Our expectations of a three-day weekend filled with backyard barbecues and relaxation have been met with the reality of the precocious 2018 Hurricane Season.
As of Friday afternoon, it appears the Sunshine State will get a soaking over the holiday, thanks to the untimely formation of now-Subtropical Storm Alberto — six days ahead of the ‘official start’ to the hurricane season.
Per The Weather Channel, Alberto is expected to track north through the Gulf of Mexico toward the most-western portion of the panhandle. It will, however, bring strong rains across the state, particularly the bottom half of Florida, along with its panhandle and even around the capital city.
At the local level, Tallahassee has opened two sandbag locations, James Messer Park South at 2830 Jackson Bluff Road and Winthrop Park. The county also has opened four other locations expected to remain operating until the threat of a storm has passed. City officials have advised Tallahasseeans to download the Digitally app, which keeps citizens in the loop on local developments, including downed power lines and incidences of flooding.
At the state level, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Panama City Beach Friday to warn citizens to take necessary precautions and to speak with local officials.
As far as development goes, The Weather Channel predicts that especially warm waters for May could result in Alberto strengthening to a full-fledged tropical storm later this weekend.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Special Session chances quelled — A Democrat-backed push to reconvene the Legislature this week stopped short of receiving enough support. The Republican-led Legislature voted overwhelmingly to keep lawmakers home and to operate under the budget passed during the 2018 Legislative Session. The Democrats wanted to call the Special Session to increase K-12 education funding. The move was spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, Nicholas Duran, of Miami and Carlos Guillermo Smith, of Orlando. The lawmakers claimed that base allocations to school funding amounted to 47 cents, while Republican leadership has touted a $101.5 increase. The support threshold of three-fifths of Legislature was not met. The Senate voted 16-13 in favor, with some Republican lawmakers abstaining, and the House voted 64-41 against the concept.
Election security money uncertain — Gov. Scott this week directed Secretary of State Ken Detzner to help counties unlock more than $19 million worth of federal funds available to beef up voting security ahead of the 2018 election. That order, however, came after Detzner announced that counties would not get the money ahead of November, citing the need for legislative approval to unlock the funds. If made available, the funds would be used to prevent breaches of election security, such as those unearthed during the 2016 presidential election by Russians. The money would accompany the state’s recent announcement it will hire five cybersecurity consultants to work with elections offices across the state.
State sued over campus early voting ban — A lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and six students from the University of Florida and Florida State University challenges a 2014 decision made by Secretary Detzner to prevent early voting on college campuses. Detzner had interpreted a prior determination that a ban on early voting at the University of Florida’s Student Union was cause to prevent early voting on all public college facilities across the state, according to the lawsuit. John Tupps, Scott’s spokesman, dismissed the lawsuit as an election-year gimmick, according to The Associated Press. “This political group waited four years to challenge this interpretation,” Tupps told the AP. “This is obviously an election-year gimmick to distort the facts.”
Statute could jam gun lawsuit — A 2001 Florida law prevents government entities from suing businesses for producing weapons that are later used unlawfully, though it’s not clear whether the law also bars members of the public. The families of two slain victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, Jaime Guttenberg and Alex Schachter, “seek to hold defendants legally responsible for their complicity in the entirely foreseeable, deadly use of the assault-style weapons that they place on the market,” according to a lawsuit filed this week in Broward County. It seeks damages from gunmaker American Outdoor Brands, formerly known as Smith & Wesson, and Sunrise Tactical Supply, where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz purchased the weapon he used to take 17 lives Feb. 14.
Storm tax holiday on horizon — Monday marks the beginning of a weeklong sales-tax holiday for disaster-preparedness supplies. Notes Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida, that “means about 90 cents to $1.05 in sales taxes will not be applied to a $15 package of batteries or $45 to $52 is left off the purchase of a generator that costs $750.” As the state was still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, lawmakers opted to extend the duration of the annual holiday during the 2018 Legislative Session. The seven-day break, beginning June 1, is more than twice as long as last year’s. According to Turner, the break could cut “state revenue by $4.6 million. Local governments will experience a $1.2 million reduction in revenue, according to state economists.”
Scott, DEO invest in military bases
Recognizing the economic impact military installations have in the Sunshine State, Scott and the state’s jobs agency announced this week a $3.5 million plan to support projects in nearby communities.
The military complexes are estimated to contribute close to $85 billion yearly to Florida’s economy, supporting nearly 800,000 jobs in the Sunshine State. Florida bases will use the new money to improve local infrastructure and acquire land, as well as assist nearby areas and diversify local economies.
“Florida is the most military-friendly state in the nation, and as a Navy Veteran myself, I am proud to announce our state will be providing nearly $3.5 million in additional defense grants dedicated to supporting Florida’s military communities,” Scott said. “Our military installations are the backbone of many great Florida communities.”
The money will arrive to communities via Defense Infrastructure Grants and Defense Reinvestment Grants, which both are administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The former was awarded to defense partners in Bay, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and the latter were disseminated across Bay, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Okaloosa, Orange, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.
“Defense communities play a large role in Florida’s robust economy,” DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor said. “We are proud to invest in our military installations and the local communities they support.”
Avoid gas pump ‘skimmers’ on Memorial Day Weekend, Putnam says
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose job includes regulating gas pumps, is warning of the potential to be ripped off at the pump this holiday weekend.
Namely, he’s concerned about “identity-stealing card skimmers placed on gas pumps.”
“Floridians and visitors shouldn’t have to worry about losing their hard-earned money to scammers who prey on victims at gas pumps,” he said.
Some tips to defend yourself:
— Use a gas pump closer to the store because thieves often place skimmers farther away so they are not noticed as quickly.
— Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed and has not been tampered with.
— Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection.
— Better yet, pay in cash inside the store.
If you think a gas pump has been tampered with, talk with the gas station manager, local law enforcement or call the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).
Patronis: Report suspicious hurricane damage repair offers
As the 2018 Hurricane Season approaches, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis reminds Floridians to contact his Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team (DFAST) if they suspect they may have fallen victim to insurance fraud during their recovery after a hurricane.
“As recovery efforts continue from last year, and the 2018 Hurricane Season quickly approaches, we must continue to look out for our families, friends and neighbors by reporting suspicious activity as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
Possible indicators of post-storm fraud include a contractor or restoration professional who:
— Offered to waive or discount your insurance deductible.
— Received payment and failed to provide any repairs to your home.
— Offered to provide repairs at a cash-only discounted rate and has failed to provide repairs to your home.
— Pressured you to sign an AOB and failed to provide any repairs to your home or stopped responding to your contact attempts.
Consumers who have experienced or witnessed these types of activity are encouraged to reach out to CFO Patronis’ Fraud Tip Hotline by calling 1-800-378-0445. Callers can choose to remain anonymous.
Instagram of the week
Following tradition For over 60 years, the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) has honored America’s fallen heroes days prior to #MemorialDay by placing American flags at grave sites for service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This tradition, known as “Flags In,” has been conducted annually since The Old Guard was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit in 1948. Within one hour, Soldiers will place flags in front of more than 228,000 headstones. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Gabriel Silva #USArmy #Soldier #TheOldGuard #ArlingtonNationalCemetery #ANC #Tradition #Honor #HonorThem #FlagsIn #ArmyGram
The week in appointments
1st Judicial Circuit
Stephen Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit. Gov. Scott appointed him to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.
Okaloosa County Court
Angela Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit. Gov. Scott appointed her to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.
Miami-Dade County Court
Ramiro Christen Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz. Elijah A. Levitt, 39, of Miami, fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.
Florida Citrus Commission
Pat Schirard, 57, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, a premium juice company that prides itself on solely using Florida citrus for production. He fills a vacancy on the nine-member Citrus Commission for a term ending May 31, 2019.
Duran delivers big for anti-human trafficking program
State Rep. Nicholas X. Duran, a Miami Democrat, this week presented a $400,000 check to a South Florida effort aimed at serving youth victims of human trafficking.
The money was given to Citrus Helping Adolescents Negatively Impacted by Commercial Exploitation (CHANCE) in Miami-Dade. It will support the development of a Campus for Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth program.
Securing the funds was a legislative victory for Duran during the 2018 Session. He had submitted a request for the money during the appropriations process.
“The rights and best interests of sexually exploited children should be at the forefront of priorities in Florida. We should be taking bold measures to ensure the safety and protection of our children from violence and abuse,” stated Representative Duran. “By providing services designed to help children cope with traumatic events, we can turn negative experiences into empowerment and inner transformation. Programs like CHANCE not only treat these youths, but they provide a foundation of support that children carry with them for a lifetime.”
The new program includes integrated health services. As well, it will support a continuum of care, with statewide inpatient psychiatric programs, therapeutic group homes, foster homes and an education facility.
Hukill to be recognized by art-based nonprofit
For her many years in public service, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill will be honored at an event hosted by the ArtHaus Foundation.
On June 6 the Port Orange Republican will be recognized at ArtHaus’ 20th Annual Fun & Funky Dinner. Dubbed “Volusia — There’s No Place Like Home,” the Wizard of Oz-themed event starts at 5:30 p.m. at Root Hall at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach.
Established in 1996, the ArtHaus Foundation is a boutique nonprofit dedicated to enhancing arts education in Volusia County schools and communities. To do so, it showcases student art in Hukill’s district, provides after-school, art-focused programs, and supports art educators while also promoting cultural enrichment for the community.
An invitation reads, “Senator Hukill has dedicated her years serving and being a voice for those who call Volusia County home. In the Florida Legislature, Dorothy has been a steadfast supporter of the arts and believes in the importance of nurturing our children’s creativity and inspiring them to be true to themselves and their visions.”
Tickets for the event are $100, though sponsorship levels range between $500 and $5,000, spanning “Yellow Brick Road” to “Ruby Slippers” levels. Proceeds from the event will support ArtHaus’ mission: “Instilling the spirit of creativity & self expression in our youth & our community.”
Tournaments aid in lionfish removal
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is once again employing a unique way to incentivize lionfish removal: fishing tournaments.
The series, dubbed the 2018 Lionfish Challenge, started May 19 — or Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day — and has directly resulted in the removal of 15,000 lionfish from Florida waters so far. FWC considers the species invasive, and encourages removal due to its negative impact on Florida’s underwater ecosystems.
The challenge runs through Sept. 3. Already more than 200 people have signed up to participate.
This year, some fish are tagged at artificial reefs across the state. Reeling in a tagged lionfish could net the angler a cash prize of up to $5,000. Last weekend five tagged fish were caught off Escambia County.
The area with the most lionfish action last weekend was Pensacola, where more than 9,000 of the venomous-spined creatures were hooked.
DCF, local communities join forces for foster care
The Florida Department of Children and Families announced this week that it will alongside community partners recognize and celebrate foster families and those who support them.
The news comes as May, National Foster Care Month, draws to a close. DCF said it is working with the state’s community-based care (CBC) agencies to recruit, license, and match children with foster homes.
“When you choose to invest in and enhance the lives of children and youth currently in foster care, you are giving them an opportunity to be successful; ultimately strengthening our communities,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said. “Opening your heart and home to a child in a time of critical need is one of the most rewarding roles you can fulfill within your community.”
According to DCF, there are nearly 25,000 children in foster care in the Sunshine State. “Each child needs love, security, and a strong foundation to build their life around,” a news release from the agency said.
DCF isn’t the only entity in the capital city celebrating foster care. The Tallahassee Democrat has published throughout the month special guest columns from foster parents.
Pratt & Whitney brings 215 more jobs to Palm Beach
It was announced this week by Gov. Scott that manufacturing powerhouse Pratt & Whitney would be expanding its site, creating 215 additional jobs at its Palm Beach County location.
Since 2012, the aircraft engine and auxiliary power unit maker created 300 Sunshine State jobs, according to a news release from Scott’s office. The term-limited Governor, who’s made a point to secure his job growth legacy before leaving office next year, chimed in on the company’s expansion plans.
“I am proud to announce 215 new jobs for families in Palm Beach County. As Governor, one of the best parts of my job is meeting families across our state and over the past seven years, I’ve heard firsthand from them just how important our focus on job growth is to their success,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Today’s exciting announcement shows why Florida is leading the nation in job growth and why we will never stop fighting to make sure that hardworking companies, like Pratt & Whitney, can grow and create jobs.”
Executives of the manufacturing firm gave credit to the state for its commitment to pro-business initiatives. The project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Palm Beach County’s Business Development Board, according to the news release.
And to DEO head Proctor, the expansion “is another sign that employers are benefiting from Florida’s pro-business policies and finding the talent they need to grow in the Sunshine State.”
TaxWatch taps longtime lobbyist to Board of Trustees
Fausto Gomez, president of Gomez Barker Advisors, joined this week the Board of Trustees for the Sunshine State’s premier taxpayer research institute and watchdog organization.
With his addition, TaxWatch is bringing one of Florida’s most-respected government relations counselors onboard.
“We are thrilled to welcome Fausto Gomez to our esteemed Board of Trustees,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Florida TaxWatch was built on the idea of bringing the business community to the Legislature. Mr. Gomez’s background with both businesses and government makes him an excellent addition to the board.”
Gomez is bilingual and has significant experience in the art of government relations. He has represented clients skillfully before the Legislature, agencies and local governments in South Florida.
By joining TaxWatch, Gomez hopes to contribute to its central mission of making government more efficient.
“Now more than ever, there is a need for a nonpartisan watchdog to monitor waste and inefficiency in government,” said Gomez. “I am not only excited but honored to join Florida TaxWatch in forwarding their important mission to improve taxpayer value, government accountability and citizen understanding.”
Greenberg Traurig employee honored for advocacy
Liz Dudek, Director of Health Care Affairs to Tallahassee Greenberg Traurig (GT) location, was recognized this week for her dedication to advocating on behalf of the elderly and disabled.
At an annual dinner honoring late U.S. Senator and Representative Claude Pepper at Jungle Island in Key Biscayne, Dudek was awarded the United HomeCare Claude Pepper Award for Lifetime Achievement. It pays tribute to Pepper’s care advocacy and “honors exceptional individuals and organizations from the private and public sector who exemplify the spirit and ideals of the award’s namesake,” according to a news release from GT. United Homecare is a long-running nonprofit home health and community group in South Florida.
“I am honored to receive the United HomeCare Claude Pepper Award and to share this recognition with the other honorees,” said Dudek. “Having spent much of my career in health care, I appreciate the importance of providing seniors in our community with the quality care that they deserve. We all have to work together to champion for the elderly to ensure that they are treated with compassion and dignity.”
Before joining GT, Dudek had served as the Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration and Deputy Secretary of Health Quality Assurance. Now at the firm, she helps “clients navigate the health care system, interact with agencies, and better understand legislative affairs and their accompanying issues,” according to the news release.
GT is an international law practice with more than 2,000 attorneys in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Law360 named it the largest law firm in the country in 2017.
Leon County closures, service changes for Memorial Day
Closed Monday, May 28: Leon County offices, libraries, community centers, Animal Control, Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers, Household Hazardous Waste Center.
Remaining open for the holiday: Leon County parks and recreation facilities (including boat landings).
The LeRoy Collins Leon County Branch Libraries will close Saturday, May 26, at 4 p.m. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will close at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 27. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library and branch libraries will resume normal operating hours Tuesday, May 29.
The Woodville, Ft. Braden and Miccosukee Rural Waste Service Centers will close at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 27. All Leon County Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers and Household Hazardous Waste Center will resume normal operating hours Tuesday, May 29.
In the event of an animal-related emergency, service is available by calling the Consolidated Dispatch Agency at (850) 606-5800. Leon County Animal Control encourages residents to only use this service to report dangerous or aggressive dogs, sick or injured domestic animals and animal cruelty. Injured wildlife calls will be forwarded to the St. Francis Wildlife Association at (850) 627-4151.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: