Takeaways from Tallahassee — LGBTQ tweet war
A general view of the Florida Capitol early in the morning Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

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A proposal that would restrict local governments from imposing their own regulations sparked a back-and-forth Friday over LGBTQ rights between two individuals who come from completely opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith told a Constitution Revision panel that the proposal would “eliminate all human rights ordinances” adopted by local governments in Florida that protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination. The proposed change to the constitution, he said, would also have a negative impact on the state’s economy.

Carlos Guillermo Smith says a Constitution Revision proposal would “eliminate all human rights ordinances” protecting the LGBTQ community.

Commissioner John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council said the economic aspect of his argument has been debunked. He then said “infusing downtown regions with bohemians … nondiscrimination laws and gays” do not stimulate the economy.

Known for leading the successful 2008 statewide ballot initiative that made same-sex marriage unconstitutional in Florida, Stemberger told Smith that the proposal “might, arguably, affect the immutable classes of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The proposal by Sen. Tom Lee was temporarily postponed, a sign that is may be permanently stalled in the CRC. But Stemberger and Smith continued the fight on Twitter.

“As predicted, (Stemberger) is now using Sen. Tom Lee’s bad CRC proposal pre-empting local government to continue his anti-LGBT crusade! We can’t ‘infuse downtown w/gays’! Oh my!” Smith tweeted.

Stemberger called Smith’s testimony a “false narrative” and tweeted that states without laws “that create new rights for sex orientation & gender identity have the best economies in the nation.”

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:

Restoring citizenship — A grassroots efforts years in the making that would automatically restore voting rights for about 1.5 million felons qualified for the November ballot this week. If the initiative is approved in November, it could have a big say on the 2020 presidential elections. Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, is home to the largest amount of felons who are denied their right to vote. The Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission are also considered proposals that would restore voting rights, which could crowd the ballot and potentially confuse voters.

Tax-conscious measures — The Republican-controlled Florida House this week passed a measure strongly supported by Gov. Rick Scott that would make it harder for legislators to raise taxes and fees in the future. Under the proposal, the Legislature would need a two-thirds vote of both chambers to approve any tax hike. If the Senate agrees with the House this year, the proposal would go on the November ballot for voter approval. If passed, Florida would join 15 other states that already need a supermajority vote to increase taxes.

Chambers release full budgets  — The 2018 Legislative Session may finish in time this year. Both the House and the Senate published their proposed spending plans for the 2018-19 fiscal year at the end of the week and there is not that much of a difference between them — or the one that Gov. Scott has proposed. The House-proposed budget is the most conservative of them all, coming in at $87.2 billion. The Senate is proposing $87.3 billion in its version and Scott is recommending $87.4 billion. Scott’s proposed budget is the biggest one proposed in state history.

VISIT FLORIDA fight returns — The first punch in the annual legislative session fight has been swung. Yes, that fight: VISIT FLORIDA. Gov. Scott blasted the Senate this week for its proposed spending plan for the state tourism marketing agency — a top priority in his budget. The governor said the proposed $50 million is not enough because it would be a $26 million cut from its current budget. “I completely oppose the Florida Senate’s proposal to cut VISIT Florida’s budget by a third,” Scott said in a statement. This time last year, Scott’s problem was with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who wanted to abolish VISIT FLORIDA. But this year, the House wants to fully fund the mostly taxpayer-funded organization.

Private eye conflict — When former Sen. Jack Latvala faced sexual harassment accusations last year, he paid a private eye $645 to find out if people were spying on him. Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times reports the payment is now raising questions about whether there is a conflict of interest because it was to Todd Chaires, an investigator married to the prosecutor who would likely be in line to oversee the criminal corruption case against Latvala — if the charges are filed. Latvala said the fee covered a sweep of his home, office and car to make sure no listening devices were planted and some public record research. He said he did not ask him to “follow anybody or do any of the kinds of things that were done to me.”

Scott extends order helping displaced Puerto Ricans

Gov. Scott this week signed an extension to his October executive order extending state aid to Florida counties to help them accommodate Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria.

“Today, to ensure Florida has every available resource to continue to assist families displaced by Hurricane Maria, I am extending Executive Order 17-259, declaring a State of Emergency in all 67 Florida counties,” Scott said. “Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria and many families lost everything. As Puerto Rico rebuilds, Florida remains committed to doing everything we can to help the families impacted by Hurricane Maria and aid in the recovery process.”

Scott’s office said families displaced by the monumental storm are continuing to arrive in Florida and the state must do everything possible to help, including by continuing coordination with FEMA to provide services such as housing assistance, crisis counseling and unemployment assistance.

First lady Scott releases educational book for children

First lady Ann Scott this week released a new educational children’s book, Ally & Jordi’s Adventures Through Florida, which takes children on a journey across the state to explore Florida’s history, culture and environment through colorful illustrations, engaging activities and creative content.

“Reading and literacy is the foundation for a student’s success in life and one of my primary goals as first lady has been to encourage a love of reading among Florida’s students. I passed my love of reading on to my daughters Allison and Jordan, who inspired the two main characters in the book, and now I do the same with my grandchildren,” Scott said.

Ann Scott takes Florida schoolchildren on a literary adventure.

“Ally & Jordi’s Adventures Through Florida combines my passion for encouraging children to read and my love for our great state. It is my hope that this book will spark a child’s imagination, inspire a passion for reading and teach them about Florida.”

Scott collaborated with the Florida Department of State to write the book, which will be distributed to Florida schools and libraries at no cost. Additional resources for teachers, parents and students, as well as downloadable versions of the puzzles and activities from the book, are available online at AllyandJordisAdventures.com.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Nicole Attong to the Florida Independent Living Council

Attong was reappointed to the Council. The 51-year-old from Miami is the director for Florida International University, Embrace.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and is reappointed for a term that began Jan. 24 and will end in June 24, 2020.

Meghan Collins to the Commission on Community Service

Collins will succeed Kelli Walker at the commission. The 30-year-old is currently the communication director at the Florida Department of Education.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and is appointed to serve a term that began Jan. 19 and will end in Sept. 14, 2018.

Kyle Hill to the Commission on Community Service

Hill will succeed Christina Bonarrigo at the commission. The 22-year-old is currently the student body president of Florida State University.

He is appointed to serve a term that began Jan. 19 and will end on Sept. 14, 2019.

House approves bill to create slavery memorial

The Florida House this week voted unanimously to approve a bill by Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee that would create a permanent slavery memorial on the grounds of the Florida Capitol.

“It is long overdue that we recognize the undeniable contributions that slaves made to help build and shape our state and country,” McGhee said. “Thousands of African men and women were brought to Florida against their will and it is imperative that we acknowledge their contributions to building this great state. As we seek to memorialize those, who at the time had no voice, I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their overwhelming support.”

Kionne McGhee is making headway on a Florida Capitol Slavery Memorial.

McGhee’s office said the memorial created by HB 67 aims to recognize the fundamental brutality, inhumanity, and injustice of slavery in the United States and the American Colonies, as well as honor the forgotten men, women, and children who have gone unrecognized for their unquestionable and substantial contributions to our country. Before the Civil War, the south was home to millions of slaves.

The Senate’s version of the bill, SB 286, has one committee stop left before it’s ready for a floor vote.

Retired military working dogs get support in Legislature

Retired military dogs could soon get better veterinary care under a bill proposed that is meant to “honor their valued contributions.”

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, has filed legislation that would create the Veterinary Care for Retired Military Working Dogs Program.

The program would allow adopted of retired military canines to be reimbursed up to $10,000 for annual exams, vaccinations, testing and treatment of illnesses, and other services.

“The lucky few that reach retirement deserve to be placed in devoted homes where their medical status is not a determinant of the love and nurturing a family can provide for them,” Moskowitz said in a statement.

“No veteran but especially those who suffer from PTSD should have to part with their service animal because they can’t afford the veterinary expenses,” Moskowitz added.

If passed, the program would allow the Department of Military Affairs to contract with nonprofits that will provide veterinary care.

Senate’s proposed budget prioritizes investments in education

The Senate has set aside $3.5 billion in total revenue for the state’s K-12 and higher education system in its 2018-19 spending plan.

“The Senate budget recognizes the link between education and our economy and the significant return for taxpayers when we invest in Florida’s future,” Senate President Joe Negron said.

For Joe Negron, education is the priority in 2018.

The proposed budget includes funding for merit-based student financial aid and funds for the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship. It also includes $154 million for Florida Forever program.

“The Senate budget ensures continued fidelity to the Constitution by fully and faithfully implementing the voter-approved Water and Land Conservation Amendment, including $154 million for Florida Forever Programs,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley.

The budget also sets aside money for law enforcement raises and funding to combat the opioid crisis.

Senate signs new contract with Holland & Knight

A month after two separate Senate investigation into former Sen. Jack Latvala’s misconduct concluded, outside attorneys hired by the Senate are still working.

The Senate signed a new contract with Holland & Knight this week, transitioning from the GrayRobinson contract that was initially agreed to. The change is due to George Meros leaving Gray Robinson for a job at Holland & Knight.

The Senate has retained new counsel in the Jack Latvala matter.

The pay for Meros is still the same, $550 per hour and will be working with Christine Gay who will be paid an hourly rate of $425.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for the Senate, said the attorney will be working to fulfill “outstanding public records requests related to the (Latvala) investigations.” That includes the review of hundreds of documents from the special master’s report to determine what can be released to the public and what should be redacted.

As of Dec. 12 of last year, the Senate has spent $25,000 on outside attorneys in connection with the Latvala investigation.

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “What’s the Agenda?” website to include bills heard in committee or on the House floor during the second week of the 2018 Legislative Session and found that their proposals did a smidgen better than Week 1.

“As of Monday, Jan. 22, 324 bills have been placed on committee agendas in the Florida House. Of those, 220 are sponsored by Republicans, 48 are sponsored by Democrats, and 56 bills have bipartisan co-sponsors,” the website read.

“On the House Floor, 16 bills have been heard. Of those, 15 are sponsored by Republicans, 0 are sponsored by Democrats, and 1 bill has bipartisan co-sponsors.”

The doughnut chart breakdown shows about 19 percent of the bills heard in Week 2 were sponsored by Democrats, with another 15.5 percent having at least one Democratic co-sponsor. That’s a small improvement over week one when bills sponsored by GOP lawmakers made up 70 percent of those heard.

Florida Housing has new chair, vice chair

Ray Dubuque and Ron Lieberman have been named the new chair and vice chair (respectively) of the board of directors for Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Dubuque, of Panama City, is retired and previously served as the regional director of external affairs for AT&T. Dubuque also sat on the City of Panama City’s Planning Board, where he was reappointed seven times for two-year terms. He serves as one of the two citizen representatives on the Florida Housing board of directors. Dubuque has been a board member since August 2013.

Lieberman, of Ocala, is president of Steel Structures of Florida, Inc. Lieberman has been in the housing industry for more than 30 years. He is a past president of the Florida Home Builders Association and two-time president of the Citrus County Builders Association.

Lieberman also served for seven years as chairman of the Citrus County Affordable Housing Finance Committee, in addition to being appointed on the Advisory Committee for the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority, which he chaired for several years, as well. He represents the residential builder seat on Florida Housing’s board of directors. Lieberman has been a board member since March 2017.

Newton honored by Gathering of Women, Inc.

State Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton said Friday he was “truly honored” to have been awarded the 2018 Men & Women of Distinction’s Family of the Year Award by the Gathering of Women, Inc.

The St. Petersburg-based organization is a cross-cultural alliance of women working toward “economic security and opportunities for members of the community.”

Wengay Newton has a new side gig.

The St. Petersburg Democrat said he a “proud advocate for a flourishing and strong Tampa Bay area.”

“I am truly honored to be recognized among such dedicated activists and visionaries,” Newton said, “through involvement and leadership, I will continue to put my best good forward toward advancing my vision of a thriving community.”

FSU psychologist testing video games as ADHD treatment

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $2 million for a new clinical trial led by an FSU psychologist to test the effectiveness of specialized video games as a treatment for children with ADHD.

Assistant professor Michael Kofler and his research team have developed video games intended to target underdeveloped areas in the brain linked to ADHD symptoms, and they believe by “exercising” those areas of the brain, children with ADHD can see long-lasting benefits compared to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.

Video games could aid in ADHD therapy.

“We want a treatment that keeps working after children finish it, so the idea is to essentially ‘train them up’ to get benefits that last well beyond the end of treatment,” said Kofler, who’s been conducting ADHD research for about 15 years. “This new grant will allow us to test how long the beneficial effects remain after training ends.”

The treatment method, called Central Executive Training, has children use computer programs that look and feel like video games but adapt to their user’s performance behind the scenes to boost a child’s “working memory” and “inhibition” abilities.

“In our pilot study, our Central Executive Training program improved brain executive functions, but parent training did not,” Kofler said. “CET was also associated with decreases in hyperactivity symptoms, but parent training was not.”

The five-year NIH grant paves the way for Kofler to ramp up the size and scope of FSU’s Children’s Learning Clinic. Efforts are underway to hire new staff and recruit about 250 families within driving distance. The research project will be open to boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 12. Participants will visit the clinic once a week for 12 weeks, and it’s offered to families at no cost.

FSU snags $1M grant for prisoner re-entry initiative

The FSU College of Social Work is launching a research initiative in the spring focusing on the re-entry of incarcerated persons into communities.

The project, which received a $1 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, will be led by new FSU faculty member Carrie Pettus-Davis. She will oversee a four-state, eight-site, randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities.

FSU’s new faculty hire, Carrie Pettus-Davis.

“Data can inform significant reform,” Pettus-Davis said. “Our research initiative is uniquely positioned to identify the types of re-entry services most effective for reducing recidivism, fostering productive citizenship and benefiting individuals and communities across the country.”

Pettus-Davis is currently an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and will join Florida State’s social work faculty in the summer of 2018. Her research concentrates on working with community partners to develop and research interventions that enhance positive social support, respond to trauma experiences among justice-involved adults and generate overall well-being for those impacted by incarceration.

“We’re proud to continue supporting FSU and its scholars working to close the gap between research and reform,” said John Hardin, director of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation. “The vast majority of those who are incarcerated will return to society, and professor Pettus-Davis’ research plays a critical role in identifying the most effective methods and programs to ensure that upon release they have every chance of success.”

FSU to host national human trafficking conference

As the state Legislature considers measures aimed to put a dent in human trafficking in the state, Florida State University is preparing to host a two-day summit to address the issue.

Florida is one of the top three “destination states” for trafficking in the United States. The conference will discuss the human trafficking crisis in the country and explore promising practices deployed nationwide.

The conference will bring leading experts from around the country including prosecutors, judges and victim service providers. The keynote speaker is Luis CdeBaca, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-large who has monitored human trafficking crimes.

The event is free and open to the public and will take place next Thursday and Friday at the Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center, 555 W. Pensacola St. On both days, the event starts at 9 a.m.

For more information or to register for the event visit this website.

Children’s Week included 7th annual ‘Kiwanis Advocates for Kids’ breakfast

The Florida District of Kiwanis hosted its “Kiwanis Advocates for Kids” breakfast Thursday as part of Children’s Week at the Capitol, and Kiwanis’ partnership with Healthy Families Florida took center stage at the annual event.

“I’m proud of the creative and thoughtful work Kiwanis members contribute to Florida’s families and communities,” said Florida Kiwanis Governor C. Todd Smith. “Through our partnership with Healthy Families Florida, we easily fulfill most — if not all — of the critical components of Kiwanis International’s Young Children Priority One, an important service project that encourages clubs to positively impact children in their earliest years.”

It’s Kiwanis Club Children’s Week at the Florida Capitol!

Breakfast attendees heard from a mother who recently graduated from the Healthy Families program, a parent-coaching and support program that helps parents provide the safe and stable environments children need for healthy growth and development.

In addition to Kiwanis’ partnership with Healthy Families Florida, the group has also made a multiyear commitment to encourage safe sleep practices and efforts to provide Zika prevention kits to families in counties affected by the virus.

“Kiwanians are deeply committed to helping all children get a safe and healthy start in life. The efforts of Kiwanis clubs across the state have provided immeasurable benefits for thousands of Florida’s families and young children,” said Jennifer Ohlsen, executive director of Healthy Families Florida.

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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