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Takeaways from Tallahassee — House improvement

Welcome to the 21st-century, Florida House.

House improvement

The Florida House mobile app is no more.

Taking its place is an updated, phone-friendly version of the main website.

Fred Piccolo, communications director for House Speaker Jose Oliva, announced the update this week.

“Yes we have joined the 21st-century, and the Florida House of Representatives website is now mobile responsive,” Piccolo tweeted.

The site now works well for any device, Piccolo said. It replaces the app, eliminating the need for an old, underused application that would’ve required “tens of thousands of dollars” to update, Piccolo said.

Welcome to the 21st century: The Florida House unveiled an updated, phone-friendly version of its main website. The site now can work on any device.

The site enhancements come at no extra cost to taxpayers (the House’s IT team worked on the update) and just in time for back-to-back committee weeks.

Mobile users of the updated site will notice the lobbyist disclosure requirement in a more prominent space, “above the fold,” Piccolo said.

As well, a new sitewide search feature is ready for use. Previously, mobile users could only look up bills.

Some other notable changes:

smaller footprint for partisan offices;

increased loading speed;

more robust committee pages;

and member photos, names, districts, and major cities.

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

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

Take 5

DeSantis budget spends and cuts — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a record $91.3 billion spending plan for lawmakers to use as a template through the Legislative Session. Included in the budget is $335 million worth of tax cuts. That figure is mostly made up of $289.7 in savings stemming from a proposed property tax millage drop of 0.157 in the required local effort in the Florida Education Finance Program. Two sales-tax holidays for families are expected to combine for $45.3 million in additional tax relief. That figure comes from a three-day back-to-school sales tax break ($39.5 million) and a weeklong disaster preparedness holiday ($5.9 million). Concerning education, DeSantis wants an increase in per-student funding by $7,653, or $224 more than last year. The base student allocation is recommended to increase by $50 per student.

Galvano eyes infrastructure changes — Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters this week that he spawned the Infrastructure and Security Committee to look at extending or creating corridors through the state. Galvano notably asked the panel to work on extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia border. The Bradenton Republican also requested the panel create the Northern Turnpike Connector, which would link the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and to create a corridor between Polk and Collier counties. “The time has come to prioritize these critical infrastructure enhancements and to combine those efforts with innovations that enhance surrounding communities while providing new opportunities for job creation,” Galvano wrote in a memo to fellow senators.

DeSantis targets burdensome licensing — In remarks delivered during a daylong “Deregathon” workshop in Orlando, the Governor specifically addressed licensing. “I think Florida’s occupational licensing system needs to be overhauled,” DeSantis said. The question at stake is whether occupational licenses protect consumers more than they stifle competition. “I think it’s legitimate to have regulations or licensing goals of protecting consumers and protecting the safety of the public,” DeSantis said. “I do not think it is a legitimate goal of regulation or licensure to try to create a guild to basically raise prices for consumers.” One of DeSantis’ chief regulators, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears, is expected to champion deregulation for the administration.

Israel challenges suspension — Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is requesting a Senate hearing to review his suspension from office. Gov. DeSantis removed Israel from his post in January. Former legislator Dudley Goodlette is set to be the special master for the case. Israel, however, has requested someone without ties to the Legislature oversee the hearing. “The Senate has received Sheriff Israel’s request for a hearing, and will proceed accordingly,” Galvano said. “It remains my intention to appoint former Rep. Goodlette as special master.”

First Step Act filed — State Sen. Jeff Brandes introduced a bill this week that would make significant changes to the state’s criminal justice system. The Florida First Step Act is named and modeled after a federal counterpart signed into law in December. Brandes’ bill (SB 642) addresses the sentencing of criminals and focuses on re-entry services in an attempt to reduce crime and save money. It also provides cost-cutting changes to probation services and requires prisoners to be kept within 150 miles of their primary residence “unless the safety of department employees or inmates requires other placement.”

DeSantis’ environmental spending fetches praise

To at least one environmental group, DeSantis is putting his money where his mouth is.

Florida Conservation Voters came out early in support of the Governor’s record spending plan.

Kudos: Ron DeSantis is getting high marks (at least so far) with at least one environmental group over his commitment to conservation, Everglades restoration, and resource protection. Image via WFSU.

“Today’s commitment from Gov. DeSantis to support the Florida Forever land conservation program shows that he is listening to the people of our state who are demanding action for our environment,” said Jonathan Webber, deputy director at FCV. “Florida Conservation Voters applauds Gov. DeSantis and looks forward to working with the Florida Legislature to see that we invest in our most precious natural lands before they are lost forever.”

On the environment, DeSantis is recommending lawmakers spend $625 million for Everglades restoration and resource protection. An investment of that each year would result in $2.5 billion by the time DeSantis is up for re-election.

The budget also suggests spending $100 million for Florida Forever, a land-acquisition fund that regularly sparks debate.

Mrs. DeSantis leads out on Black History Month

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced a series of student contests for February, Black History Month.

The theme: “Celebrating Public Service.” As the name suggests, the contest will serve as a tribute to African-American leaders in the Sunshine State.

Inspiration and talent: First Lady Casey DeSantis is ‘excited’ for a series of student contests to celebrate Black History Month.

“Ron and I could not be more excited to join our state’s incredible students, parents, teachers and educators during Black History Month to celebrate and champion the public service of so many influential Floridians,” Casey DeSantis said. “Our state is blessed to have several inspirational and talented leaders who serve our communities every day.”

Students across the state in grades K-3 are invited to submit two-dimensional artworks related to the theme.

Students in grades 4-12 have the opportunity to submit a no-more-than-500-word essay on the theme. The three winners of the essay contest will receive a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. More information is available here.

Moody addresses NRA lawsuit

Concerns on the campaign trail don’t always have their day in office.

One reporter highlighted that phenomenon when they asked Attorney General Ashley Moody whether she’d defend the state in an NRA-backed lawsuit challenging the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which Moody in part opposed while running for office.

Ashley Moody wouldn’t say if she will defend the state in an NRA-backed lawsuit against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Image via the Miami Herald.

Moody said she would “defend laws” as the Attorney General because she took an oath when she assumed office. Though, she added, “arguments” could see change.

Moody told the Tampa Bay Times last year that she “does not support making it illegal for competent, law-abiding adults to purchase firearms,” a nod to a provision included in the new law that prevents most people under 21 from buying a rifle.

Lawmakers quickly ushered the bill through last year’s lawmaking session after 17 students and staff were killed at the Parkland high school Feb. 14.

Thank you, FDLE

Moody is grateful to grace under pressure by FDLE pilots.

She’d caught a lift with Gov. DeSantis and four of his aides Jan. 11 when a twin-engine FDLE aircraft developed mechanical problems that forced a landing in St. Petersburg. Their destination had been Fort Lauderdale.

“We were not expecting any surprises with that aircraft,” Moody told reporters who asked her about the episode following this week’s Cabinet meeting.

Cool under pressure: Ashley Moody expressed gratitude to the FDLE pilots for the way they handled mechanical problems when the airplane carrying both her and Ron DeSantis was forced to make an emergency landing in St. Petersburg.

“The governor and I both looked at each other when the oxygen masks dropped and wondered whether this was real,” she said. “And quickly adjusted and determined how to use these.”

Clearly, it pays to listen when flight attendants go through emergency procedures before commercial flights.

“I can tell you now, because of personal experience, that oxygen is flowing and the bag does not inflate,” Moody said.

“It was a pretty harrowing time. We had to descend rather quickly to a lower level. Thankfully, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had excellent pilots who remained calm and cool under pressure.

“I thank them every day for their professionalism. We were just glad to get on the ground.”

Moody cracks down on phony followers

Attorney General Moody this week reached an agreement with social media company Devumi after discovering it was peddling fraudulent online followers.

The Attorney General’s office took action against the Palm Beach company after an investigation found it sold hundreds of millions of fake followers, or bots, to an estimated 200,000 customers.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has banned a Florida company for selling millions of fake online followers. Image via the Sun-Sentinel.

Devumi is now prohibited from engaging in future bot schemes. An agreement between Moody’s office and Devumi requires the company and owner Calas, Jr., to pay $50,000 in investigative fees and costs.

“Social media fraud is serious deception and can give users unwarranted influence,” Moody said in a statement. “Through the use of bots, consumers may be tricked into believing a product, person or message is much more popular than it actually is.

“It should go without saying, don’t believe everything you see on the internet, and this is just one example of how technology can be used to create false realities.”

Fried talks concealed-carry permitting oversight

Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book filed a bill (SB 108) in November that would move the state’s concealed-carry permitting process away from the Florida Department of Agriculture and into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But such a transfer would take some degree of power away from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who recently said she’s spoken about the bill with Book and is “working through the logistics.”

Nikki Fried is considering the logistics in moving the concealed-weapons permit process to the FDLE. Image via AP Photo/Bill Kaczor.

Fried told reporters during Wednesday’s AP Day at the Capitol that her office is conducting a “deep dive” to determine whether FDLE “wants” control over the permitting process.

“Regardless of whether [the permitting process] moves somewhere else, we have a responsibility of fixing it now,” Fried said.

Fried said the program should be under the purview of law enforcement, whether that’s within her office or elsewhere. She believes control over the permitting process shouldn’t be subject to a “power grab” between her and other members of the Cabinet or Legislature.

Instagram of the Week


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Go home #polarvortex — you’re drunk.

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DiCeglie seeks to expand education pilot

A five-year pilot program passed by the Legislature in 2016 allowed some school districts to use different, personalized learning programs.

Now, Republican state Rep. Nick DiCeglie wants to give the same opportunity to schools across the state via a new measure (HB 401).

Nick DiCeglie

Newly sworn-in state Rep. Nick DiCeglie is looking to widen a program that uses personalized learning based on ‘each student’s unique interests and aspirations.’

“House Bill 401 brings a mastery-based learning focus to the classroom with the intent of meeting each student’s unique interests and aspirations,” DiCeglie said. “Students develop social and leadership skills through the various opportunities this personalized learning provides.”

Of Pinellas, DiCeglie noted the program’s success at Clearwater High School. “I strongly believe each and every student in the state of Florida should have the opportunity to learn in this effective and innovative manner,” he said.

The 2016 pilot “created personal learning paths that provide students with flexibility, choices of work and multiple opportunities to master the course content,” a news release from DiCeglie claimed

Capitol lights to remember Parkland

The Capitol building will have an orange glow during the week of Feb. 10 to honor the 17 students, and staff killed at last year’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Agriculture Commissioner Fried secured approval for the lights from fellow Cabinet members and Gov. DeSantis earlier this week.

“As we approach the anniversary of a horrific tragedy in our state’s history, we must remember the victims, and ensure that the memories of those 17 lives are honored,” Fried said. “This week of orange will serve as a symbol of hope and token of respect to the families of the victims, and a reminder of our solemn responsibility to take seriously the threat of gun violence.”

Feb. 14 marks one year since the Parkland tragedy. Fried’s office is working with the Florida Department of Management Services to implement the lighting change.

Florida Coalition for Children to ‘Rally in Tally’

In another sign that the Legislative Session is upon us, the will be holding its annual Rally in Tally.

The event, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, brings together many stakeholders to discuss legislative priorities ahead of the 60-day lawmaking Session. Representatives from the Department of Children and Families are expected to attend.

With the imminent Legislative Session comes the annual Florida Coalition for Children’s ‘Rally in Tally’ next week, along with the tease of an ‘exciting announcement.’

On Tuesday, FCC will host the Legislative Kick-Off Breakfast on the 22nd floor of the Capitol.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, will attend. An “exciting announcement” is teased for after the program.

Advocates to rally for Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association and supporters will coalesce on Capitol steps in Tallahassee Tuesday night, encouraging lawmakers to prioritize Alzheimer’s issues.

The push comes after President Donald Trump signed into law the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act in late December. The federal law authorized the creation of an Alzheimer’s-focused public health network.

Scott Plakon and his wife Susie, who died last year from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The Alzheimer’s Association has some powerful voices who are sympathetic to its cause.

Gov. DeSantis noted in a prepared statement that Florida has the second-highest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the country. Trump’s federal plan, he said, will “provide more support to affected Florida families, including more than 1.1 million caregivers and will help us continue our efforts to combat this horrific disease.”

State Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who lost his wife Susie to Alzheimer’s last year, said that lawmakers are focusing on the disease “in ways that I never could have imagined.”

“This Session, I’m proud to work alongside my colleagues in advancing key Alzheimer’s initiatives that will provide Floridians support, education and more access to care,” Plakon said.

Chamber recognizes first ‘International Champion’

Coral Gables Chamber President and CEO Mark Trowbridge is the inaugural recipient of the Florida Chamber’s International Champion Award.

The Chamber honored Trowbridge during its Miami Area Business Leaders Meeting held at Bacardi USA in Coral Gables.

The Florida Chamber recognizes Coral Gables Chamber President Mark Trowbridge with its inaugural International Champion award. Image via South Florida Business Journal.

A news release from the Chamber reads: “The award recognizes Trowbridge’s partnership, support and direct engagement with the Florida Chamber’s recent Business Development & Trade Mission to Ireland and the United Kingdom.”

“The opportunities that exist on these outstanding international trade missions help us identify and secure foreign direct investment dollars for Florida — and Coral Gables,” Trowbridge said. “They are also the driving force behind our Chamber’s participation by opening doors to endless connections that lead to doing more significant business abroad.”

Trowbridge’s “contributions and willingness to advance the role of international trade is invaluable,” said Alice Ancona, Director of International Strategy and Policy at the Chamber.

Meeting of the minds planned for hurricane relief

A free, one-day summit addressing the current situation and what to expect in the counties hit hardest by Hurricane Michael is scheduled for Monday.

From 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, concerned citizens will have the opportunity to hear from crisis leaders and other invested parties at the Rivertown Community Church in Marianna.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz will be one of the featured speakers at a one-day summit addressing issues from hurricane Michael, which will include crisis leaders and concerned citizens. Image via AP.

Among the slated speakers: Jared Moskowitz, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management; John Plisich, a civil engineer with FEMA Region IV; Mark O’Mara, Director of Recovery at Hagerty Consulting; and Ryan M. Colker, a Vice President of Innovation at the International Code Council.

“Attendees will come away from the summit with practical, useful resources to rebuild and strengthen their communities,” said April Salter, CEO of SalterMitchell PR, one of the businesses helping to host the event. “There will be a team of experts on-hand from the federal and state level as well as the private sectors to answer questions and provide information to help communities move forward.”

Hosting the summit are AC Disaster Consulting, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), North Florida Inland Counties Long Term Recovery Team and SalterMitchell PR. The hosts came together after recognizing a need for information sharing.

Van Pelt gets new gig

ESPMedia has a new president: Jamie Van Pelt, who had previously served as chief of staff and comms director for former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The Tallahassee-based, multi-service communications firm founded by lobbyist Sean Pittman announced the news this week.

Congratulations to former Andrew Gillum Chief of Staff Jamie Van Pelt, who is starting a new gig with the Sean Pittman-founded ESPMedia.

Pittman, who remains the firm’s CEO, served Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign as a senior strategic adviser.

He called Van Pelt “an effective community leader and an innovative communications mind in Tallahassee, and we feel that for us, he is the perfect fit at the perfect time.”

“I am proud to join the ESPMedia team and work with some dynamic public relations professionals,” Van Pelt said. “ESP has a notable record of success, and I look forward to expanding our community footprint and helping to take our clients to the next level.”

A news release announcing the hire noted that Van Pelt during his time in City Hall led the Family First Initiative, the Longest Table and Tallahassee Forward events.

Road named after civil rights legend 

Leon County’s government held a highway dedication ceremony earlier this week in honor of the Rev. C.K. Steele. The county honored the local civil rights leader by naming Orange Avenue, from South Monroe Street to Blair Stone Road, after him. The unveiling of the C.K. Steele Memorial Highway marker “recognizes Steele’s status as one of the most influential figures in the Tallahassee Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s,” a news release said.

A highway dedication ceremony was held this week honoring the Rev. C.K. Steele, a legendary civil rights leader.

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