Takeaways from Tallahassee — Worthy walking

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
This week, it's definitely a good time to get on the treadmill.

There’s a story behind the treadmill that will be on Plaza level at The Capitol next week.

Beginning Tuesday, dozens of advocates for sexual assault awareness and prevention will participate in the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids’ “42 Hours for 42 Million” advocacy walk on a single treadmill, a new initiative at the Capitol.

The three-day event kicks off with an 11:45 a.m. news conference Tuesday at the Old Capitol. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Next week begins Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Activist and state Sen. Lauren Book will lead an awareness treadmill walk in Tallahassee starting Tuesday.

Lauren’s Kids is led by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who suffered sexual abuse from her nanny as a child.

Joining Book in periodic stints on the treadmill will be Senate President Bill Galvano and Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell.

VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young, a former state Senator, will likewise log some steps for the cause.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Rep. Patricia Williams are also signed up.

In the weeks leading up to the event, people signed up for different times on the treadmill, filling up more than 42 hours of pledged time.

And a teal hue — symbolizing sexual assault awareness and prevention — will shine on the Old Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday night.

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 streak continues — There’s one phrase we keep hearing about Gov. Ron DeSantis: ‘He’s doing a good job.” Polling this week from the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative supports that. The survey tagged DeSantis with an approval rating of 54 percent, up from 48 percent in February. Responses split along party lines for the GOP Governor, with 72 percent of Republicans sampled saying they approve of DeSantis. Kevin Wagner, a professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative, suggested that the numbers are a good sign for the national Republican Party in 2020. “Florida looks once again to be a key swing state in the upcoming elections,” Wagner said. Democrats gave DeSantis a 37 percent approval rating, while 31 percent disapproved.

Budgets head to floor — The Florida House and Senate are set to approve next week their spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The House’s budget comes in at about $89.9 billion, while the Senate’s is around $90.3 billion. Both plans were forwarded by each chamber’s main budget panel last week. Notably, the budgets are well below the $91.3 spending plan DeSantis recommended to the Legislature earlier this year. The two chambers are far apart on preK-12 education spending and money for the state’s university system. As well, the House is moving forward with a budget that would defund VISIT FLORIDA beginning in October. The Senate wants to keep the tourism-marketing agency alive with a $50 million appropriation next year.

Senate backs ‘bundling’ ban — Lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to change how the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) writes amendments to the state’s governing document. The Senate this week approved a resolution (SJR 74) that would prevent future CRCs — which meet every 20 years — from “bundling” provisions together into single-ballot items. The body, which met from 2017-2018, fetched criticism last year for bundling multiple items into single amendments. For example, voters were presented with and approved an amendment last year that restricted vaping while also banning offshore oil drilling on state waters. “Today is the day that we end bundling,” said sponsor and state Sen. Rob Bradley before the unanimous floor vote.

Republicans target ballot initiatives — The House Judiciary Committee this week advanced a proposal that restricts who can circulate ballot petitions in the Sunshine State. If it becomes law, the bill will block out-of-state petition gathers from operating in Florida. Democrats opposed the legislation. The News Service of Florida reported that another provision would require amendments to reflect whether the initiative could be accomplished via the Legislature. “On the ballot, we want to ensure that when someone walks in to vote, they understand what they are voting on,” said state Rep. James Grant, who supports the bill. “The voters should know, ‘Do I agree with x enough to pay the price tag on it?’”

Hemp bill gets momentum — A Senate panel this week backed a revised version of a bill to create a “state hemp program” under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The hemp industry has much potential … but understand, this is new,” said sponsor Bradley. “It’s similar (to marijuana) … but it’s also not the same as growing apples and oranges, though it may be like that one day.” The program the legislation creates, under Agriculture Commissioner Fried, would be run by Holly Bell, recently hired by Fried as her “director of cannabis.” She would lead the administrative rule-making process that would fill in the gaps on how hemp is grown. The measure has one more committee stop before heading to the floor.

DeSantis criticizes slow storm relief

During a media briefing with reporters in Tallahassee, DeSantis lashed out against the U.S. Congress for failing to provide disaster funding for Hurricane Michael.

Ron DeSantis is blasting Congress for the slow pace of storm relief to Tyndall Air Force Base. Image via Twitter.

The near-Category 5 storm made landfall Oct. 10 in Mexico Beach. Congress did not include disaster funding in its last spending bill. The Florida delegation is currently working on getting supplemental funding to rebuild the storm-battered Tyndall Air Force Base.

DeSantis told reporters that “Congress needs to step up and stand by the people of Northwest Florida.”

“Michael is like the most serious storm that almost nobody cares about outside of Florida,” DeSantis said. “I mean it’s unbelievable the lack of attention.”

Deaths prompt mental health focus

A string of recent suicides related to shooting tragedies led to DeSantis’ mental health “listening session” this week.

During the roundtable, DeSantis and state agency leaders highlighted the Governor’s proposed budget, which recommends $1.8 billion in mental health and suicide prevention funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

Ron and Casey DeSantis held a roundtable listening session this week to discuss mental health.

“From students to veterans, this is an issue that has impacted and touched families throughout our state,” DeSantis said. “We are making mental health a priority in my administration and committing to a multiyear focus on identifying and developing statewide strategies to improve mental health services for Floridians.”

The event came shortly after news that a student and former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had taken their lives more than a year after a shooter killed 14 students and three staff members at the Parkland school.

“Mental health was obviously an issue before that,” DeSantis told reporters after the event, “But I think when you see two suicides like that, we want to bring in stakeholders and see if there’s something being missed.”

Instagram of the Week

Mrs. DeSantis had a busy week

First Lady Casey DeSantis is continuing her trend of visibility in the new administration.

She recently helped kick-start the 2019 Children’s Week by addressing nonprofit partners at an award dinner alongside Department of Children and Families Secretary Poppell.

Casey DeSantis later this week welcomed to the Governor’s Mansion the 2019 Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Youth Ambassadors.

Busy woman: Casey DeSantis talks to juvenile justice role models. Photo via Governor’s Press Office.

“As a mother of two, I know firsthand how important it is for children to have strong role models they can look up to and ask for help when they need it,” Casey DeSantis said. “These ambassadors demonstrate potential realized.

“They serve as leaders for youth who may be experiencing similar challenges and I was proud to recognize them today.”

The ambassadors are kids who serve as role models “after contact with the juvenile justice system or who have participated in prevention programs for children at risk of entering the system,” a news release said.

‘Forward March’

DeSantis and newly-minted Department of Veterans’ Affairs head Danny Burgess announced a new partnership to help Florida veterans this week.

Dubbed “Forward March,” the initiative will bring together state agencies, veterans’ service organizations, private companies and local communities to ensure service members across the Sunshine State receive top-of-the-line services and support.

Danny Burgess celebrates the launch of ‘Forward March,’ a new initiative that will make sure Florida veterans get top-notch services and support.

“As a veteran myself, I am proud to be Governor of the most veteran-friendly state in the country,” DeSantis said. “I look forward to working with Director Burgess, the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs and partners across our state to ensure those who have served our country are receiving the care they need and deserve.”

Burgess, a U.S. Army Reserve captain who has a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal and Meritorious Service Medal, said the initiative would “ensure the state of Florida sets the national standard for veteran services and support.”

The first leg of the march will see the coalition travel the state to speak with veterans about what they need and what could be done to improve the resources available to them.

Moody targets ‘diploma mill’

Looks like education-related fraud isn’t just a national issue.

Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody this week filed a court action against Brandon-based Ellenwood Academy, LLC., “for deceptive marketing of illegitimate high school diplomas to consumers in Florida and nationwide.”

A news release from the AG’s office said the school allegedly charges $195 for high school diplomas that are not accepted by any institution in the State University System.

“According to an investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Ellenwood requires only a passing score on a multiple-choice online exam that consumers can retake as many times as needed,” the release said. “If participants achieve a passing score, supply identification and payment, Ellenwood will issue the consumers a diploma.”

More than 3,000 people enrolled in the program between 2015 and 2017, according to the AG’s office. Moody is pursuing injunctive relief, consumer restitution and civil penalties.

“There are no shortcuts to success, yet diploma mills continue to falsely market easy alternatives to the hard work it takes to earn an education,” Moody said. “Students often enroll with the goal of obtaining a diploma to advance their careers, but often leave with a worthless piece of paper.”

Sham charities grab AG’s attention

There are more than a few shady charities out there, and Moody is going after them.

Moody announced this week that she and the Federal Trade Commission were taking action against an allegedly bogus charity, American Veterans Foundation, in federal court.

It’s a sham: Ashley Moody is also taking a stand against sham charities, working with the FTC to take action against the bogus American Veterans Foundation. Image via Twitter.

“This fraudulent charity took in millions of dollars from generous donors who believed the funds would go to active military members and veterans,” she said.

“Deceiving donors by exploiting the brave men and women who protect our country is disgraceful. My office will work to ensure that any recovered money from this sham charity will go to legitimate organizations helping our amazing military members.”

The Sarasota-based organization says its mission is to prevent veteran homelessness and raised approximately $6.5 million between for the cause between 2014 and 2017. However, reports indicate AFV only used about 3 percent of that cash — less than $200,000 — actually helping veterans.

House paves way for Galvano priority

It took until Week 4 of the Legislative Session for Senate President Galvano’s transportation plan to pop up in the House.

The House bill, approved by the Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee this week, is nearly identical to the Senate version. It would kick-start funding for three major highway projects, including extending the Tampa-area Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia line.

While it took longer than expected, Bill Galvano’s priority transportation bill is moving through the House. Image via Twitter.

We asked why the bill took so long to surface in the other chamber.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” said House Committee Chair Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican.

He added: “There’s a lot of money associated with it. I mean, you’re essentially adding a significant amount of roads to the state of Florida. So, it just takes a lot of time to do some vetting.”

Budget key: Education

House Appropriations chief Travis Cummings, a St. Augustine Republican, told us earlier this week that he believes education funding could be a sticking point in the budget negotiations that define the late part of Session.

Senate Appropriations Chair Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, appears to agree.

As budget negotiations begin between the House and Senate, budget chief Travis Cummings predicts education to be somewhat of a sticking point.

“There are some differences on education funding,” Bradley told reporters after his committee forwarded the chamber’s budget to the floor this week.

One gap: The Senate has proposed a $1.1 billion increase to the Florida Education Finance Program, an operating funding source for Florida’s 67 school districts. The growth is about $520 million more than what the House has set aside.

“These are all manageable differences between the two sides,” Bradley said on the budget as a whole. “I’ve seen the spread a lot greater than it is now.”

Hey D.C., give us some space!

A House panel this week backed a Memorial (HM 1281) encouraging Congress to approve the Space Force and establish the Space Command in Florida.

The measure is sponsored by Cocoa Republican state Rep. Tyler Sirois, who said the country and Florida are “positioned as global leaders in commercial aerospace.”

Spaceman: Tyler Sirois is urging Congress to approve the Space Force establish a command — in Florida, of course.

“With Florida’s spaceport infrastructure, deep-water seaports and partnerships with NASA, the 45th Space Wing and the other three combatant commands located in Florida, we are the best choice for the headquarters of U.S. Space Command,” Sirois said.

The recommendation — which if approved by the Legislature would be submitted to Congress and President Donald Trump — now heads to the State Affairs Committee.

DeSantis has expressed support for establishing the Space Command in the Sunshine State.

Update: Late Friday, UPI was reporting that “the new branch of the military dedicated to space is likely to be based in Colorado, at least temporarily.”

Colorado became the front-runner “when Trump nominated Gen. John W. ‘Jay’ Raymond to be the head of the U.S. Space Command. As current head of the Air Force’s existing Space Command, Raymond is based at Peterson” Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the wire service reported.

Biometric data regulation

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee this week advanced a bill (HB 1153) with an eye toward restricting private companies’ use of personal data.

The bill, sponsored by Fort Lauderdale Democratic state Rep. Bobby Dubose, would implement guidelines for the collection, purchase and sale of biometric data. That’s defined in the bill as “a measurable biological and behavioral characteristic.” A staff analysis said the data are used by companies for things like targeted advertising.

Fort Lauderdale Democrat Bobby Dubose wants to ban advertisers from regulating biometric data on behalf of consumers.

Florida law currently doesn’t detail responsibilities for private companies that store biometric data. Just three other states — Illinois, Texas and Washington — “actively regulating biometric information on behalf of consumers,” a news release from Dubose’s office said.

“As technology continues to advance, the Florida Biometric Information Privacy Act ensures that we do not forget to enact safeguards that protect consumers against the misuse of their sensitive biometric data,” Dubose said.

“This common-sense legislation will give Floridians the peace of mind knowing that their most valuable information will be handled responsibly and that private companies will be held accountable for the improper use or unauthorized distribution of their most sensitive information.”

Dubose’s bill has one more committee stop before it can head to the floor. A similar measure has yet to move in the Senate.

Hukill priority gaining steam

The late state Sen. Dorothy Hukill sponsored many bills during her 12 years in the Legislature, but the measure closest to her heart would have required Florida high schoolers to take a financial literacy class.

Hukill put forward the idea year after year, and she and her Senate colleagues often attempted to add the requirement to other education bills to no avail. According to Hukill, who died last year, the lack of success wasn’t due to a lack of support from constituents.

Legacy: The late Dorothy Hukill’s priority — financial literacy classes for high schoolers — is finally gaining steam in the Legislature.

“This is the most popular bill — I get stopped in the supermarket for this bill, and I don’t get stopped for many bills,” she said in 2017. “So why doesn’t it pass? People think it is going to take away their musical or take away their art (electives).”

But 2019 might be the year. The House version of the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act,” HB 73, cleared its first committee this week with a unanimous vote, and the Senate version, SB 114, did the same when it was heard by Education Committee last month.

The bills have a couple more stops, but if they keep churning along high schoolers might just learn a thing or two about managing their money.

Crime Stoppers?

Crime Stoppers organizations, or nonprofit groups that help report illegal activity to law enforcement, could benefit from legislation moving this Session.

A House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee this week approved a bill (HB 1315) that would expand the scope of crimes reported by the organizations. The measure — sponsored by state Rep. Mike Beltran — has a Senate companion that’s passed one of three committee stops.

Crime stopper: Mike Beltran is behind a bill that would boost nonprofit organizations that help prevent crime by enhancing confidentiality and protection for tipsters.

Beltran, a Lithia Republican, said the bill would also “provide enhanced confidentiality and protection.” More specifically, the measure would make disclosing tipster identities a third-degree felony.

Beltran in committee drew attention to language that would allow a tipster to be rewarded for reporting a firearm on a student campus — even if it did not result in an arrest.

“If there is a gun they can get rewarded just if they find it,” Beltran said, “I think that’s very important in this day and age.”

Mapping the future

The James Madison Institute (JMI) is out with a new policy brief to help policymakers plot the course for innovation in the Sunshine State.

The free-market-minded think tank’s report “Innovation and Regulation in Florida: A Framework for Permissionless Innovation,” is written by Sal Nuzzo, VP of Policy at JMI, and Chris Koopman, a researcher at Utah State University and adjunct director at JMI’s Center for Technology and Telecommunications.

“As technology advances, it often outpaces the ability of regulatory systems to keep pace,” Nuzzo said. “Policymakers need all the help they can get in how to examine and weigh new policy proposals.”

Utah State University researcher Chris Koopman co-authored a new free-market-minded report that will help to chart a course for innovation in Florida

The brief in part explains how tech policy can blend together. Driverless cars, for instance, will affect labor markets for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

“As a result, workers pushed out of old jobs will seek new ones,” reads the brief. “Especially in the context of the short-run disruption, occupational licensing reform should be treated as a complement to embracing innovation.”

Hello, darkness

Tallahassee will join a global energy-awareness initiative at 8:30 p.m. Saturday by turning off all nonessential lights in city facilities for an hour.

Residents are encouraged to participate in the effort, known as Earth Hour, led by the World Wildlife Foundation.

Lights out: Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey will participate in ‘Earth Hour,’ an energy-awareness initiative where nonessential lights shut off for one hour. Image via WFSU.

“Turning off the lights for one hour may seem small, but the collective impact we can have is substantial. Continuing to reduce energy consumption is essential for achieving our community’s clean energy goals,” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said.

A city news release said that last year, “188 countries and territories and more than 17,900 landmarks and monuments took part in Earth Hour.”

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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