With only three weeks left in the 2018 Legislative Session, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is dominating the conversation in Tallahassee.
Democrats have started making noise about Republicans obstructing their long-stalled gun control bills, while GOP-leaders have focused on the need for changes to mental health laws, and needed funding boosts.
Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley all spoke about the shooting through that lens. The Senate is also considering school “hardening” and providing funding to destroy the building where the massacre occurred, the Miami Herald reports.
But the clock is ticking for the Republican-controlled Legislature to make meaningful change in response to 17 people being gunned down at the suburban Broward County school. So far, a push for mental health funding is gaining the most momentum, but concrete proposals have yet to emerge.
With that said, here are 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:
Parkland’s legislative aftermath — The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Broward County shook the entire country and the state Capitol this week, reviving the political debate on what can be done to put an end to gun violence. Senate leadership says the focus will be on boosting funding for mental health services and more security on campuses across Florida — not gun control. House members have sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran — who has mostly been mum since the shooting — asking him to match the Senate’s funding proposal for mental health services. Broward County legislators flew back home upon hearing the news of the shooting to attend Thursday’s vigil and be with the community.
Putnam pulls gun proposal — A proposal tucked into an agriculture-related bill that would have allowed applicants to get concealed weapon permits if Florida officials don’t complete their complete background checks in time was pulled from consideration due to “timing” and “sensitivity.” The hearing was set a day after the shooting. Senate President Negron said it would be up to the bill sponsor to see if the proposal would get another hearing this session, but Senate Budget Chairman Bradley said it will not be coming back this session and that mental health will be a priority.
Underage marriages still in play — A clash between the House and the Senate is putting legislation that aims to end forced child marriages in a tough spot. While the bill is very much alive, legislators that led the effort in their chambers are working together to see what the next step will be. The Florida House voted this week to allow a court to issue a marriage license to 16- and 17-year-olds in cases when there is a pregnancy. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and the entire Senate want a ban on all underage marriages. Benacquisto said she is “concerned” that the House proposal may not close all loopholes that could lead to forced child marriages in the state. She said she will continue to work with Rep. Jeanette Nunez to weigh all options for the bill.
Fixing voter-restoration process — After a federal judge said the state’s current voter-restoration system is unconstitutional, the state fought back and said Gov. Scott and the Cabinet should be tasked with fixing its flaws — not the courts. But a national voting rights advocacy group that convinced the judge to strike down the current process said the court should restore voting rights to all felons who complete any “waiting period” set by the state. Currently, the state has a five-year waiting period before a former felon can apply to have their voting rights restored.
A hyped-up immigration debate — After days of tweeting back and forth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and House Speaker Corcoran met face-to-face to debate the sanctuary city issue that has taken over the governor’s race. The 45-minute debate centered on Corcoran’s $1.4 million television ad that portraying immigrants who entered the country illegally as a danger to Floridians and HB 9, a proposal that threatens local officials who do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities with removal from office and fines. Corcoran and Gillum advocated for polar opposite sides on the issue — as expected. But both fed their base supporters, which would make it a win for both try to boost their name recognition statewide.
Scott gives update on response to Parkland school shooting
The day after 17 died in a mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School, Gov. Scott listed off what state agencies are doing to help the survivors.
The Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Children and Families through its local managing entity, Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, are providing grief counseling in the area. DOE has also put the Florida Association of School Psychologists on standby if more counselors are needed.
Attorney General Pam Bondi is also on the scene with her director of victim services and approximately a dozen victim advocates. The office is also offering counseling services and funeral, burial and medical expenses for victims and their families.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol are assisting the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation.
The state Department of Health is also on call to help the Broward County medical examiner, while OneBlood is working to meet the blood donation needs of the victims. The agency said O negative blood is needed to replenish the area’s supply.
Senators ask Negron to convene school safety task force
Sens. Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores sent a letter Friday to Senate President Negron asking him to “immediately convene” a task force that would find comprehensive solutions to “protect our students and teacher from violence.”
“The task force should consider reviewing the following issues, mental health, access to care, funding and treatment options,” they write.
Both Miami Republicans want a task force to explore review issues of mental health treatment options as well as options for hiring former military and police officers to secure schools.
The findings collected by the task force would provide a “framework for action” by the governor and the Legislature.
“We should not allow the inaction of our Federal partners to be the cause of our inaction in addressing the issues of violence in our schools and our community,” the letter states. “The time for action is now.”
Senators visit Floridians affected by school shooting
Senate President Negron, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and Sens. Lauren Book and Gary Farmer went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday to meet with those affected by the tragedy.
The senators visited Broward Health where they met with medical personnel responsible for treating shooting victims. They also met with Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
The pictures and video I viewed previously did not prepare us for the horrendous sight we viewed today at Stoneman Douglas,” Negron said. That horrific scene of one person’s destruction was a stark contrast to the heroism and hope we encountered during our meeting with the doctors and other medical personnel.”
Negron said he is committed to pushing legislation that will give $100 million in funding for mental health services, improve the safety and security of state schools and ensure that a person suffering from a mental health issue does not have the ability to purchase a firearm.
“I look forward to visiting Parkland again to share with the community the progress we have made toward preventing a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” Negron said.
Gibson, Berman want gun bills heard in 2018 Legislative Session
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran imploring them to consider a proposal that would allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from owners who pose a threat to themselves or others.
HB 231 and SB 530, sponsored by Lantana Rep. Lori Berman and Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson, would allow family, friends, teachers or law enforcement officers to get a court order to temporarily remove a firearm if there is evidence that a person poses a significant danger to themselves or others because of a mental health crisis or violent behavior.
“Now more than ever, these bills must be heard. The most recent shooting is unacceptable and too tragic to comprehend. It is time we step up and come together to act on meaningful gun safety reform,” Berman said. “As a mother, my heart breaks for these families. There are no words to describe the horror of a child not returning home from school. Florida needs to set an example for the rest of the nation by not just demanding action but taking action.”
The bills are based off a Washington state law. Similar measures have passed in California, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut.
Instagram of the week
Florida picks up another $10 million in Israeli bonds
CFO Jimmy Patronis announced this week that Florida is increasing its stake in Israeli bonds by $10 million this year, bringing the Sunshine State’s total investment to $50 million.
“During a time when our nation is criticized and attacked for moving our embassy to Jerusalem, it’s incredibly important to signal to the world that we stand firmly with the State of Israel,” Patronis said.
“Israel’s economy has seen significant growth over the years including expanded development in the high-tech industry. Increasing our investment in Israel by $10 million this year not only provides a good return on investment but strengthens our relationship. The interests of Israel will always be the interests of the United States, and this unprecedented investment further cements us as friends, allies and economic partners.”
Patronis decided to increase Florida’s investment after discussions with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and other representatives, including Israel Bonds President Israel Maimon. The move gives Florida the third largest stake in the State of Israel among U.S. states.
Conservative activist seeks constitutional fix to abortion issue
John Stemberger is telling supporters their “voice is needed at one of the four upcoming historic hearings of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).”
The commission, in the process of rewriting parts of the state constitution, announced the second round of public hearings on their work, in Melbourne on Feb. 19, Jacksonville on Feb. 20, Pensacola on Feb. 27, and St. Petersburg on March 13.
The panel now has 37 proposals under review for possible addition to the state’s governing document. That doesn’t include one favored by Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who sits on the commission and leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. Proposal 22 was voted down by other commissioners.
It’s “designed to fix our state constitution’s privacy clause and require the Florida Supreme Court to interpret it in accordance with the original intent of the Legislature (which placed it on the ballot) and the people who adopted it,” he told supporters in an email this week. “Florida’s privacy clause was intended for informational privacy and not for abortion.”
Stemberger and others have urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. Opponents complain that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.
“If 15 CRC members vote to revive the proposal, the matter can still be heard and voted on by the entire commission,” Stemberger said.
“The first public hearing in this second round of CRC hearings occurred this past week in Fort Lauderdale, one of the most liberal cities in the state,” he added. “The forum was packed with what appeared to be 500-600 people who were very hostile to life, parental rights and school choice.
“During the hearing, opponents were very rude, disruptive and did not respect the Chairman’s repeated requests to be civil and not cheer, clap, or otherwise disrupt the forum or another speaker’s time. Citizens who support life, parental rights, life and school choice need to attend these upcoming hearings and present better, respectful, more persuasive (not to mention truthful) arguments to this historic commission.”
The 37-member panel convenes every 20 years. Any changes it ultimately approves still must go on the 2018 statewide ballot and gain 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.
DOH wants Floridians to show their heart some love
The Florida Department of Health said this week that Floridians should treat Valentine’s Day as a reminder to live a heart-healthy life.
DOH and the American Heart Association recognize February as a time to help Americans focus on making changes to their lifestyle in order to combat heart disease, the leading cause of death in Florida and the country.
“This month, take some time to show your heart extra love — if you take care of your heart, your heart will take care of you,” DOH Secretary Celeste Philip said. “Heart disease remains a threat to too many Floridians, and almost half of adults in America have high blood pressure. But there are many ways to reduce your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, such as making smart food choices, staying active and getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night.”
DOH’s recommendations for keeping hearts fit are 150 minutes of exercise a week, regular visits to the doctor for preventive screenings, and a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Smokers can also greatly decrease their risk of heart disease by quitting, and Tobacco Free Florida is willing to lend a helping hand for those ready to make the change.
Child Safety Alarm Act clears first committee
A bill by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart that aims to crack down on children being left in hot daycare vehicles cleared its first committee this week with a unanimous vote.
“This is a bipartisan effort to keep our children safe,” Stewart said. “We need to be doing everything we can to try to prevent our most precious cargo from being left in hot vans and I look forward to the same vote outcome at the Transportation Committee.”
Stewart filed the bill after the 2017 death of 3-year-old Myles Hill, who was left unattended in a daycare van for 12 hours in the scorching summer heat.
SB 486 would require vehicles used by day care facilities to be outfitted with an alarm system that reminds drivers to check the car for children before leaving the vehicle. The bill is expected to be taken up next for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, followed by the Rules Committee before it’s ready for the Senate floor.
A similar bill in the House, HB 305, has been filed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone but has not yet been heard in committee.
Plakon gives the ultimate Valentine’s Day present
Some give flowers, others give chocolates. But state Rep. Scott Plakon gets tattoos for Valentine’s Day.
“I just got a tattoo. Really. I’m not kidding. A real one,” Plakon wrote in a Facebook post.
Plakon got a tattoo with the purple Alzheimer’s Awareness ribbon and a daisy in honor of his wife Susie, whose favorite flower is the daisy and was diagnosed with Alzheimer.
“As I’ve shared before,” he said, “my new life’s mission is to help bring more awareness to the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. What better way to make it permanent than to get a tattoo?”
The Seminole County Republican said he went to the tattoo parlor on his way home from Tallahassee. He stopped at Infamous Tattoos in Leesburg.
“Sort of an unusual gift but Happy Valentine’s Day, Susie Plakon!” he wrote.
COA group praises Senate for ‘Condo Cleanup Bill’ vote
A bill by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo that would patch up a number of cracks in 2017 legislation aimed at reforming condominium owners association rules cleared its second Senate panel this week, much to the delight of association group Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies.
“Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a number of needed reforms that instructed Associations what to do but not how to implement those reforms,” said CEOMC Executive Director and Lobbyist Mark Anderson.
“SB 1274 is essentially the instruction manual of how to properly implement those important reforms while protecting our Associations and homeowners from unintended higher costs. We are pleased to see this legislation moving quickly and appreciate the leadership of Senator Passidomo.”
The “Condo Cleanup Bill,” makes clear how long COAs must keep official records, such as vote tallies or contract bids, on hand for unit owners. It also requires larger complexes to post certain records online and clarifies financial reporting requirements for complexes based on their annual revenues.
The bill now moves on to the Rules Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for the chamber floor.
Rhodes Roberts named 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that has been picked as the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” for 2017.
“Florida’s robust agriculture industry would not be as bright as it is today without the dedication and service of individuals such as Dr. Roberts,” Putnam said. “I’m honored to present Dr. Roberts with the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture award.”
Roberts spent 35 years working for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, beginning in 1968, where she championed policy changes for the advancement of Florida’s agriculture industry, trade and production practices.
In 1984, Roberts became the first woman in the United States to serve as an Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture.
After leaving DACS, Roberts spent 13 years as Director of Industry Relations and then as Special Assistant for Government Affairs for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
FSU dedicates memorial honoring Navy hero
Florida State University dedicated a memorial this week to Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot and FSU alumnus who was killed during the Persian Gulf War.
FSU President John Thrasher and a member of the Speicher family spoke at the dedication, which was part of Military Appreciation Weekend at the university.
The memorial features a bronze helmet similar to what Speicher would have worn and included a black granite pedestal, bronze plaque and his name. The memorial is part of an exterior face-lift to the Scott Speicher Tennis Center, located at the intersection of Chieftain Way and Spirit Way.
The center, completed in 2003, was named after Speicher due to his love of the sport.
FSU women’s tennis coach Jennifer Hyde said she and members of the team were excited and proud to be a part of the dedication.
“I think it’s very important for our student-athletes to pause and appreciate the namesake behind this facility,” Hyde said. “This new memorial honoring Scott Speicher and his family recognizes that we would not be able to live the lives we have without the commitment of our military members, who protect our freedoms and way of life.”
Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. He was listed as missing for nearly two decades until United States Marines discovered the crash site and his remains in 2009. He was the first American combat casualty in the Persian Gulf War.
New cruise line to build headquarters in Florida
The Sunshine State is once again proving to be an ideal location for businesses.
Virgin Voyages, a new cruise company by the global Virgin brands, announced this week that it will house its headquarters in Plantation. The move is expected to bring 300 new jobs to Broward County and an investment of $15.9 million into the local economy.
The state played an integral role in securing Virgin Voyages’ headquarters, coordinating with local ordinances and articulating the strength of Broward County’s diverse, educated and multicultural workforce, infrastructure, quality of life, proximity to major seaports and a competitive tax and business environment — all of which were cited by the new cruise line as reasons for placing its headquarters in Plantation.
“As a top tourism destination, the gateway to Latin America and one of the most business-friendly states, Florida is the best place for Virgin Voyages’ new headquarters,” said Gov. Scott, who has made it a priority to bring jobs to the state during his tenure.
The news capped a great week for Florida’s economy. On the same day of the Virgin Voyages announcement, aerospace powerhouse Lockheed Martin told Floridians it would be expanding in the Orlando area, creating 500 new jobs.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: