Takeaways from Tallahassee — Legislative misses
Inside the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida.

Photo of Florida State Capitol building

Hey, we get it. There’s a lot going on in the 2018 Legislative Session — and it’s only Week Five.

With budget negotiations, the passage of 27 bills this week and it being an election year, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. So, here’s a brief — very brief — update on some contentious legislation that is facing some hurdles in the process.

The controversial “sanctuary city” bill is likely dead in the Senate. After much buildup on whether the Senate would act differently on the measure that has been a hot political issue this year, the bill hit a roadblock. Sen. Aaron Bean said his bill did not have enough votes to pass its first of three committee stops and asked a Senate panel to temporarily postpone it. Potentially indefinitely.

Aaron Bean’s ‘sanctuary city’ bill runs out of steam in the Senate.

Controversial bills to ban the breeding of Orcas and fracking in the state — two big money fights — have yet to be heard in committee. Sea World has been lobbying hard against the Orca bill, which doesn’t even have a companion bill in the Senate. The fate of these bills is not looking promising even as advocates rally at the Capitol.

A pair of gun bills that would allow guns in religious institutions with schools attached are headed to the full floors for consideration. The measures have one big difference: The Senate wants to keep guns out of churches attached with schools if school-sponsored activities are going on, the House does not.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, who is championing the effort in the Senate, said he has talked with House members to see where things will go.

The same scenario took place last session, ending with a dead proposal in the Senate. So, this one is a tossup.

With that out of the way, here’s the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.

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

Unconstitutional system — A federal judge Thursday said the process used in Florida to restore voting rights to felons who have served their time is unconstitutional and guided by “no standards.” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the current system crafted by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is “nonsensical” and violates the constitutional rights of ex-felons, adding that is it often driven by politics. Scott’s Office said in a statement he would continue to fight for the state system in court. “The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities,” Scott’s Office said.

Some child brides OK — Legislation that would prohibit children from getting married in the state headed in two different directions in the House and the Senate this week. In an emotional vote on the full floor, the Senate unanimously passed a strict ban on all marriages if a person is under the age of 18. The next day, however, the House altered its version of the bill to allow 16-year-olds who get pregnant and want to get married to the father of the child, if he is 18 years or younger. House members who were against the all-minor marriage ban said that doing so could lead to someone getting an abortion if they can’t get married or have a child out of wedlock, which would be against some religious beliefs.

Marijuana money — State Rep. Jason Brodeur has told the state’s top health officials to get to work on medical marijuana — or they won’t get paid. The Sanford Republican has offered an amendment to the House’s 2018-19 budget proposal that would freeze more than $1.9 million in salaries and benefits for the Department of Health’s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and other top officials. They’ll get paid, Brodeur said, when the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use starts dealing with the backlog of applications for marijuana growing and dispensing licenses, and for state-issued patient ID cards, among other things.

Florida Forever funding halfway there — Legislators seeking $100 million annually for the Florida Forever land-buying program got a win in the Senate, with the passage of Senate Bill 370. The proposal, by Sen. Rob Bradley, ensures that money will not be spent on general operations, but rather on land and water conservation efforts. The measure would comply with the wishes of voters in 2014 who approved Amendment 1, which sets aside taxpayer money to the conservation of land in the state. The fate of the bill in the House remains uncertain.

Sanctuary cities gubernatorial snafu — The issue of “sanctuary cities” policies blew up in the gubernatorial race this week, even though no such policies currently exists in the state of Florida. The immigration debate snowballed after House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political committee dropped $500,000 on an inflammatory TV ad that portrays undocumented immigrants as a lethal threat to Floridians. Corcoran has not yet announced his candidacy in the governor’s race, but the ad wiped nearly all doubt. The ad has also unleashed a weary back-and-forth between Corcoran and declared Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum on debating the issue. But no time, place or moderator has been determined and based on their tweets, they have different ideas of where the debate should be.

In wake of Irma, Scott directs FDOT to implement fuel, route changes

On Friday, Gov. Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to examine ways to expedite evacuation routes from the I-75/Florida Turnpike Interchange near Wildwood to the Florida-Georgia border.

The improvements would include more cooperation with Florida Ports and the fuel industry to find ways to increase fuel capacity during a storm emergency, which was a big issue when Hurricane Irma barreled through the state.

After Hurricane Irma, Rick Scott has ordered the FDOT to review evacuation route alternatives.

“As Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Irma, the largest storm to impact our state in modern history, it is critically important that we continue to do all we can to make sure our state is fully prepared in the face of any potential disaster,” Scott said.

The short-term evacuation improvement to expand the Emergency Should Use along key interstate routes, install cameras and dynamic signs on I-75 from Ocala to the Georgia state line, and boost the department’s Florida 511 website system to accommodate increased usage are among the plans that are to be implemented no later than June.

Putnam speeds up thousands of concealed weapon licenses

The agency that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam oversees decided to expedite 100,000 Florida concealed weapon license applications for active military members and veterans this week.

“Florida should the most military and veteran-friendly state in the country,” Putnam said. “I’m proud that we have expedited 100,000 concealed weapon license applications for our active military members and veterans.”

