There’s zero momentum behind a legislative push to shift the state’s concealed firearms licensing program to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
That’s OK, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lauren Book.
She acknowledged that the bill is likely dead. “We’re running a little short on time,” Book told us at the halfway point of the 2019 Legislative Session.
The Plantation Democrat in November filed the bill (SB 108) in an attempt to give law enforcement oversight of the state’s troubled gun permitting process, which drew scrutiny last summer after the Tampa Bay Times uncovered that an employee failed to conduct one of the national background checks for concealed-weapons licenses.
The story prompted an internal review that resulted in the revocation of 291 previously issued permits.
The concealed carry program currently falls under the purview of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), now led by Democratic Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Because of Fried, Book said she feels “more comfortable” with the licensing program not moving. Fried identified adequate screening for weapons as a top priority.
And in February, she hired Stephen Hurm — a lawyer with plenty of law-enforcement experience (and husband to Gwen Graham) — to run the Division of Licensing at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“I think that the steps Commissioner Fried has taken to move that into a law enforcement function within her office is really important,” Book said. “It’s great, and it shows bold leadership.”
FDACS spokesman Franco Ripple told us that Fried is requesting additional staff to handle licensing.
But already, the agency is processing concealed-carry permit applications “about one-third” quicker than it did under former Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Fried, meanwhile, has publicly floated the idea of moving permit oversight to the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement inside FDACS.
Ripple said that move seems like the “best fit.”
“But for now, we’re focused on fixing the deficiencies left by the previous administration, working toward having the manpower necessary to effectively process permits, and ensuring new leadership manages the program responsibly,” he added.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Ryan Nicol, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Budget talks loom — The House approved an $89.9 billion budget for 2019-20 Thursday, one day after the Senate unanimously backed its $90.3 budget. The two chambers now begin conferencing, with the goal of sending an agreed-upon budget to Gov. Ron DeSantis before the planned May 3 end to the 2019 Legislative Session. Budget chairs Rep. Travis Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley are optimistic they’ll work out the roughly $400 million sticker-price separation. But both have noted the House and Senate are far apart on funding for preK-12 and higher education services. The House and Senate also will have to work out large differences in money for affordable housing, health care, and public-private agencies VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida.
Surgeon General pick draws scrutiny — Shortly after DeSantis tapped Dr. Scott Rivkees to be Florida’s next Surgeon General, allegations surfaced that Rivkees had been the target of sexual harassment complaints and that he improperly filed financial disclosure information at the University of Florida, where he is employed. The News Service of Florida first reported the sexual harassment complaints. Florida Senate President Bill Galvano told the News Service of Florida that the Senate would not take a confirmation vote on him this year, saying the allegations were “troubling, to say the least” and that the nomination needed more vetting than the Senate had time to do.
Tax cuts take shape — The House and Senate both moved forward with tax-cut plans this week. The House Ways and Means Committee workshopped a $102.4 million tax-cut package that will be heard next week. The News Service of Florida reported the proposal includes a three-day back-to-school sales tax “holiday” on clothes, school supplies, and computers and a seven-day tax “holiday’ on hurricane supplies. It also includes a reduction on the commercial rent tax, from 5.7 percent to 5.35 percent. In the Senate, a panel forwarded a plan to exempt purchases of diapers and incontinence products from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. The News Service reported the committee also backed a proposal to hold a 10-day holiday period in early August in which sales taxes would be lifted on clothes, school supplies and electronics. Senators on the panel also backed a bill to allow investments in rural areas to earn insurance-premium tax credits.
Ed bills move — The House might’ve postponed debate on a bill that would allow teachers to participate in the state’s ‘guardian’ program, which trains and arms professionals in Florida’s K-12 schools, but plenty of education bills moved through The Process this week. A bill that would reduce teacher certification requirements sailed through a House committee, reports the Tampa Bay Times. A House panel also backed a bill that would add education on human trafficking to the health education curriculum in public schools, though students would be allowed to opt out with parental permission. The Senate Education Committee forwarded two bills this week that would address enrollment issues in preK-12 schools and colleges in Northwest Florida that saw student populations decrease after Hurricane Michael.
House advances THC cap — Not long after the Legislature passed and DeSantis signed into a law a bill allowing smokable medical marijuana, the House is moving forward with a plan to restrict the medicine’s psychotropic effects. The News Service of Florida reported that a committee bill passed by the Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday puts a 10 percent limit on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in smokable medical marijuana, specifically referring to “dried leaves and flowers.” Chairman Ray Rodrigues, who presented the bill, said the limit still allows the medical effects of marijuana. But it prevents products on the market that might cause psychosis.
Don’t forget about the veto
DeSantis flexed a little bit of executive muscle earlier this week when a reporter asked about his overarching opinion of ‘pork’ projects, or budget carve-outs benefiting only a small part of the population.
“When I get the budget, if there are things that I consider to be extravagant or pork projects, you probably would end up OK to place wagers that I’ll veto that,” DeSantis said. “If it’s things that I think would be beneficial to a larger constituency rather than just one little piece where they’re trying to deliver pork to a special interest or something, well then I’m willing to look at it.”
The Governor has the authority to scrap parts of the budget through the line-item veto power he holds.
“Of course, it’s great in Florida because I can veto that if it’s not something the public approves of,” DeSantis said.
These comments are something to keep back-of-mind as the Legislature works toward a unified spending plan to send to DeSantis.
“I think I’ve shown that when I have authority to make a difference, I’m not afraid to wield it,” DeSantis said. “So, stay tuned on that.”
Moody wants inquiry into state vendor
Attorney General Ashley Moody this week urged the Florida Department of Management Services to review its relationship with Salesforce because the vendor provided technical support to Backpage.com.
The federal government is currently investigating Backpage for allegedly facilitating human trafficking and prostitution services online.
“As Chair of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, I want to make sure taxpayer money is not helping fund or facilitate the sexual exploitation of women and children,” Moody said. “For years, human traffickers used Backpage.com to sell victims for sex, many of them minors.”
Moody cited a recent complaint against Salesforce that alleges the company helped Backpage conduct business.
“I am asking the Florida Department of Management Services to seek additional information from Salesforce to better understand the company’s relationship with Backpage.com,” Moody said. “As a state, we should not do business with any company that condones or abets such horrifying conduct.”
Patronis likes what he sees from DeSantis, Trump
While Congress in its last spending plan failed to provide supplemental disaster funding for Hurricane Michael, President Donald Trump and Gov. DeSantis are doing a good job.
That’s according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who issued a statement this week commending the state’s chief executive officer and the commander in chief. Patronis called their response to the storm “incredible.”
“I applaud them both for stepping up and providing the necessary leadership to ensure these communities will be restored,” Patronis said.
Patronis issued the statement shortly after DeSantis officially signed a federal contract granting the state an extra 45 days in federal funding to cover emergency protective services and debris removal costs incurred by the near-Category 5 storm that hit Northwest Florida Oct. 10.
“This increase in funding will help make these areas whole again,” Patronis added. “The message sent by our leaders has been loud and clear: we are all in this together, and we will rebuild better, stronger than before.”
‘Eat Fresh’ — from Florida
Nearly 1,500 Subway locations will offer produce grown in Florida before the end of April.
Agriculture Commissioner Fried this week highlighted the partnership between the sandwich franchise and Fresh From Florida, the state’s agricultural marketing program.
“Florida’s farmers grow the world’s best seasonal produce,” Fried said. “We’re proud to partner with Subway, one of Florida’s largest restaurant chains, to highlight the availability and affordability of that produce and Fresh From Florida’s proven return on investment.”
Since 2017, Subway has purchased more than 130 million pounds of produce from Florida farmers through the partnership, which comes at no cost to taxpayers.
“As a proud Subway restaurant owner, using fresh, locally-grown produce helps me serve my customers a great product at a great price,” said Subway franchise owner Brian Smith. “Fresh From Florida and Subway is a natural partnership that supports regional farmers, our local economies, and our mission to help people ‘eat fresh.’”
A news release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said every dollar invested in Fresh From Florida results in $22 for Florida farmers, generating $125 million in annual sales.
Instagram of the Week
Top priorities move across chambers
Senate President Bill Galvano wants to pass legislation that would fund three major highway projects. House Speaker José Oliva intends to scale back health care regulations.
Legislation for both priorities has recently moved across chambers.
The Senate last week advanced a plan to eliminate the state’s “certificate of need” process for new health providers. The House already has passed a plan to scrap the regulation altogether.
The House two weeks ago took up identical language to Galvano’s infrastructure priority. Coincidence? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.
Oliva, who had expressed mild apprehension to Galvano’s highway plan because it would recruit bonds, elaborated to reporters this week on why the identical bonding language surfaced in his chamber.
“That’s an ongoing conversation,” Oliva said. “As a goodwill gesture, we brought up that bill word-for-word. Took it up in committee. It really is a goodwill gesture to make sure it’s part of the conversation.”
More on highways
Galvano’s transportation plan would kick-start three major highway projects: extending the Tampa-area Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia line, connecting the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and constructing the Southwest-Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties.
Should the bill pass this year, task forces would be spawned to study the viability of each plan. They would report back to the Legislature and other state leaders with recommendations.
In the House, some Democratic members suggested that the task forces could discover that the projects aren’t needed.
But if you ask Galvano, he’ll tell you that’s unlikely.
“I think the task forces will help us plan, develop and engineer,” Galvano told reporters this week. “But the need is so overwhelming that I don’t think that’s a possibility.”
Talking insurance with Lee
Sen. Tom Lee was characteristically blunt in discussing the chances for key insurance legislation passing this session.
“I think AOB — if it’s not too draconian — we’ve got a problem there that needs to be addressed. We’ve over-demonstrated that,” the Thonotosassa Republican said.
“But we’ve got to make sure that consumers have the ability to hold their insurance carrier responsible when they’re jerking them around,” he continued.
“I don’t think that bill gets across the finish line unless there is reasonable reform that leaves the insured with the ability to hold the insurance company accountable,” Lee said.
“If you could trust the business community to run on the honor system, you could rip 75 percent of the statutes out and throw them in the garbage. The truth is that if all parties in a transaction don’t have the ability to hold one another accountable, one party won’t return the other party’s phone calls.”
Cosmetic surgery bill gets bumped another week
A hearing on a Senate bill (SB 732) looking to crack down on the plastic surgery industry was delayed until next week after it was scheduled Thursday in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
That legislation is sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, with a companion bill in the House filed by Rep. Anthony Rodriguez. After Thursday’s Senate hearing ran long, bumping the bill, Flores’ team says the subcommittee would take up the measure next week.
Flores and Rodriguez moved on with a conference call Thursday afternoon pushing their arguments for the benefits of the bill.
“We know these doctors. We know who they are, and the public doesn’t have access to this information,” Flores said. She emphasized provisions in the bill aiming to protect the public by preventing doctors from opening new clinics after their offices are shut down due to violations.
“Those who will be motivated by money rather than safety won’t ever be completely stopped,” Rodriguez added. “But we can at least give DOH the tools they need to shut down these butcher shops because that’s what they are.”
Newspaper notice nix moves forward
A bill that would shut out the state’s newspapers from the lucrative public legal notices market cleared another committee stop this week.
HB 1235, sponsored by Brevard GOP Rep. Randy Fine, would end the decades-old requirement that government and legal notices be disseminated in print newspapers. Instead, those notices would be posted online or delivered via snail mail.
On their own, online notices seem like a no-brainer. But striking out the newspaper ad portion of state law hasn’t been without its detractors.
Self-serving as it seems, the print industry has been vocal in its opposition, saying newspapers still draw in more readers than any government website and ditching the ad requirement is an affront to government in the sunshine.
It would save governments a load of cash, however — swapping out ad buys for postage stamps and web posts could give save some red ink on balance sheets for cash-strapped school districts’ and municipal governments.
Fine’s bill now heads to the State Affairs Committee, its final stop before the House floor.
FADAA cheers new opioid plans
DeSantis kicked off the week by announcing his plan to fight back against the opioid epidemic.
The strategy: reopen the Office of Drug Control, launch the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse with Attorney General Moody in the pilot’s chair and deploy $26 million in federal funds. The announcement earned him praise from several medical groups, such as the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists.
Late in the week, the newly merged Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association and Florida Council for Community Mental Health joined the chorus.
“We applaud Governor DeSantis and Attorney General Moody for leading this mission. Our members are committed to supporting these efforts and working with the Governor and Attorney General in developing a statewide strategy to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, the group’s President and CEO.
FADAA said one strategy that deserves a look, and possible expansion is a medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The current implementation has shown great promise, but it’s tapped out funding, and there’s a growing waitlist.
“Our state is facing a serious opioid epidemic that has touched nearly every county and scores of families. In Florida, we lose 17 lives a day to opioid use disorder,” Brown-Woofter said. “Medication-Assisted Treatment is a critical tool in the state’s efforts to help move individuals out of addiction and into recovery.”
Remote sales bill gets TaxWatch support
Florida TaxWatch says a bill moving through the legislature could boost state revenues while leveling the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores.
SB 1112, sponsored by Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters, would require online retailers to collect and remit sales tax if they make more than 200 sales or do more than $100,000 in business in the Sunshine State.
Big time websites such as Amazon already charge sales tax for products they sell, but the proposal would require them to collect coinage for items sold by third-party vendors on their marketplace.
TaxWatch says the proposal fits the mold set by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing Wayfair to for over tax dollars to South Dakota, the most important provision being a threshold that doesn’t impair smaller online businesses.
“Florida TaxWatch has researched this issue for more than 15 years, producing numerous reports and offerings recommendations. But the courts’ physical presence requirement has always been a major obstacle,” TaxWatch said. “But now that obstacle is gone as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision, and it is time for the Legislature to fix this.
If successful, the nonpartisan group says Florida could reel in anywhere from a few hundred million to more than $1 billion a year in extra tax revenues.
Suits for Session is back
Suits for Session service project will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 11.
For the past four years, Volunteer Florida and Uber have facilitated the collection of businesswear at The Capitol to help dress others in need.
This time, donations will be directed toward organizations supporting individuals re-entering the workforce after Hurricane Michael.
Donations will be accepted at the second-floor Rotunda at the Florida Capitol. As well, Uber is offering clothing pickups from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donors can select “GIVE” at the bottom of the Uber app, and a driver will pick up and deliver their donations.
‘Noles head next door
Florida State University will celebrate FSU Day at The Capitol on Tuesday, April 9.
The annual event bridges policymakers with various stakeholders from the school.
Expect a sea of garnet and gold when FSU hosts an outdoor “pep rally” from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. between the Old Capitol and The Capitol.
“The pep rally will feature remarks by President John Thrasher, recognition of FSU alumni serving in the Legislature, recognition of FSU’s national champion softball and soccer teams and performances by the FSU cheerleaders, members of the Flying High Circus and a pep band from the College of Music,” a news release said.
On Monday, Thrasher — a former House Speaker and Senator — will host “Seminole Evening” alongside the Student Government Association. That’s from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the top floor of The Capitol.