tallahassee, at least the city is giving you utility payment options.

The city of Tallahassee’s electric utility department said it recorded its highest peak load in nearly a decade — and third highest ever — this past week.

Snow in Tallahassee means options for utility payments.

The load was due to temperatures dropping to the 20s in the city, which is expected to increase customers’ utility bills next month. To help ease the financial burden, the city is offering a one-time payment option for utility customs known as “Winter Relief Assistance Program.”

The alternative payment program allows all residents and non-demand small business utility customs to carry over up to 25 percent of their utility bill in January and February to the following month’s bill when usage will likely be less.

To request the carry-over option, customers can call 891-4968.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Written By

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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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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