Adam Putnam is expediting thousands of  Florida weapons permits.

Putnam is a declared Republican gubernatorial candidate who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout.” His political foes, however, have called him a “recent convert” on the gun rights issue as he campaigns on it this election year.

Active military personnel who want to apply for a state concealed weapon license are required to have a copy of their Common Access Card or another form of official military identification with their applications.

The applications that will be expedited stretch back to 2015. There are currently 1.8 million Florida concealed weapon license holders.

PIP quibbles

The Legislature is barking up the wrong tree on PIP repeal, according to Florida Justice Reform President William Large. Fixing Florida’s bad-faith laws would do more to lower premiums, he said in a written statement.

“This landmark PCI report on HB 19 proves it — repealing no-fault and mandating bodily injury insurance will cost every driver in Florida more money,” Large said. “And mandating medical payments coverage, as proposed in SB 150, will just cost drivers even more.”

He referred to an analysis released by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“Meanwhile, the legislature has yet to show interest in fixing Florida’s bad faith laws, which the PCI report shows could deliver real savings estimated at 6.7 percent,” Large said.

“The bottom line is, more insurance costs more money. HB 19 and SB 150 won’t deliver for Florida’s drivers. The Legislature should start over and commit to an auto insurance system that delivers only the coverages Florida’s drivers need at the lowest cost.”

The week in appointments

Gov. Scott announced the following appointments and reappointments:

Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees

Stephen Smith, 66, of Naples, is a former partner and board member of Accenture. He received his bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College and his master’s degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Smith will fill a vacant seat for a term ending Jan. 6, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

University of Florida board of trustees

Tom Kuntz, 61, of Winter Park, is the retired President and chief executive officer of SunTrust Bank, Florida. He most recently served as the chairman of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida.

Kuntz received his bachelor’s degree from Rollins College and is a graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Banking.

Kuntz succeeds Steven M. Scott for a term ending Jan. 8, 2023.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Atlantic University board of trustees

Mary Beth McDonald, 66, of Vero Beach, is the former Mayor of the City of Vero Beach. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University. McDonald is reappointed for a term ending Jan. 6, 2021.

Brad Levine, 49, of Deerfield Beach, is the chief executive officer of Tellus, LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his master’s degree from Schiller University. Levine succeeds Daniel Cane for a term ending Jan. 6, 2023.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Commission on Ethics

Daniel Brady, 70, of Miami Shores, is retired. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Kimberly Rezanka, 52, of Merritt Island, is an attorney with Cantwell and Goldman P.A. She is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Guy Norris, 55, of Lake City, is an attorney with Norris and Norris P.A. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.

Ashley Coone, 35, of Arcadia, is a president at ASC Consulting and Marketing and previously served as the DeSoto County Clerk of the Circuit Court. She fills a vacant seat for a term ending June 30, 2018.

These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Pasco-Hernando State College District board of trustees

Dr. Rao Musunuru, 66, of New Port Richey, is a practicing Pasco County board-certified cardiologist at Bayonet Point Hudson Cardiology Associates. He received his Doctor of Medicine from Gunter Medical College. Musunuru is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Lake Shore Hospital Authority

Lory Chancy, 71, of Lake City, is a radiologic technologist with Raul Zelaya, M.D. She is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2021.

Rehabilitation Council for the Blind

Louise Peyton, 64, of Tampa, is a retired rehabilitation specialist with the Florida Division of Blind Services. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University. Peyton is appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term ending Aug. 31, 2018.

Florida Southwestern State College District board of trustees

Christian Cunningham, 56, of Naples, is the chief human resources officer for Herc Rentals. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Cunningham succeeds Christopher Vernon for a term ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

CRC panels shot down a batch of amendment proposals

The full Constitutional Revision Commission is floating a mid-March session start date and as that near commissioners are working to sift through the proposals that will make it to the November ballot.

Just this week, 10 proposals were either killed by commissioners or withdrawn from considerations. Some of those proposals include one that would have amended the state constitution to expand the prohibited basis of discrimination to broadly include “any disability,” not only physical disabilities.

Darryl Rouson is giving his own CRC proposal the boot.

Other proposals that were killed included the six-year lobbying ban and a proposal restricting home rule powers.

Among the proposals that were withdrawn from consideration this week, was Sen. Darryl Rouson’s proposal that aimed at restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and paid restitution. He withdrew his proposal after a ballot initiative seeking the same thing qualified for the ballot days before.

Anti-fracking advocates to call on Bradley to be their ‘hero’

Anti-fracking activists and supporters of a statewide fracking ban are gathering in Jacksonville Saturday to call on Sen. Rob Bradley to be a “hero” on the Senate bill that would implement the ban.

The Senate fracking ban bill has yet to be heard in its first committee stop, chaired by Bradley.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman is calling on Rob Bradley to champion a fracking ban.

The rally will be held in front of a mock oil spill at Friendship Park in Jacksonville. The rally is to bring attention to the “ongoing confusion about whether or not the state will be part of a federal offshore drilling plan.”

Jacksonville Councilman Jim Love, Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller, and St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman will be among those who plan to rally in support of the cause.

The event will start at 10:30 a.m. at Friendship Fountain, located at 1015 Museum Circle, Jacksonville.

Instagram of the week

Grimsley says Florida Farmers need Irma relief posthaste

Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley said in a letter to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio that if Florida farmers have to wait much longer on a Hurricane Irma relief package, it could “pose a serious disruption long-term recovery.”

“Florida farmers and ranchers continue to hold out hope that relief is on its way from Congress,” she wrote. “The five months that have now passed since Hurricane Irma struck have only served to confirm that the damages were substantial and widespread.”

Denise Grimsley is pushing relief for Florida farmers after Hurricane Irma.

The agriculture commissioner candidate also said she was grateful for Nelson and Rubio’s advocacy for the package in the Senate.

“Thank you for insisting that the measure before the U.S. Senate receive immediate attention. We stand ready to assist in any way you believe would support your work to secure its passage. Please know that your efforts are not without purpose and many Florida farmers are  prayerful that your efforts on our behalf meet with success.”

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 third week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

To the surprise of few, the caucus found Republican bills in the House are still getting substantially more attention than Democrat-sponsored ones.

The breakdown on the “What’s the Agenda?” site shows that during Week 3, 15 Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 116 Republican-sponsored bills. Another 29 bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also recorded 13 Republican bills making the House floor during the week, while a pair of Democrat-sponsored bills made the grade.

Including the five committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, Dem bills make up about 18 percent of those on committee agendas while GOP bills take a nearly 70 percent share.

FWC estimates vast majority of scrub jay habitat is gone

Fire isn’t always destructive — just ask anyone who knows a thing or two about Florida scrub jays.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, scrub jays dwell in “areas of deep, well-drained, infertile sandy soils that are typically white or near white.” A lack of natural and prescribed fires allows vegetation to accumulate, spoiling the rare birds’ natural home.

The species is bold, smart and full of personality. And it’s the only bird not found anywhere outside of the state. Unfortunately, habitat loss has plagued scrub jay population counts for centuries.

The endangered Florida scrub jay; bold, smart and full of personality.

FWC estimates scrub jays have lost 90 percent of their habitat since the 1800s. The federal government currently lists the Florida-exclusive screech bird as a threatened species.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to aid the Sunshine State’s feathered friends.

The Florida Scrub-Jay and Wildlife Festival on Saturday at Lyonia Preserve in Deltona will educate attendees on the ecological significance of the species and how fire assists the scrub jay habitat. The free event offers eco-buggy rides, guided hikes, wildlife exhibits and presentations, and activities for kids. It will continue until 4 p.m.

Scrub jays are populated in pockets across the state, including FWC-managed properties Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area, Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area and Platt Branch WEA. In the wild, the birds often are spotted in Ocala National Forest and Seminole State Forest.

Women in French Conference comes to FSU

The conference exploring how women’s voices have been heard in French language literature is coming to Florida State University next week.

The 2018 International Women in French Conference, hosted by the Winthrop-King Institute at Florida State, will focus on “Le bruit des femmes” or “women and noise” as the #MeToo movement shines a light on women speaking out in the public sphere, particularly in the workplace.

Wesleyan University Professor Elizabeth McAlister.

This year’s edition is ninth in the series and will run Feb. 8 through Feb. 10.

The keynote address featuring Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, will be held 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the Globe Auditorium, 110 S. Woodward Ave.

Florida Capitol Complex debuts new recycling containers

To minimize waste, four groups have launched the Capitol Complex Recycling Program to encourage people to recycle bottles and cans during the 2018 Legislative Session.

New bottle-shaped recycling containers have been placed throughout the Capitol by the Florida Beverage Association, which received a grant from the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America. The containers are wrapped with the FDEP logo “Rethink. Reset. Recycle.”

The Capitol Complex Recycling Program is asking to “Rethink. Reset. Recycle.”

The goal of the project is to increase the recycling rate in the Capitol by 25 percent during the first six months of 2018.

“We are proud to partner with the Florida Recycling Partnership, Keep Florida Beautiful and FDEP on the Capitol Complex Recycling Program,” said Liz DeWitt, the executive director for the Florida Beverage Association.

Stuff the Bus is back

One in five people in Tallahassee and neighboring areas are at risk of not having enough to eat, according to America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

That’s why the City of Tallahassee StarMetro is once again launching the “Stuff the Bus” food drive. The capital city’s transit system last year collected 2,000 pounds of food, which helped provide over 2,000 meals to local families.

Stuff The Bus returns!

The process is simple: throughout the month of February, all StarMetro buses will accept nonperishable food items. Canned vegetables, boxes of pasta, rice, cereal, canned meat and peanut butter are preferred.

The donations will be distributed throughout the 11 counties that make up the region. As a whole, Second Harvest throughout the past year distributed more than 7.2 million pounds of food through its partner agencies, totaling more than 6 million meals.

Donations also will be accepted at some city facilities and more than 30 locations throughout Tallahassee. For a full list of donation drop-off sites, visit Talgov.com/StarMetro.

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.


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.

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